I’m something of a fan of The Shadow, both in terms of the radio plays, and in terms of the pulp character. The feature film starring Alec Baldwin holds a special place in my heart for how it combines the two very different versions of the character into one with some success. So, when I ended up having to find a new comic shop after my old one (Ancient Wonders in Tualatin – which was also my FLGS) closed, I found myself in need of a new comic shop. When I found my new one (Comics Adventure in Gladstone) I ended up checking out the quarter bins in the back, and finding almost all of Howard Chaykin’s 4-issue The Shadow miniseries – Blood and Judgement. I picked that up, and found the first issue on Comixology. Having read it, it’s time to give my thoughts.
As a book, this is kind of rough. This isn’t due to Chaykin’s art. Chaykin’s style fits with what I expect for the 1980s in comics, especially considering that this book is literally contemporaneous with The Dark Knight Returns (no, really, issue #2 came out the same week as DKR #1). Chaykin’s art absolutely evokes the era where the book is set – the 1980’s – perfectly. Where things fall apart is the writing.
It is clear, from the book, that Chaykin is extremely well versed in Walter Gibson’s The Shadow novels. His version of The Shadow is actually Kent Allard, disaffected soldier who drifted into China after the conclusion of World War I… and this is pretty much where things fall apart.
In this version of the story, Allard is hired by wealthy playboy turned drug kingpin Lamont Cranston to take a plane to what turns out to be Shambhala, which is pretty much what you’d expect it to be if you’d read a synopsis of Lost Horizon. Allard thwarts Cranston’s plans – sending him into a ravine where he is presumed to have died. Allard is trained in the mystic arts by the people who run Shambhala, and sent out into the world to be their agent, where he assumed Cranston’s identity and had the adventures that we saw in the books.
Cut to the present day. The Shadow appears to have disappeared. His former agents, like Margo Lane, Harry Vincent, Moe Shrevnitz, Jericho Druke, and others, have retired – when someone starts picking them off. Allard emerges, unaging, from Shambhala, with two sons from a woman he met there, and a flying car – and sets out to find the mastermind responsible. It turns out to be Cranston, still alive, who has become a vice kingpin (again), and who has a test-tube son who is meant to be physically perfect, so that Cranston can force Allard to take him back to Shambhala and put his brain into his son’s body. And if he won’t, he’ll nuke New York.
So, here’s the thing. In the books – Cranston was one of Allard’s agents. Allard would assume Cranston’s identity when working in public (among other identities), while the real Cranston was being conspicuous elsewhere to spread confusion among The Shadow’s enemies. In some cases, Cranston and Allard would directly work together.
Also, the women in this story are horribly written. We have three significant female characters. There’s Cranston’s moll, who basically acts like you’d expect a Gangster’s moll to act, except since this is the ’80s, we can talk openly about sex, so she’s clear that she’s having a lot of sex with both Cranston and his genetic specimen of a son. As soon as Allard kills Cranston, she basically mentally disintegrates.
There’s Harry Vincent’s daughter, who is a federal agent, who puts together that someone is targeting The Shadow’s agents, and who immediately goes to find Margo Lane and her father to put them into protective custody. However, as soon as Allard shows up, she briefly complains about how Allard treats women, before deciding that she really wants to get in his pants, and the very next page after this realization, she’s in The Sanctum putting her underwear back on while Allard is lounging in a bathrobe.
Finally, there’s Margo Lane. She’s justifiably upset with Allard, the man she loved, abandoning her with no word on where he’s going, and feeling like she was just used for sex and abandoned. She goes off on a spectacular, completely justified rant over his behavior, and Allard’s response is that he thinks women should know their place.
This leads me to my other problem. Yes, Allard is a person whose attitudes are out of time, who has been in Shambhala since the 1950s, apparently unaging. However, Allard, in the novels from which this comic clearly takes inspiration, which Chaykin clearly has read, treats the women who are his agents with considerably more respect than he does here. Even considering the limitations of what you could or could not get away with in the pulps, Allard didn’t treat his agents like sex objects, and the women who were his field agents were field agents because they had the skills for what the missions required.
I don’t know if the 1980s managed to be more misogynist than the 1930s and 40s, but going from how Chaykin writes female characters in the story, it sure feels like it.
Other than that, the conclusion of the story feels very rushed. The first issue of the story is entirely focused on The Shadow’s agents being hunted. The second issue gives us Allard’s backstory, and the reveal that the antagonist is actually Cranston. However, the remainder of the conflict is limited to two issues. It really makes it feel like Cranston’s plan isn’t as thought out as it clearly is, because if it was, it would have taken a little longer for The Shadow to take it apart. Just one more issue would have been perfect.
There are some good moments here, though – like Allard taking on the cover identity as the lead singer of a punk band (complete with performing on stage) to go after one of Cranston’s agents, and the final confrontation, with Allard’s surviving original agents – Margo and Vincent, and his new agents, working together to bring down Cranston – is nicely done.
I just wish the rest of the comic was better.
If you want to pick this up, the comic has been reprinted in a trade by Dynamite Comics (who currently has the license for The Shadow), and it’s available through Amazon.com in Physical and Kindle editions (with the Kindle edition also being readable through the Comixology app).