Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Pulp-Powered Comics: Howard Chaykin's The Shadow: Blood & Judgment

The character of the Shadow was one of my first links to the world of pulp fiction. I became a huge fan of the character when central Iowa radio station WHO started playing the old radio serials irregularly between 9 and 10 p.m. Already a superhero fan, I quickly took to the Shadow even though, thanks to Ron Fortier’s comic at Now, I was more familiar with the characters in the Green Hornet episodes they also played. The movie would soon come out and continue my fandom. But the Shadow’s days in comic were pretty much past already (not counting one or two Dark Horse issues).

It wasn’t until the last couple months that I finally stumbled across a copy of Howard Chaykin’s 1986 Shadow miniseries. Published at the height of DC’s move to edgier material (the same year as Batman: The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen), it strived to do something few would ever dare to do. It brought the Shadow in to the eighties.

In the process, Chaykin finally gave the Shadow a detailed origin. Though it feels more than a little clipped from the Green Lama’s background, the origin works perfectly to explain both where Kent Allard received his powers and why he assumed the name of Lamont Cranston.

We meet the older versions of his classic forties sidekicks, some of which quickly die. Harry Vincent and Margo Lane would still play prominent roles as would Harry’s daughter, a thoroughly modern woman proved a little more old-fashioned than she thinks by the Shadow.

The “Suggested for Mature Readers” title charged the Shadow with more sex and violence than even his old pulps allowed while still crafting an entertaining tale of the classic character reborn.

Sadly, the follow up series would quickly derail the character’s modern day take. The character fell in to the trap of being violent for violence’s sake while not giving enough Shadow to really please the classic fans. Not even art from the likes of Bill Sienkiewicz and Kyle Baker could save it. The Shadow would disappear for a while from DC comics before being relaunched in a new forties-era series called The Shadow Strikes.

Nonetheless, Chaykin’s “Blood & Judgment” is worth a read. Give it a looksy if you can find it in a used book store or comic shop. Recommended.

No comments: