Wednesday, April 9, 2014

THE SHADOW (NO)


The Shadow is one of those characters who – like Doc Savage, Flash Gordon, and a few others – predate the superhero while simultaneously being what is essentially a template for the superhero model; a colorful costume and nom de guerre, a secret identity, gimmicks and powers with which to battle against evil – all the trappings, if not the name.

Years after the Shadow’s heyday in the pulp era, Archie Comics acquired the license to represent the character in comic books. Feeling, as they certainly had a reason to, that the era of shadowy killers grimly executing grotesque murderers and insidious arch-fiends needed to have a modern appeal , and existing in the era of high-camp Code-approved superheroics and Cold War-era spy fiction, the end result was Lamont Cranston, superhero and agent of CHIEF.

There have been a few subsequent adaptations of the Shadow which remain of particular note – the classic Denny O’Neil and Mike Kaluta series from the early Seventies, and the often hard-to-categorize but very stylish 80s effort from the Helfer/Sienkiwicz/Baker assemblage, but did either of them put the Shadow in a green and purple bodysuit and have him shoot hypno-lightning from his eyes? No, so they are bogus.

The Shadow successfully battles depression.
Archie Comics was creating a Shadow which fit the mold of their hip, swinging Mighty Crusaders line of characters, and their version of the character seemed to resemble them. In his first two issues, the Shadow’s secret identity – hawk-nosed playboy Lamont Cranston – is replaced by a blonde-topped businessman with movie star looks. His choice of costume was, by contrast, fairly modest – instead of the Shadow’s traditional sloop-brimmed hat, long blood-red scarf and blazing automatics, there was merely a dark navy blue jumpsuit and waist-length cloak.

The Shadow’s mocking laugh, routine about the bitter fruit of the weed of crime, and pledge “Who knows what evil lurks in the heart of men?” are also all missing (except on the covers, where they only do so much good), although I’m sure in one of these eight issues the Shadow says “Ha ha” and comments that he receives quite a bit of mail, so it’s sort of the same.

Crossing over from the original Shadow mythos are her personal assistant Margo Lane and nemesis Shiwan Khan, although he forms only the first of a colorful array of new baddies to plague the revamped crimefighter; an ex-Nazi named Dr.Demon shows up and joins Shiwan Khan in attempting to rid the world of the Shadow. He’s joined later by Radiation Rogue (whose ungloved hand can send waves of deadly radiation all over the place like crazy), Attila the Hun…ter (little did we know his business cards had just cut off the last half of his appellation) , an oversized monster with a soupcon of Tor Johnson about him going under the name The Brute, and lastly the super-stretchy baddie Elasto and the Diabolical Dimensionoid, all of whom team up to smash the Shadow but, as they will, just get their butts handed to them.

You might almost think this was complete nonsense.
By this time, the blonde and be-cloaked Shadow has changed out his look for black hair and a green and purple costume which nonetheless resembles some sort of cross between The Fly and The Web, two of Archie’s other superheroic properties. He’s also fully committed now to the agency of CHIEF, for which he operates as an agent in his Lamont Cranston identity during the day and fights for as The Shadow by night.

Unusually – and certainly a coincidence – the Shadow’s eight issues tie up nicely together as the end of a story arc, which all of the hero’s foes gathering to fall upon him as one and finding themselves decidedly defeated. After a slaughter of that nature, none of them would make much hay when showing up alone or even in pairs to tackle the green-and-purple paladin of justice, and it’d be hard to believe the Shadow couldn’t put an end to any new threat which showed up after that.  Cancellation makes for a very nice epilogue, with all of that considered.

2 comments:

Michael Hoskin said...

I dug deep into this series because its very existence fascinated me; you can read my wrap-up (with links to reviews of all 12 Archie Shadow stories) here: http://section244.blogspot.ca/2012/08/bitter-fruit-wrapping-up-archies-shadow.html

Jon, all things considered, you're pretty kind to this series.

neofishboy said...

You know, that's a really awkward way to punch.

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