"Shaman Graphic Novel Review
Written by James Ferguson
Written by Ben Kahn
Illustrated by Bruno Hildago
2015, 136 Pages
Resurrection is an overused trope in super hero comics. It's something that's just to be expected. Any time a character dies, especially a major one, it's a foregone conclusion that they'll be returning to the land of the living at some point. If they happen to be starring in a major motion picture, you can bet your ass that they'll be back by the release date. (I'm looking at you, Steve Rogers.) The cause of the resurrection ranges from clones and time travel to omega beams and alternate reality bullets. (Man, I didn't realize how stupid comics can be until I typed out that sentence.) Shaman cuts out all that crap and puts the job solely on the title character. He brings people back from the dead, regardless of who it pisses off in the process.
These first five chapters don't go into the secret origin of Shaman or any of his past. It drops you right into the action. Somehow he gets a message from beyond telling him who to resurrect next and he sets off to do just that. He can't bring back just anyone; he has to have a vision. These actions are serving some sort of higher purpose, but he doesn't know what that is. Shaman doesn't seem to care either. He's got a job and he's very good at it.
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The book presents some moral dilemmas, like when, in the second chapter, Shaman is tasked with raising Invader, a murdering alien who is probably better off dead. This creature is most likely going to kill again, so are those deaths on the mystic's hands? There are only a handful of times throughout the book that Shaman lets his cool demeanor slip, showing you the man underneath the dark sunglasses and suave jacket. Explaining his actions with Invader is one of those times. Writer Ben Kahn ties this story up nicely by turning it on its head. It goes in a very different direction than what you might expect and the plot is better for it.
On the other end of the moral spectrum is a woman introduced in the fifth chapter who has just lost her son. She comes to Shaman after hearing that he can bring people back from the dead. Unfortunately for her, it doesn't work that way. He can't just bring back her kid. This is a heartbreaking exchange as Shaman is filled with frustration and anger at those around him, but also a bit of sadness that he can't help this grieving woman.
Shaman is dripping with attitude in every panel. He doesn't care what anyone thinks and he's going to have fun doing his job. The humor really shines through, especially with his daughter LL, who's probably the only person that calls him on his shit. They have a great relationship that really grounds the book in some semblance of reality while dealing with tons of cool supernatural and super heroic elements. You can't help but love the main characters as they stick it to the man, in this case being the established heroes of this world. Shaman operates on the edges of this realm and there's clearly a history there that is hinted at but not yet revealed.
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This humor would be nothing without Bruno Hildago's artwork. His characters perfectly match the tone of the story. It's not your typical super hero look either. There are no bulging muscles or ridiculous cleavage. Instead, they look like real people, albeit a little lanky. There are also these little gags in the design sometimes that help make an otherwise serious character come off foolish, such as the little groin / butt cover on the costumes of the Cosmic Guardians. It's like that's built in so they can use the bathroom. It's practical, but looks ridiculous. Makes you wonder how Green Lantern pees.
If all this doesn't sell you on Shaman, let me leave you with this: The fourth chapter has him resurrecting Babe Ruth to fight the Green Monster from Boston, which is a literal green monster terrorizing the city. That kind of sums up the book in how fun and awesome it can be. This is what I wanted from Hellblazer. Shaman is a supernatural badass in a world of uptight heroes. He encounters weird stuff like teleporting skeletons and Vodun Death Loa, but through it all, he still manages to have a little fun and kick a whole lotta ass.