Shade the Changing Girl #7
Shade is weird. Really weird. And I mean that in the best way possible. Peter Milligan’s run is, in my opinion, the most underrated Vertigo title, up there with Sandman, John Constantine: Hellblazer and The Invisibles in terms of quality.
When I learned is that DC’s Young Animal imprint was creating a new take on Shade universe, from the perspective of a different character, I was excited, but also exceedingly nervous. Seven issues in and I’ve been quite impressed with the quality of both the story and the art so far.
Novelist Cecil Castellucci’s take on shade is both clever and true to the original spirit of the comic. The character Loma is an escaped Avian from the planet Meta. She inhabits the body of a young earthling named Megan who went into a coma in a swimming accident. As readers, and Loma, learn more about Megan’s past, they find out that she is a troubled and often cruel girl who treats her enemies badly and her friends even worse.
Loma has a similarly troubled past, which Castellucci fully explores for the first time in this issue. It begins with Loma’s human-like parents adopting her, but also expressing concerns because she, being birdlike, is a different a species (before she leaves the orphanage, her wings get clipped, which becomes a metaphor for the physical and emotional constraints placed on her on Meta).
Her excitement at being adopted quickly becomes frustration as she struggles to live up to the impossible expectations of her new family. They seem to question her, and the decision to adopt her, every time she struggles at something. This doubt in Loma, which often borders on cruelty, forms a contentious relationship between the adopted child and her parents. Loma’s problems, which at first glance come off as teen angst, hint at a deeper problem as Castellucci expertly explores what it means to be adopted into a society where everyone looks, and acts, different than the adopted child is accustomed to.
The story jumps between the past and the present every few pages, as readers gain a deeper understanding for why Loma was so desperate to leave Meta for Earth. What had, in issue one, seemed a rash decision becomes, here, a deeper longing to find a place to belong. In the past, when a new place let her down, Loma’s solution was to “leave and steal.”
But why Earth? Her childhood attraction to the planet begins when her parents call it primitive. Like many children, “anything not worth my time became my favorite thing.” When poet Rac Shade (the original Changing Man) shows up to her class to perform, and then disappears a few days later, her attraction with the planet becomes obsession. In him, she sees a like-minded spirit, someone numbed by the dullness of a Meta void of madness, which the planet’s government banned.
Her obsession grows as she collects random artifacts from Earth, asks her lovers if they have been to earth, and ponders on the meaning of insanity. When her lover asks her “isn’t love a kind of madness?” she replies, “No. Madness is a kind of madness.” Madness grows to represent everything from her that she is missing on Meta and, in turn, begins to represent escape.
When she finally gets to Earth, she finds madness to be much more of a challenge than she originally expected. Imbued with powers she cannot fully control, and in the body of recovering coma victim Megan Boyer, she struggles as much in her new home as she did on Meta. She believes that she has finally found companionship, her “Earth flock”, in schoolmates River and Teacup, the only two people who know about her past life.
The issue ends with a Carrie-esque scene as all of the people that Megan tortured in her former life glue words like “hate”, “whore”, and “bitch” to her body in the middle of a high school dance as Teacup, who was complacent in the act, watches guiltily. On the final page, she again finds herself running. Next to her is the thought bubble: “This was my body but my body was not me. I did not come here to make friends. I came here to see things, and see things on Earth I will. Goodbye, Valley Ville.”
While regular artist Marley Zarcone takes a short break, Marguerite Sauvage is the perfect guest artist to take on Shade the Changing Girl. She whimsically blends the styles of Chris Bachalo and Richard Case, who both worked on the Vertigo title in the 90s while also giving it a contemporary Erica Henderson-like feel. From the forlorn expressions of the picked-over orphans on the first page to the surreal full splash on the last, Sauvage fills in the book with a great deal of character.
My favorite set of panels are on the penultimate page as Loma/Megan, notes, dress and all, literally melts into the floor after being betrayed by those who she trusts. The heartbreak of this scene is magnified by the peace and joy that she had felt while dancing moments before on the previous, and adjacent, page, free of the constraints of the past and believing she had, at last, found her place in the world.
What has impressed me the most about Castellucci’s writing is her ability to delicately and realistically navigate the life of a teenager while juxtaposing it with the level of unreality needed to properly be a Shade title. The magical realism that has been present throughout the entire story, but particularly in this issue, makes Shade one of my favorite books currently on the market. Although a stand-alone issue, this issue will, no doubt, have ripple effects on the story moving forward.
To find a comic shop near you, visit www.comicshoplocator.com or call 1-888-comicbook.
Check out other comic book news, previews and reviews here!