The spooky hero Shadowman returns this month, with a new series that seeks to reimagine the supernatural side of the Valiant Universe.
Debuting April 28, Shadowman #1 by writer Cullen Bunn and artist Jon Davis-Hunt keys in on their mutual affinity for horror for this dark ride down the demonic side of the Valiant universe. Written as a series of standalone horror stories within each issue, Bunn tells Newsarama they're "building a new mythology around the Deadside."
That building begins with a dramatic revamp of longtime Shadowman villain Baron Samedi as a deadpan foil to the hero.
Newsarama spoke with Bunn and Davis-Hunt about this new series, their retooling of the Valiant U's supernatural side, and what they hope to give to Shadowman fans beginning April 28.
Newsarama: Cullen, you are one of the most prolific horror comics writers working today. So tell us, how do you make a good horror comic starting on the first page? How did you do this with Shadowman?
Cullen Bunn: A good horror tale is, of course, about the characters and the terrifying challenges they face. One of the things that present some different opportunities for Shadowman as a character is that he doesn't feel fear. The shadow loa that gives him his powers prevents that.
So, readers might be afraid for Shadowman, but they won't experience fear through his eyes. With this book, then, I wanted to focus first on building a mood with those initial pages. I wanted to establish the idea that something... foul is bubbling up right under our feet... that it might spill out at any moment.
What we see and hear and feel is just an illusion. We establish that right away. The hope is to make the reader feel a sense of uneasiness with what they can trust in terms of how a Shadowman story is going to play out.
Shadowman #1 preview
Nrama: A lot of Shadowman's backstory comes out of voodoo mythology. How much research into those stories and legends did you do before writing this book?
Bunn: Well, I had done quite a bit of research on voodoo when I wrote Punk Mambo, so I was able to lean on some of that. When I say "quite a bit" I mean I did just enough to make me dangerous. Punk Mambo wasn't intended to be a real-world vision of voodoo... because it's not the real world. It's a comic universe with superheroes and such.
With Shadowman, the voodoo aspect is important. That is, after all, where his powers come from. He does have the loa of death hanging around with him. But more important to this book is the supernatural side of Valiant. In particular, the Deadside. And that encompasses a lot of mystical and mythological elements that aren't derived from voodoo. In fact, we're building a new mythology around the Deadside. So, a good amount of voodoo research, but focused on Valiant's voodoo, and I used it as stepping stones into something new.
Nrama: Jon, you're designing a lot of creatures from the Deadside. What's your mode of thinking as you create these creatures? Is there a visual aspect that unites all of the Deadside's residents?
Jon Davis-Hunt: The starting point, again will come from Cullen, although it tends to just be in the form of a list of things, all stuck together! He'll be like 'it's like a hyena, meets an eagle, meets a housefly, only massive'. Actually, he does provide a bit more detail than that. :)
I'll take the elements he describes and then just start playing around with them.
There are some unifying themes, however. I wanted the monsters to all look ‘ancient' so there is a lot of repetition of bandages and runes and also elements where their bodies have rotted sightly, or where internal organs and bones show through the skin.
However, every story in the book is meant to also be a stand-alone 'horror' story, so I wanted each monster to feel unique visually and that is done by making sure their overall size and silhouette vary from issue to issue, to keep it interesting and fresh. And also, to suit the particular sub-genre of horror for that issue.
Nrama: One of the most interesting character designs in this book has got to be Baron Samedi, a previously seen Shadowman villain but now a (potential?) ally. Could you give us some behind-the-scenes info on designing that character?
Davis-Hunt: Yeah, he was one of the first characters I designed, shortly after working on Jack in both his human and Shadowman forms.
I had already thought a lot about Jack's musicality when designing him and had that show through in his clothing, so I wanted to do a similar thing with Baron and pretty quickly, decided on a kind of Jimi Hendrix-vibe. Cullen writes him in the book as a kind of foil and companion to Jack, but because he is essentially, just a skeleton, it's difficult to make him express a lot of emotion, particularly just in his face.
