Jack Boniface, aka Shadowman, is in the business of slaying demons. “The Deadside could ripple into our reality just about anywhere these days. When that happens… things crawl out… birthing themselves into this world. And it’s my job to shove back.” Jack is in Shadowman form for nearly all of this book, which means he swings a magic scythe, has hair of flickering shadow, uses supernatural vision, and wears a mask resembling a skull. As branding goes, this is as straightforward as Shadowman has ever been, using his shadow powers to wreak shadow justice. Jack is biracial, though this is not evident in the story beyond his dark skin.
He gets his powers from a shadow loa, an element of actual Haitian voodoo adapted for superheroics here, but this is no origin story. He starts out the story on the clock, so to speak, fighting one demon and on the trail of its matching partner. Each of this book’s four chapters features a showdown with a different demon that has infiltrated Earth by way of “thin spots” between here and the dark afterlife known as the Deadside. Bunn is good at twisting horror tropes, making a rampaging demon a tragic figure and a bloodthirsty hitchhiker the unsuspecting victim. Sometimes the horror is mysterious and subtle, other times violent and bloody. Negative emotions and experiences—violence, cruelty, hatred, sadness—embolden the Deadside to break through, as in the case of a toxic demon who lurks in a drug den. Baron Samedi, a teleporting skeleton who travels alongside Jack with taunts and advice, is normally a series villain but an effective foil here. The white dot in Samedi’s eye socket constantly teases mischief behind his guidance.
Jon Davis-Hunt’s illustrations bring to mind the word sharp. He uses the same amount of detail on faces and bloody violence as he does on backgrounds and outfits. The setting moves from New Orleans to an Arizona ghost town to Barcelona, Port-au-Prince, and London. Each location looks distinct, adding to each chapter’s distinctive feel. I want to look at everything on the page, from Baron Samedi’s flamboyant outfit to Jack’s smile right before he checks a mansion guard who lays a hand on him. Jordie Bellaire’s colors play a large role in the book’s appeal too, as the palette routinely morphs from natural and sickly colors in the normal world to heightened warm colors and glowing magical hues when the Deadside arrives. There are plenty of devils and antiheroes atoning for their sins in comics, but the art team here makes this a unique pleasure to read. Clayton Cowles’s lettering suits the mood too, with Jack’s uniform, white-on-black dialog and monologue bubbles contrasting against Samedi’s creeping, uneven bubbles.
A lot of Shadowman’s appeal is similar to that of a procedural TV show: hero shows up, turns over some clues, takes on a baddie, builds a little intrigue, and moves on to the next location. There’s no shame in that formula here, as it makes for efficient storytelling and it’s easy to imagine that Vol. 2 will have more Deadside demons, Samedi tomfoolery, growing threats from beyond, and look beautiful the whole time. There is a reference to a character from another comic Cullen Bunn wrote for Valiant, Punk Mambo, but the background knowledge isn’t necessary to understand this story. This collection represents a fresh take on the character, stemming from Valiant’s linewide 2012 reboot of their original 90s comics, but this isn’t a bad jumping-on point. Back matter includes some monster and setting commentary, as well as variant covers and a few black and white pages. Give this to fans of Hellboy, The Witcher, and Spawn.
Shadowman, Book One
By Cullen Bunn
Art by Jon Davis-Hunt
Publisher Age Rating: 12+
NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)
Character Representation: African-American,