CCI: Comic Character Investigation #10

1 juin 2011 Non Par Comic Box

[ENGLISH] This month: The Shadow. Since the inception of The Golden Age of comics in 1938, many heroes, and many villains, have splashed their battles across artistic pages, have endured their struggles in those same pages and have intrigued a readership which has loved their adventures for 72 years. This column celebrates such characters by taking a look each month at one of them. Some you will know and some are more obscure, but all hold a significant place in comics, for the world of stories in any medium is about the characters who populate it. The spectacular citizens of the universe who inhabit the comic book nation might be brave or sinister, bold or fearful, but all are characters who we can never forget. So, The Golden Age becomes the Silver Age, The Silver becomes The Bronze and so on, until today and until tomorrow. . . in The Endless Age of comics, and the beings who live inside them.

The Shadow Strikes!

The Shadow is a pulp character which has engaged imaginations for decades. With his cloak and famous slouch hat and a scarf to hide his mouth, he has ominously laughed at the misfortunes he has brought upon the underworld. First appearing in the pulp magazine which bore his name in the Spring of 1931, he’s also been featured in radio shows, comics and movies, most notably a 1994 production starring Alec Baldwin.  The movie captured the flavor of the Shadow character by incorporating aspects of both the radio show and the pulp magazine. Bearing the secret identity of  Lamont Cranston, he fights crime in his super-heroic counterpart’s form and he has the power to cloud men’s minds so that they cannot even see him.

This ability was a radio show invention. The movie borrowed from the pulps in regards to the slouch hat and cloak, Cranston’s driver Moe Shrevnitz and the multiple agents who helped him in different capacities throughout society. The character of Margo lane was another borrowed radio character but in the pulps a character named Harry Vincent usually was used in society as the most important agent character who assisted him. It reflected the times because secret agent work was the business of men.

First appearing in comic strips through the 40’s, the Shadow then had a brief and unpopular run at Archie Comics because they sanitized the character and fans did not respond to things like his weakness gun instead of his usual sidearms. After that DC Comics did a fine run for fans featuring him in beautiful books by such capable artists as William Kaluta and Jim Steranko.

Yet perhaps it is in the pulps where the real greatness of the Shadow may be found. Within those pages he had the ability to blend into existing shadows to escape detection and infiltrate gangdom. He would hide in the shadows cast by cars, houses or any other structure in his operations against the underworld. Yet even the Shadow’s methods were not foolproof. He had an enemy named Spotter who had the unique ability to spot anyone who was a cop or a crook that he recognized. The criminal was so gifted even the Shadow could be spotted by him. Of course, even if a bad guy was able to discover the Shadow, he’d also soon discover the dual guns which would be promptly pointed in his direction.

The brilliant and prolific Walter B. Gibson wrote two complete shadow novels for the magazine every month. Gibson created the stories but the main character was a discovery by publishers Street and Smith rather than a creation developed in the way other heroes usually are. S&S was the sponsor for a radio program which they used to market Detective Story Magazine. The show featured an announcer who used the handle “The Shadow” and who had an ominous tone to his voice. The voice of this radio Shadow became so popular S&S wanted to capture rights to the idea. They quickly began work on The Shadow pulp series.

In the magazine, the alter ego of The Shadow was not Lamont Cranston either. Cranston was but another disguise of who he really was, a man named Kent Allard, a pilot and agent in World War I who possessed the code name of The Black Eagle. It seems shadows, like still waters, run deep. The answer to the classic radio show’s question “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men” was always “the Shadow knows!” We know something too. That whenever we pick up one of his classic stories, he will be lurking not only among the shadows which give him his name but in our own imaginations as he laughs his laugh, and draws his guns.

Who knows what hero could last for decades in the minds of everyone? We know.

[James Parducci]

James Parducci is the creator of the comic series Nighthunter. He has been published in multiple periodicals and runs his own freelance writing business in San Diego.