Stargirl's The Shade: 5 Things To Know About The DC Comics Villain

Richard Swift is The Shade

Tease of The Shade from Stargirl

With much of the well-known, fan favorite DC characters still ruling the big screen these days, it is nice to see many modern TV shows giving a voice to some of the more unsung personalities in comic book history. For instance, Stargirl has been an especially potent hub within the Arrowverse (or is it the CWVerse now?) for heroes and villains alike whom only the most devoted fans may have heard of previously. I mean, be honest: how much did you know about The Shade before?

Not to be confused with Shade, the Changing Man (a Justice League Dark character created by Steve Ditko in the late 1970s), The Shade, revealed to be named Richard Swift in his New 52 reboot, has been mostly a shadow (no pun intended… OK, maybe it was slightly intended) on Season 1 of the latest superhero series hit for The CW. The lesser-known, but long-existing character finally made a physical appearance (and, essentially, his live action debut) on the August 2020 finale episode. According to comments by series co-creator Geoff Johns, The Shade will be a much more prominent figure in Season 2 of Stargirl and will be portrayed by Jonathan Cake - an English actor known for roles on The Affair, Chuck, and in the 2011 video game Star Wars: The Old Republic.

Yet, the mystery that remains is what sort of role will he play in the series, given the fascinating twists and turns to that the character has seen throughout his history in DC Comics. In case this is all completely unknown to you, allow us to help shed some light on this particularly dark figure. The following are five essential facts you should know about The Shade before he returns on Season 2 of Stargirl, starting at the very beginning.

The Shade in his 1942 Flash Comics debut

The Shade Was First Introduced As A Golden Age Flash Villain

The brainchild of Gardner Fox, the legendary creator of both the Justice Society of America and the original Justice League, The Shade made his very first comic book appearance in the September 1942 issue of Flash Comics #33. The anonymous master criminal and later member of the Injustice Society of American went head-to-head with the original Golden Age iteration of The Flash, Jay Garrick, (with some help from Hawkman and Hawkgirl) in a story titled “The Man Who Commanded the Night” - the meaning of which I will explain soon. The Shade would return for the “Flash of Two Worlds” storyline in 1961, which pitted him against both Garrick and Barry Allen in a generational Flash crossover and also introduced his defining outfit: a top hat, sunglasses, and a special cane that acted as the source of his abilities.

The Shade demonstrating his power

The Shade Is Named For His Power To Control Darkness

If you thought The Shade’s name came from his choice of eyewear, nice try, but it actually has a more unique and intriguing origin than that. The title of his comic book debut, “The Man Who Commanded the Night,” refers to his ability to manipulate the darkness around him - which also allows him to construct solid objects purely out of shadows, create protective force fields, and even project concussive blasts composed of dark energy. Of course, some of these skills (along with teleportation, control over demonic entities, and immortality as well) would become part of the character in a later iteration that also reinvented the source of his power as something beyond mere invention.

Richard Swift is The Shade

The Shade’s Power Was Originally Scientific Before Reimagined As Mystic

In his Golden Age debut, The Shade was as a mortal man who constructed a darkness manipulation machine that was reintroduced in 1961 as a special cane - which has remained one of his more definitive aspects, but as nothing more than a stylish walking aid these days. In his 1994 resurrection of Starman (following the events of Crisis on Infinite Earths and Zero Hour), writer James Robinson reinterpreted The Shade’s abilities as something of a supernatural origin, but without giving away his true identity or even the true nature of his abilities. He did, however, reveal his past as a sophisticated 19th-Century Londoner granted his mystic powers and immortality by a mysterious rite that, otherwise, killed man - along with a few other fresh and surprising revelations that changed the character forever.

Starman and The Shade

The Shade Was Also Reinvented As A More Heroic Figure

James Robinson’s reboot of The Shade was actually not introduced in his Starman series as an antagonist, but not exactly as a hero, either, because Richard Swift is more of a morally ambiguous and adventurous gentleman. He uses his mystical powers to aid Jack Knight (who inherits the Starman moniker from his father, Ted Knight) in his pursuits of justice in Opal City, which almost makes me wonder if The Shade in Season 2 of Stargirl is destined to continue his established legacy as a villain, or reemerge as a reformed, neutral force. Honestly, there is no telling which way it could go, not only because the series features a version of Starman who is unique to the source material, but it also features a version of The Shade who is unique to this “earth” within the Arrowverse.

Mike McLeod and Grant Gustin on The Flash

Technically, Shade First Appeared On The Flash Before Stargirl

Earlier I mentioned that the Season 1 finale of Stargirl was “essentially” the live action debut of The Shade (after several animated appearances), and I used that word because it was, specifically, the first time the the more definitive iteration of the character was used in the medium. However, the Arrowverse sort of tackled the character first on a Season 3 episode of The Flash, which depicts him as a nameless man (played by Mike McLeod) who can vibrate his body enough to project himself as a large, shadow-like creature - unless you have a crap-ton of light to shine on him. Granted, that episode is heavily influenced by the effects of the (Grant Gustin) Flashpoint Paradox from the beginning of season and Stargirl’s ties into the Arrowverse continuity are still very loose at the moment, so introducing the more traditional version of The Shade now does not break too many rules.

What do you think? Are you excited to finally see the true incarnation of The Shade having his moment to shine (not literally, of course) on the small screen, or are you still confused over who he is and how his presence in the continuity of Stargirl makes sense? Let us know in the comments and be sure to check back for additional information and updates on the upcoming second season of the hit DC Comics-inspired TV show, as well as even more inside looks into the origins of your favorite comic book characters, here on CinemaBlend.

Jason Wiese
Content Writer

Jason Wiese writes feature stories for CinemaBlend. His occupation results from years dreaming of a filmmaking career, settling on a "professional film fan" career, studying journalism at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, MO (where he served as Culture Editor for its student-run print and online publications), and a brief stint of reviewing movies for fun. He would later continue that side-hustle of film criticism on TikTok (@wiesewisdom), where he posts videos on a semi-weekly basis. Look for his name in almost any article about Batman.