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Shade (comics)

"The Shade" redirects here. For other uses, see Shade (disambiguation).
Not to be confused with Shade, the Changing Man.
The Shade on the cover of Starman #6 (1995).
Art by Tony Harris.
Publication information
Publisher DC Comics
First appearance Flash Comics #33 (September, 1942)
Created by Gardner Fox
Hal Sharp
In-story information
Alter ego Richard Swift
Team affiliations Injustice Society
Notable aliases "Dicky", "Mr. Black", "Louie", Immortal Wielder of Shadows
Abilities Shadow manipulation (ability to control darkness)
Ability to travel great distances in short amounts of time
Create constructs out of shadows
Does not age
Virtual immortality

The Shade (Richard Swift) is a comic book character developed in the 1940s for National Comics, first appearing in the pages of Flash Comics in a story titled The Man Who Commanded the Night, scripted by Gardner Fox and illustrated by Hal Sharp.[1] Debuting as a villain, the Shade was best known for fighting against two generations of superheroes, most notably the Golden Age and Silver Age versions of the Flash.[2] He eventually became a mentor for Jack Knight, the son of the Golden Age Starman Ted Knight, a hero the Shade had also fought.[3]

Though initially portrayed in the Golden Age comics as a thief with a cane that could manipulate shadows, the character was reinvented in 1994 as a morally ambiguous Victorian era immortal who gained the ability to manipulate shadows and his immortality from an unexplained mystical event. In 2009, the Shade was ranked as IGN's 89th Greatest Villain of All Time.[4]

Fictional character biography

The 'Shade' draws his alias and source of power from Dante Alighieri's epic poem The Divine Comedy. More accurately, the first book of the poem, Inferno, which describes the 9 Rings of Hell. This poem is the most cited depiction of Hell, and the various characters in the story referred to as "the Shade" are references to the perpetual darkness of Hell itself. The comic book villain "The Shade" uses his power of perpetual night to cast a blanket of darkness over various parts of the world. In darkness, evil triumphs.


The Shade was introduced in Flash Comics #33, as a villain for the original Golden Age Flash. He was portrayed as a thief who could manipulate the shadows with a magical cane. He fought both the Golden Age Flash and his Silver Age counterpart Barry Allen. He was a member of several supervillain teams, including the Injustice Society. Shade was one of three villains used for the first meeting of the two heroes in the famous "Flash of Two Worlds"[2] story, which reintroduced the Golden Age Flash to the Silver Age. He was jailed along with the Wizard and Fiddler. In the "Crisis on Earth-S" story (Justice League of America #136) he is one of King Kull's agents positioned on Earth-S to wipe out humanity there. With Doctor Light he causes perpetual night and darkness on either side of the planet, but is met by Bulletman and Hawkman.


The Shade returned in print in 1986, as a member of the Wizard's new incarnation of the Injustice Society. The Shade's next appearance was in a flashback story in Secret Origins #50 (1989), which presented a post-Crisis retelling of "The Flash of Two Worlds".

Post Zero Hour

After Zero Hour, The Shade's origin was changed drastically. The Shade was retconned to an English gentleman named Richard Swift, a young man in the year 1838. One night in London, Swift was trapped amidst an unexplained mystical tragedy, which killed 104 people. The most immediate of effects upon him was the permanent loss of all memory prior to the incident. Fortunately, a carriage appeared and took him in. The gentleman who had picked him up gave him the name Piers Ludlow, and offered to help him reencounter his past. Accepting his "kindness", Swift was taken to Ludlow's house and was taken to a house the next evening. However, the whole affair was a setup; the whole Ludlow family was in fact a band of killers and swindlers, and they had perpetuated a scheme many times over: to kill one of their wealthy, reclusive business partners and have a vagrant killed in his vicinity to give the impression of a failed robbery/homicide. However, when they intended to repeat the scheme with Swift as the scapegoat, he reflexively unleashed his shadows, killing all the present Ludlows. Only a young pair of twins, absent from the excursion, survived. The following evening Swift met one of his true friends prior to the incident: the author Charles Dickens.[5]

For decades thereafter, Swift lived a relatively normal life, one which changed when Rupert Ludlow, one of the surviving twins, appeared and ambushed him along with a band of hired killers, informing him of the murderous intent of the family and of its exponential growth. Though grievously injured, Swift still managed to kill Ludlow (by then he had already discovered his immortality). Afterward, he left England and started a career as an adventurer/assassin/observer on life, which spanned whole continents and led him to many adventures. While traveling, he met Brian Savage (Scalphunter) and visited Opal City for the first time. He established himself in Opal, acquiring real estate and generally living well, even encountering Oscar Wilde, although he never quit the adventuring life, ensuring he would always have a considerable fortune waiting for him. However, during his journeys, he also met a similar immortal born of the same incident and bearing his same powers: a dwarf by the name of Simon Culp, who would become his mortal adversary.[6]

