Review: ‘Shadowflame/The Wraith no. 1’

Writer: Joe Martino
Artist: Frank Dirscherl

Initially, Shadowflame/The Wraith #1 was a title seen as one that had done potential, but also some hindrances:

4029292-01This speaks to a minor overall issue but still one to consider when reading on ComiXology. So much so that writer Joe Martino offered us a copy of this to read without the pre-programmed view. Because, when first read, Shadowflame/The Wraith was available only in Guided View. For those uninitiated, a quick explanation: Guided View is an option that takes you through the book panel by panel rather than a full page at a time. As you can imagine, being forced to read a story in smaller pieces at a time can put some things into better focus, such as dialogue and art. In most cases, it enhances a reading experience in so many ways by forcing the reader to pay attention to details.

What was discovered reading Shadowflame/The Wraith on ComiXology was that’s not always the case. Shadowflame/The Wraith is a classic superhero story straight out of the 1980s. The title heroes find themselves investigating virtually the same case – or at least same enough to be put together for the purposes of the book. The two discover the information they have been given was deliberate. Shadowflame‘s nemesis, Don Tony Baltinetti, had laid a trap for Shadowflame in the form of Atomico, a soulless nuclear soldier created for Shadowflame’s destruction. Ultimately the two defeat Atomico, but the last page makes it clear that this battle is not over.

On its own, Shadowflame/The Wraith #1 has a few things thing for it. For those that enjoy pure superheroics without any “grim & gritty” nonsense or “end-of-the-world” event theatrics, this is a good place to find that flavor of adventure. It’s a simple, clean read. Easy to follow with really no backstory required (although there apparently have been prior issues featuring these characters, but we also get explanations). It’s a one-and-done story with the promise of more to come for those who return. The feel of nostalgia and none of the overblown trappings of modern superhero books is very welcome, and Shadowflame/The Wraith #1 provides that.

The book, however, is far from perfect. A lot of Martino’s dialogue (especially for the title characters) is steeped in that older style of superhero books, and it feels like it. A decent portion of it comes off as hokey or outdated. Some of this could stand to be updated or re-phrased to feel much more fluid instead of so wooden and outdated. Also, we see apparently Shadowflame’s girlfriend make an unnecessary appearance as a damsel in distress only to be conveniently rescued off-panel later on by The Wraith. This character (who I don’t even remember seeing a name for) sems to have some significant connection to the main characters, but we get no explanation of that here. A simple blurb of who she is and (especially) why she was brought there would have helped a lot as well.

Now, what does any of this have to do with ComiXology, you ask (understandably)? There are hindrances in ComiXology’s Guided View that are corrected when reading in full page view (which ComiXology does not allow you to do with this book). For example, when both heroes are in separate deathtraps, the book switches back and forth between them. When having to read that panel by panel, that gets awfully confusing. In full-page view, however, it’s easier to comprehend what’s happening by taking a millisecond glance at each page. Also, much of Frank Dirscherl’s art deserves to be seen in full view, as his layouts are easier to appreciate in that view as well. Normally more detail in the art can be seen in Guided View, but this is a case where a good full-page reveal is satisfying instead of having to see it a few inner monologue boxes at a time.

Overall, Shadowflame/The Wraith #1 is still a decent superhero read. It has its warts, but there’s a prince underneath that that could easily emerge with just a few tweaks to the presentation. The story is solid and has some potential, but should be read as a traditional comic book to fully appreciate what Martino and Dirscherl have to offer. On ComiXology, Shadowflame/The Wraith #1 earns 3.5 out of 5 Impaled Human Reactors. However, if you get to read it in its intended form (full-page view), it fares somewhat better with 4 out of 5 Cement Shoes.

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Who ARE these people!?

Michael Melchor has covered pop culture in all its forms for several publications and websites, including BackStage Pass magazine, 411Mania.com, and Examiner.com. He's been an avid comics reader since Barry Allen was first put on trial for the death of Professor Zoom. He's also been an avid wrestling fan since Dusty Rhodes beat Harley Race for the NWA World Championship. He now brings his fandom of comics, music, and wrestling to PanelsOnPages.com.

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  1. Hi there. I’m Frank Dirscherl, the co-writer (sorta) of the issue being reviewed here, and the creator/author of the character The Wraith, which guest stars in this issue. I am not, however, the artist of this issue. That honour goes to artist par excellance Roland Bird, who has also illustrate some issues of my own Wraith comic books. Just wanted to clear that little faux pas up. Thanks for the fine review overall, though. Much appreciated.

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