Welcome to Unifying VALIANT, our celebration of the 25-year anniversary of VALIANT’s companywide crossover ‘Unity.’ A precursor to the now omnipresent annual comic event, ‘Unity’ and VALIANT changed the face of the comic industry in the early ‘90’s. In each entry we’ll be focusing on one of the company’s storylines until culminating at ‘Unity.’ Follow along as we dig deep and rediscover what made VALIANT the innovative and revolutionary company it was.
This week we meet VALIANT’s nightstalker. A cool jazz player who’s sweet with the ladies and deadly with his fists. Can he bring justice to the voodoo mired streets of New Orleans? He’ll certainly look good trying.
It’s Place within VALIANT:
One of the more intriguing characters in the VALIANT universe, “Shadowman” was co-created by Steve Englehart and David Lapham. One of the first books not to be written or created by Jim Shooter, the character would go on to be one of the most recognizable intellectual properties to have stemmed from the VALIANT line. Along with the initial run of comics, which would span 43 issues, the character would also be a focal point of the Acclaim purchase of VALIANT in 1996. “Shadowman” would be featured in two self-titled video games, available on the Nintendo 64, PlayStation, PlayStation II, Dreamcast, and PC. All in all, the character has sold millions of copies between his comic book and video game appearances.
The most interesting tidbit regarding “Shadowman” is of course the controversy between Steve Englehart and Jim Shooter. The crux of the issue stems from the fact that Englehart’s writing was an extreme departure from the style that Shooter had been producing. Fearing that this deviation would interrupt the fluidity of the universe as a whole, Shooter informed Englehart that he would regrettably be taken off writing duties. It appears that the entire matter was very civil at the time. Recent years have brought out more extreme reactions from the creators, but that shouldn’t be considered when evaluating the comic. “Shadowman” remains an extremely entertaining character with thrilling story arcs. Its convoluted creation, while interesting, should never take away from the character’s importance.
Much like the remainder of the early Pre-Unity books, print runs for “Shadowman” were quite sparse. The first three issues would range from 40,000 to 50,000 units. The character’s popularity would soon skyrocket, as 1993 and 1994 would see print runs well above 200,000 units a month.
Publication dates: May 1992 – July 1992
Written by Jim Shooter, Steve Englehart & Faye Perozich
Penciled by David Lapham & Mark Moretti
Inked by Joe Rubenstein, Tom Ryder & Charles Barnett III
Colored by Jorge Gonzalez, Dave Chlystek & Mark Csarzar
Lettered by Ken Lopez, Jade Moede & Joe Abelo
Jack Bonifice was a smooth playing saxophone player in the heart of New Orleans. The sultry music he created was the perfect complement to his smooth demeanor. That is until Lydia started coming into his life. Curvaceous and sexy, she tempted Jack and he obliged. Thinking he was in for the night of his life, Jack was ready to let Lydia have her way with him. That is, until she drugged him. With the fog of unconsciousness falling, Jack’s final vision is Lydia baring her fangs to bite into his throat. Instead of becoming a vampire’s delight though, Jack became something else. Attracted to the night he became uneasy during the day. The solitude of the darkness would bring him happiness, and the anticipation of conflict with make his blood rush.
Taking up a guise with a discarded carnival mask, Jack stalks the streets looking for Lydia. Instead though, he finds something just as evil. Drawn to a murderer who is terrorizing the streets of New Orleans, he confronts him realizing he now has super-human abilities. While he defeats him, the murderer escapes. Shortly thereafter Nettie, Jack’s housecleaner senses the changes in Jack. She explains to him that he is being helped by the voodoo spirit Bosou, and that his soul must go hunting at night to be satiated. With a renewed purpose and a new costume sewn by Nettie, Jack hunts down the murderer in the swamps of the bayou. Again, Jack is surprised by his abilities. In defeating the murderer though Jack quickly begins to appreciate this new lifestyle and longs for the comfort that he feels in the dark.Continued below
Embracing his new life as the Shadowman and now known to the New Orleans populace at large, a call goes out for Jack’s help. A local wealthy man, Sosa, is using young children and sucking out their life essences. One of Sosa’s housecleaners asks for help and the message gets back to Jack. Donning the mask once again, Jack is knocked out this time. Sosa, wanting to feast on him at a later time, takes him home. Jack recovers quickly though and is able to escape with Sosa’s newest girl. However, he knows that he can’t let this evil live on. Returning to Sosa’s home he confronts him once again. This time Jack is triumphant, as he leaves Sosa’s corpse impaled and dangling from his second floor balcony.
I’ll be the first to admit that I had “Shadowman” pegged all wrong. Never having actually read this title in the twenty-five years since its introduction, for some reason or another in my mind it seemed rather silly. My only guess is that the title seems utterly golden age in nature, and a teenage me would have scoffed at such a childish story. Boy, was I wrong. As we’ve seen VALIANT comics are very mature in nature, with each series taking a different non-comics code approach. While “Solar” deals with spousal abuse, and “X-O” caters to our violent nature, “Shadowman” deals with the dark lustful actions that play out in the night. The series thus far definitely carries a “Sin City” sort of vibe, which I hope is maintained given that the writing team was in constant flux for these first few issues.
The writing for this arc raises the biggest questions throughout these three issues. As it is well known, Steve Englehart had come to VALIANT to specifically write this character. Claiming that he’d be allowed to do it in whatever style he particularly chose, the end result caused some conflict based on how the story would fit within the VALIANT universe. How much of this arc is Englehart’s and how much is Shooter’s is nearly impossible to guess. The transition of writing teams came fairly quickly though. Englehart had already rubbed Shooter the wrong way based on his story in “X-O.” Given that “Shadowman” came out soon after, how much effect could Englehart have had over “Shadowman?” Unfortunately, it is difficult to tell, as the creators have maintained a level of professional etiquette regarding the matter. Thus, the issue may forever remain murky. I can attest to this though. What made it onto the page is nothing short of spectacular. The high bar set by “Solar,” “Magnus” and “X-O” would appear virtually unpassable. And yet “Shadowman,” who I so callously disregarded in 1992, has shown the silky bedside manners of an Anne Rice novel.
The other strong point of this arc? David Lapham. Apparently “Shadowman” was created for the lone reason of making me go back on my words. Lapham, who I had gently jeered based on his work in “Harbinger,” produced an almost perfect introductory arc in issues #1-2. The tonal shift in “Shadowman” and the ability for Lapham to focus on only a few characters at a time make his work so much better. There’s virtually nothing in the first two issues that doesn’t ooze with a silky vibe. The cool murky shadows and hyper violence set “Shadowman” apart from other early nineties vampire inspired characters. And while Lapham did not pencil issue #3, Mark Moretti would step in and maintain the same sweet vibe. Luckily for us, Lapham would go on and pencil “Shadowman” throughout the ‘Unity’ crossover, so we still have a few issues to look forward to.
Coming up Next:
How has the Spider-Alien’s thwarted invasion changed Magnus? Find out as we read “Magnus, Robot Fighter” #9-11, as this will be our next to last arc before the whole of the VALIANT universe dives into ‘Unity.’