This article contains Stargirl spoilers.
If Stargirl has succeeded at one thing with its finale–and it achieved a lot–it was introducing some very exciting new concepts and characters for season two. The biggest hint at where we’re headed next is the late-stage tease of a new Injustice Society member who brings the promise of danger, mystery, magic, and maybe… time travel. Say hello to the Shade.
During the Golden Age of comics, the DC Universe was filled with weird and wonderful characters who shaped the massive comic book company into something magical and otherworldly, far from the street level noir heroes that the industry is now known for. Essentially, in 1942 DC was a technicolor world away from the gritty realism that we’ve come to connect with the Dark Knight and his fellow DC heroes. It was during this fantastical period that Stargirl‘s newest antagonist was brought to life by Gardner Fox and E.E. Hibbard.
It was in Flash Comics #33 that readers were introduced to the Shade as “The Man Who Commanded the Night,” a fearsome story about a mysterious villain who could control shadows and turn day to night. It’s a perfect example of the kind of stories that were popular at the time; there’s no in-depth scientific explanation or reasoning, Shade is just a criminal who happens to have a machine that controls light and uses it to make it easier for his gang to commit crimes.
So what’s the connection to Stargirl? Well, the version of the Flash that’s facing off against the new rogue is Jay Garrick, an original member of the JSA who’s referenced in the early episodes of the TV series when we see his helmet in the JSA’s old hideout.
But more likely to have an influence here is the fact that decades later the Shade appeared in both Stargirl writer/producer James Robinson’s fan fave Starman series and an eponymous miniseries that reimagined the character completely. From the ’40s to the ’90s, Shade was rarely seen in the pages of DC Comics aside from a brief stint in the Injustice Society in the Post-Crisis era of the ’80s.
But it was the early ’90s when Robinson would take on the barely-there villain and craft something more akin to a classical literary monster during his fan favorite 1994 Starman comic book. Here the Shade is a morally grey antagonist to both Ted and Jack Knight, the father-son duo who’ve both worn the mantle of Starman. It was here that Robinson established a more supernatural take on the character, connecting him not only to historical figures like Oscar Wilde, but also to demons and mythical creatures.
It feels important to note that at times the Shade finds himself as an ally to Jack Knight, the legacy Starman, which hints that we could see a similar relationship between the newly introduced rogue and Courtney in the series. This seems especially likely when we look at the fact that the finale also introduced another potential big bad in Eclipso, which is especially interesting when you skip ahead a decade to Robinson and Brett Booth’s JLA series that saw Shade help the team defeat that gem powered villain. Could we potentially be leading up to that showdown? With Robinson as a writer on the show and the man behind these comics, it seems very likely…
Back in the ’90s, Robinson continued to build out the mythos of the character in his 1997 Shade miniseries. We first meet Richard Swift in 1838, lost, alone, and unaware of who or what he is. With his memory gone, he’s taken in by a wealthy benefactor, Piers Ludlow, who turns out to be the murderous patriarch of a family of sociopaths. And when the man tries to frame Richard for a crime and kill him to cover it up, the young amnesiac finally unleashes his true powers and reveals himself as the Shade, with the ability to create shadows and fatally ensare those around him. It’s a brutal reimagining of the powers that were teased in his earlier appearances.
This immortal Victorian gentleman is almost certainly the version of the character that we saw in that Stargirl finale stinger. Not only did he have Swift’s top hat and tails, but he clearly had the magical shadow powers that were introduced in The Shade miniseries. The Shade’s murder of the Ludlow family shapes the rest of story as the surviving children hunt him down and try to exact their revenge, despite the fact that he was acting in self defense.
This moral complexity is at the heart of this iteration of the character, and as we mentioned earlier he’s never a true villain, often switching sides to suit his own needs and wants, which will add an interesting layer to his inclusion in Stargirl season two. It’ll also be intriguing to see if the historical entanglement with Jay Garrick and the Ludlows is included, especially as Doctor Mid-Nite even gets a reference in his solo series, meaning there’s a lot of connective tissue that could be explored.