Continuing my look at the Shadow’s comics career (previous posts: DC’s 1970s version and the Howard Chaykin 1980s reboot), I return now to the Archie comics version of the Silver Age (cover by Paul Reinman, all rights reside with current holder)
This was actually my first exposure to the Shadow. I read the final issue (#8), in which a psycho plots to pit the Shadow against his various foes from earlier in the series (Dr. Demon, Shiwan Khan, Radiation Rogue, Attila the Hunter) with the secret plan to kill the Master of Darkness when the others fail. It seemed pretty cool at the time, but of course I had no idea what the Shadow was supposed to be like, and in my pre-teen years, no taste. Guys in costumes fighting each other, it was always awesome. Rereading at the link (not a scan of the entire book, but more than enough), not so awesome.
Ditto the rest of the series, which Section 244 has covered in depth. Luckily for me, as I’d be unlikely to find copies otherwise. Similar to the Shadow paperbacks of the 1960s, this is strongly influenced by the “Bondmania” that exploded in the U.S. and Europe after Goldfinger made the series an international hit (the first two films had done well. Goldfinger went way beyond well). Lots of characters — Jimmy Olsen, Nick Fury, Nick Carter, Archie Andrews — turned into spies over the next few years (though it was never more than an occasional story for Archie and Jimmy). The Shadow paperbacks coming out from Belmont had him embroiled in international espionage. In the Archie Comics series, Lamont Cranston is a secret agent, a millionaire super-spy. In the early stories by Robert Bernstein, the Shadow seems almost superfluous, like James Bond dressing up in costume to fight SPECTRE. The final four issues, by Jerry Siegel, integrate the Shadow better, but they still suck.
As Section 244 notes, one of the major problems is that the Shadow has as many convenient gadgets as Batman’s utility belt: no matter how bad the threat, he’s got an app for that. Another is that he often doesn’t use his mental powers (like the radio Shadow series, he has the power to cloud men’s minds in various ways) effectively. A third is that the authors just fudge a lot. There’s a scene in #8 in which the Shadow defeats a shape-shifting other-dimensional entity (I actually remember it, and it’s also in 244’s scans) by “somehow fathoming” the one shape that forces the Dimensionoid to return to its home plane, then compelling the being to turn into that shape (it’s very reminiscent of Siegel’s other-dimensional creation Mxyzptlk, who disappeared home whenever Superman tricked him into saying his name backwards). And finally, it’s just mediocre, and often dumb. Siegel did some really good work on Superman in the Silver Age but you wouldn’t think it from this lot.
From the perspective of Shadow fans it’s even more painful, of course. Sure, the image above looks like it could be the caped, slouch-hatted hero of the pulps. But the subsequent covers, like #8 below, show him in a straight super-hero outfit (cover by Reinman, all rights to current holder). I imagine if I’d been a fan of the pulp Shadow back then, I’d have been cringing.