Always Look for Shade

Shade the Changing Man, issue #38 (DC Vertigo, 1993). Artist: Glyn Dillon, Colourist: Daniel Vozzo, Letterer: Todd Klein

Note: this essay contains spoilers relating to Shade the Changing Man (DC Vertigo).

In a special feature published in Melody Maker in December 1993, Richey Edwards selected his ‘Men of the Year’. One of those singled out for praise was Peter Milligan. As Edwards explained to interviewer Simon Price:

“He’s the only comic book writer – not ‘graphic novelist’, it’s definitely comics – who did anything good in 2000AD. The main character in ‘Bad Company’ [one of the first things he did] is one of the most beautiful comic book creations ever, like a mix between Col Kurtz from ‘Apocalypse Now’ and The Virgin Mary. Just recently Milligan moved onto ‘Shade the Changing Man’ on DC, and this year, on DC’s more adult Vertigo range, he created ‘Enigma’, a mini-series of only six or seven episodes (little pants-pisser Michael Smith is the main chap). It isn’t often a comic strikes you as truly great, but along with Neil Gaiman, he’s the only person doing anything good in the genre at the moment.” [1]

The influence of comics on Edwards’s lyric writing has been largely overlooked in critical texts on Manic Street Preachers, with the exception of one memorable line from ‘PCP’: Be Pure, Be Vigilant, Behave – a phrase originally associated with the character of Torquemada, from the 2000AD strip ‘Nemesis the Warlock’. [2] The 2000AD connections go further back: a prize-winning reader sketch by the young Richey Edwards was printed in the same publication in the 1980s. In Grant Morrison and Steve Yeowell’s ‘Zenith’ strip, the band were mentioned directly when the character of Domino appeared wearing a Manic Street Preachers T-shirt in one 1992 issue. And Edwards himself was referenced in a June 1993 storyline by Garth Ennis and Dermot Power, ‘Muzak Killer – Live! pt 3’, in the character of Clarence of the ‘Crazy Sked Moaners’ – who, in a send-up of the ‘4 Real’ incident lasers ‘4 Rale’ across his forehead during a television interview. [3] But any sense of lyrical influence is difficult to discern. As Edwards told Melody Maker, other regular strands in that landmark British title, as well Marvel’s popular publications, featuring some of the genre’s most iconic characters, were somewhat lacking:

“I grew up reading Marvel, especially Spiderman, but stopped at about 13 because, I wouldn’t say it was Enid Blyton, but it always had to be very moralistic at the end. Once you actually realise all that’s bullshit, you go off it. And even when ‘2000AD’ came along, it was very macho; something I could never like. Judge Dredd was like watching a f***ing ‘Dirty Harry’ film: this holier-than-thou cop blowing people away.”

Despite these criticisms, the band did take up the opportunity, following the recording of The Holy Bible, to compose a song for the 1995 film adaptation of Judge Dredd. ‘Judge Yr’self’ would be one of Edwards’s final collaborations with the band – although the song’s lyrics are more informed by Nietzschean philosophy, rather than simply being an homage to the futuristic law enforcement officer.

Peter Milligan’s Shade the Changing Man, however, made a significant impression on Edwards – before the writing of The Holy Bible, and even through to his final shows with the band, when excerpts from the comic appeared on some of his personalised setlists. In a Smash Hits interview in June 1993, Dominik Diamond asked the band members: [I]f you did split up after this album, what would you do? Edwards answered matter-of-factly: “Go round with Neil Gaiman or Peter Milligan.” [4] And when RAW questioned Edwards about touring life in early 1994, he again namechecked Enigma and Shade among the reading material that he had with him on the road. [5]

The ways in which Milligan’s preoccupations overlap with Edwards’s own, and more specifically the ways in which his writing might have influenced Edwards during the development of The Holy Bible invites further consideration. Indeed, a close reading of Shade the Changing Man suggests that standout lines were even adapted by Edwards in his lyrics throughout 1994.


