Grim_Noir Knows What Evil Lurks In Garth Ennis’ The Shadow

The Shadow Knows








Garth Ennis’ writing is like being on a bad first date: He’s too loud, trying too hard, wears his (extreme) emotions on his sleeve, keeps changing the subject toward wildly inappropriate topics and absolutely WILL NOT SHUT UP. The Garth Ennis writing The Shadow for Dynamite Entertainment is no different from the usual Garth Ennis. As a writer, he is basically Melissa McCarthy’s character in Bridesmaids. Sure, it is funny to watch from a distance, but close up – it’s just sad.

The character of The Shadow was created by accident and evolved on-the-fly when the “shadowy” narrator of a radio mystery anthology series proved more fascinating to audiences than the stories he was introducing. The show quickly shifted gears and became The Shadow radio show. Ex-stage magician, Walter B. Gibson, was brought in write the adventures of The Shadow. As a performing magician, Gibson instinctively understood the values of misdirection, perception versus reality, and word-of-mouth reputation. All of these qualities informed and directed his creation of a crime-fighter who lived to inspire fear and confusion among the underworld.

The Shadow is considered to be the first true post-modern superhero: A grim, driven man channeling his villainous tendencies, keen strategic mind, and highly-trained psychic powers to wage a war on crime. The patter was hard-boiled and the Big Bosses were twisted and psychotic. Bob Kane directly credited The Shadow as an inspiration for Batman.

The Shadow - Old School
All of this is lost on Garth Ennis who force-fits his Shadow into the mold of his previous “Butcher” character from The Boys. Ennis has never understood the subtle¬†theatrics of the eerie psych-out because his default mode is splatter: The first scene involving The Shadow has our protagonist using his mind-clouding powers to sneak up behind a group of henchmen and shoot them in the backs with a poorly clustered hail of bullets. Ennis thinks this makes his main character look bad-ass, when, in fact, it makes him come off as a bit of a coward and a poor marksman. With the Shadow’s powers, it’s like bulletproof Superman crushing the skulls of anyone who draws a gun on him; unnecessary, gratuitous and craven. Leaving that aside, the assault is counter-productive to The Shadow’s endgame: He wants gangsters and thugs to be so terrified of him that no one will ever commit another crime again. If no one is left alive to tell the tales in dive bars and diners, how will that goal ever be accomplished?

While making all of these errors in character, Ennis is flailing around desperately to establish The Shadow’s entire world in a single issue: We see Japan invading China, we see Lamont Cranston hanging out at the Algonquin Hotel while the famed “Round Table” are debating (FYI, Mr. Ennis, The Cobalt Club was Cranston’s joint-of-choice), and we even see all of The Shadow’s memes crammed into the eighteen pages that he appears on (“Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?” “The Shadow knows.” “Crime DOES NOT pay!” “The weed of crime bears bitter fruit…”) These would have been fun to throw in as “Easter eggs” throughout the first story arc, but cumulatively and all at once, it comes across like that Simpsons episode where Bart recites all of his catchphrases one after the other.


And, boy, does Ennis ever like the sound of his own voice! Every panel is stuffed with Golden Age amounts of captions and dialogue. The book opens with four text-heavy pages of background on Japanese atrocities during World War Two. Were it not for the atmospheric art of Aaron Campbell, these pages would be as dry as a Wikipedia entry on the topic AND it is never tied directly to the main plot. (We won’t even discuss the pages where Lamont Cranston openly shows off his psychic abilities to a random woman on the street without caring who may see him or who she might tell…)

Ennis populates this version of The Shadow’s world with highly melodramatic people. Everyone we meet has their emotional meters pinned at “11.” The bad guys by the docks are bug-eye terrified or loudly defiant. The federal agent that Lamont meets later is openly and highly suspicious of him. Cranston himself has¬†blatant distain for everyone around him. Even The Shadow’s girlfriend, Margo Lane, appears to be forever on the verge of tears.

Anyone who has ever hear the famous Orson Welles Shadow episode, The Temple Bells of Neban, understands what the relationship between Lamont and Margo should be. Like Sherlock Holmes with Watson, Lamont enjoys being one step ahead of Margo, but since she is the only one who knows his truth, Lamont also revels in showing off his skills for her. Margo, for her part, is very civic-minded and often determines what is next on The Shadow’s agenda. It is a pity that Ennis does not understand a healthy relationship. The conversation between Lamont and Margo that ends this issue is contemptuous and misogynist. It leaves the reader with a bad taste and a lack of desire to return for issue two.

