Peter Milligan's Shade the Changing Man was one of the foundation titles of DC's mature readers Vertigo imprint, alongside acknowledged classics such as Neil Gaiman's Sandman and Grant Morrison's Doom Patrol. Like them, it took an obscure character from DC's archives as a starting point for something pioneering, alien and more than a little disturbing. The American Scream collects the first six issues of the series, which introduce the key characters while still throwing us into the heart of the action. The extraterrestrial Shade arrives on an Earth that is going crazy; his mission to fight the enigmatic American Scream's infectious Madness with the reality-warping power of his own Madness Vest.
The Madness is at the heart of Shade, a vehicle by which American obsessions such as Kennedy and Hollywood can be amplified, in order that Milligan's meditations on them might be brought to bear with more precision. The problem is that, for all his undoubted talents, these meditations sometimes teeter on the borderline between profundity and banality. So, in Hollywood: "Who's the director, the auteur of life? Who writes these utterly absurd screenplays?" Later in the run of Shade, where the focus was more thoroughly personal though no less deranged, Milligan produced genuinely great work. Here, for all the insane power of Chris Bachalo's art, he's hampered by the concentration on slightly amateurish socio-political critique. None of which is to deny that there are some incredibly powerful passages here; the opening issue in particular is a genuinely harrowing, personal portrayal of madness as a young woman named Kathy George prepares for the execution of the man who killed her parents. Shade the Changing Man: The American Scream may not be a great work, but it has sufficient moments of greatness to more than justify this collection. --Alex Sarll