Sunday, 16 October 2016

Who's that Girl, Up in the Sky, with Diamonds?: Review of Shade the Changing Girl #1 by Cecil Castellucci and Marley Zarcone (2016 comic)

[Spoilers for this issue]

In every rendition, Shade’s a weird series; Shade the Changing Girl carries that torch. And like its predecessors, weird is not merely weird; Shade views the world askance. Where Peter Milligan woke us to the American Scream, Castellucci opens our eyes to back-stabbing teen girls.

Avian-alien Loma idolizes Rac Shade – the Rac Shade, poet, shade agent, wearer of the madness vest. She also loves earth from afar, though earth culture was a passing fad on her planet. Stewing in adolescent aimlessness, she follows her idol’s example; she steals the madness vest, and goes walkabout on earth. She hitches a ride in the body of braindead schoolgirl, whose friends and family would prefer she remain braindead. Loma only intends to live the earthling schoolgirl life for a bit, but can she control the madness that long. 

The first caption shows Loma’s amorality, as her ectoplasm form looms over her braindead host. ‘Not dead, but almost dead … Push what’s left of her out while I climb in.’ A smart establishing moment, as the act is only morally dubious, rather than outright immoral. We sense Loma lacks any moral squeamishness, but, as she steals the body of a vegetable, we don’t see her as a monster. Loma has that aimless selfishness of youth.

The parallels between Loma and her host, Megan Boyer, imply the madness vest didn’t choose just any vacant body; it sought a parallel personality. Megan is Queen Bitch, and dreaded by her peers and parents. Although Megan is more overtly manipulative, Loma shares her selfishness. Castellucci links between the girls with two resonating scenes. We meet Loma, in her original body, pressuring her security guard boyfriend into unlocking the display of Rac Shade’s madness vest. Her words imply she got with her boyfriend mainly for this end. For instance, as her boyfriend unlocks the case, she tells him she and Rac ‘were adopted because [their] parents failed the parenting test.’ Her boyfriend ‘didn’t know that about [her]’. This implies two things: one, she is not close enough to her boyfriend to tell him about her childhood; two, she feels a kinship with Rac Shade. Now cut to Megan Boyer five months ago, before her accident. At lake-party, fueled by sex and cocaine, she thinks of her beau: ‘Cute boy toy? Check. … Quiet when I tell him to be? Yes.’ While Megan is more open about her manipulation than Loma, these two scenes connect the girl’s via their selfishness. I expect future issues will pick up the thematic potential of this.

Loma treats her escapade on earth like a gap-year. Inspired by her poet-idol Rac Shade, and her liking of the earth sitcom I Like Honey, she wants to ‘stay just long enough to taste this different life’. Hard not to see her as the first-world new-adult stickybeaking through ‘exotic’ nations, only superficial interested in those nations’ cultures. She wants to escape her life on her home planet, but her choice of host will likely make her trip less romantic than she assumed.

Hallucinatory on left; trippy on right
With a plot device called the ‘madness vest’ this issue could have been a lot weirder. The weirdness keeps to the visuals, which vacillate between psychedelic and hallucinatory. As of the first issue, the narrative structure remains conventional, or rather, we’ve not got a non-chronological, unreliably narrated polyphony on our hands. Spare a flashback, Shade runs A to B. A traditional form stabilises Shade’s weird content..

As you might have guessed from Rac Shade being poet, there is poetry in this issue. While many writers underestimate the challenge of poetry, they being more trained in prose than poetry, Castellucci’s music background prepares her. ‘Where dark falls dark despite the light / I touch. I smell. I breathe. I beat. / Running off to the great blue. / Our hearts, now lost, just fade away’. Far from brilliance, but not amateur.

Shade the Changing Girl is a fittingly strange addition to DC’s Young Animal imprint. Loma’s future travails in her unpopular host will likely fulfil this issue’s promise. For any who like trippy sci-fi/high school stories, buy it.        

[Images scanned from DC's Young Animal's Shade the Changing Girl #1, written by Cecil Castellucci, illustrated by Marley Zarcone, coloured by Kelly Fitzpatrick, and lettered by Saida Temofonte.]

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