Marvel’s Secret Wars event from last year was a mixed bag in terms of content and execution but one of its more interesting tie-in books may may have been Squadron Sinister. In that title, the Squadron was involved in power struggles with multiple characters from various continuities and alternate universes. One such set of characters consisted of the heroes from Epic Comics Shadow Line of books. (Alternately referred to as Shadowline just to keeps things from getting too clear.)
Initially, when I came upon these characters in the first issue of Squadron Sinister, I had a faint glimmer of recognition before moving on. Later, as I re-read the story I realized why I recognized them. I had actually bought many of these books back in the late 80s when they were published. This sparked my interest enough to dig them out and also see if I could fill in some of the gaps in my collection.
Over the last few months I’ve managed to acquire pretty much everything that was published as part of this line. Additionally I dug up some background information via Marvel Age and Amazing Heroes articles. So I’ve reached the point where I’ve started to read them and I thought I might document my thoughts here.
According to Marvel Age #62 (1988), the Shadow Line of books was conceived by Archie Goodwin as a way to add some adult oriented superhero books to his Epic line of comics. Epic already published some superhero-ish titles but this was an attempt to document a shared universe concept with a tight continuity across several books. Perhaps this was designed to stimulate sales across the Epic line as Goodwin had seen the same approach work with the New Universe line and may have wanted to try something similar as a means of keeping Epic profitable. These books would also break from Epic’s creator-owned policy and Epic would hold the copyrights.
Goodwin spent some time writing the “bible” for the universe which detailed a world in which two separate races had evolved: Humans and Shadow Dwellers. The Shadow Dwellers appeared as human but were much more long-lived and had various powers and abilities. Because they were vastly outnumbered by humans they chose to pose as humans and operate in the shadows. The Shadow Line Saga would document a period when the Shadow Dwellers would begin to make their presence felt more overtly.
Once Goodwin had the bible in place he recruited editors Dan Chichester and Margaret Clark to write all of the titles. An interesting move since neither was a proven commodity at that point. The initial titles would be Doctor Zero, St George and Powerline with plans to do a quarterly anthology book at some point. Goodwin felt that the anthology might be useful in attracting big name creators who didn’t want to commit to an ongoing series but might be likely to do a short story here and there. The anthology never came to pass but the other three titles were launched and published on a bi-monthly schedule for a while before sales started to dwindle. After that the storylines in the three books were wrapped up in a crossover series called Critical Mass.
This probably won’t be a very fast moving thread but I plan to read each issue and then post thoughts when I have time. If anyone else has read these or has thoughts I would love to hear them. No need to wait for me if you want to post something. I'm hoping I can come back to this and add posts on a fairly regular basis. All comments welcome.
Good Lord! *Choke!* I had forgotten all about those titles!
Are there any collections or trades?
Richard Mantle said:
Not that I'm aware of, unfortunately.
Are there any collections or trades?
The basic foundation of the Shadowline Universe isn’t exactly anything new. Marvel already had something similar in place with their mutant characters. But it does provide a very convenient method for introducing new characters without having to bother with an origin story. A writer can just continually bring new heroes or villains out of the “shadows” without having to explain how they got their powers.
And that’s essentially what we get with Doctor Zero #1. The first Shadowline book to hit the stands back in 1988. This book featured a Bill Sienkiewicz cover, as would each of the other first issues in the line. Another artist would handle the covers for the second issues and so on. Interior art is by Denys Cowan with Sienkiewicz inks. Cowan doesn’t do a great job from a storytelling standpoint but at least Sienkiewicz makes everything look interesting.
In this first issue we meet Doctor Zero; an extremely powerful “Shadow Dweller” who uses his powers to operate as a sort of global puppet master. In the past he has been keeping a low profile as he manipulates events around the world. This is a Cold War era story so we see him influencing Reagan to conduct an airstrike on Libya (Bengazi to be exact) and then secretly making sure it’s successful. But at this point he’s made the decision to fashion a superhero alias for himself which he uses to stop a terrorist attack.
Later he engineers an attack on the World Economic Summit so that he can don his new Doctor Zero costume and prevent it. Subsequently we get peeks into the other two Shadowline books as Doctor Zero battles a knight of St George and gets a glimpse of the Powerline crew.
So far, there’s nothing too heroic about the Doctor. His methods seem to be rather Machiavellian and his goal doesn’t seem completely clear just yet. But this is definitely off to a good start and I want to know more. The checklist at the end of the book lists Powerline #1 as the next book in the saga.
Powerline #1 features the usual writing team of Chichester and Clark along with penciler David Ross and inker Bob McLeod. The art is more in line with a standard Marvel house style than the more stylized art of Doctor Zero.
This first issue features the origin (told mostly in flashbacks) of the Powerline team. The team consists of three misfit shadow dwellers who have been on the run from the evil Ravenscores. We previously caught a glimpse of the Ravenscores in the first issue of Doctor Zero. They appear to be a mob-type organization made up of malevolent shadow dwellers.
The basic template here is “teenage outcasts on the run,” but the goal seems to be to present them as more realistic teens than we would see in a standard superhero book.
With Powerline, we have the two teens, Victor and Lenore, whose powers become amplified when they are together and an older father figure (Victor’s Uncle Ripley) trying to help them navigate the world. In sticking with the shared universe concept we get cameos by Doctor Zero and St George.
I wasn’t as intrigued with this concept as I was with Doctor Zero. It seems like a more run of the mill mainstream superhero book and the art by Ross and McLeod is competent but not very compelling. I’m hoping things will get more interesting as the team comes out of hiding. Next up: St George #1.
Rounding out the trio of Shadowline titles was St George. This book was a departure from the other two in that it featured a protagonist who was human.
Father Michael Devlin is a priest who has grown frustrated with his role in the church and is looking for other ways to fight injustice. Flashbacks show us that his experiences fighting for survival in Nicaragua have hardened him and have also made him an ideal candidate to be a knight of St George. The first issue outlines his recruitment into a secret order of shadow dwellers who want to train and outfit him with a special armor that will give him enhanced abilities. The story throws us a bit of a curveball when Devlin basically washes out of his training but decides to take the armor anyway.
The art on St George is handled by Klaus Janson and is consistent with the work he did on Daredevil when he took over for Frank Miller. At times his style can be a little muddy and hard to follow but overall it’s a good fit for this type of story.
St George is grittier than Doctor Zero or Powerline with a more noirish feel to it. I like the fact that the main character is a priest who is also a tough guy and doesn’t make apologies for it. He is capable of brutality and impulsive actions but there is none of the hand wringing or self doubt that you might normally expect with this type of character. His only inner conflict seems to revolve around the fear that he might not be doing enough. This issue featured several mentions of Doctor Zero and would be followed by Doctor Zero #2. The next group of issues will feature covers by Jon J Muth.
I think this was right around the time I started growing weary of Klaus Janson's inks. I originally loved it, but it made every book he worked on look exactly like Miller's Daredevil, no matter who was drawing it. Eventually I'd just seen enough and wanted something brighter and less scritchy-scratchy.
Yeah his inks were always a bit overpowering. There was never any question who was doing the inking when he worked on a book.