Friday, April 1, 2016


THE SHADOW was published by DC Comics from 1973 to 1975. It lasted all of 12 issues. There were, of course previous iterations of the classic pulp hero in comics prior to DC's efforts and there have been many other interpretations in the more than 40 years since this short lived series ran its' course. But in many ways, the 1970s DC version of the character stands as the definitive comic book one, thanks in large part to the work of writer Dennis O'Neil and artist Michael Wm. Kaluta.

The powers that be at DC made the correct editorial decision at the time they acquired the Shadow property and that was that the stories must be set in the 1930s, the Golden Age of the pulp magazines in which the Shadow first appeared. Efforts to update the Shadow and place him and his adventures in contemporary times have been interesting and entertaining to a fair degree but none are as satisfying to the pulp purists among us (myself included) who prefer to see the character in the milieu which best suits him.

O'Neil did a masterful job of crafting original Shadow stories in a mere 17 pages (no easy task) and Kaluta's dark, moody, atmospheric and art eco inspired line work brought everything to vivid and exciting life. He was inked on a few stories by another legendary comics artist, Berni Wrightson. In short, these comics were extremely faithful to the universe and mythos that Walter Gibson (and others) created in the long running pulp series.

But Kaluta didn't illustrate all 12 issues. Artwork in other issues was handled by Frank Robbins (one of my personal favorites) and the underrated E.R. Cruz. When DC comics decided to reprint the Shadow comics in a handsome hardcover volume entitled THE PRIVATE FILES OF THE SHADOW in 1989, they chose only the O'Neil/Kaluta issues (along with a new Kaluta story) to showcase. I wish they had sprung for the extra production cost and reprinted the series in its' entirety. After all, it was only 12 issues. Oh well, at least we have these stories in a permanent edition to savor.

DC's THE SHADOW was published shortly after Marvel Comics published an 8 issue run of DOC SAVAGE (1972-1974). I recall reading a Bullpen Bulletins page announcement about the then forthcoming Doc Savage series that contained these words (or something pretty close): "And to forestall about a zillion questions, yep, we've got the SHADOW lined up in the months to come also." Clearly Marvel Comics never published a SHADOW series but this raises a question I don't believe I've ever seen answered. Did Marvel ever really have the rights to a Shadow comic nailed down for certain or were they just engaged in negotiations with Conde Nast (owners of the Shadow property) to publish the book, negotiations that somehow fell through? Did Conde Nast nix the deal after seeing sales figures for Marvel's DOC SAVAGE and decide to go with DC? Did DC offer more money? Did Marvel drop the hint in that Bullpen Bulletins page hoping to attract the attention of Conde Nast? I honestly have no idea. If one of my readers has the answer to this question, please share it with us.

What if Marvel had acquired the rights to the Shadow? What would the book have looked like? What creative team would have handled the script and art? Who knows (besides the Shadow!) but here's what I would have loved to see. Imagine THE SHADOW published as a black and white magazine (as DOC was after the color comic folded). The larger page count would have given scripter Marv Wolfman room to really cut loose and develop more complex stories. And those stories would have been drawn in pencils only (no inks) by the incomparable Gene Colan. Boy, would I love to have seen that!

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