The Shadow Strikes! was DC’s third time adapting the pulp Master of Darkness for the comics, following the Denny O’Neil 1970s series and the unpleasant Howard Chaykin reboot. It’s easily the most interesting of the three, managing to balance conventional pulp adventure with a modern sensibility better than Chaykin did.
(Cover by Stephen Hickman, all rights to current holder) Gerard Jones, the author for almost all the 31 issues (with Eduardo Barreto as co-creator) said in the first issue’s text page that while he was excited to do an old-fashioned 1930s pulp adventure, he didn’t want to just recycle pulp plots. His solution was to mix in a lot of real-world history, plus character detail for the Shadow’s agents:
•In the opening arc, the Shadow’s past in Russia (the pulps established he had ties with the Romanovs) comes back to haunt him. Soviet diplomats are murdered, the Shadow’s former lover Anastasia Romanov is in New York and so is the malevolent “mad monk” Rasputin.
•The Shadow gets embroiled in Chicago gang wars as the mob tries to recover from the feds busting Al Capone.
•The Shadow helps out Shrevvy’s family when that agent’s brother, a union activist is killed. Does a possibly unsafe tunnel project tie in?
•We learn that Margo Lane is mixed-race. The daughter of a black New Orleans prostitute and a wealthy client, Margo fled town, passed for white and married rich. When that fell apart, it led to her becoming the Shadow’s agent (Jones said in the final issue that he’d planned a similar behind-the-scenes look at Harry Vincent).
•When the Shadow takes his battle with Shiwan Khan to China, he gets help from Mao Tse Tung’s Communist forces.
•In one story Orson Welles (albeit renamed) creates a radio show about this urban legend, the Shadow. Needless to say, the Shadow is not amused.
Jones manages to keep up a good pulp feel through all this. It came across best in Death’s Harlequin, a two-parter involving a mysterious, costumed blackmailer preying upon wealthy men as they’ve preyed upon women (cover by Eduardo Barreta, all rights remain with current holder)
There are several battles with Shiwan Khan, the would-be conqueror of the world. While well-done for the most part (particularly one story in which the villain takes out the Shadow’s entire network of agents—the only time I’ve seen the Shadow really sweating), they still fall into the Sinister Oriental tradition of Fu Manchu and Iron Man’s foe the Mandarin. One story gently mocks the stereotypes of sinister, scary Chinatown via two nervous kids, but it still uses a lot of the same stereotypes.
Overall, though, this was a really good run. It finished up with an origin for the Shadow, not as simple as the pulps. Shadow creator Walter Gibson revealed in The Shadow Unmasks that Kent Allard was a WW I aviator/spy who decided fighting organized crime would be as heroic a struggle as the fight against Germany (a lot of WW I veterans turned adventurer back in the 1920s and ’30s). Jones’ backstory involved Allard having a much dirtier career as an agent for American business/government interests, which I suspect we’d have explored if the book had run longer (the Shadow also hints he may have made up the whole thing). Though it’s still a good tale.
I’d have liked the series to run longer — Jones says next up was a run-in with another pulp adversary, the Voodoo Master (who despite having three battles with the Shadow, one less than Shiwan Khan, has never appeared in any other medium). I presume that as Dark Horse’s less interesting Shadow series followed soon after, that publisher made the copyright owners a better offer.
And that wraps up my Shadow rereading, unless the library makes some of the more recent comics available.