Steve Ditko’s character Rac Shade first appeared in a 1977 series for DC Comics but disappeared the following year amid changes within the publishing house, known as the ‘DC Implosion’. Shade would later become the focus of a new storyline in a 1990 series. Reimagined by British writer Peter Milligan – alongside penciller Chris Bachalo, inker Mark Pennington and colourist Daniel Vozzo, with letters by Todd Klein – Shade the Changing Man would run for 70 issues and was one of the founding titles of DC’s new, more adult oriented, Vertigo imprint. Milligan’s revamp explores themes of identity, sexuality, insanity, religion, addiction, abortion and suicide, as well as offering a trenchant critique of American culture and history – notably in the first story arc, which sees Shade fighting the incarnation of US culture in its most extreme, violent form: ‘The American Scream’.

Readers are introduced to Milligan’s Rac Shade when he emerges in Kansas, taking over the body of serial killer Troy Grenzer at the moment of his execution in the state penitentiary. He has been recruited by the Changemaster, Wizor, on his home planet of Meta and sent to Earth to try to contain its madness. Making his escape across the States, Shade begins a relationship with Kathy – the daughter of Grenzer’s last victims – who herself soon meets and develops an intimate bond with another woman, the free-spirited and cynical Lenny. The dynamics and complications of this interplanetary romantic triangle – encompassing bisexuality, body swaps and multiple personalities – play out as Shade, Kathy and Lenny must confront all manner of forces, both inner and outer, that threaten humanity and the world of the Metans. A number of guest artists, including Milligan’s early collaborator Brendan McCarthy, contributed to making Shade into a phantasmagorical masterpiece; a comic that crosses space and time, and captures intimate detail and psychological nuance as much as lurid violence and otherworldly imaginings. 

In January 1994, Melody Maker spoke to Manic Street Preachers ahead of their Life Becoming a Landslide tour. Discussing their forthcoming album, Nicky Wire indicated the intensity of the themes that they wanted to touch upon, especially following the band’s visits to Dachau and Hiroshima the previous year: “The human capability to inflict pain on its own race. That’s what we would like to write about.” Writer David Bennun noted how steeped the band remained in the popular culture and media that they had taken cues from since their teenage years, stating: ‘They monitor Britain as if they were in distant orbit around it.’ [6] In closing, Edwards told Bennun that he was drawing inspiration from the words of one American novelist in particular, hinting at what was to become The Holy Bible:

Henry Miller said: ‘At the edge of eternity is torture, in our mind’s never-ending ambition to damage itself.’ That’s what we would like to write about.”

But the words are not Miller’s, to be precise. Edwards was likely paraphrasing from a column that another comic book writer, Dave Louapre (author of American Freak), had contributed to that month’s issue of Shade the Changing Man. Louapre begins his ‘On The Ledge’ piece by quoting a line from Miller’s The Air-Conditioned Nightmare, which he sees as encapsulating something fundamental about human psychology.

‘On The Ledge’ by Dave Louapre, Shade the Changing Man, issue #44 (DC Vertigo, 1994)

This further illustrates just how widely Edwards would read for inspiration for his lyrics and artwork, even taking literary references secondhand and making them his own. Not only did Milligan’s compelling narratives influence Edwards in various, often subtle ways, during the writing and public presentation of The Holy Bible; but the miscellany to be found elsewhere in the weekly or monthly publications he read also spurred him to continually rethink what was possible in terms of lyrical and visual content for the band.

The most obvious indication that Edwards continued to follow Milligan’s work on Shade the Changing Man throughout 1994 was the appearance of word balloons cut from the comic on some of the setlists that he would decorate and supplement with quotes while on the Holy Bible tour. For the band’s show at the Sheffield Octagon on 15 October 1994, Edwards copied out words spoken by the Devil. The edited excerpt comes from ‘The Morning of the Masks’ (issue #52) in which Shade is given a tour of Meta, having helped the Devil gain the upper hand there. He is encouraged to face the violent, murderous instinct within human nature, and the artwork includes gruesome imagery inspired by the crucifixion. The Devil claims the Easter period between the death of Christ and the resurrection as his dominion, pointing out to Shade the rotten fruits of mankind for which he is the conduit, including gas chambers, human ovens and rape camps.

Setlist, Sheffield Octagon, 15 October 1994 (Source: Forever Delayed/MSPpedia)
Shade the Changing Man, issue #52 (DC Vertigo, 1994). Artist: Sean Phillips, Colourist: Daniel Vozzo, Letterer: Todd Klein

It is not only such evocations of historical totalitarian violence, as well as Milligan’s caustic commentaries on contemporary culture, that resonate with Richey Edwards’s own writing. The complex, painful and often pessimistic depiction of love in Shade the Changing Man also captured Edwards’s interest. In issue #49 (July 1994), as a pregnant Kathy recalls a painful memory of a sexual encounter in her past and considers her uncertain future with Shade and Lenny, she concludes, ‘sometimes it’s easier to make love to a stranger than to ask a friend to hold you.’

