Richard Swift (The Shade)

shadefilmOne of the last episodes of The Flash introduced a couple of brand-new villains, albeit the first one is pretty much forgettable. In Shade, we meet another one of the metahumans artificially restored by Alchemy, the one who gives the episode its name: The Shade, portrayed by Mike McLeod. With the ability to become a living shadow, Shade is quite a sneaky killer, until Team Flash manages to neutralize his abilities by exposing him to multiple lights, making him tangible enough to put the Power-Dampening Cuffs on him. In the episode, he’s nothing more than the usual freak-of-the-week, and that’s quite a shame, since in the comics he’s an extremely fascinating villain, with enough backstory to be the “big bad” of some future season, and powerful enough to be a real threat to The Flash and his friends, other shows included. Let’s see together (we’ll skip the original thief with a shadow-casting cane, going directly to his most recent biography).

Richard Swift was born in England at the beginning of the XIX Century. A wealthy gentleman, he was a renowned importer specialised in rare goods: when another rich buisnessman, the dwarf Simon Culp, asked him to find him a lion, for Swift that was just another day on the job. He became friends with Culp, and he spent a night with him at the piers waiting for his shipment. Culp, however, belonged to an ancient cult worshipping the Gaelic warrior goddess Scáthach, and he wanted to sacrifice Swift and a number of other people in an arcane ritual to obtain power and immortality. The ritual took place, but something went wrong: 104 people died as a result, but Swift was not among them, as he gained the same powers as Culp, losing all the memories of his previous life. Wandering without a clue on who he was, Swift was rescued by Piers Ludlow, a good Samaritan…who used to kill wealthy people and to murder vagrants and wanderers later, blaming them for the assassination. Before Ludlow shadecomics1could kill him as well, Swift instinctively used shadows to kill Ludlow and his entire family, with the only ecception of a son and a daughter who were outside. Shocked but intrigued, Swift left the place, starting to go by the name Mr. Black or, for the ones he liked, The Shade. He became a welcome presence in the literary circles, befriending authors such as Oscar Wilde and Charles Dickens until, following an unexpected battle with the Ludlow twins, he decided to become an adventurer and left England, traveling all around Europe. While he had enough of Europe he moved to the United States of America, where he fell in love with Opal City, which became his hometown of adoption…and where he met Simon Culp again, this time establishing an immortal enmity with him. Always pursued by the seemingly infinite Ludlow family, Shade kept moving, and came back to England only century after, during World War II, to defend his homeland: during the war, he and Culp were on opposite fronts, and after a battle, the dwarf’s body was fused with his one during a massive explosion, without Shade realising it. Believing his nemesis to be dead, when the war was over Shade came back to the US, in Keystone City.

Bored and slightly depressed for his immortality, Shade decided to try and be a criminal, just to have fun. In Keystone City he found a worthy adversary in The Flash, in a rivalry he saw mostly as a game. When he was tired, however, Culp took control of him, bringing him to be definitely evil and influencing his personality without being noticed, with Shade’s character changing depending on how much Culp had access to his psyche. In the 1950s The Flash retired, and Shade became tired of being a villain; in the following decade, he even teamed up with Dr. Fate to destroy a magic cult, the Wise Fools, who attempted to recreate the same ritual that had given birth to him. Sometimes a villain, sometimes a hero, in modern times The Shade ended up joining Mist in his crusade against a common enemy, Ted Knight aka Starman. Shade kidnapped Starman, now retired, on behalf of Mist, igniting the rage of the new Starman, Ted’s son Jack…but doing so he also crossed paths with Matt O’Dare, a former cop now shadecomics2assisting Jack Knight. Intrigued by the man, who had a striking resemblance to an old friend of his (Brian “Scalphunter” Savage, from the Old West times), Shade decided to change sides, and he joined Matt, his family and the new Starman in the quest to rescue Ted Knight. After that weird adventure, a weirder friendship between Shade, Starman and O’Dare began, and the immortal villain became an invaluable ally for the heroes. He attempted to take a new leaf, as he clearly showed when he refused the offer of the demon Neron, who made great promises in exchange of his soul: already immortal, with a power that couldn’t possibly be augmented and insanely rich due to his bicentennial life, Shade turned Neron down, gaining a powerful enemy. This brought consequences: when Culp was finally able to make his move, he allied himself with Neron, the Ludlow family and the new Mist, daughter of the betrayed original. The trio wanted to make Shade suffer, first by destroying his beloved Opal City, then by stripping him of his powers and killing him. Shade, however, had learnt a couple of tricks in two centuries of life, and now he wasn’t alone to face his enemies: it would have been quite an epic showdown.

Richard Swift is an extremely intelligent, cunning, cynical and disillusioned man, an often bored immortal who changes his attitude and morals depending on the current mood, being quite unpredictable as a result. As The Shade, he has access to the Shadowlands, a dimension inhabited only by a primordial, semi-sentient darkness which he can summon for a variety of uses: he can construct objects of solid darkness, summon darkness-demons and control them, create shield or energy blasts with it, and even travel through the Shadowlands through space and time without restraint; the Shadowlands also grant him immortality and a high resistance to damage, to the point that he walked away unscathed from a bombing and survived having his heart ripped off his chest. Sarcastic and cunning, The Shade can be the deadliest of villains or the most unlikely of heroes depending on where he can find more fun, an immortal adventurer who crosses centuries and nations with a malevolent grin always accompanying him.

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