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THE SHADOW

The Shadow. I don’t know that there’s ever been a successful revival of the Shadow, who old-timey radio expert John Dunning calls “radio’s most famous fictitious crimefighter.” The Shadow began his fictional life as the voice of the announcing narrator of “Detective Story Hour” in July 1930. He was popular enough to graduate and star in his own magazine adventures in Street and Smith’s The Shadow Magazine, beginning April 1, 1931, then on the radio with the debut of “The Shadow” radio show September 26, 1937.

In his Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio, Dunning calls this show “the epitome of radio crime drama. Today it remains one of the three or four shows cited by people as a synonym for ‘oldtime radio’ ... routinely defined [by] ‘The Shadow,’ ‘Fibber McGee,’ and ‘The Lone Ranger.’” Other radio show titles are occasionally plugged into the list, but “The Shadow is a given. It makes everybody’s list. The character combined the strongest elements of rank melodrama and delivered them as truth.” Shadow0001

It was undoubtedly the introductory utterances of the radio show that earned the character an iconic niche in American popular culture: “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows.”After which, a maniacal laugh fades into an introduction of Lamont Cranston, who learned how to “cloud men’s minds” and become invisible, and his “friend and companion” Margo Lane.

Listening to this celebrated introduction on Sunday afternoons in the late 1940s, I was too young to pick up on the sexual implications of Margo’s being Cranston’s “friend and companion.”

The current transumtation of the Shadow began in 2011, when Dynamite Entertainment licensed the Shadow from Conte Nast. The first issue appeared last spring, written by Garth Ennis and drawn by Aaron Campbell. Not content with one Shadow title, DE produced The Shadow: Year One, written by Matt Wagner and drawn by Wilfredo Torres. Year One appears to deploy many of the elements of Gibson’s pulp Shadow — multiple identities, f’instance. The Ennis incarnation, however, seems focused, like the long-running radio show, on Lamont Cranston. Cranston’s “friend and companion” (as the old radio show used to put it, coming as close to slanderous innuendo as the times permitted), Margo Lane, as if to satisfy an adolescent wet dream, appears in both titles in a sexual role: in Wagner, as a call girl; in Ennis, as Cranston’s mistress.

Both DE Shadows are set in the 1930s. Campbell’s visuals are thoroughly realistic and evoke the period nicely; Torres’ realism deploys a somewhat simpler style, much more linear, with some facial tics that are distracting; and much less shadowing, which is too bad, because a noir character like the Shadow needs darkness.

When depicting the Shadow, both artists resort to the standard that was established in the pulps, according to Wikipedia: the Shadow wore a black slouch hat and a black, crimson-lined cloak with an upturned collar over a standard black business suit; a crimson scarf covering his mouth and chin. Almost all depictions of the Shadow since give him a larger-than-life-size nose — but only when garbed as the Shadow; on Cranston, the nose is of a nearly normal dimension. How this trick is effected, I don’t know; but it seems part of the ritual.

I don’t know whether I’m up to a Shadow saga, but if I were, I’d probably go for the Ennis-Campbell version because it reminds me of those Sunday afternoons I spent learning that “the weed of crime bears bitter fruit — crime does not pay. The Shadow knows!”

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