I don’t think I’ve written about The Shadow before. I know I reviewed one of Dynamite’s ‘Elseworlds’ style one-shots but I don’t know if I’ve actually talked about The Shadow before. The Shadow has always been the proto-Batman and because of that he feels a little dated, a little less streamlined in all of his incarnations. Batman, being derivative and having The Shadow as a prototype, was able to learn from original and become the epitome of the dark superhero on the edge. But there was a time when Shadow was THE dark hero. The Shadow ruled unopposed for 9 years (Shadow being created in 1930, Batman in 1939) spinning off an incredibly successful, and entertaining, radio drama starring Orson Welles, comic strips and books as well as a series of movies that came out pretty regularly until 1940. It was after this point that Shadow started to wane with the last movie coming out in 1958 a full 8 years before the Batman TV series would put comic books back into people’s living rooms on a regular basis again. While he had a presence in comics the entire time he wouldn’t venture out too much until experiencing a small revitalization in 1994 when a new movie came out and brought The Shadow back into the public eye.
This is when I got into The Shadow, I loved that Alec Baldwin movie and I owned all the action figures. I even sent away for my own Shadow Ring using the proofs of purchase from those figures. I’m pretty sure there was even a Shadow cereal and if there was I’m pretty sure I ate it. However The Shadow sort of fell into the backseat while his bat shaped successor took the wheel. While Batman excels when pit against over the top super villains The Shadow excels when he stands out as the most fantastic element of the story. The Shadow fights normal mobsters while being an abnormal force of nature. It creates an environment so when some supernatural element comes against The Shadow it raises both characters out of the normal.
This story manages to put Shadow in the element he belongs in, a force of nature against normal people, but also hints at something greater. This first issue situates The Shadow in a murder mystery concerning Harry Houdini and while he tracks down the very human members of a greater conspiracy against Houdini there is a splinter group of magicians seeking something else. What, exactly, that is is left unclear but the group of splinter magician extremists are interesting and seem threatening enough that when the inevitable confrontation happens The Shadow will be challenged. The art conveys an older world that makes the story feel set firmly in the 1930’s which is where someone like The Shadow feels most at home.
The Shadow always carries with him this feeling of antiquity, he doesn’t really belong in a modern era. Unlike Batman, who is ridiculous enough to stand out in any era, The Shadow belongs in the roarin’ 20’s. Prohibition, conspicuous consumption and the unease that occurred between the two wars is where The Shadow is most at home. His costume, while crime fighting and dress when in his secret identity are real enough to feel anchored to a particular time and seeing him outside that time feels strange. Luckily Dynamite decided to play to The Shadow’s strengths and keep him in his comfort zone rather than try and drag him into the modern era through some kind of contrived reboot.
Ultimately, while the story in intriguing enough to get me to the next issue, there isn’t a whole lot else to pull in a new reader. The characterization is taken a bit for granted as I feel like everything I got out of this issue is character stuff I brought with me from experiencing other versions of the character. None of the side characters or the antagonists feel very fleshed out, the dialogue and plot elements are very mechanical existing only to move the story to the next plot point. If The Shadow is something that you like, or want to like, then there will be enough here for you. If you aren’t though this book isn’t doing anything extraordinary to make this a ‘must read’.