During all of the Shade's escapades, he had been pursued quite actively by the Ludlows, whom he abated with little remorse, killing dozens of the family before meeting Marguerite Croft, a young lady, with whom he fell in love and established with in Paris during the thirties. Unfortunately, she proved to be a Ludlow, and tried to kill Shade by poisoning him. Shade survived the toxins, and was forced to kill Marguerite when she confessed that though she loved him, she would make more attempts on his life due to loyalty to her family. This left Shade with a sense of general depression and the feeling he could never love again. Because of this and the death of Brian Savage, he resumed his activities as an assassin.[7]

During World War II, he left America to defend his country from the bombing raids, and fought Simon Culp again. A bomb blast, falling on top of them, sent Culp into Shade's body. Unaware of this, the Shade returned to America and to Keystone City. This was the time of the Golden Age of Heroes, and of them all he chose one as his adversary: Jay Garrick, the first Flash. For him, it was little more than a game, posing as a gimmicky villain (influenced by Culp) to get away with his truly important crimes unnoticed, and felt genuinely disappointed with the retirement of Garrick. This lasted until another "superhero", the Spider, came along. Shade, feeling curiosity for the Spider's motives, discovered he was in fact a criminal, getting rid of the competition, and a Ludlow by birth. Shade defended Keystone by killing the Spider and rescuing Flash and his wife from a murder attempt. When asked as to his own motives, he responded he truly enjoyed Garrick for his wit and humor, and that he already had a city to love and devote to (he protected Opal from harm several times, even saving Starman from a murder attempt[8] and not committing even a single crime within its limits).

During the 1960s he briefly teamed up with Doctor Fate to take down what was apparently one of Culp's criminal ventures, a mystic organization of madmen, the Wise Fools, who wished to repeat the ritual that created him by apparently summoning a wild, uncontrolled bubble of shadow (actually Culp's shadow, separated from the Shade by Culp). Unaware that Culp's consciousness was actually within the Shade, he and Dr. Fate destroyed the Wise Fools operation and threw the bubble into an empty dimension (where it continued to immensely grow in power and size), unaware that Culp had foreseen all of it and that it was only a step in a much larger plan, one which almost culminated in the destruction of Opal City.[9]


James Robinson decided to use Shade, giving the character a starring role in his new Starman series in 1994. In the first story arc, Sins of the Father, Jack apparently finds an enemy in Shade when he kidnaps his father, retired Starman Ted Knight on the orders of the senile Mist, who wishes for a final showdown. Shade later betrays the Mist by allying himself with the O'Dare Family, a clan of police officers who assist Jack in memory of their father Billy O'Dare, a policeman who had often assisted the original Starman. Shade, with the O'Dares, assaults the Mist's hideout and rescues Ted Knight. Out of the O'Dares, he befriended the family's "black sheep", Matt O'Dare.[10]

Much of the Shade's past is revealed through journal entries included in the Starman comics, including the flashback issues called "Tales of Times Past". They often dealt with different Starmen, including Jack's father Ted, as well as other characters from the Starman mythos such as Brian Savage. There were a total of 10 "Times Past" issues in the 80-issue series. "Excerpts" from the Shade's journal often replaced the Starman letters column, frequently giving additional background related to the story or background into Shade's motivations. These excerpts are written as prose, as opposed to a more traditional comic style, with occasional illustrations, and as journal entries being written by the Shade himself at different points in his existence.[11]

Shade has an active part in an adventure of Jack's involving a demon hidden within a poster that can snatch innocent people and drag them into Hell. Shade, as always, wishes peace for Opal, and also does not like Merritt, the human guardian of the poster, who has gained immortality for his protection of it, and consequently become the inspiration for Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray. In a fight for possession of the poster, Matt O'Dare is dragged within and Shade follows. Within the poster, Shade agrees to sell his soul in exchange for the liberation of all the souls contained within (something that, unknown to Shade, Jack Knight and Matt O'Dare have also agreed to do), but the demon, unable to accept a selfless deal, releases all of them. Following this, Matt decides to turn over a new leaf and put his crooked past behind him. Shade assists him in his efforts, partly influenced by the revelation O'Dare is, in fact, the reincarnated lawman Scalphunter, an old friend.[12]

