Zadie Lu is afraid of her own shadow, though probably for good reason. As if life was not stressful enough with bullying at school or her brother being in a coma, shadows are following her everywhere and not in the normal way. These shadows are watching her, waiting for their moment to strike in the dark. The problem is, how can Zadie ever hope to strike back? Shadecraft, created by the same duo behind the Eisner award-nominated series, Skyward, is a story full of twists, turns, drama, and action, but falls short of being a truly terrific, terrifying read.
Author Joe Henderson creates a story that seems too familiar for its own good. Shadecraft follows the standard beats of a typical origin story with little deviation from common tropes: awkward teenager who is bullied at school and faces family drama at home encounters a seemingly otherworldly threat, undergoing a coming-of-age journey along the way. Naturally, there are ways in which an author can present an original take on these themes, but nothing really makes this story stand out from the dozens of others like it, not even with the standard twists that close each issue like clockwork. Aside from the effectively intimidating designs of the malicious shadows, illustrated by Lee Garbett and colored by Antonio Fabela, Shadecraft is devoid of a real identity.
There is promise of a greater story in this volume, especially when seeing Zadie’s character arc and where her external and internal journeys ultimately lead her, but the combination of a rushed pace along with weighty, exposition-heavy scenes throw off any balance or impact it may have. On the fourth page of the first issue, we already see Zadie in danger as shadows close in around her, displayed in a striking full-page spread, but the moment feels empty as we know almost nothing about her. There is little to tie us to her emotionally, and so it comes off as Henderson and Garbett showing their hands too early.
What truly left me conflicted about this comic was its labeling and marketing as a horror comic. There are moments of suspense and terror within the first issue of this five-issue volume, but this aspect of the story quickly peters off, especially following the revelation of the shadows’ origins. If anything, Shadecraft treads more comfortably towards dark fantasy, a subgenre of fantasy that has paranormal or horror elements. The only element of horror comes from the appearance of the shadows themselves, which, while wonderfully designed and textured by the comic’s artists, never fully lean into how much more terrifying they could be.
It is this thought that made me torn over the presence of Garbett’s art style within this particular comic. His work on Loki: Agent of Asgard, one of my favorite comics in general, is phenomenal and his style works perfectly with more action and adventure-oriented stories. As the comic goes on, the story loses more of its horror edge and starts to become something more reminiscent of Marvel or DC titles. As this is a comic that depends more on visuals than dialogue to sell the tone and overall feel of the story, it is paramount that those visuals capture those elements from start to end. Though there is nothing inherently wrong with Garbett’s style, it seems to be keeping the story from truly embracing its horror qualities.
Despite these issues, the first volume of Shadecraft begins a story that could grow into something greater if the creators/publishers cement their decisions about what exactly they want it to be. Due to the abundance of common tropes and accessibility of the paneling, this comic may be more suitable for readers just starting to get into the medium. Those looking for a horror title may be somewhat disappointed, though it works fine as a darker fantasy with action/dramatic elements. Given its publisher-given age rating of T, along with its slight horror elements and the relatability of the teenaged main character, this title would fair best with audiences 13 and up. While not a must have for a collection, librarians may be interested in purchasing this title if there is a good circulation of dark fantasy titles or the author’s other works, as well as to meet potential demand as there is currently a Netflix adaptation in the works.
Shadecraft, Vol. 1
By Joe Henderson
Art by Lee Garbett
Publisher Age Rating: T
NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)