shade off

Shade, the Changing Man

Shade, the Changing Man is a fictional comic book character created by Steve Ditko for DC Comics in 1977. The character was later adapted by Peter Milligan and became one of the first Vertigo titles.

Both versions of Shade are distinct from the Shade, another DC Comics character.

Publishing history

The Steve Ditko era

Shade, the Changing Man told the story of a fugitive from the militant planet Meta in another dimension. Shade (whose full name is Rac Shade) was powered by a stolen "M-vest" which enabled him to project the illusion of becoming a large grotesque version of himself. The character was the first Ditko had created, or helped to create, for a mainstream publisher for many years. Prior to rejoining DC Comics, Ditko had worked on characters such as his Mr. A. title. Shade was very much a return to mainstream superheroics, although Shade was set outside the DC Universe.

His series ran for eight bi-monthly issues in 1978 before its sudden cancellation in the wake of the "DC Implosion", a contraction of DC's line that saw a third of their books axed within an eight week period. A ninth extra-length issue, featuring the debut of a new Ditko character called The Odd Man, was produced, but was published only as a part of DC's Cancelled Comic Cavalcade in 1978. (A revised version of the Odd Man story appeared a few years later in Detective Comics #487 in 1980)

After this, Shade was adopted into the DC Universe and made a brief appearance in the Crisis on Infinite Earths mini series, as well as becoming a regular character in Suicide Squad.

Fictional character biography

In his own series

Rac Shade, a secret agent of the world in the Meta-Zone, a dimension near that of Earth, has been framed for treason and sentenced to death. Through various events, Shade spent some time on Earth trying to clear his name, using the retrieved M-Vest (The Miraco-Vest that had been stolen) in the process, but was met with resistance of the Meta-authorities at each point. His name was being cleared bit by bit, but he remained a wanted man, and Shade continued to use the M-Vest.

Running with the Suicide Squad

Shade ends up living in the Area of Madness, part of the Zero Zone which is a dimension between Earth and Meta. The Suicide Squad, after leaving Nightshade's home dimension ends up here and Shade is able to adjust his M-Vest so he can teleport himself and the Squad to earth.

Shade reveals the Metans have an outpost on earth, called the Occult Research Center. The O.R.C. operates by telling the absolute truth about Meta, something the papers just tend to laugh off.

Unfortunately the O.R.C has been taken over by Doctor Z.Z. and a gang of Metan criminals. They hope to use the place as a base to conquer Earth and eventually Meta itself. Shade's plan to stop them is sidetracked by the Crisis On Infinite Earths and being stuck back in the Zero Zone. He is eventually rescued by the Squad.

Shade's second attempt at stopping Z.Z. is successful, though Meta authorities still wish to arrest him. Rick Flag pulls a gun and Shade is allowed to leave with the Squad.

Shade is offered technical help in returning to Meta in exchange for his help on missions. Shade cooperates, though he is not quite sure if Earth's technology is up to the task. Shade also spends time trying to help the ex-Squad member Mindboggler, who had died in issue #1, then became Ifrit, a digitized ally of the Jihad.

Shade became increasingly doubtful of the wisdom of staying with the Squad. So when Lashina (in the disguise of Duchess) came to him with an offer to return him to his home dimension via a detour to Apokolips, Shade agrees, not knowing what was in store for him. He ends up being forced to kidnap Vixen as well as Captain Boomerang (although he had little regret with kidnapping the latter). Shade knew that his actions were wrong, but felt he had little choice.

Lashina betrayed him as soon as possible on Apokolips. Several of Shade's friends, the pilot Briscoe, civilian Flo and the villain Dr. Light soon die in the fight against parademons and the Female Furies. Darkseid appears and settles the conflict, sending the Squad and its dead home. Shade, wracked with guilt, is sent back to his home dimension.

His whereabouts since then have been unknown.

Peter Milligan and the Vertigo years

In 1990, the title and character were revived and revamped by Peter Milligan and Chris Bachalo. Coming at a time when DC were in the midst of the so-called "British Invasion" of creators, Shade was one of the last to debut in the first wave after Neil Gaiman's Sandman, and Grant Morrison's Animal Man.

This new series used some of the same names and concepts from the original, but these were few and far between; Rac Shade was now a lovelorn poet sent to Earth to stop a growing tide of madness from consuming the planet, while his M-Vest was now a Madness-Vest that he could use to warp reality. The comic still took place in the DC universe - John Constantine turned up for a three-issue story arc, Death of The Endless appeared in a subtle cameo in issue 50 and Shade appeared with a group of other Vertigo characters in 1999's Totems - and the original series was rationalised as being a story that Shade made up to amuse himself while travelling to Earth. However, this did not explain how the original Shade could work with the Suicide Squad.

Working from character designs by Brendan McCarthy, artist Chris Bachalo created a distinctive look for the comic which set it aside from the previous Ditko run and the characters' DC Universe appearances. Milligan made the stories uniquely surreal, and had a habit of killing Shade off only to bring him back in a changed form. In fact, Shade had five different forms throughout the series' run: a red-headed mopey poet; a woman; a black-haired madman; a red-haired, emotionless mod; and a bedraggled, unshaven obsessive.

The series used concepts and ideas which were at times controversial (for example, JFK's assassination and transgenderism) and unfamiliar with regular DC titles. To distinguish these more 'adult' themes, DC created a separate imprint to house titles such as Shade. This imprint, called Vertigo started in 1993 and Shade became one of the initial run of Vertigo titles from issue 33.

