Sunday, September 14, 2014

Why Shade, the Changing Man?

You mean, besides being another Ditko creation and being a character in my ongoing saga?
Shade by Mike Allred
Because Shade is, in my opinion, the greatest love story in modern comics. Better than Lois and Clark. Better than Peter and MJ. Only matched in maturity by Sue and Reed, Shade, in both Ditko's and later writer Peter Milligan's hands, is the "Ditkosian" philosophy applied to the romantic ideal.
Steve Ditko's Shade
Rac Shade is a secret agent with a poet's soul for an extradimensional world called Meta. Meta and Earth are separated by a membrane called an M-Zone. The most dangerous part of crossing between is the Area of Madness. When he was accused of treason by his fiancée, Mellu, he stole a prototype "M-vest" and escaped between worlds. The vest distorts both the wearer and reality, and is attuned to the madness brought on by emotions strong enough to warp one's perspective.
Shade's circumstances took a turn for the worse when his body died in the Area of Madness. With the M-Vest linked to his metaphysical self, he punched a hole in the dimensional membrane, and inhabited the body of freshly deceased serial killer Troy Grenzer. The execution-gone-wrong was witnessed by a young woman named Kathy George, whose parents were murdered by Grenzer. Together they go on a sick, slick road trip across the Altered States of America.
Love, Vertigo-Style...
What follows in Milligan's run on the character is a study of selfless love versus selfish love. Shade, who bebops from body to body as he goes, is defined only by his romantic, poetic nature. Kathy is broken and confused, spiraling in and out of alcoholism, and Shade believes that if he sacrifices himself over and over again, or if he could somehow change her, she would come to love him. As the saying goes, insanity is defined as doing the same thing over and over but expecting a different result.
...and it does get insane.
The problem is that Shade doesn't know who he is either. He is literally "without Self" and is surprised and hurt time after time when Kathy doesn't reciprocate his romantic ideal. The love is empty, so that when she dies giving birth to Shade's baby, he resents the child and removes his heart, locking it in a box, and hiding it in the Madness stream.
Pfft...who needs it?
It's only after discovering himself and accepts his own broken heart, that he decides to go backwards in time, and try to stop Grenzer from murdering Kathy's parents in the first place. By restarting her reality, she could live a normal, happy life, and he can let her go. Like Sting sang, if you love somebody...
Yes, they made a cartoon version.
That realization, that you are what you are, and that loving someone means saying "Yes" to everything you look up to in them, is central to Shade. His need to sacrifice all at Kathy's altar is not out of love, but pity. He wants to be what she wants him to be, and it's not until he is who he is meant to be that his heart is given meaning.
Before you can love someone else, you have to love yourself first.
I always was a comic book fan, but Shade the Changing Man is the first series that I truly loved.

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