Silverblade (DC Comics, 12-issue series 1987-1988)
Writer: Cary Bates
Artists: Gene Colan, Steve Mitchell, and Klaus Janson
Rating: Nine of Ten Stars
Jonathan Lord was a hugely popular Hollywood leading man throughout the '30s, '40s, and '50s. There wasn't a genre he didn't conquer, and there wasn't a famous literary character he didn't play. As age began to catch up with him, he withdrew behind the walls of his palatial estate high in the hills above Sunset Boulevard, with his friend and manservant Bobby Milestone and copies of his old films. However, thirty years into his self-imposed, lonely and bitter retirement, Lord's youth is restored and his granted the power to assume the form of any character or creature he ever portrayed on film by a mysterious spirit who has chosen him to battle an ancient evil that threatens to consume the world.
"Silver Blade" is a highly creative 12-issue series that deals with such mattters as pre-destiny, reincarnation, the nature of reality, and the lines between good and evil. It is a highly entertaining story of great depth, and it's a shame that it's never been reprinted in graphic novel form, given the crap that has been reprinted. ("Death of Superman"? "Batman: No Man's Land"? These were nothing but third-rate, elaborate advertising stunts.) It's an extremely intelligent series from a writer who has never really received the acknowledgement from comic book fans that I think he deserves. Bates' 100+ issues run on "The Flash" during the 70s and 80s is one that is criminally underrated, and "Silverblade" is a prime example of the fact that mature comic book storytelling existed before someone hit on the idea of marketing it.
One of the best aspects of the writing in "Silverblade" is that Bates uses Bobby Milestone--a former child actor whose life has been a string of failures since his movie career faded--as the primary point of view character in the story. Bobby stands apart from Lord's new life, and he remains very suspicious of what is happening, serving as the perfect "stand-in" for the reader as the tale unfolds. Milestone also becomes the anchor point when the series takes a couple of very strange and unexpected twists toward the end--daring twists, actually.
The artwork by Gene Colan is spectacular, as Colan's art through the mid-1990s always was. Colan brings the mixture of realism and surrealism to his art that a series like "Silverblade" demands. Although he is starting to slip past his prime here, he does a great job on this. Inkers Mitchell and Janson enhance Colan's art just enough to make it shine even brighter. (Yes, even the usually heavy pen of Klaus Janson is just here to augment rather than cover... then again, Colan is such a powerful artist himself that I doubt the heaviest inker could obscure his style.)
Maybe we'll see "Silverblade" re-presented in graphic novel form one of these days. It's long overdue.
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