Like variant covers, team-ups and anything in comics outside the standard narrative, rapper cameos started as a gimmick to sell more books. Comics cameos have always favored hip-hop acts, with legendary duos Run-DMC and Public Enemy even getting their standalone own titles and more recently Marvel Comics pairing The Punisher with real-life super lunatic Eminem.
What were once solely cash grabs, however, have in recent years been given more substance and legitimacy. Publishers solicit A-list talent to give their unique take on variants, and unlikely pairings are used to tell unique stories and show sides of popular characters we couldn’t see alone. In that same respect, writer Eliot Rahal utilized more than just star power in his hip-hop infused SHADOWMAN/RAE SREMMURD #1.
The book opens with a black musician selling his soul to a demon in order to gain superhuman talent. This play on an old music trope immediately makes the book about more than superheroes and musical guests, showing the history of African-Americans in popular music before jumping to the present for an updated take on the idea. In short: Rae Sremmurd sold their souls when they were still struggling musicians, and only Shadowman can save them.
Rahal doesn’t take the pairing of music and occult themes much deeper, and there isn’t much need to. While still an impactful way to start the issue, it would have been nice if the association amounted to more than “this is why Shadowman met these rappers.” Still, the way Rahal approaches the plot allows for us to see Shadowman’s guest stars as more than a gimmick. Only a small chunk of the book shows Rae Sremmurd as their fans may know them today. The rest is dedicated to showing how they got there, and who they were before.
For anyone who hasn’t been following Shadowman through the Valiant line, the story doesn’t do much to catch readers up. Those more familiar with Rae Sremmurd may leave the issue knowing next to nothing about the character, aside from that he fights something called loa and has a friend called Dr. Mirage. Though technically a continuation to a longer Shadowman story, any first issue of a comic should still work to introduce new readers to a character who shares half its title.
Overall, SHADOWMAN/RAE SREMMURD #1 is a book that starts strong and doesn’t seem too sure where to go from there. It’s a nice story that meets its logical conclusion, but if you aren’t a diehard fan of Shadowman or hip-hop like myself, it likely won’t be enough to satisfy you the way other Valiant books have been praised for doing month to month.
(W) Eliot Rahal (A/CA) Renato Guedes