A particularly important point in the life of Shade comes when he meets the demon-lord Neron. Neron offers, as he has to many supervillains before, to augment Shade's power. However, Shade sees little use in Neron's offer, as he has no need to increase his already substantial wealth, he sees no way of heightening his shadows' power, and is already immortal. Neron, angered by his rejection, swears vengeance against Shade.[13]

Over the years the Ludlows have apparently ceased to attack him, which Shade sees as a respite. This lasts until the wife of the last Ludlow by blood calls him to the city of Ludlow to talk her husband out of attempting an attack on him that would certainly cost him his life. Shade answers the summons and talks Ludlow out of pursuing his family's vendetta, apparently burying a legacy of hate that has lasted more than one hundred and fifty years.[14]

Another notable point during the series' run came when the Godwave struck the DC universe, depowering almost all superheroes. In a confrontation between Starman, Matt O'Dare, Green Lantern, and The Infernal Doctor Pip, in which Pip almost blows up a large section of an Opal skyscraper, Shade appears at the last minute and draws Pip into the Darklands, which serve as his power source, before the bomb can explode. The plot twist is that his powers are unaffected by the depowerment, with a note indicating there are powers not even God wants anything to do with, referencing the dark origins of the Shade's massive powers.[15]

At various times, Culp is able to take control over or subtly influence The Shade. At one specific point, Culp takes full control to talk to Jack, in the process making a mistake about the name of a Wilde story. Around the time Jack returns from space in the "Stars, My Destination" story arc, Culp is able to assume full control over Shade's body for an extended period of time and imprison or neutralize most of Opal City's heroes in a bid to loot and destroy Opal - with no other motive than to destroy what Shade loves most. Gathering an army of villains whom Jack has battled over the course of the series, Culp absorbs Shade's powers, in addition to the ever-growing and tremendously powerful shadow force Shade and Dr. Fate had exiled decades before, to cast a spell allowing him to trap Opal City in an impenetrable bubble of shadow and force a confrontation with the city's heroes. Many of the supervillains helping Culp have been gathered by either Neron, the still-vengeful daughter of the Mist, or one of the last Ludlows in existence, the son of the false hero the Spider. This story is the climax of the series, told in the "Grand Guignol" arc.

Shade eventually is able to cast out Culp, losing his shadow powers in the process. However, Culp underestimates the Shade, and is tricked into allowing a small shadow imp loyal to Shade to be absorbed into his own shadow, leading to a battle of wills in which Shade draws all the darkness into himself (adding Culp's shadow's might to it, augmented by the Wise Fools ritual), leaving Culp powerless. Shortly thereafter, Culp attempts to buy his freedom by threatening the younger Mist, but is killed in the process by the elder Mist. This is a turning point for Shade, as he now has freedom of choice, is able to discern right from wrong, and therefore able to decide whether he wishes to remain a villain or become a true hero, protecting his city. He is present at the final showdown with the Mist and leaves the building with Ralph Dibny, Jack, and Theo Kyle Knight.[16]


Since the end of the Starman series, the Shade has made cameo appearances in several comic series, including Green Arrow and JSA and was listed alongside magical-based villains such as Felix Faust and Circe. He also has a brief appearance in DC's Brave New World in 2006. During the Infinite Crisis, he is seen using his powers to help Opal citizens, by protecting the buildings they are in (though, in a remark full of his trademark cynicism, reminiscent of his status as a solitary man, he comments he is not doing it to save the citizens themselves, but, rather, he is "saving the architecture").

He shows up in Robinson's Justice League: Cry for Justice, waiting for his old rival Jay Garrick in his home. He informs Garrick that the insane supervillain Prometheus has ordered a series of attacks on various superheros (including Batwoman, Barry Allen, Crimson Avenger, and Stargirl) in order to distract them from a sinister master plan. Shade then accompanies Jay to the JLA Watchtower in order to warn the other heroes of the impending doom.[17] He and Jay arrive at the Watchtower just as Prometheus (who had disguised himself as Freddy Freeman and defeated the entire League) attempts to escape. Though Jay is easily floored, the Shade proves difficult to defeat (as he is technically not a "hero", meaning Prometheus has no file on how to stop him), and ultimately ends up stopping Donna Troy from killing the supervillain after he has been beaten into submission. However, the Shade later creates a portal that gives Green Arrow access to Prometheus' otherdimensional lair,[18] where the archer kills Prometheus in revenge for Star City, the dismemberment of his former protege Red Arrow, and the death of Red Arrow's daughter.[19]

