COMICS RETROSPECTIVE: Garth Ennis introduced Zero, a killer new era for Shadowman (1997)


Shadowman by Garth Ennis trade paperback cover

Written by: Garth Ennis, Art by: Ashley Wood, Colours by: Atomic Paintbrush, Letters by: Dave Lanphear.


Shadowman is dead. Jack Boniface died last night. The unpredictable and deadly Tommy Lee Bones, along with his gang have escaped the Deadside, to cause havoc on New Orleans. The city needs a new hero. Along comes Zero, a contract killer with no past and a devastatingly good trigger finger. He’s certainly not a hero, but he could be the best person for the job. However, can a contract killer really be given the powers of Shadowman so easily, and would there not be some dramatic ramifications?


Hot off the heels of reviewing Valiant's most recent issues of Shadowman (Vol 6, 2021, Cullen Bunn), I decided to go back to explore the comic's history. So I find a copy of Shadowman (1997) featuring the Volume 2 stories by Garth Ennis, who I have a lot of respect for, due to his excellent run on The Punisher. Knowing how explicit Ennis could be, I thought this would be a great fit for the character that I’ve just started to get to know. I was in for both a shock and a surprise.


From the perspective of the writing, there’s nothing extraordinary. This is a passing of the torch moment for the character with an unknown, all through the perspective of what could be called a questionable narrator (rather than an unreliable one). We get to see the character development drawn out in a classic yet satisfying way with the new Shadowman Zero. Starting as quite the mysterious villain, he is then fleshed out as the series goes on, ironically, as he goes from living to dead.

Starting off very slow, it builds the suspense until we get to see him as the titular character. It was shocking for me to pick up a book where the main character that I was following in the current series is now dead, but this series leads itself nicely as a possible sequel to that. Written in Ennis’s gruff and explicit way shows the atrocities that all participants would partake in.


The artwork for me is what lets the series down. This to me is such a shame after you see what the cover art is like (see the top picture). The cover art compared to the interior art is a huge difference. One that made me question why have such a drastic difference in art. The front cover giving off a hazed look to it, which fits well with the Shadowman story. A single “hero” passing through the veil to both worlds, and this person becoming more than that...a legend. One whose name rings fear into those who would dare cross him. Compare that to the interior art, which I found to be very dark. I have nothing against using shadows or darker colours, but in the book these became confusing, and it was easy to lose who was talking and to whom.


Something else that I found lacking within the art, although this could also be directed at the writing too, was the lack of personality or detail of the city itself. Compare that to the newest series, I picked up the first issue without any prior knowledge, and within a few pages I just knew it was based on New Orleans. When dealing with such an iconic city, it just seems like a wasted opportunity not to make something of it, be that the architecture or even the music.


The series debuted in 1992. After looking into things a bit more, I realised that a Shadowman game was released in 1999 on PlayStation. This seemed to then add up. After reading a few comic tie-ins to games, this could explain the artwork, which is very similar to that of games based on comics back then. Even the story felt like a way to get people interested in the game. Creating a new Shadowman, despite then having another one for the game. If they introduce the idea that he can be a few different people, then fans wouldn’t have a big complaint about the game.


Overall, despite the flawed artwork, I still enjoyed the first arc. By the way it ended, I have to get the second. I didn’t expect this from a character that I hadn’t known about just 3 months ago, but there's something fascinating and intriguing about this book and character that makes me want to do a deep dive into the lore. So off I go into the shadowy abyss.


Shadowman from Valiant Comics collects the Volume 2 Garth Ennis stories SHADOWMAN (1997) #1–4, along with SHADOWMAN PRESENTS: DEADSIDE #1, and can be found at your Local Comic Shop, or you can find the collection on comixology

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