Shadow Annual and #6

Gentle readers young and old! We’re coming up on almost twelve months of blogging here at Roll For Relevance! That in mind we’re going to ring out the month of October with a dynamic duo of plus-sized posts! First up, a double helping of The Shadow!

So Dynamite’s scheduling is a bit off (surprising approximately no people) and we actually got Shadow Annual before Shadow #6, so before we continue our thrilling serial we have a slight digression for an additional umbral adventure. Despite another fantastic cover by Alex Ross it looks like this sidebar is coming to us courtesy the team of Tom Sniegoski and Dennis Calero. Much as I’m still swooning over the Ennis/Campbell combination on the main title I’m not opposed to seeing someone else tackle the fedora and scarf. Let’s check it out!

This avenging tale is taking place in the Shadow’s home stomping grounds of New York City. Considering the oriental inclination of the regular series this is a change of pace, though we do have an early scene in Tibet with a wayward missionary unleashing some terrible ancient evil. You know, like you do. There’s something of a mystery afoot in the Shadow’s city, and when it involves the intersection of organized crime and apparent mentalism there’s really nobody better for the case. The investigation itself is pretty linear and the who-done-it isn’t really even concealed but the book’s additional length affords it some time to simmer.

Margo Lane, bless her heart, ends up getting used as bait  to draw out the extradimensional antagonists. Really breaking the mold there, fellas. What were we honestly expecting though? To her credit, Margo doesn’t take it completely sitting down either. Ultimately while there’s some tension in the resolution its outcome is never really in doubt, but creepy children will never lose their effectiveness as a plot device. The nature of this particular foe is a little more grandiose than the Shadow typically combats, but it’s portrayed in such a way that it feels more or less at home in his universe.  I’m honestly a little constrained in that since the story has a mystery structure I’d feel a bit awkward spoiling it, even if it is pretty straight forward.

Taken together it’s a nice diversion before moving on the final act of the central Shadow storyline, and while Ennis still has the character pretty much on lock I wouldn’t be opposed to seeing what Sniegoski could get into with a longer narrative. Calero’s art has this almost surreal impressionist quality to it at times, and I think it sets the mood for this kind of caper just about perfectly.

That brings us around to our main feature, the final installment of the Shadow’s first story arc! Things pick up where we left them, with General Akamatsu about to commit seppuku, an act which will salvage the honor of his mission’s apparent failure. Lamont Cranston, Margo Lane, and Agent Finnegan watch from a nearby hideaway while Cranston explains the proceedings for the other two and for the audience. The scene itself is actually rather graphic but it drives the point home. Before Taro Kondo, acting as Akamatsu’s second, can decapitate him though he whispers a terrible revelation in his ear. The minerals were not fake, rather Kondo forged the test. Now with no one the wiser he will sell them to the highest bidder. After a few more unsavory words Kondo kills him, having completed his role as an apparent pawn in Kondo’s scheme. The double crosses in this book are getting dizzying. Kondo then begins the return trip with his soldiers and treasure in tow, suspecting he is being tailed by the others after recovering the Shadow’s .45 slugs from Buffalo Wong’s body. Of course he is correct, and Cranston plans an ambush of Kondo’s men over Finnegan’s increasingly vain protests. Cranston finally puts the blowhard in his place with some inspired acidity and goes about making the final play.

Kondo’s men are stopped along the night road by the Shadow, whom Kondo recognizes as his former underworld brother Kent Allard. The Shadow draws the soldiers into a close charge and springs the trap, attacking them with the same mines they used to sink the American marine vessel previously. Only Kondo escapes alive, the Shadow permitting his flight unpursued. With the minerals safely in hand, revealed subsequently to be Uranium-235, the three make their way to British India and safety. The epilogue reveals Kondo’s fate, seen through the Shadow’s prescience, and how he is ultimately reunited with the Uranium he spilled so much blood for.

It’s a pretty satisfying ending, but I can’t deny having a couple of hangups with it. By this point Finnegan just seems like a kind of strawman, an intellectual punching bag for Cranston to show how smart he is. He has no depth, and as much as we’re meant to dislike him it’s hard not to feel like he’s starting with a handicap. Margo also had very little to do in this arc, but her portrayal has been nuanced enough to make me hopeful for things to come.  Then there’s the climax of the conflict. There’s really no reason for the soldiers to have charged the Shadow rather than, you know, shooting him. With their guns. You can argue that the Shadow’s provocation combined with his powers of suggestion overrode their better judgment, but we don’t get a real clue of that in the story itself. Also, let’s talk about that provocation a little bit. Cranston’s language discussing the Japanese in this issue (and a couple previous ones as well) is kind of inflammatory, even bordering on racist. Condemning the writing on this though is complicated by a couple of factors. The first is that the Japanese ‘were’ responsible for abominable atrocities during the war, particularly in China. Not saying this makes prejudiced speech justified, but it is important to understand the context of characters’ words and actions. The second wrinkle is that these kinds of racist attitudes were commonplace in the time period, even among students of Asian culture like Lamont Cranston. Again, this doesn’t necessarily make everything alright, but it’s another important piece of context to comprehend. My only concern is that this context might not be adequately clear to readers not already familiar with its background. Maybe I’m wrong. I don’t know, what do you think?

In sum total the series is still awesome. All the hagiography I’ve laid on it before is still valid. Pick it up etcetera and so forth.

This concludes your first two-fisted Roll For Relevance! Before I go I figured I’d drop this little Halloween gem on you. I’m the one on the right…

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