The Shadow #3

Diamond Distribution’s manifest villainy is well established. It is through their mercurial chicanery that I never obtained a copy of The Shadow #2. I have not read it, nor do I know what is contained betwixt its umbral covers. This makes reviewing The Shadow #3 somewhat more complicated.

Last time, on The Shadow…

… I really don’t know. Couldn’t tell you.

We open for whatever reason on a Russian plane flying over what can be assumed to be China. This is apparently a highly important secret mission for the Soviet Union. Or at least it would be if it didn’t get blown straight to hell by an intercepting Japanese Zero. The explanation for this lies with a pair of Japanese agents discussing their various skulduggeries, including an appropriately pulp-y radioactive death ray. The particular vernacular of their conversation is a little bit stiff, but it does a good job of communicating the arrogance of the Imperial Japanese military. The next exchange is between our hero Lamont Cranston and his own conspiratorial contacts. Cranston spends most of the scene being punchably smug, taking breaks only to be subtly manipulative. He’s not the most likable of protagonists, but that’s exactly the way he’s supposed to be. Also endearingly terrible is Buffalo Wong, the Chinese bandit warlord who seems to greet everyone by shouting his own name.

Yes, he shouts his own name for no readily apparently reason. I was hoping to have an image but I couldn’t find one. I’m as stumped as you are.

Wong’s scene with the nefarious Japanese officers is interesting for a couple of reasons. First, because popular depictions of history rarely acknowledge the anarchic patchwork of petty strongmen, revolutionaries, and foreign insurgents that dominated Chinese society in the first half of the twentieth century; often referred to as China’s Warlord Period. Second, Wong’s description of his violent dealings with an American expedition serves as an explicit attack on the paternalistic attitudes that undergirded western colonialism for over two centuries and which shaped China’s relationship with outside powers for most of its modern history. It’s the little things really.

Meanwhile, in the obligatory seedy Shanghai nightclub, Lamont Cranston and Margo Lane await an attempt on their lives with disarming coolness. Here we see a different side to Cranston. In private with Margo he demonstrates a brooding acidity more in line with his Shadow persona. That he turns this slow burn on Margo indicates he’s still far from flawless, but it’s a more honest face that describes a man changed by the horror he has witnessed. Right on time the assassins arrive and Cranston intercepts them as the Shadow. An impossible terror that appears from the corner of an eye and guns down the assembled dacoits with almost gleeful sadism, finally pulling one damned soul from death’s embrace to compel information from him.

This level of antiheroism might be somewhat jarring for new readers of the character. The Shadow in his truest portrayals does not conform to the accustomed superhero formula. From his inception the Shadow was intended to be more of a noble villain than a truly righteous crusader,  a man of sinister qualities who nonetheless fought for the innocent. This is an outgrowth of many pulp heroes, and even early comics heroes, existing as an expression of generational frustration. In the 1930’s it was not difficult to imagine that civilization itself was coming apart at the seams. Economic apocalypse, the erosion of justice, and the looming spectre of fascism all contributed to the sense that we were all a breath away from the reckoning. The myths of that era tended to reflect this sentiment in one way or another.

Three issues in and Garth Ennis is nailing it. Whether you’re an old fan or just getting into the game, I’d pull this one off the rack.

Now, to wear my fedora for the rest of forever…

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