Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?
Yeah. This guy.
I love The Shadow. Have ever since I was a kid. I want to say that my first exposure to him was the (admittedly mediocre) 1994 film. It has its faults, but I will always enjoy that movie in a most un-ironic way. After that though a love affair was born. I dressed up as The Shadow for Halloween in first grade and I’ll be damned if a one knew who I was. I did it again in high school with the same result. Never put a damper on my fun, though. When I was still in grade school I started listening to the old Shadow radio show from the 30’s and 40’s with my grandfather, whom I discovered was also a pulp aficionado with a collection of bootlegged serials. We had our differences and our arguments over the years, but this we always had in common. I still kick myself for not tracking down his collection after his passing, but I still have a few tapes. We enjoyed a lot of shows; the Inner Sanctum, Suspense!, the Copperhead. The Shadow was always my favorite though. It didn’t take me long to migrate to reprints of the Shadow magazine stories, often more violent and lurid than the straightforward radio mysteries. Interpretations of his identity and his abilities have varied over the years, depending on the author and the medium, but his primordial elements have remained a steady constant. Their resonance with the popular culture is evidenced by the numerous works which The Shadow has influenced or inspired. You may be familiar with at least a couple of them.
Now, Dynamite Comics has inaugurated a brand new Shadow comic book in the capable hands of Garth Ennis and Aaron Campbell (with a great cover assist by the inimitable Alex Ross). Dynamite has been gaining some traction in recent years reviving pulp series in this vein, and it was only a matter of time before they got to the scarf-man himself. How does it hold up though?
Well, it’s hard to say for a first issue. The book front-loads the action and lets Campbell’s creative panel work grab your attention. By contrast, the latter half of the issue is mainly talking heads and feels much more uptight. My main problem with the issue is that by the end of it not a whole heck of a lot has happened. We aren’t even properly introduced to most of the characters. The conceit that these players are already familiar to us isn’t necessarily misplaced, but the ink saved by cutting out the preambles and introductions is largely given over to cryptic half-exposition. It’s kind of unsatisfying, honestly. Nevertheless, I’m probably the best audience this book could have and I will inevitably give it as much time as it needs to hit its stride.
As far as portrayals are concerned? As ever, Lamont Cranston is the Shadow’s alter ego, and he plays the “wealthy young man about town” to a key. It remains to be seen though whether Cranston is his true secret identity, as in the radio and film adaptations, or if that is in fact another cover for Kent Allard, as in the original pulps. Cranston’s connection to the orient is established early, and it seems as though this first story arc will primarily deal with Japanese-occupied China in some way. Cranston is also kind of an insufferable ass to everyone around him, but that’s always sort of been how he rolls. In particular he and perennial paramore Margo Lane continue to have a rather prickly relationship. As to the Shadow, he demonstrates the power of “clouding men’s minds” that originated in the radio program, as when he seemingly disappears from sight and compels information from a mark, but also the hard streak of remorseless violence carried over from the pulps, as when he unblinkingly guns down a group of henchmen. It is my hope to further discuss both these aspects of the character and his relationship to them in subsequent reviews. The Shadow also seemingly exhibits the curious abilities of clairvoyance and precognition, traits which he does not possess in any incarnation I am familiar with (though my knowledge of the character, while extensive, is not exhaustive). I really wish there was more I could say about it, but as I mentioned there just isn’t a whole lot going on in this first issue. Fret not though, these thrilling adventures shall return next month!
Until then, the weed of crime bears bitter fruit…