Shade the Changing Man, issue #49 (DC Vertigo, 1994). Picture: Chris Bachalo, Rick Bryant, Colourist: Daniel Vozzo, Letterer: Todd Klein

The sentiment will sound familiar to some Manic Street Preachers fans. A variation of the same appears in the chorus of a Holy Bible B-side, ‘Too Cold Here’, which was included on the Revol single released in August 1994: ‘It’s easier to make love to a stranger than to ask a friend to call,’ sings James Dean Bradfield. Although the lyrics as a whole would not seem out of place coming from the mouth of a character in Milligan’s comic, it is hard to detect any sustained reference to Shade here; say, in the way that one can with another Manics B-side inspired by literature, ‘Patrick Bateman’ (unless, that is, one suspects a pun: ‘Always look for shade to cover your eyes.’) Rather it would seem to be another example of Edwards’s and Wire’s tendency to collect quotes from a wide variety of media sources, to supplement their own original lines; the lyrics then often edited in collaboration with James Dean Bradfield as the music is composed with Sean Moore. This collaging and reworking extends to the self-referential: another line from ‘Too Cold Here’ (‘Everyone asks what’s wrong, but what’s right?’) would reappear in a slightly different form in another of Edwards’s last lyrics, ‘All Is Vanity’.

Kathy’s long night of the soul occurs within a storyline that ran for six issues. Milligan’s ‘A Season in Hell’ was inspired by Arthur Rimbaud’s poem of the same name, with Shade finding a copy of the poem at the end of Part One and quoting from it in subsequent installments. It is Shade’s child that Kathy is carrying, and he has been ordered to kill it by ‘celestials’, who claim to have the power to give Shade his life and soul back (after he has discovered that he is in fact already dead, as revealed in an earlier storyline, ‘The Road’), thus initiating a torturous conflict which involves not only his own fate but that of Kathy, and his unborn child too – his own personal nightmare.

Shade the Changing Man, issue #46 (DC Vertigo, 1994). Picture: Glyn Dillon, Colourist: Daniel Vozzo, Letterer: Todd Klein

When Simon Price caught up with the Manics for a number of gigs in France in autumn 1994, he reported that Edwards had been walking around Paris by day with lines by Rimbaud scrawled on his clothing. Photographed by Tom Sheehan for Melody Maker at the time, Edwards was framed with his back to the camera, the jagged black handwritten letters standing out in contrast with the white boiler suit he was wearing – like a living Shade panel. Though Rimbaud’s words had already been referenced by the band in the sleeve of Generation Terrorists, had Milligan sent Edwards back to the French poet’s masterpiece? [7]

Other setlists from the band’s Belfast and Cork concerts in October 1994 suggest that Edwards was re-reading some of the previous year’s issues of Shade too – with Milligan’s Metan then inhabiting the body of an institutionalised mute, known as ‘Empty’, but finding that he must do battle with multiple versions of himself, reflecting various aspects of his personality; his behaviour further unsettling Kathy and Lenny. The issue cut up during those Irish Holy Bible tour dates deals with depression and suicide, with one of the residents of the hotel where the main characters have been living found to have taken his own life, and Lenny attempting to drown herself in the pond in the grounds of the hotel, leaving a note for Kathy written in lipstick on the bathroom mirror: ‘It’s not funny anymore’.

