Quirky, odd, surprisingly violent, it’s a hidden gem in DC’s vault that deserves a bit more love.
This classic comic review of The Shadow #1 contains some minor spoilers.
Most of our modern-day heroes can be traced in some way back to the Golden Age of comics. It is probably safe to say that without The Shadow, we may not have had The Batman. When DC acquired the rights to The Shadow, one of the first things they produced was a team-up of the two characters in Batman’s own title.
The Shadow seemed popular, so DC in 1973 launched his own title. Written by Denny O’Neil with art from Mike Kaluta, the first issue of the book introduced a new generation of readers to Lamont Cranston.
The Shadow #1 presents us with “The Doom Puzzle”, a story straight from “The Shadow’s private annals”. This noir-inspired production is drenched with the atmosphere of black and white gangster films of the ’40s.
We start at the Brooklyn waterfront, submerged with fog and foghorns, and it’s not long before The Shadow is in a gunfight with armed criminals, as he steals a cryptic note from the hands of a dead man. Outside he is met with his driver Shrevvy and fellow detective Margo, and the trio head to the luxury of The Cobalt Club. There, in his secret identity as Lamont Cranston, he sets more pieces in motion, which leads to another confrontation as he starts to uncover a plot that involves stolen submarines, a sea captain, and the George Washington Bridge.
With its roots firmly in the realm of pulp fiction, The Shadow #1 is a rip-roaring adventure story with a winding plot and twists and turns. The Shadow himself is a man of mystery, using his ring to hypnotize people, and dispensing justice while laughing like a maniac.
This run from DC lasted just 12 issues, with The Shadow trawling through the darkness of the criminal underworld and encountering a number of bizarre opponents. O’Neil stays true to the spirit of the character while trying to appeal to the more sophisticated comic book readers of the ’70s.
The book itself seems to be set in the ’30s, a clue being a billboard of a film from that era and introduces us to the regular cast that our hero will work with.
DC would continue to publish The Shadow, right through to the ’90s in various incarnations. Howard Chaykin would reinvent the book in a mini-series, and Kyle Baker would have a successful 19-issue run on the title, but it would seem that The Shadow would lose his way, at one point becoming a cyborg, before being canceled. DC would not give up though and The Shadow Strikes was another bite of the cherry, returning to the correct time period for the cast, and once again embracing his roots, this time lasting 31 issues.
Fans of the Golden Age of comics could do worse than to check out those early issues from the 70s. Quirky, odd, surprisingly violent, it’s a hidden gem in DC’s vault that deserves a bit more love.