Friday, October 31, 2008

Chasing shadows

It's All Hallows' Eve here at SSTOL, and what could be more fitting for a Hallowe'en Comic Art Friday than a Common Elements creation spotlighting the answer to the question...

"Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?"

That's The Shadow, of course — radio drama legend, pulp fiction kingpin, cinematic star, and yes, comic book hero. The mystery man's fetching accomplice is Tasmia Mallor, better known as Shadow Lass of the Legion of Super-Heroes. This umbral duo is brought together in the tableau above by artist Kim DeMulder. Although he's a gifted penciler, Kim is most familiar to longtime comics aficionados as an inker, on such series as Marvel's The Defenders (over Don Perlin) and Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD (over Paul Neary), and a five-year run on DC's Swamp Thing (over Phil Hester).

The Shadow first appeared in 1930, as the host of a radio program called Detective Story Hour. The character became such a hit that Street & Smith, the media conglomerate that produced the show, spun The Shadow off into a pulp adventure magazine the following year. Writer Walter B. Gibson, toiling under the house pseudonym Maxwell Grant, developed The Shadow into an intriguing blend of masquerading magician and gunslinging vigilante.

Despite the fact that the same company produced both the radio series and the pulp magazine, the print and broadcast versions of The Shadow diverged from one another in numerous respects.

In the pulps, The Shadow was an Allied spy and flying ace named Kent Allard who, after the First World War, staged his demise in order to battle crime as the faceless Shadow. The pulp Shadow had no superhuman powers, but carried out his crusade using practical skills gleaned from his former career as an espionage agent — in particular, mastery of disguise — plus a network of operatives who did his legwork and gathered intelligence.

On radio, however, where The Shadow gained a promotion from host/narrator to solo star in 1937, the hero manifested a variety of bizarre talents gained while traveling in the Far East — most notably the ability to "cloud men's minds so they cannot see him." Also, the radio Shadow's true identity was wealthy socialite Lamont Cranston (first voiced by a youthful Orson Welles), who in the pulps was an altogether discrete individual who merely allowed The Shadow to impersonate him when the situation called for it. (The pulp Shadow assumed dozens of false identities, of whom Cranston was but one.) The producers thought that the Kent Allard back-story, with its multiple personae and legion of covert assistants, would be too complex to translate to radio. Thus, the more straightforward "rich playboy / secret crimefighter" trope was used instead.

In the comics, The Shadow has enjoyed an interesting history. He starred in his own Street & Smith-published comic throughout the 1940s. DC later revived the character several times: in the 1970s, with scripts by Dennis O'Neil and art by the phenomenal Mike Kaluta; in the '80s, with an eclectic band of creators that included Howard Chaykin, Bill Sienkiewicz, and Kyle Baker; and in the '90s, in a series written by Gerard Jones and drawn by such artists as Eduardo Barreto and Rod Whigham.

As for Shadow Lass — no relation, so far as I'm aware — blue-skinned Tasmia (or "Shady" as she's often called by her fellow Legionnaires) arrived on the scene in Adventure Comics #365 (February 1968). (She informally debuted several issues earlier in a "flash-forward" sequence, in which she was depicted in an alternate future as the already-deceased "Shadow Woman." In that story, Tasmia was shown as having a typical Caucasian skin tone.) Her powers enable her to create and control darkness... a nifty talent to have on Hallowe'en, I would think.

And that's your Comic Art Friday. Try not to engorge yourself on too many sugary treats, or play too many devious tricks. Because, if you do...

The Shadow knows!


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