Comic Review: The Shadow – Shadows & Light

Cover To The Shadow Master Series Volume 1

A little bit ago I reviewed DC Comics revival of The Shadow, written and drawn by Howard Chaykin. This time I’m taking a look at the follow-up to the first sequel arc to that series.

The story picks up not long after Chaykin’s miniseries, with The Shadow and his new network of agents following up on one of the murders from Chaykin’s miniseries, along with a series of mysterious spree killings in New York. The killings are traced to a corporation that turns out to be run by Shiwan Kahn. The Shadow immediately suspects that Kahn is up to something, considering that Kahn is his greatest enemy (keeping in mind that this comic still pre-dates the release of the film starring Alec Baldwin).

It turns out that The Shadow is, in fact correct, and Kahn is up to something – particularly launching a mind-control satellite, but not to take over the world. With the rise of Maoist China, Kahn had adopted Taiwan as his new country, and he had come to resent the west throwing Taiwan under the bus in favor of closer ties to mainland China. His plan was to force world leaders to reject mainland China and throw their support behind Taiwan.

However – another enemy of The Shadow and a rival of Kahn, Albert Renn, who I’m honestly not sure where he’s from – but the comic assumes you know who he is – resents a foreigner gaining so much political power, and is planning to turn Kahn’s plan against him and to take control of his orbital mind control ray. Through all of this, a religious zealot known as Reverend Light is also planning to take control of the world through his evangelical cult, and when he learns about Kahn’s plan, he also seeks to take Kahn’s Mind Control technology for himself.

And this all happens over six issues. There’s an annual which provides Light’s backstory, but honestly it doesn’t come up at all over the course of this story – getting more or less lost in the shuffle. Frankly, narratively, these books are incredibly dense – trying to cram these three plots, and all the characters that go with them, over 6 issues. Ultimately, a lot of character development is lost over the course in the mix.

There are some strong points here. Many of the issues that the earlier series by Chaykin had with female characters have been fixed in this book’s story. The female characters have more agency, and play more of an active role in the book’s story. In Chaykin’s story, Mavis (Harry Vincent’s daughter), basically goes from getting annoyed with The Shadow’s attitude towards women, to being turned on by it, to being seen getting dressed after having sex with Kent Allard within the span of a handful of panels. Here, her relationship with Allard is strictly professional.

This is helped by the art by Bill Sienkiewicz. Sienkiewicz’s style, frankly, doesn’t really ever make anything sexy. Sienkiewicz, as an artist, recognizes that not everyone is sexy, and not everything needs to sexy and indeed, some things should not be sexy (as Jay & Miles X-Plain the X-Men discussed in their episode on the Demon Bear Saga).

Still, the story is just too packed full of stuff – like writer Andrew Helfer had so many things he wanted to do in his time on the comic, but had too little time to do it in. By comparison, Watchmen was still ongoing when this book came out, and while it had a significant amount of narrative breadth, it was also paced well enough that you had enough time to take it all in. The same is true with what had gone on over at Marvel with Chris Claremont’s run on X-Men, and Walter Simonson’s run on Thor.

Here, the comic has the same problem with pacing that Chaykin had – 20 pounds of story in a 15 pound bag.

If you’re interested in picking this comic up, it’s been reprinted by Dynamite under the title of “The Shadow Masters Series”, and this arc is collected in volume 1. It’s available in digital and physical editions from Amazon.com. As with the earlier story, the digital edition is also readable in the Comixology app.

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