As I said in my previous Shadow post, DC’s first Shadow series was fun. Not so much Howard Chaykin’s 1986 four-issue miniseries (cover by Chaykin, all rights with current holder)
The series opens with the Shadow returning to New York in the 1980s. His agents are elderly, but the Shadow himself is in great shape. It turns out that years ago, crooked millionaire Lamont Cranston paid pilot Kent Allard, the future Shadow (in the pulps, Allard was the Shadow’s true identity, Cranston was a wealthy idler he impersonated) for a dirty job that involves a trip the Far East. The end result is that Cranston dies, Allard discovers the lost land of Shamballah with its ancient super-science, and becomes trained in its secrets.After that Allard returned to New York as Cranston and began fighting crime as the Shadow. Eventually, however, he returned to Shamballah, where he was able to stay young forever. Now he’s back but so is Cranston, who wants to get back to Shamballah himself and recover his youth.
This one failed for me on pretty much every level. The new origin is really cumbersome (and as stereotypical about a white man mastering the Secrets of the East as Dr. Strange), the sex is gratuitous (the ultimate bad guy is Cranston’s mistress, who wants to nuke NYC so she can have sex right before it explodes) and the Shadow is an arrogant, smug, sexist jerk. Chaykin’s writing is sexist too: the daughter of Shadow aide Harry Vincent despises the Shadow until they jump in the sack and she starts calling him “master.”
Nonetheless proved successful enough that DC launched a follow-up series. Instead of Chaykin we got Andy Helfer and Bill Sienkewicz, which proved to be an improvement. As they said in an interview at the time, super-heroes who kill were pretty common by this point so they decided to approach the Shadow as “the blackest of black comedies.” His Shamballan kids try to break into show biz; the liaison for his network of agents is a phone-sex operator in an iron lung; the Shadow’s arch-foe Shiwan Khan is a successful electronics entrepreneur.
At the time, I liked it; rereading recently, not so much. I don’t know if that kind of black comedy is no longer fresh, or that my sense of humor has shifted. I do know that the Shadow’s willingness to solve problems by shooting everyone hasn’t aged well for me. Both the DC and Dynamite versions of Doc Savage criticized his methods (the use of violence, the brainwashing in the Crime College); there’s not the slightest suggestion that the Shadow should rethink anything. Of course, as the continued popularity of the Punisher (and at the time, DC’s Vigilante and the paperback Executioner series) shows, gunning people down hasn’t actually gone out of fashion. And it’s not as if DC or Dynamite actually had Doc change his methods, much the same way Goldeneye labels James Bond a “sexist, misogynist dinosaur” without making him any less sexist or misogynist. But I’m not a Punisher fan so it left me with a sour taste in my mouth
Apparently the rights-holder for the Shadow wasn’t too thrilled with DC’s version either: the series ended after a year and a half (right after the Shadow had turned into a cyborg) and promises to wrap up the remaining plot threads went unfulfilled. The series rebooted into the 1930s-set The Shadow Strikes, which I’m now reading—I’ll review it when I’m done [Update: The letter column for The Shadow Strikes #4 says the issue was the creative team giving up the previous book for other assignments, not any problem with sales figures or objections from the copyright-holder]