During the Blackest Night, Shade is in a relationship with Hope O'Dare, and claims that he is in love with her. After a night of sex, Shade and Hope are confronted by David Knight, reanimated as a Black Lantern. David rips out Shade's heart, but, due to his powers, he survives, unable to be killed and resisting the call of a black ring that seeks to turn him into another undead. After David threatens to kill Hope and later Jack, an enraged Shade uses his powers to trap the Black Lantern within the Shadowlands after decrying the Lantern as a mockery and a fake, saying he has "no light of his own", and uses his own heart as a channel to bind and banish him. Afterwards, Hope admits that she loves Shade as well, and the two lovers depart from the scene of the battle.[20]

Shortly after the events of Blackest Night, the Shade is approached by Hal Jordan and Barry Allen, and he takes them to the Ghost Zone where they find the rotting corpse of Prometheus.[21]

It was announced by Robinson in 2010 that a solo Shade series was then in development.[22] The series, written by Robinson and drawn by Cully Hamner, launched in late 2011 and dealt with Shade and his descendants, flashing back to various points in his life as he travelled the globe trying to find who is behind a plot to kill him.

During Brightest Day, Jay Garrick arrives at the Shade's home alongside Doctor Mid-Nite, Sebastian Faust, and Wildcat in order to see if he can help them track down the missing Obsidian, who possesses abilities similar to those of the Shade. After entering the house, the JSA members find Obsidian and Doctor Fate standing over the Shade's comatose body. Obsidian, now possessed by a cosmic entity known as the Starheart, tells the heroes that the Shade would have told them his "secrets", and that the Starheart commanded that he and Fate silence him.[23] Following the defeat of the Starheart, Congorilla mentions that the Shade has been missing since his assault at the hands of Obsidian, and that nobody has been able to contact him.[24]

Shade's disappearance is explained shortly after this, when it is revealed that he had been captured and brainwashed by Eclipso.[25] Realizing that Shade could turn the tide of the battle, Saint Walker sends the Atom and Starman inside his body to fight off the effects of Eclipso's brainwashing.[26] The heroes narrowly manage to free the Shade's mind, and he turns against Eclipso and ultimately helps the Justice League defeat the villain once and for all.[27]

Possible futures

During the Starman story arc "Stars, My Destination" Jack is thrown by a shadowy corridor created by a future Shade across time and space into a future where Shade's powers overtake him due to a disease that Culp had infected him with during their final battle (the absorption of Culp's shadow, along with the mystical enhancements brought as a consequence of the Wise Fools ritual). His shadow begins expanding into the universe and threatens areas protected by the Legion. Rescuing him, the future Shade explains how Jack may be able to stop it from ever happening by using his cosmic rod on him in the past. He later opens another time portal to allow Jack to journey across time again to reach his destination, Throneworld. In the final issue of Starman, Jack apparently is able stop the disease before it has the chance to affect Shade; this apparently changes the future that he had seen on his space voyage.

Starman Annual #1 shows a possible future for Shade, as the protector of a Utopian planet thousands of years from the present. As with the current Shade, he enjoys telling tales of his past. The planet's technology and possibly the planet itself seemed to made almost entirely out of Cosmic Rod technology inspired by Starman and his legacy.

Powers and abilities

Shade is at present one of the best, if not the ultimate, channeler of the power of the Darklands, a quasi-sentient, extra-dimensional mass of malleable darkness which he can channel to various effects, both as an absence of light and a solid substance: he can summon and control "demons" from there, summon and dispel shields and areas of complete darkness, create all kinds of constructs out of shadows (in a similar manner to a Green Lantern, with the exception of the color of the constructs), transport himself and others through it over massive distances, and can, if necessary, use it as a last-ditch prison dimension. The darkness itself can be dispelled by sufficiently bright blasts of energy. Eventually, his experience with the shadows allows him to create corridors through time (the most dramatic instance being when he sends Jack Knight's spaceship from a point in space in late twentieth century to the neighborhood of Xanthu in the Legion of Super-Heroes' era and from there to Krypton, several decades before its destruction). These powers have also granted Shade agelessness and immortality. Overall, his powers are formidable to the point that Dr. Fate once remarked that even The Spectre would have serious difficulty dealing with him, possibly due to the origin of his powers (the former realm of a divine entity on par with God). He is heavily resistant to damage, as seen when a demolition bomb falls on him, leaving him only slightly dazed. Even with his heart torn out of his chest by Black Lantern David Knight, he remained alive and unable to die.

