Thursday, March 11, 2010

1988 – Shadow Line Saga

The Shadow Line Saga, created and edited by Archie Goodwin, was published under the Epic Comics imprinted between 1988 and 1990.  Archie Goodwin was tasked with creating The Shadowline Universe, a more mature, darker super-hero world. Shadowline was also meant to try to bring together some of Marvel’s Epic titles since they were creator owned and never really connected or crossed over.

From Goodwin’s Epic-Grams in May 1988:
“My original vision of Epic didn’t really include doing super hero comics. I felt we were around to break some new and different ground and Marvel had already proven that super hero comics could be done successfully and well. (…) And sometime in the midst of all this, I began to toy with the notion of the Shadow Line Saga. I thought I had it all reasonably well worked out in my head in late summer of ’86. Then I began to write and it was February of ’87 before the bible was done on the series. But I liked what I had. Super heroes I could live with … and enjoy."
 “The Shadow Dwellers. They were almost human. Their evolution paralleled ours, though they evolved swifter and a great deal better. But we evolved in greater numbers. Far greater numbers. Individually, they were superior but they were no match for the great tide of humankind that came in time to rule the Earth. So they became a shadow race, living among us, speaking our languages, but secretly, eternally apart. Sometimes as protectors, sometimes as predators. Over the centuries, they became the stuff of our legends and our myths. Sometimes heroes. Often monsters.”

The Shadow Line Saga launched with three titles all written by Dan Chichester and Margaret Clark and tightly interrelated in theme and continuity:

Doctor Zero #1
Art by Denys Cowan & Bill Sienkiewicz
The most powerful member of the mysterious Shadow Dweller race appears at the World Economic Summit as a super hero. Appearances can be deceiving.

Powerline #1
Art by David Ross & Bob McLeod
Two teenage Shadow Dwellers are thrown together amidst the fury of an ancient feud. United they find they possess the power to become what Doctor Zero only pretends to be.

St. George #1
Art by Klaus Janson
Michael Devlin, a Catholic priest, is recruited by a monastic order of Shadow Dwellers to battle injustice and carry on the mythos of St. George.

In an interview with, D.G. Chichester tell us:
“So Archie [Goodwin] created all three concepts right off the bat. Not surprising at all, considering his creative output. He developed the overarching "bible" for the Shadows, as well as bibles for each of the individual titles. Everyone in the department knew he was working on this, and we knew we'd be charged with editing some combination of them -- but Margaret and I were literally floored when Archie out of the blue asked us to write all three. To this *day* I don't know why he did that. I should have probably asked him then, but I was caught between flattered and flabbergasted.
In any other context, Zero was the villain. In fact, in St. George, he *was* very much the villain! But in Zero's world, he was a focused individual trying to achieve his ends and in that context he was justified in everything he did.
Very often, in that kind of setup, the "main guy" ultimately has to become a weaker (read: nice guy) in order to finally win over the audience. We were trying to so immerse the audience in how Zero went about his ways that they would begin to appreciate him for what he was.
Showing the levels of manipulation and intrigue, and how they could be construed (and misconstrued) was an interesting challenge. I don't know that we *always* succeeded, but I like to think we hit more than we missed.”

While the Shadow Line titles stood out in terms of its art, showcasing talents like Kevin O'Neill, Bill Sienkiewicz, Gray Morrow, John Ridgeway, Denys Cowan, Dan Spiegle and Klaus Janson, shipping delays and lack of sales foretold the end. Goodwin convinced the Powers-That-Be at Marvel Comics to let the Shadow Line Saga end with some dignity.

Had this series made its debut five years later, it might have found the audience it needed to stay alive. Interestingly, a lot of the key ideas of this series would be seen in Jim Lee’s W.I.L.D.cats, who was provided some of the pencils for the last few issues of Critical Mass.

The only survivor of the Shadow Line universe was the villain known as Terror who had made St. Geroge’s life miserable. Terror developed into one of those anti-heroes who team-up with and fought against the likes of Wolverine, Punisher, and Daredevil.


  1. Thanks so much for this article. This was one of my favorite new comic worlds that came about in the 80s even though it didn't last all that long. Thanks to the mention in this article I'll have to check out W.I.L.D.cats for the first time.

  2. You're more than welcome. Glad you liked it!

  3. The nostalgia made me go back and pull my Doctor Zeros out of a longbox and re-read. You're right, the art was really quite good. I think I'd buy anything with a Janson or Sienkiewicz cover. Anyone have any idea of where to read a good Critical Mass synopsis - I'd like to get closure on the storyline.

  4. Never heard of these! Sounds like pre-Image Image. Not very appealing.



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