In a Shocking Turn of Events, Even the Shadow Doesn’t Know
Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, and any literate animals, such as gorillas or large collections of freshwater plankton inhabiting corpses! Welcome, to All-Same Mostly-Similar Who the Hell is! Apologies for the month or so of absence, but, well, combination unemployment/severe depression is a hell of a drug. Anyways, this week’s article is a suggestion from u/Blugeek, the person who can also be blamed for the 6.5/10 article on Zatanna! Welcome back to the not-show(?), Blugeek! Stay blu!
The Shadow is by far the oldest character in this series so far, dating back to the early thirties, where he first appeared as a narrator for an hour-long radio drama called Detective Story Hour. That’s right, the character is so old that he predates his own visual appearance, originally being known simply as a mildly sinister voice that always claimed that he was the only one who knew what evil lurked in the hearts of men, despite the fact that pretty much every one knows that as soon as they enter the adult world. But enough about that, let’s fake an education in comics!
Shadow Badow Bo-Badow
SCENARIO: If you’ve been reading this series since the very beginning, first of all, fucking why? And secondly, you remember that a lot of the bullshit I originally spewed was about comic book hipsters and how it’s important to actually know what you’re talking about. It was a dumb gimmick, I know, but I still think the second part holds true. But as a kind of ok man once said, “You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain”. So, in the spirit of letting go of a dumb grudge, I say screw trying to be better than “comic hipsters”. I’m going to give you enough to become one. After all, the Shadow is one of the oldest characters out there, and what’s more of a hipster thing than saying that only the classics are good? Except, you know, poor taste in scarves and liking things before they were cool. The only reason those aren’t being counted as the most hipster thing here is because the Shadow has amazing taste in scarves, and without time travel/immortality, it would be impossible for anyone reading this to have liked the Shadow before he was cool. Unless veterans of the Great War are part of my demographic, in which case, please send me one of your helmets! Well, that’s enough rambling to make this part of the article feel like it has purpose again, so let’s get this show on the road!
Step One: The Shadow’s Nose
In all seriousness, the dude does have a crazy nose. Look at that shit. Like a Roman statue.
Picture the pulpiest character you possibly can. Maybe you picture an already established one from more recent fiction, like Max Payne or Spider-Man Noir. Perhaps you make one up in your head, a private dick named Tommy Gunn or Jet Black or Jack Knife or some shit like that. Or maybe you don’t really know what “pulp” means outside of the context of either fruit juice or Quentin Tarantino movies. Whatever the case, I want you to take that character and immediately forget about their existence, because The Shadow is the pulpiest character ever created. Born Kent Allard, quite possibly the most 1930s name I’ve ever read or heard, he operated as a spy for Tsar Nicolas of all things, before becoming one of the deadliest spies of the first World War. Somehow, he also managed to be an extremely famous aviator who frequently crashed in South America. Of course, being a pulp character, he wound up discovering a city of gold while he was crashed there, because every pulp fiction hero is required to do so. The money from this would help him fund his future adventures, but somehow “city of gold” money is not enough to bankroll a spy operation in the thirties, so he also stole the identity of a man named Lamont Cranston, with whom he shared a close resemblance. Mostly through being an aggressive asshole about it, Kent managed to convince Lamont to give him full use of the Cranston identity and resources, as long as Lamont was out of town. Being a bit of a jet-setter, this was often so the Shadow pretty much hung out in New York most of the time from then on out. Realizing that, big dick OG as he was, one spy was not enough to run a profitable spy network, Kent decided to amass a small amount of operatives and contacts, including former suicidal man Harry Vincent, world’s most old times cab driver Moe Shrevnitz, and a radio operator who only went by the name Burbank. Together, along with a metric shitload of unnamed operatives that even the Shadow didn’t really know, they did… vaguely defined spy stuff? Honestly, most of the older stories just kind of involved the Shadow dicking around and convincing people he was invisible, which was, at the time, the closest thing he would get to a superpower.
Of course, as time went on, the character would evolve and grow more and more, and he would go on to accumulate a collection of skills and equipment that would make even Batman jealous. The Shadow has been able to completely control his vocal chords (basically just super-ventriloquism), convince most people that he was invisible, master basically every skill ever thought up throughout history, be actually totally for reals immortal (we’ll get to that later), an early version of the helicopter, a shitload of guns, acids, flash powders, suction cups, and, for one incredibly awful period of time, he had a giant robot body (we’ll get to that one even later). Basically, the Shadow is pretty cool, you guys.