His only weakness (if it can be called such) is the fact that if he loses his shadow, he becomes vulnerable. However, this can only occur if a survivor from the same event in 1838 drains him of it, or in the event of a light strong enough to completely surround him, to the point that he is unable to cast a shadow.

Character inspiration

Charles Dickens' story The Old Curiosity Shop features an English Rake also named Richard, and a dwarf named Quilp. In continuity, it is suggested that Shade's story inspired Dickens to write The Old Curiosity Shop. James Robinson has stated that he drew some inspiration for the Shade's mannerisms and speech patterns from the British stage and screen actor Jonathan Pryce.[citation needed]

Other versions

  • On Earth-33, there is a magician called Shade, with all his powers. He is a member of the League of Shamans.[28]
  • The Shade (possibly of Earth-3). An alternate version of the heroine Nightshade, she shares with him his namesake and all his powers, and she wears a top hat and a cane. She's killed by Eve of the Shadows, another Nightshade counterpart. The possibility exists that this Shade is actually a female version of Shade from the gender-reversed world Earth-11.[29]

In other media


  • The Shade first appeared in the two-part Justice League episode "Injustice For All" voiced by Stephen McHattie. In this version, his powers are a product of his staff, which he calls the "nightstick," much like that of his pre-Robinson years. In his first appearance, Star Sapphire remarks how he is "nothing" without his night stick. He first appears as a member of Lex Luthor's Injustice Gang. In "Fury" Shade appears as a member of Aresia's Injustice Gang. In "Secret Society" Shade is later recruited into Gorilla Grodd's Secret Society. Although by this time, he is skeptical of its success due to seeing such efforts fail twice in the past. He is attracted to Giganta, who seems to return his affection. When he finds out that she had once been a gorilla, he is shocked, but then looks at her and shrugs with a smile on his face. During this time, he has learned martial arts and is able to hold his own in a confrontation against Batman (if only briefly). When Grodd's Secret Society is defeated by the Justice League in a football field in front of thousands of people, Shade states "I knew this wouldn't work" before attempting to flee and being stopped by Batman.
  • In the Justice League Unlimited series, Shade joins a fourth anti-Justice League organization, Gorilla Grodd's new Secret Society, later taken over by Lex Luthor. The Shade is prominently shown for the last time in the series in the episode "Alive", where he sides against Luthor during the mutiny led by Grodd. During the mutiny, Shade and the other villains that opposed Luthor, are frozen by a turncoat Killer Frost.


  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ a b Vibber, Kelson (May 16, 2007). "The Shade". Retrieved 2008-03-19. 
  3. ^ Harris, Tony, Starman, DC Comics, 1994
  4. ^ Shade is number 89 IGN. Retrieved 10-05-09.
  5. ^ The Shade miniseries #1, DC Comics, 1997
  6. ^ The Shade #2, DC Comics, 1997
  7. ^ The Shade #3, DC Comics, 1997
  8. ^ Starman v2 series #46, DC Comics, 1997
  9. ^ Showcase #4-5, DC Comics, 1996
  10. ^ Starman v2 series #0-6, DC Comics, 1997
  11. ^ Starman v2 series #11, #18, #28, #36, #42, #44, #46, #54, #74, DC Comics, 1997
  12. ^ Starman v2 series #24-26, #41, DC Comics, 1997
  13. ^ Showcase #12, DC Comics, 1995
  14. ^ The Shade miniseries #4, DC Comics, 1997
  15. ^ Starman v2 series #30-33, DC Comics, 1997
  16. ^ Starman v2 series #61-73, DC Comics, 1997
  17. ^ Justice League: Cry For Justice #5
  18. ^ Justice League of America (vol. 2) #42 (February 2010)
  19. ^ Justice League: Cry for Justice #7 (March 2010)
  20. ^ Starman (Vol. 2) #81
  21. ^ Justice League: The Rise and Fall Special
  22. ^ "Emerald City Comic-Con: The DC Nation Panel - ComicsAlliance | Comics culture, news, humor, commentary, and reviews". ComicsAlliance. 2011-01-20. Retrieved 2011-01-28. 
  23. ^ Justice Society of America (vol. 3) #41
  24. ^ Starman/Congorilla #1
  25. ^ Justice League of America (vol. 2) #54
  26. ^ Justice League of America (vol. 2) #58
  27. ^ Justice League of America (vol. 2) #59
  28. ^ Countdown to Adventure #1
  29. ^ Countdown: Arena #1