End of the Comics Line

End of the Line: The Shadowline Saga, Part 2 – Critical Mass

In 1990, Epic launched “Critical Mass,” subtitled “A Shadowline Saga.” Each issue was 64 (the finale was 72!) pages in what was then called the “prestige format.” It had a card stock cover and felt more like a thin trade paper back than a comic.

This was meant to tie the three titles together into one, final story, which was easy to do given that the books had been well connected before now. The series was written by regular writers DG Chichester and Margeret Clarke and featured a number of phenomenal artists.

Take a moment to fully appreciate this list of artists who worked on this series:

Klaus Janson
Kevin O’Neill
Bill Sienkiewicz
Grey Morrow
Kyle Baker
Mark Texiera
Mike Manley
Stan Drake
John Ridgway
Denys Cowan
Kent Williams
Jim Lee
Dan Spiegle
Brett Blevins
Jorge Zaffino
Dan Lawlis
Al Williamson
James Sherman

That is an impressive list. That list alone would be reason enough to buy “Critical Mass,” but it was also a nice culmination to the brief existence of the Shadowline Saga.

Critical Mass page by Jim Lee

Three For One

Because if there was a silver lining to the short life span of the 3 books it’s that it was easy enough to tie them together, as the continuity had yet to become unwieldy. The fact that each book was created with a connection to the others helped, too.

The core conflict of the Shadowline books was St. George vs Doctor Zero, even it wasn’t directly addressed in the regular books. Chichester and Clarke did a nice job of introducing other, central conflicts: The Guillermos family vs the Ravenscores in Powerline, Devlin vs Shreck (yes, Shreck — this was before the movies) in St. George, and Doctor Zero vs Henry Clerk in Doctor Zero.

Clerk, the unstable nuclear scientist from the Doctor Zero series, is the match that lights this fire. Zero had destroyed Clerk’s brain and he was now working at a convenience store. But Dirk Ravenscore, patriarch of the Ravenscore family and main villain from the Powerline series, was looking for a new enforcer and decided that Clerk should be it. It’s not the obvious choice given that Clerk is a human with no physical abilities, but Ravenscore gave it a shot.

Art by Kevin O’Neill and Bill Sienkiewicz

Clerk does his job well and while doing so, learns more about the Shadows. He decides that he’s going to scale back the human race, turn the world into a nuclear laboratory, in part as a way of helping Shadows improve their lot in life.

Their arrangement is short lived, however, as the Powerline duo finally attack Ravenscore directly, sending him fleeing and leaving Clerk to his own devices.

Meanwhile, Devlin is helping a woman track down her missing friend, a friend who was the previous knight of St. George. But Shreck is not far behind.

Powerline’s version, art by Grey Morrow
Doctor Zero’s version, art by Mike Manley

The three narratives eventually come together in a story that involves secret government organizations, small towns taken over by bad men, and a nuclear power plant. The final issue is 80 pages and each of the three sections takes place from the perspective of the three original sets of characters. There’s one scene that is depicted in each section and the differences in how it’s portrayed is played out perfectly, giving a nice encapsulation of what each character is like

 

Doctor Zero’s version, art by Mike Manley
St. George’s version, art by Jorge Zaffino

Each section is drawn by what had become, over the course of the series, the “regular” art teams for each title.  Mike Manley drew the Doctor Zero section. Grey Morrow drew the Powerline section. And Jorge Zaffino drew the St. George section. All three sections are complete and all three feature somber conclusions.

No Future

But that fits the tone of these books perfectly. These were not fun comics by any stretch, but they were intriguing. The concept wasn’t unique, but the characters were. The mythology was deep and complex and the books only scratched the surface. There were more stories to tell and it’s too bad we’ll never see them.

Critical Mass #7
Art by John Romita, Jr., Al Williamson, and John Wellington

We saw some version of further adventures, though, in the form of Terror, Inc., a book in the mainstream Marvel universe starring Shreck. While there was no indication that this was Shreck from the Shadowline Saga, writer Dan Chichester has said that it was. The series only lasted 13 issues which was, sadly, more than any one of the Shadowline titles.

I doubt we’ll ever see more stories featuring Doctor Zero, Powerline, and St. George, but I hold out hope.

They just need to be optioned for a movie.

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