Step Two: Wait, What?
Another rite of passage for pulp heroes is, apparently, training under ancient monk masters in Shambahla, and hey, guess what? The Shadow did that too. Of course, it wasn’t revealed that doing so had made him effectively immortal until the 1980s DC comics miniseries that brought him into modern day (at the time, at least) New York. Basically, to put things short, he drinks a longevity potion to keep him relatively the same age that he was when he first took it. But of course, just to keep things fresh (because immortal spy badasses need nemeses, I guess), it turns out that some jabroni that the Shadow had studied with named Shiwan Khan, who could have probably had a pretty promising career in rap music if he had been born several decades later, had also been taking the potion, leading to an eternal rivalry that would later peak at the dumbest possible point in human history.
Yes, Shiwan Khan had his decapitated head attached to what looks like some sort of Cylon built for pleasuring other Cylons. Now, I know what you’re thinking. Why would an ancient, quasi-mystical master of stealth from the ancient lost city of Shambahla think that his Machine Gun Nipple Style could ever defeat a guy who earned his nickname from being a nightmare given human form? It sounds like the dumbest move ever, huh? Well, don’t worry. It only happened because of something even dumberer. The Shadow, master of stealth and subterfuge, decided that the best possible course of action to take his spy game to the next level was to get decapitated and buy Krang’s body.
Fun fact: the above dumb joke only exists because I can’t find a single good-quality image of the Shadow and his dumb robot body, because for some reason the only things I could find on Google were one super grainy image of the cover of the issue where it happened, and a shitload of pictures of Krang from the last TMNT movie. But rest assured, it really looked like a less fleshy Krang.
Basically, the only real reason any of that dumb bullshit occurred was a combination of comics in the nineties being pretty much the worst. DC’s Shadow comic sales were starting to flag, and in a desperate, last ditch effort to recoup some losses, they decide that the Shadow needed to basically be a slightly more racist Krang. Obviously to anyone who wasn’t doing a ton of coke, this was a terrible idea. And so, after a long history, The Shadow’s tenure in the world of comics came to an end for a while. Well, at least with DC comics. He was bounced over to Dark Horse for a little while, before finally ending up at Dynamite, alongside fellow pulp heroes the Green Hornet and Zorro. Nowadays he gets up to similar adventures as he did back in the old days, but he still gets up to dumb robot body shenanigans every now and then.
Step Three: Legacy
There’s a pretty good chance that even if you don’t really know about or care for the Shadow at all, you’ve enjoyed something that sprung from his influence. Batman, for example, was largely inspired by the Shadow and Zorro. Mostly the Shadow, obviously, as Batman doesn’t spend most of his time on horses stabbing dudes. In fact, when Batman met the Shadow, he basically acted like a shy teenage girl meeting her idol, so the amount of influence he’s had is basically cannon pre-reboot. Additionally, the Shadow is also the inspiration behind the character of V from V for Vendetta, so handle that news accordingly with how much you hate people wearing Guy Fawkes masks. He’s also crossed over with all kinds of comic book heroes and antiheroes, including Grendel Prime, basically every pulp character ever written, Doc Savage, and more.
The Shadow’s renown and impact on media is pretty damn big, to the point where he’ll get mentioned or parodied in almost anything these days. But let’s never forget that the biggest parody of the Shadow is the 1994 film starring Alec Baldwin.
To give a very brief rundown of the film, it’s pretty similar to a lot of noir or pulp inspired comic book films in that it’s mostly awful, but has a few really good scenes or moments, putting it below the first Sin City but just barely above The Spirit, a movie in which Samuel L. Jackson melts a kitten in a sink while wearing full Nazi regalia. So, there’s something for you to do with your weekend, I guess. Sure, you could just watch the clips I guess, but then you miss out on… stuff.
Well, there you have it. The return of your mostly weekly dose of slightly past superficial comic book character information. I’m still working through all my suggestions from back when I first asked everyone over on reddit, but worry not, if you have a character that you want to know about, I’ll be taking up names soon! That’s all for now, see you all next time!