Vertigo brought about change.

Within the books themselves. As part of the wider industry. To DC Comics. In the way many people think about what the medium can do. The rights of artists, for a while anyway. And more. Some of those changes really started before the imprint got its name. Others were incremental across time, building momentum, and converging with other movements. Like Image Comics too.

Within the imprint, there were new creators on titles, new series and mini-series, new characters. All in that spirit of change. And then there was a title that was consistently in change since the volume’s inception. One that didn’t change creative team or direction, really. That continued on with its intriguing, boundary pushing stories. You’d think I’m talking about sandmanbut I’m not.

I’m talking about the criminally underrated Shade The Changing Man.

…and then she said, take the goldfish, my marriage is worth saving…”

Shade The Changing Man #33 by Peter Milligan, Chris Bachalo, Rick Bryant, Daniel Vozzoand Todd Klein began the “Birth Pains” three-part story-arc. Shade died. Shade had been a woman. Shade died again. Weird stuff happened. And then it circled back to her rebirth in a psychiatric hospital in this issue.

Circling back to themes and motifs, spiraling out to new elaborations on those concepts, began again in this arc. With a touch of madness. This series first incarnation of Shade was in the body of a serial killer, here he begins again in the shell of psychiatric patient, but there’s now a serial killer about. And a doctor bothering patients. Mostly through the point of view of Shade’s friends/lovers/companions Kathy and Lenny, and the return of Kathy’s dead boyfriend, Roger. Navigating various forms of madness, including love.

This arc also saw the return of Chris Bachalo to art duties, last doing issue 26. This time with Rick Bryant inking his line art. I love Bachalo’s art during this period. He’s developed his style considerably to the point here where it’s unmistakably his, the unique character designs, approach to shading and such, yet his layouts haven’t yet gone completely experimental. It’s like a moment of restraint before it all bursts out.

Daniel Vozzo uses a similar approach to his colors here that he does in many issues of Doom Patrol with a kind of focus on spot colors. Giving a base to most people and then layering pretty solid colors on clothing, hair, and such. It makes things like Shade’s manifestation in the psychiatric patient a greater pop when it happens. With circles. And Todd Klein gives us a nice typewriter-like text for the serial killer’s pages.

The angels have allowed you to be reborn for a purpose.”

Like sandman, Doom Patroland Animal Man, Shade The Changing Man formed part of the bedrock of reinterpreted characters that laid the foundation for Vertigo. #33 by Milligan, Bachalo, Bryan, Vozzo, and Klein continued their own tradition, beginning the next stage for their interpretation of the character. Delving into the darkness of the human condition.

The series is wholly available digitally through Amazon, but I think it’s a shame that it only ever got three collected editions. Milligan and his collaborators like Bachalo, Colleen Doran, Mark Buckingham, Glyn Dillon, Steve Yeowell, Philip Bond, Richard Case, and more explored ideas of identity, madness, love, hair, and fashion in a way that was almost a dark reflection of similar themes in Sandman. It’s a series that I think deserves another look.

Shade the Changing Man #33Shade the Changing Man #33

Classic Comic Compendium: SHADE THE CHANGING MAN #33

Shade The Changing Man #33
Writer: Peter Milligan
Penciller: Chris Bachalo
Inker: Rick Bryant
Colourist: Daniel Vozzo
Letterer: Todd Klein
Publisher: DC Comics – Vertigo
Release Date: January 14, 1993

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