I did initially play around with having his skull-like face move a lot more and kind of contort, to form different expressions, but this felt a bit too cartoony for the tone of the book. Instead, I thought it would be cooler to keep the skull perfectly inanimate, like a real skull, but then just use changes in light and shadow, to kind of alter the expression, which is far creepier.
It's also brilliant when you need him to just deadpan. But to aid in him expressing enough emotion, I really ramped up the way he expresses with his hands and his overall body language. He's an almost theatrical character, which again, influenced the costume and those elements, all put together, make him great fun to draw.
Nrama: Another visual that really pops in this book is Shadowman's signature weapon, the Shadow Scythe. Could you talk about what inspired your design for this fluid-motion, kind of trippy weapon?
Davis-Hunt: The initial idea came totally from Cullen. He described the weapon as "forming out of the shadows around him," so instantly, it made me think of smoke, kind of solidifying. I played around with different techniques for drawing that and making it look cool, while also, fitting in with the surrounding rendering of the book.
I tried out a few ideas and even experimented with paint and ink, but it kind of made the weapon feel detached from the other shadows in the scene. Then while I was sketching on a thumbnail, I kind of doodled a cross-hatched bit of smoke in the border of a script and that just sort of worked, so I developed it further from there.
It's surprisingly fun to render (if a little time-consuming). The blade also evolved over time, which was a suggestion from Heather. I think the first blade I drew was pretty plain and straight, whereas the blade now is slightly more ornate and lethal-looking. The way the weapon can then evolve though (like when it turns into an almost serrated whip) comes straight from Cullen.
NNrama: Though this story is clearly horror, it's set within the Valiant mythos, which is very much a superhero universe. What are some of the challenges and freedoms to telling a horror tale set on a superhero landscape?
Bunn: I think the combination of horror and superheroics helps to make the story very accessible. There are certainly some dark, dark moments here, but Shadowman is an action hero. He beats the snot out of monsters. That keeps things from getting too heavy, I think. Even though we're exploring some dark concepts and themes, Shadowman is there to help the reader through it.
Nrama: Jon, this is certainly not your first experience with horror comics. Along with Gail Simone, you created Clean Room in 2014. What aspect of horror comics that we saw in Clean Room are present in Shadowman?
Davis-Hunt: I've tried to give Shadowman a different tone from Clean Room, which was more deliberately clinical, cold and well, 'clean' really.
Shadowman is grittier, more earthy, and more kinetic than Clean Room I think, though it does share my love of detail and they are probably, equally as gruesome.
I was very lucky to work with Gail and Shelly Bond on Clean Room and be allowed to invest the book with a strong visual style that I felt worked with the script, and Cullen and Heather have allowed me to do the same here, although I think it's gone in a slightly different direction.
Clean Room was horror during the day. This is very much, what happens after dark.
Nrama: Cullen, you recently celebrated 10 years as a full-time comics writer, an occasion you coined online as the #bunniversary. 10 years from now, on the second #bunniversary, how do you think you'll look back on your run on Shadowman?
Bunn: Well, who can say? Even though we have been at it for a while now, we're still early in the process with this book. I like to think I'll look back on it quite fondly. Thus far, it has been a situation of Valiant and my editor Heather Antos brought me onto the book to "do what I do" and then they didn't blink when I did it. That kind of trust means a lot to me. And so does this book.
Nrama: This last question is for both of you: Shadowman has been around for nearly 30 years. What aspects of the older runs of that character are you most excited to bring into his latest series?
Bunn: You know, I was working in a comic store when Shadowman first appeared, and I remember the excitement around the character. I'd like to channel some of that into this title. This is a different kind of book. Whatever you're expecting, this is going to surprise you. And I think people who give it a chance are going to love it.
Davis-Hunt: It's just a tremendous privilege to be able to work on a character with so much heritage and be allowed to (hopefully) add to his rich, existing lore.
Shadowman #1 goes on sale on April 28 in both comic stores and on digital platforms. For the best digital comics experience, check out our list of the best digital comics readers for Android and iOS devices.