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SHADOWMAN/RAE SREMMURD

by Thegreatmagnet on October 05, 2017

Writer: Eliot Rahal
Art: Renato Guedes
Letters: Dave Lanphear
Publisher: Valiant Comics
 
This year has seen Valiant release a fair share of one-shot issues, which have generally been underwhelming. When this issue was announced, I think it’s fair to say that the Valiant fan community was perplexed and a bit concerned. It’s always seemed pretty unambiguously to be a cross-promotional effort between Valiant and the rap group Rae Sremmurd, which in theory could be an opportunity to leverage both fan communities and build mutual awareness. However, to fans of the comics who are unfamiliar with Rae Sremmurd, a natural response would likely be, “why should I care about this group who has nothing to do with this shared universe? I just want to read a good comic.” Unfortunately, while this issue seems to be an attractive showcase for fans of the group, there’s very little substance for fans of the comic who are expected to shell out full cover price for the experiment.
 
Thankfully, there’s no denying that the art in this issue is absolutely breathtaking. Renato Guedes is a star in the making, and his painted art style is making him an instant favorite among the Valiant faithful. I’m not even sure how best to describe the art in this issue. Most of the images look photo real (especially the faces, which are superbly directed), and yet the colors have a striking watercolor quality that lends a surreal atmosphere to the entire issue. It’s perfectly suited to the flourishes of magic and the fantastic setting of the Deadside in this issue, and also the depression era flashback that opens the book. Nearly every page of this book is museum worthy, and I’m sure it’s impressive enough to satisfy some readers all on it’s own. Even the most jaded, skeptical fans would have to admit that the art is jaw-dropping.
 
Unfortunately, the story is much less impressive. The basic premise of this issue is fairly generic: characters sell their soul to the devil in exchange for success and they need a rescue after the devil comes to collect. I was initially very excited to see the portrayal of Robert Johnson in the first few pages, but he disappears for most of the issue and there’s not much payoff aside from tying the tale into a larger tradition. They offer the explanation that a rogue loa (voodoo spirit) has fashioned himself after the Christian portrayal of the devil and created a realm resembling hell in the Deadside (long story, but I’m not sure I’m brave enough to attempt a cursory explanation here about what exactly the Deadside is). This loa using his damned musicians to attract a demon horde who are apparently attracted by what is living, (and music is living). What’s unclear is the mechanics of how a gathering of demons at a concert equates to the magical capacity of the devil, and for what are his actual motivations for acquiring power? He doesn’t really hint at any grander ambitions, beyond apparently being the hottest concert promoter in the Deadside. He doesn’t really even seem that evil, aside from potentially tricking musicians into selling their souls (although both Robert Johnson and Rae Sremmurd seem pretty clear about what contract they are signing, and with whom). As far as villains go, this one seems pretty flat and shallow.
 
I admit that I was encouraged early in the issue when they introduced the concept of a fabricated hell in the Deadside. Last month, Valiant finished a storyline starring Shadowman that introduced the Liveside, which is much like the typical conception of heaven, and I did enjoy the possibilities of a true hell analog in the Valiant universe as a counterpart, especially one that is couched in a different explanation that traditional Christian religion. I generally appreciate any attempts at world-building, especially with respect to the Deadside which has been chronically vague and amorphous. Unfortunately, the world that was build was ultimately pretty cliché (the issue itself pointed out that elements were ripped off from Led Zeppelin posters). In addition, the resolution of the issue arguably negates any world-building that they may have accomplished. In the absence of the “devil” loa and his throng of tunes-loving demons, is there any reason to think of this place ever again? Is there any reason to believe that this ersatz hell will even persist in the absence of the power that created it?
 
In addition, from a storytelling perspective, I feel that the story is somewhat anti-climactic. Shadowman dispatches a handful of demon attackers easily, as you might expect from a character that terrorized and brutalized the Deadside for years. Even the devil loa himself is dispatched pretty effortlessly in a pretty nothing confrontation. I guess all the magical power that he amassed from the demon throng is no match for one dude with a spear. Finally, Shadowman stumbles into releasing the spirits of numerous enslaved musicians and dispatching all of the remaining demons in one fell swoop (two birds, one screen). This all happens in the span of about five pages, and then the story is instantly over. I know that it’s a tough prospect to tell a compelling and thorough story in a single issue, but both of Rahal’s previous one-shots succeeded much better in that respect. Perhaps they tried to fit too much into one book between introducing Rae Sremmurd and the devil loa, and attempting some world-building.
 
At the end of the day, I find myself asking why? Why would Valiant release a risky and lackluster story for a character that they worked so hard to rehabilitate and set up for a huge promotional push next year? Many Valiant fans have written off Jack Boniface (Shadowman) for years due to mismanagement of the character. This issue does not do much to instill trust that they will treat Shadowman right when he returns with an ongoing series next March. In spite of the spectacular art, I just don’t think there is $4 worth of story in this issue, especially for Valiant fans who are generally a rabid and demanding bunch. I would really only recommend this issue to fans of Rae sremmurd, which perhaps was the whole point.
 

Our Score:

4/10

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