Sunday, March 20, 2011

Falls the Shadow


The Shadow: Blood & Judgment, written and illustrated by Howard Chaykin (1986): 1986 was the year that three comic-book-industry-changing books came out from DC Comics -- The Dark Knight Returns, Watchmen and this violent, sexy and irreverent reimagining of the old Shadow radio-and-pulp character. The other two are still in constant print; alas, because this is a treatment of a character licensed from another company, The Shadow: Blood & Judgment has, so far as I know, only been available in used bookstores and on EBay since about 1989.

That's a shame because it's fucking awesome, though I can understand why oldy timey Shadow fans like Harlan Ellison squeaked and gibbered with outrage when Chaykin's miniseries first appeared. It's revisionist on almost every level, making the Shadow both an even more bloodthirsty avenger of crime and an even bigger bastard in his personal life than was ever imagined in the old pulps and radio shows of the 1930's and 1940's. Somewhat confusingly, the confusing opening of the Alec Baldwin Shadow movie of the early 1990's sort of lifted some of its concepts from this miniseries and not from the original pulps. So it goes.

As a back-issue-bin bonus, this miniseries spawned an even more irreverent and hilarious ongoing series that ran for 19 issues, an annual, and a Prestige Format two-issue Avenger miniseries spinoff. In that later magnum opus, writer Andrew Helfer and artists Bill Sienkiewicz, Marshall Rogers and Kyle Baker took about as much piss out of the Shadow (and really out of weird avengers of crime in general) as one could without completely deflating the concept.

I like reverence as much as the next guy, but Chaykin's take is giddy fun involving characters who are generally really, really well-dressed (no one draws natty clothing like Chaykin) and often really, really perverse. Unfortunately, the grim-and-gritty late 1980's comic marketplace took its cues from the violence of this and other books but pretty much left out the humour (mostly black) and the stylishness. Still, this is thrilling stuff, even moreso in the context of today's moribund Doc Savage and Avenger DC reboot universe, First Wave. Someone should have hired Chaykin et al. to steward that one. It might have got cancelled just as quickly, but at least it would have been awesome sauce while it was being published. Highly recommended.

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