Mark River Johnson is a supporting character in the Shade the Changing Girl and the Shade the Changing Woman series from DC’s Young Animal. River, as he likes to be called, is a high school student who is mostly a loner among his peers and spends a lot of his time in the library; also known as “loser central”. He and his family live next door to the family of Megan Boyer in the very average town of Valley Ville. Megan has been in a coma following a drug overdose at a late night party at Yarrow Lake with her boyfriend and several others in her circle. This accident is revealed over the course of several flashbacks. When the story begins, it’s five months afterwards and doctors, hospital staff, and her family are shocked that Megan appears to have regained consciousness. In reality, Megan’s body has been taken over by a young Metan woman named Loma who used a device called the Madness Vest to transport herself into human reality.
As if a new plane of existence isn’t exciting and frustrating enough on its own, Loma is also feeling confused and frightened by Megan’s memories and emotions unexpectedly surfacing. Loma discovers that River doesn’t trigger any such events because he moved to the area while Megan was comatose and so they begin a friendship. River agrees to show her why everyone at school hates her – she, Megan, has a well earned and feared reputation for cruelty and drama. But it’s Loma’s alien nature that piques his curiosity and a friendship between them starts forming. As matters deteriorate for Loma, River continues to believe and support her claims that everyone else around her finds outrageous.
Without giving much away, by the start of the second mini series, Shade has gone on a journey of self discovery. River has graduated high school and is eager to start his studies of alien flora and fauna in the exobiology department at Florida Institute of Technology. River is pleasantly surprised when Shade suddenly reappears within minutes of River’s parents departure. The happy reunion is threatened when cute building RA Kelvin overhears a woman’s voice coming from River’s room and informs River he has 24 hours for her to leave before a report is filed. River’s words sting of betrayal to Shade and are reinforced when she secretly observes River and Kelvin kissing and spending time together. Not only are they romantically attracted to each other; they share a mutual passion for exobiology which leads them to becoming involved with a government agency tasked with handling aliens that serves as a commentary on the United States ICE and Border Patrol agencies. Kelvin is somewhat impressionable by authority and has an “us versus them” philosophy while River has serious moral and ethical questions about the agency’s purpose and shameful practices. River’s words and actions eventually win over Kelvin as the story comes to its conclusion.
The progression writer Cecil Castellucci puts River through is really beautiful. From a shy and isolated teenage who appears to be friendless and possibly closeted grows into a person with strong loyalty for a friend in a terrible and seemingly insurmountable set of problems. This evolution is exemplified when in the initial series River tries to enlist a mutual friend nicknamed Teacup to rescue Shade: “Teacup, at some point you need to make a choice: Live a small life or live a big one. Let me know your choice by the end of the day.”
River (pictured on the right in the above image) first appears in Shade the Changing Girl #1. His bisexuality is casually mentioned in #7. Kelvin’s first appearance is in Shade the Changing Woman #1 with his attraction to River being stated in #2.
River and Kelvin were created by Cecil Castellucci and Marley Zarcone. Art by Marley Zarcone and Kelly Fitzpatrick.
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