Some may regard the birth of the superhero as June, 1938 with Action Comics #1. But while the fantastic popularity of the Man of Steel did have a profound effect on how “Hero” stories were told ever after, there were supermen already at work, protecting the dark alleys and gas-lit streets of Depression-era America with pre-comics-code rough justice. Doc Savage, The Spider, The Avenger, Operator #5 — each patrolled the coarse-paper world of the Pulp Magazine. Each brought their own brand of law to the lawless, often with a .45 barking in each clenched fist. And perhaps the greatest of them all was The Shadow.
The Shadow… a man of mystery and great power; and a character so tremendously popular that two distinct continuities quickly evolved. On the popular Mutual Network radio program he was Lamont Cranston, a man-about-town who fought crime using his hypnotic powers both to become invisible and to “know what evil lurks in the hearts of men”. In the wildly popular pulp stories, The Shadow was more enigmatic, hiding behind a number of false identities (Cranston included) and utilizing an army of trusted agents in his war against crime. The consummate man of mystery, his true identity was unknown even to the reader. It was not until August of 1937 (shortly before Orson Welles first took on the radio role) that the Pulp Shadow was revealed to be lost aviator Kent Allard in the issue “The Shadow Unmasks” — the 131st Shadow novel.
In all, 325 issues of The Shadow Magazine brought thrills to millions between 1931 and 1949. All published under the house name “Maxwell Grant,” 282 of the novels were written by a former newspaperman and magician named Walter Gibson. Gibson also served as writer for The Shadow daily comic strips and later comic books. His creation appeared in the 1940 Columbia Pictures serial and a trio of two-reelers for Monogram Pictures in 1946. For a time, the master of darkness was everywhere.
But time waits for no superman. The Shadow Magazine ceased production in 1949. The radio show left the airwaves in 1954. Aside from a pair of failed television pilots, The Shadow was silenced, and his rights were sold and re-sold, finally becoming the property of the Conde Nast Publications, who defended their interests vigorously, often to the frustration of fans. A 1994 Hollywood movie tried to bridge the gap between the continuities of the Pulp novels and the radio shows, but fell victim to the campy insticts that ruin most superhero films, and the planned sequels were (mercifully) never made. Several different companies reprinted the early Shadow stories in the seventies, but fewer than a tenth of the Shadow’s adventures were ever made available to the contemporary reader.
Thanks to a dedicated team of Shadow enthusiasts, led by Nostalgia Ventures and noted pulp authority Anthony Tollin, that is about to change. A new series of licensed reprints has been launched with a focus on stories that have not been available since their original run more than half a century earlier. Each volume contains two complete Shadow novels, produced in a pulp-sized trade paperback volume with a double-column typeset that makes the reading experience feel like a vintage pulp magazine. Even more importantly for pulp fans, great care has been taken with the original artwork. Both original George Rozen cover paintings have been included, as well as beautifully restored interior artwork by Edd Cartier.
Selected for the first volume are two excellent stories for both long-time fans and the uninitiated. The book opens with “Crime, Insured,” first published in the July 1, 1937 issue of The Shadow Magazine. So successful has the Shadow’s war on crime become, that gangland has copied the world of business and begun to insure their criminal enterprises. But the ruthless businessman behind this profiteering isn’t about to take the flood of Shadow-related losses lying down. A fine thriller follows, and one that neatly introduces all of The Shadow’s major agents and supporting cast as they are captured one by one!
The second story, “The Golden Vulture,” has a unique history. Shortly after the launch of The Shadow Magazine, publisher Street and Smith thought to “audition” a substitute, in case Walter Gibson ever failed to keep pace. The first writer they approached was a Lester Dent, who provided them with the fast-paced adventure story which was “The Golden Vulture’s” original draft. His audition was so successful that, rather than becoming the “substitute Maxwell Grant”, he was offered the chance to helm a new book with a new mystery man who was light to The Shadow’s darkness. The original owner of the “Fortress of Solitude,” The Man of Bronze, Clark Savage Jr.; better know to generations of fans as Doc Savage. It was six years later before Gibson was handed “The Golden Vulture” and asked to do something with it. Years of continuity development had made much of Dent’s draft obsolete, but the novel was substantially re-worked by Gibson, making the tale of murder in Miami a unique collaboration between two masters of the hero genre.
Plans are already in the works for future Shadow volumes to appear on a roughly monthly basis, with Doc Savage titles joining the fray in the fall. Tollin says that other pulp heroes may also make a return in this format if sales merit, which is great news for fans old and new. But even if that never comes to pass, a voice has been restored to the world, a voice that speaks in a sibilant whisper and a hollow, mocking laugh. A voice that reminds us always that… crime does not pay. The Shadow Knows!
“A parting laugh came from The Shadow… Triumphant mirth that sounded like a knell. A mockery that told of right, triumphant. Men of evil had recognized that laugh in the past. It had marked their doom; as it had told of death tonight.” — Walter Gibson (as Maxwell Grant) “The Voodoo Master” 1936
Writer, actor and director, Gregg Taylor is better known to fans of audio drama as the voice of the masked man of mystery The Red Panda whose radio exploits may be found for free download as part of the Decoder Ring Theatre podcasts at http://decoderring.libsyn.com
Categories: Guest Star