For the first time in 20 years, there’s an ongoing Shadow series, now written by Garth Ennis. I was looking forward to it, it’s been in my pull for five months, and it’s kind of magnificent.
Ennis is doing two main things here: First, he’s showing us the Shadow in the 1940s, so he’s a little more experienced than the dark avenger we see in his usual 1930s milieu. This also brings him square into WWII, which makes sense. In his world, the Shadow is the most amazing man who ever lived. It’s funny to think he’d spend his whole career running around Manhattan worrying which grotesque ethnic stereotype stole the Van Der Fluegel Ruby.
The second thing Ennis does is mix powers and backstories from different interpretations of the character. One of the things that makes the Shadow so mysterious is that he doesn’t have a canon origin, or even a canon identity: he debuted in the pulps and the radio around the same time, and had a different origin in each. He had a couple of layers of origins in the pulps, and each comic book incarnation has felt free to invent a new backstory. Ennis has made some surprising choices.
Ennis’ Shadow draws most heavily from the I-was-a-white-Mongol-warlord origin of the 1994 Alec Baldwin movie, with a hint of Howard Chaykin’s 1980s take. In terms of characterization, I was afraid it’d be like Ennis’ Punisher: a serial killer starring in his own book, but with a fedora. He seems to be sticking close to the classic interpretation, with some purplish pulpy prose. There’s also a dollop of Chaykin — of course the Shadow is sleeping with his “friend and companion, the lovely Margo Lane.”
In terms of powers, he’s using the classic power set from the comics (hypnosis, blending into shadows), but he seems to have added the power to “becloud” minds from the Archie Comics version. I did not expect to ever see the Archie version again, under any circumstances. Ennis has added a vague ability to “see fate” and the macabre ability to hypnotize the dead and dying.
To the longtime fan, the oddest change is the characterization of Margo Lane. The Margo who debuted on the radio was a typical girl sidekick, sometimes saving the day but oftentimes in need of rescue. The Margo of the comics has generally been more of a brassy, tough-as-nails broad. Ennis’ Margo Lane is clearly suffering from PTSD.
And who could blame her?
The other thing is that the Shadow doesn’t laugh much. To a longtime fan, that’s just weird.
I haven’t said much about the story yet. The Shadow is racing across the globe to prevent Imperial Japan from getting an element for a super-weapon, opposed by a wily old Japanese criminal from his past. It’s taking way too long to get where it’s going, but Ennis is taking the opportunity to throw in some pretty serious history about the Japanese occupation of China. I’m enjoying it.
I think the art, by Aaron Campbell, is speaking for itself here. The Shadow’s been drawn by Eduardo Barreto, Mike Kaluta, Howard Chaykin and Bill Sienkiewicz; and Campbell’s holding his own.