Three posts in a week? Shine on you crazy diamond! I have to say, this review is perhaps the one I regret delaying on most. I say this because this is the issue of The Shadow that I didn’t even know I was waiting for.
Garth Ennis has already been doing a bangup job on this book, but this is maybe the first issue that really got its hooks into me. It begins with Kondo and Buffalo Wong, the Japanese intelligence officer and Chinese bandit warlord, discussing their theories about the identity of the Shadow. As it happens Kondo’s hypothesis is one hundred percent correct, astutely linking the Shadow to his civilian persona of socialite Lamont Cranston. He goes further than that however, connecting both Cranston and the Shadow to Kent Allard, an American underworld baron with a mysterious past who operated in the Orient for a time. This more firmly establishes the continuity this particular series is drawing from, the true secret identity of the Shadow having been the subject of more than a few shell games in his publication history. It also gives us a sense of the Shadow’s own ambiguity and thirst for redemption beyond mere revenge. In a nod to the film version one panel showing Allard holding court in an opium den bears a passing resemblance to Alec Baldwin, a touch I enjoyed. Also referenced is the legend of distant holy men who reform villains into instruments of justice, another piece of the Shadow lore. In discussing the Shadow’s brand of vigilantism he is described as a kind of samurai, though I personally would have found the term “youxia” more appropriate. Kondo clearly possesses a canny intellect to bring to bear on Cranston, and it is interesting to see their respective gambits play out against one another.
Meanwhile, Cranston and his ship’s crew encounter the collateral of Kondo’s advance upstream. A village slaughtered and defiled in an all too common pattern of the Japanese army. Cranston’s demeanor loses all of its typical smugness, bearing the caustic venom normally revealed only in private. He forces the crew and Margo to take in the carnage, something for which Margo later attempts to rebuke him. In response though Cranston gives us a glimpse into his terrible experience. Through the Shadow’s prescience he has seen all of the horror of the Second World War play out before him. The Shadow knows the evil which lurks in men’s hearts, because we have seen that same evil also resides within him, but these wrongs darker than death or night draw from him a moral revulsion unlike anything that can be understood. It explains the almost manic cast we have seen in his eyes throughout the series, the desperate hate. He knows that he cannot stop what is coming, no matter how many he saves it will never be enough, but he knows that he can punish it. In a way that only he can. Just as the knowledge of good and evil changed Adam and Eve, so too has it warped the Shadow.
In the perfect conclusion to the episode, Cranston’s ship is lured into a trap by Kondo and struck by mines which destroy it in a terrific explosion. You can imagine the movie serial title card that comes after the last panel, practically hear the melodramatic swell of the orchestra. Its a certified gold effort from Ennis and Campbell (with covers from Alex Ross continuing to amaze). This might be my favorite thing that I’m reading right now, and you owe it to yourself to check it out.
Today’s thrilling installment of Roll For Relevance has been brought to you by Blue Coal!