Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #73: Shade the Changing Girl, Vol 1: Earth Girl Made Easy by Cecil Castellucci and Marley Zarcone

Big Comics is all about the reboot. It worked for the Crisis and the Secret Wars. It worked for all of those Brits taking over minor DC characters in the late '80s and early '90s. It worked when Superman was killed and Batman's back was broken. It worked when everyone suddenly had pouches for about five years in the '90s. It worked for everyone's Year One and Year Zero and Year One Million and Year Minus Fifty-Seven. It worked for big crossovers. It worked every time some team wanted to revive a dormant character -- change everything and you were good for at least twenty issues or so.

Well, it worked up until the point it stopped working, which is the last couple of years. But if you trace that reboot impulse back to Barry Allen in 1956, it worked for sixty years, which is a damn long time.

And maybe it can keep working in the right circumstances. Maybe you can't reboot everything all the time, but you can reboot forgotten things at the right time. You know, like they used to do?

Shade the Changing Girl is a reboot, in the tradition of the Karen Berger British Writer Trans-Atlantic Express of yore that built Vertigo around itself. This time it's called Young Animal, since our celebrity-obsessed society needs a minor rock-star to lend glamor to it (Gerard Way, who I'm slandering here, since he actually is a writer of good comics). but you can't blame the creators for that. This Shade is a descendant of the Peter Milligan/Chris Bachalo Shade the Changing Man Vertigo series, more so than the original character as created by Steve Ditko.

But where Milligan's Shade was a Brit's long examination of America and what was the hell its deal, new writer Cecil Castellucci's concerns are more personal and 21st century: who are we, who are our friends, what kind of people are we, do we enjoy what we do? I imagine there are already too many essays on the Internet comparing the Milligan/Bachalo "masculine" concerns with the Castellucci/Zarcone "feminine" ones, so I'll just point to that difference, and say I personally think it's more of an outer-world/inner-world difference.

Loma is young and fabulous on the world Meta, a recent college dropout whose vague dreams are too big for her actual life and circumstances. She's a bit obsessed with Rac Shade, the poet and space traveler and possessor of the M-Vest and protagonist of the Milligan/Bachalo series, and has struck up a fuck-buddy relationship with a young man, Lepuck, who has access to the museum where that vest is housed. (It was part of a government program to harness "the Madness," a purposely ill-defined zone of space/time/reality between Meta and Earth, and presumably there are other similar items elsewhere.) And so Loma grabs that vest, puts it on, and travels through the Madness to Earth to escape her life and be more like Rac.

"Shade" is more a title than a name, so she calls herself Loma Shade, or just Shade, on the other end.

Both Lepuck and Loma are non-humanoid sapients, on a world of mostly humanoform people -- we later learn because of immigration and refugees and similar background issues. This will probably become important at some point, if Shade the Changing Girl runs long enough.

As Rac did, Loma arrives on Earth in someone else's body -- that's how the Madness works. (Rac eventually inhabited four people, I think, during the Milligan/Bachalo series.) Her host is the brain-dead mean-girl teenager Megan Boyer. I say "mean girl," but Megan was far beyond that: she was a vicious force of nature, dominating her supposed friends on the swim team and her boyfriend. Castellucci doesn't underline the parallel, but Megan used people not all that differently than Loma used Lepuck -- it's just that Megan did it consistently and with a real end in mind, unlike flighty Loma.

This first volume, Earth Girl Made Easy, collects the first six issues -- mostly set-up. Loma settles into Megan's life, tries to figure out how to live on 2016 Earth when her main cultural reference points are Rac's poems and a not-I-Love-Lucy '50s TV show she loves, and learns that she can't just get back through the Madness for Whatever Reason. Meanwhile, back on Meta, Lepuck pines for Loma, who he thinks is his girlfriend. And shadowy forces gather, remnants of the government program Rac was part of, interested in the M-Vest and in grabbing back power. They will be our villains, eventually.

But for this first volume, Loma/Megan is enough of her own villain: she has to make friends in a school that old-Megan cruelly dominated, and overcome what's left of Megan in that shared mind. Again, this is mostly set-up: these six issues introduce the case on Earth and Meta and get them to what I expect will be the status quo for another dozen or two issues.

On the art side, I have to call out colorist Kelly Fitzpatrick as the real star: this Shade is bright and brilliant and coruscating, as a book about Madness must be. Penciller Marley Zarcone (with inkers Ande Parks and Ryan Kelly) do a solid job, which looks to me like a slightly flatter take on '90s Vertigo style to give those colors space to blossom.

This Shade is worth checking out, if you remember the '90s series with fondness, if you want to see if DC can do something Vertigo-ish in this new century, and if you're interested in a smart take on mean girls and teenage life.

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