Setlist, Cork Forum (detail), 25 October 1994 (Source: Forever Delayed/MSPpedia)
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Shade the Changing Man, issue #38 (DC Vertigo, 1993). Artist: Glyn Dillon, Colourist: Daniel Vozzo, Letterer: Todd Klein

Simon Price perceived different ‘shades’ of Edwards’s own personality coming to the fore throughout his later interview, noting the logical contradictions and internal conflicts about which Edwards nevertheless spoke openly. He avoided broaching the subject of suicide outright with Edwards, despite the rumours that had swirled around the band that summer. But he did ask him to open up further about his feelings towards religion, and whether he had found God during his stay at The Priory. Edwards replied:

“Found God? The Big Chap? No. It’s something that interests me, but you’ve only got to look at our name, we’ve got Preachers in our name, I was made to go to chapel till I was 13, on our first album you’ve got ‘Crucifix Kiss’, a cross on the cover, a quote from Nietzsche about Christianity, so it goes deeper…” [8]

Milligan’s writing shows a similar fascination with religious imagery, questions about the afterlife, and in particular with presenting his own versions of religious – as well as Greek – origin stories (his sexed-up, submissive incarnation of Pandora in some ways even comparable with Edwards’s contrastingly authoritarian feminine depiction of political correctness on ‘PCP’). One of Milligan’s storylines from 1993 is ‘The Passionchild’, in which Shade is tasked with killing the title character by the aforementioned celestials – this, the first offer of his life back, in return for the murderous deed. Deceiving the celestials, Shade arranges it so that he, Kathy and Lenny in fact murder a duplicate created by him, while the Passionchild is allowed to escape. When the silent child finally speaks, he tells Shade: ‘I live on the inside. I found nothing out there. I find nothing in here but at least it’s my nothing.’

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Shade the Changing Man, issue #37 (DC Vertigo, 1993). Pencils: Chris Bachalo, Inks: Rick Bryant, Colours: Daniel Vozzo, Letters: Todd Klein

It is almost impossible not to see another connection here, between Milligan’s distinctive turn of phrase and one of The Holy Bible‘s most frequently quoted lines, from ‘Faster’: ‘I know I believe in nothing but it is my nothing.’ [9]

Richey Edwards clearly found something in Peter Milligan’s work, counting it among the many sources of inspiration during the development of The Holy Bible. Like Edwards, Milligan transforms familiar Christian themes, images from history and facets of modern life, often in extreme ways. Both writers have taken often derided or clichéd art forms – the comic, the rock lyric – to extraordinary new places, all the while paying attention to what has gone before. Milligan, too, used the words of past authors – Shakespeare, Rimbaud, Calvino, Joyce and Hemingway – in developing his nightmarish and complex time-crossing narratives; even quoting Edwards’s favourite poem by Philip Larkin, ‘Aubade’, in one issue of Shade. [10] As much as Edwards took repeated inspiration from novelists and playwrights such as JG Ballard, Yukio Mishima and Tennessee Williams, a closer examination of his words and artistry reveals an equally intense fascination with contemporary comic book writers, Peter Milligan above all, and an interest in how the rock lyric might be reinvigorated under their influence.

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Reader letter, Shade the Changing Man, issue #27 (DC Comics, 1992)


[1] Price, Simon ‘Richey Edwards of Manic Street Preachers chooses his Men of the Year’, Melody Maker, 25 December 1993. Accessed online at,_25th_December_1993 (11 October 2020)

[2] The phrase was also later used as the title of a concert film directed by Kieran Evans, documenting the twentieth anniversary tour of The Holy Bible. A line from Grant Morrison’s Batman story Arkham Asylum is also referenced in ‘Drug Drug Druggy’ on the band’s second album Gold Against The Soul. See ‘Anatomies of Influence’.

[3] The connections between Manic Street Preachers and 2000AD have been identified on the following weblogs: Jetsam (; 2000adonline (; Babylon Wales (

[4] Diamond, Dominik ‘The 5th Manic’, Smash Hits, 9 June 1993. Accessed online at,_9th_June_1993 (11 October 2020)

[5] ‘Road Hogs!!’, RAW, 2 March 1994. Accessed online at!!_-_RAW,_2nd_March_1994 (11 October 2020)

[6] Bennun, David ‘All That Glitters’, Melody Maker, 29 January 1994. Accessed online at,_29th_January_1994 (11 October 2020)

[7] See photographs published in Price, Simon ‘Archives of Pain’, Melody Maker, 3 December 1994. Accessed online at,_3rd_December_1994 (11 October 2020)

[8] Price, ‘Archives of Pain’, op cit.

[9] Incidentally, with further reference to ‘Faster’, lizards – as symbolic of the unenlightened masses – are a central motif in Milligan’s Enigma.

[10] Larkin is also among Edwards’s ‘Men of the Year’ for 1993. See Price, 1993, op cit.

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