I don’t aim to brag, however, the beauty of what my brother and I do lay solely in the fact that we get to do what we love all the while learning about its history. It is truly remarkable how far the backstory and history are for a few characters.
Take The Shadow for example.
Before Superman made his debut in 1938, The Shadow was doing his part to rid the world of its villains. Unlike most heroes, he took it to the villains in a much different medium. Instead of battling supervillains in the pages of a comic book, he did it through the airwaves of radio.
In April of 1931, The Shadow, as created by Walter B. Gibson would make his much-anticipated debut. As noted, he would eventually star in his own magazine of the same name. The Shadow would lay the foundational work required to make many other now mainstream characters work. This foundational work included stylized imagery, a sidekick, a secret identity as well as the appearance of supervillains.
The Shadow made his debut as the Narrator of the Street and Smith radio program “Detective Story Hour”. Initially, he was created to boost sales of their “Detective Story Magazine”. The only reason he became a printed hero was because the listeners began asking the newsstands for copies of “The Shadow Detective Magazine”.
Due to the widespread popularity of The Shadow, Gibson, who was now penning under the name Maxwell Grant, was forced to create not only a recurring storyline but also had to write a full-length novel twice a month. Despite his Herculean effort, he could not keep up and others writers would assist him in writing The Shadow.
This should come as no surprise if you are familiar with today’s comics. Most of them are “tag-teamed” by numerous individuals.
The Shadow ran for a full 21 seasons on the air.
During his time on radio and in print, he had his critics because the two mediums did not match in the stories the writers were creating for him. They lacked consistency.
- The radio version (Lamont Cranston) and the magazine version (Kent Allard) did not share the same secret identity
- Margo Lane, the leading lady of the show, would only appear in the magazine after a few years on the radio. Before this, she didn’t exist in the magazine.
- The radio gave him the power to “cloud men’s minds so they cannot see him” whereas the magazine version used stealth, some .45’s, and magic tricks.
In the summer of 1949, The Shadow would end its printed publication, appearing only a handful of times after.
Nowadays, no pun intended, it has become harder to find him as he only appears in the comics on occasion.
- During the initial run from 1940 to 1949, The Shadow would also appear in newspaper comic strips. These strips were based primarily on the novels that were written by Gibson.
- In the 1960’s Archie Comics would pick up The Shadow. Sadly, this version would not last more than 8 issues as the fans, for lack of a better word, hated it.
- The 70’s brought DC Comics into the fold. Immediately, they returned to his original form and time period. The series was written by Dennis O’Neil and ran for 12 issues. During his time at DC, The Shadow encountered a few of their heroes, namely The Avenger and Batman.
- In 1988, O’Neil and Mike Kuluta would bring him to life one more time. This time, appearing in a graphic novel that was published by Marvel Comics.
- He would be resurrected by Gerard Jones. This series would go on to be known as “one of the best Shadow comics ever produced”. During this 31 issue run, The Shadow fought against mobsters and madmen in Chicago, New York, and China. This run ended in 1992.
- In 2000, ACG Comics would re-release the newspaper strip and in 2012 he would appear as written by Garth Ennis.
The Shadow was ahead of his time in every way possible. While I don’t think he could survive today’s educated reader, he was the quintessential hero of his time.
Heroes like Superman, Batman, Captain America and Spider-Man owe their popularity of The Shadow. As mentioned, we may not have these heroes if he did not pave the way for them.
***After writing this article, I sought out to find some of the old radio programs The Shadow starred in. Luckily, I was able to find 32 episodes that have been kept and transcribed into a digital format for you to hear. If you want to hear what the fuss was all about, The Shadow recordings can be found here.***