The Changing Man:
The American Scream
say I remember what it was like when DC launched its Vertigo
Comics label. I was somewhere approaching my first decade
of life, and my comic book tastes lent themselves more to
Spider-Man than Hellblazer. I can imagine though, when comic
readers were first introduced to Neil Gaiman's personification
of the dream world in Sandman, or the brutal methods
and lax morals of John Constantine in Hellblazer, that
there was some moment when everyone stood back and said, "Everything
just changed. Comics got serious."
they changed a lot is up for debate (the Indies and the Underground
comics from the 60s and 70s were certainly "serious"
and had been tackling taboo subject matter for years before
Vertigo), but one has to say that Vertigo brought with it
a new sensibility to mainstream comic books and to DC Comics.
DC recognizes this and happily keeps printing many of its
Vertigo series, several times over, so that each new generation
of comic buyers gets a fair shot to discover the more mature
side of three-color ink. But not all Vertigo series have seen
reprint (and thankfully so, anyone remember Vamps?
the Changing Man was one of the earliest titles out of
Vertigo, and perhaps because of that, the recent collection
seems to be incredibly dated in comparison to modern comics.
story of Shade, sort of a transdimensional exchange student,
who has come to earth from his home dimension of Meta. He
can't make the journey physically, so he opts to put his Self
into the body of a man already condemned to die. Troy Grenzer,
serial killer and proud of it, is sentenced to die. Upon his
death, Shade jumps into his body and takes up residence.
Kathy George, daughter of two of Grenzer's victims and former
mental patient, who Shade convinces to help him on his quest
to stop The Madness (later to be saddled with the titular
moniker of The American Scream) from harming both Earth and
Shade's home dimension. Did I mention that Shade uses a device
called the M-Vest to manifest his own delusions as a way to
fight the Madness? Oh, well he does.
that the Vertigo formula is there: find an out-there concept
(in this case, a rethink of a Steve Ditko creation), throw
in lots of material about the bestial nature of man and the
less-than-virtuous parts of the human psyche, and then push
"Blend." And the book does have some entertaining
aspects to it, but the whole thing feels tired and boring.
Milligan's (you know him from X-Force/X-Statix fame)
writing has no flare in this work. The characters of Shade
and Kathy, besides being vehicles for Milligan to write a
story about the dirtier aspects of American culture, are about
as interesting as cardboard cutouts. Kathy is a detached lunatic
supposedly, but goes from "crazy" to moderately
manageable in the span of maybe four pages. Aside from the
grisly scenes involving her parents, Kathy doesn't have emotion
or depth, and ends up becoming scenery, or an exposition robot
okay he's weird, but not enough. In fact, Shade is utterly
sane and incredibly boring for a guy who wandered through
the Madness in-between Meta and Earth. I really would have
preferred Milligan to take him to some lofty level of psychosis,
just to keep it interesting (a good example would be the sometimes
suicidal Orphan from Milligan's X-Statix).
that I'm sure go back to the days when we were just another
jewel in Her Majesty's crown, Milligan wants to comment on
American culture using his outsider (or in this case, British)
perspective. Maybe back in the early 1990s it was shocking
to see the underbelly of Hollywood exposed (pederast movie
stars, actresses sleeping with producers for parts, closeted
homosexuality in so-called "family man" actors,
etc.) but now its just blasé.
me if I sound un-American (wouldn't want to run afoul of that
witch hunting tool called the Patriot Act), but I don't really
care who shot JFK. Yes, he was a fairly good president (before
you blaze me with hate mail, try and remember the Bay of Pigs),
and given more time, might have done some spectacular things,
but the vast amount of conspiracy theories surrounding his
unfortunate demise is bordering on ridiculous. While Milligan
admits as much in the comic, taking nearly half of the collection
to do so was too much, not to mention that his ultimate conclusion
on who shot JFK reeks of sloppy writing.
is terrible. Chris Bachalo (notably of X-Men fame,
and Steampunk non-fame) was the artist on this book
and it was at a time when he had not hit his very recognizable
visual groove. His regular work is always dynamic and interesting,
but he drew Shade as if he were trying to cross a dash of
P. Craig Russell with the artist pool from the now defunct
EC Comics. His lines aren't clear, his characters aren't concrete
in your mind, and even worse is that, aside from some of his
background visuals, nothing drawn in the book is exciting.
Nothing grabs your attention and makes you look. The inks
by Mark Pennington just make it worse: everything is grainy,
and not in the good "film noir" way. Already obscured
faces become more obscured when Pennington steps in.
really bad book that has a somewhat interesting hook, but
lacks any good narrative or character work, all wrapped up
in sub par artwork. Also, DC, as it tends to do with its Vertigo
books, overcharges you at a whopping $17.95 for only six issues
worth of comics. It's not even close to being worth your time
or money to read it.
one part of the Vertigo lineup that should have stayed on
file in the microfilm archives, and not be taking up rack
space at your local comic shop. Gosh I'm angry today. Must
be the fact that I'm on the East Coast, and didn't get to
go to San Diego ComicCon, like some of the Fanboy Planet
staff. I'm a bitter, bitter man.
note: As always, Mister Sparling's opinions do not necessarily
reflect those of the editors of Fanboy Planet, especially
if the Justice Department is reading this. And we say to him
about the Con: suck it up, big man. Get well soon.)
The Changing Man: The American Scream