The Shadow #1 - Chaykin cover

I didn’t want to be a hater of this book, but my personal history with The Shadow goes back even farther than my comic book reading. When I was in grade school, a local radio station played every preserved episode of the seventeen year run of The Shadow radio series. I was riveted. Shortly after, I found comic books, but drifted back to The Shadow when the local library began adding hardback reprints of The Shadow pulp novels. When I got my first part-time job, I began collecting the pulp reprints for myself. Even now, the “glowing red eyes” Shadow action figure sits next to my computer. I have enjoyed Chaykin’s Shadow comic, the long run of The Shadow Strikes comics, and even the various miniseries from Dark Horse Comics, but Ennis’ interpretation appears to be headed down the wrong path.

Also like a bad first date, while you’re in it, you keep hoping his buddies, or a wingman, or an editor would take Ennis aside and set him straight, “Dude, pay attention! You’re blowin’ it!” Because otherwise, you need to ditch this date, burn his number, and forget this ever happened.

Ol' Grim Hisself* GRIM_NOIR is: A) Mad, B) Bad, C) Dangerous to Know, D) Now with 50% More Follow @Grim_Noir on Twitter

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4 Comments to “Grim_Noir Knows What Evil Lurks In Garth Ennis’ The Shadow

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  1. jaydee says:

    Wow, GREAT review! Having never had any experience with The Shadow, I was impressed with how toned-down Ennis was with this issue. Thanks for setting me straight. Well made points. I too, noticed the catch-phrase cramming, you’d think he would have peppered them throughout the series, but now he’s already blown his catch-phrase load.

    My issue was that with this first issue, he didn’t really set-up who ANY of the characters are OR their relationship to Cranston, but that may have been something that would be forthcoming in later episodes.

    Sorry you didn’t like it sir.

  2. Alex Teller says:

    I must second this – You really sound like you know a lot about Lamont Cranston – I have a love hate relationship with Garth Ennis writing as well. He’s great, he really is. But Constantine reads just like Preacher, reads just like Hitman, just like Punisher, etc.

    theres always a war story,always the the top violence, etc.

    But you know what – I kind of like Ennis’ take on the Shadow. I don’t know if i’d be picking up every issue if it read like the pulp shadows – Maybe Azzarello would do a cool Shadow actually, but I take this for what it is, entertaining.

    Am I expecting to read The Dark Knight Returns or Watchmen here? No, but I still look forward to it and like reading it – to each his own.

    I gotta say though – you really sound like you know your stuff. You make me want to read more of the pulps and listen to these radio shows – your the man

  3. Grim_Noir says:

    Thanks for reading us, Alex!

    I still plan to read the upcoming Shadow Annual by Tom Sniegoski and Dennis Calero. I don’t know how continuity-heavy it will be with Ennis’ run.

    The pulps are, well, pulpy. But if you can take the slightly purplish prose, then they’re great fun (and CHEAP too: If you look for Shadow “doublenovel” (two novels in one book) reprints, you’ll find them for about $15 bucks each.)

    Recently, The Shadow radio show has begun being posted on YouTube. Some are Australian recreations from the 70s and some are the genuine article. (Unfortunately, like old films, the old audio tapes weren’t always stored perfectly and are lost forever.)

    If you find the genuine episodes, look for the episodes from 1937 with Orson Welles as Lamont Cranston/Kent Allard. Welles wasn’t always a heavy-set guy pimpin’ wine. His performance is really nuanced and probably better than the scripts deserved.

    If you do get around to exploring The Shadow in any other format, stop back and let us know what ya thought!

  4. Stumbled across this while doing some research on The Temple Bells of Neban (for a Dynamite comic, in fact…) and found it an entertaining review. I probably should keep mum on the subject of Ennis’ writing, but your points about the deviation from the original model are dead on.

    And if nothing else… just look at the size of that dude’s nose in the illustrations. Has Lamont been to a plastic surgeon? I promise the Shadow will always have a prominent nose when I have anything to say about it…

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