Shade was always a steady selling title for Vertigo, though it never sold in spectacular numbers. It always had a constant, almost cultish following. The title lasted 70 issues before finally being cancelled in 1996.

In 2003 a one-off story by Peter Milligan and artist Mike Allred was printed as part of Vertigo's tenth anniversary celebrations in an anniversary special. In 2004, the first six issues were finally reprinted as a trade paperback released by Vertigo.

According to Absolute Crisis on Infinite Earths HC, the events of the second series originally took place on Earth-85 in the Multiverse before its destruction.

Different shades of Shade

Version One (the red-headed poet)

The Shade that Kathy originally met was a young, romantic poet ill-suited to the task of saving Earth from the American Scream. He fell in love with Kathy and she with him, although he often felt inadequate about himself and his ability to please her sexually and emotionally. Eventually, he plunged into his own psyche and dredged up his repressed passions and desires, forming an alter-ego: Hades. Hades wasn't quite an evil twin, merely prone to giving in to his own desires. Hades generally spent most of his time lodged at the back of Shade's mind, although he was given the use of their body when the time arose, and briefly had a madness-constructed one of his own.

Version Two (the changing woman)

Shade was eventually killed, but his spirit wasn't able to pass on and he ended up inhabiting the body of a recently murdered red-headed woman. Shade attempted to force his old, male form on her body but what remained of the woman's personality resisted because her murder had gone unsolved. Shade, Kathy and Lenny investigated and found out the horrific circumstances of the woman's death, but not before Shade experienced sex as a female and endured the onset of his first period. Once at peace, the woman was able to pass on and Shade was able to shape the body to resemble his original form.

Version Three (the black-haired lunatic)

After further strange adventures Shade was killed once again, but this time the angels themselves forced him to return to Earth and do their bidding. They provided him with a human host created for just such an occasion - a twentysomething male born with no soul or mind; a mere hollow shell. However, the strain of death and the afterlife had caused Shade's mind to become both unhinged and combined with that of Hades. This new Shade had no permanent hold on sanity and would bounce from impulsive mania to thoughtful collection within the blink of an eye. He met up with Lenny and Kathy again and they opened the Hotel Shade, where they met John Constantine and Peter Milligan himself.

Version Four (the heartless mod)

After the death of someone close to him, Shade underwent another change, returning to his red-headed form, but with a short mod cut rather than flowing locks. Lost in mourning, he cut himself off from his old life and moved to the big city, where he found new and unusual friends including a deaf dancer and the reincarnation of Nikola Tesla. He also met his young son and attempted to bond with him only to find that the kid was suffering from an unusually fast aging disease and doomed to die soon. Eventually, the sadness got too much for Shade and he removed his heart and locked it in a metal box where it could no longer hurt him. But just because his heart was removed doesn't mean that made him apathetic. He only felt this way because he wanted to. That explained why he was still alive after he removed his heart. The Madness keeps him alive, not his organs, they're just a filled-in space.

Version Five (the bedraggled obsessive)

Shade eventually lost control of the Madness, which began feeding on his subconscious and started to maim and kill innocents. Desperate to put things right, he gathered up his remaining colleagues and developed a time machine. They rocketed off into the past to correct all of the things that had gone wrong, with limited success. By the end of the series, this Shade was accepted once more into the arms of love while his son found himself trapped in a girl's body.

Synopsis of the trade paperback

The first issue sees Caucasian Kathy George and her African American boyfriend going to visit her parents in the Southern United States. As they enter Kathy's parents house they find that a serial killer, Troy Grenzer, has murdered her parents. Kathy's boyfriend attacks Grenzer but as the police enter the house, Kathy's boyfriend is shot dead by the police who have instantly assumed him to be the killer. The story forwards to the day of Grenzer's execution and Kathy is there to witness his death in the electric chair. As the switch is about to be thrown the chamber erupts with strange lights and shapes as Shade enters the body of Grenzer using the power of his "Madness Vest".

Shade and Kathy escape in the confusion and eventually Shade convinces Kathy that he is not Grenzer, and Kathy decides to help Shade track down what he calls The American Scream and the madness created by it. Travelling to Dallas, they find the madness has engulfed a JFK assassination conspiracy theorist called Duane Trilby. Trilby searches for JFK's killer in order to answer why his daughter had to die.

This madness has created a 'Kennedy Sphinx' in Dealey Plaza, the site of Kennedy's murder. This Sphinx asks the question ""Who killed John F. Kennedy?" and awaits an answer. Shade uses his powers to take Trilby into the heart of the madness and Trilby answers the Sphinx's question, "Who killed John F. Kennedy?", with the answer, "America". Shade then kills Trilby to stop the madness spreading and the Sphinx vanishes and Dallas returns to normal. Shade and Kathy then start their journey across America in search of The American Scream.

While this trade represents the earliest portion of the series, no other trade paperbacks have yet been announced since its publication.

Other versions

  • In Kingdom Come, Alex Ross created Shade III, an African-American version. He is referred to as "more of the classic, heroic version", and is visually based more on the Steve Ditko Shade then the Peter Milligan Shade.
  • Another Elseworlds version of the classic Shade appeared in JLA: The Nail as a member of the Outsiders.


So far there has been only one trade paperback:

  • Shade the Changing Man: The American Scream (168 pages, collected #1-6, 2003, Titan Books, ISBN 1840237163, DC Comics, ISBN 140120046X)

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