There are always risks inherent in revisiting a classic character specifically with contemporary audiences in mind. Sometimes it works very well, feeling as authentic a take on the old that a learned reader can’t quite tell the difference between those days of old and the modern incarnation. Other times, the classic hero is shackled with traits that, while they may add something new to the archetype, don’t quite ring true against the vast library of adventures in his distant past. I don’t expect any teller of tales to simply dust off the old volumes and copy them word-for-word; I do expect the teller to stay true to everything that made the hero unique.
For all of its bells, whistles, and Nazis, Garth Ennis’s take on THE SHADOW will always be inferior to the masterful work of the original writers. Some of that is, artistically, I’ve always thought Ennis’s praise was a bit exaggerated – he’s good, but he ain’t great, and he certainly ain’t great when taking on characters others have brought to life. I think he’s best when tinkering in universes of his own creation; while he hammers out a new angle here and there for the man who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men, very little of it felt as organic as those tales from yesterday when justice was served in the guise of steaming hot lead.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and characters. If you’re the kind of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last two paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
Having been familiar with the Shadow for over four decades, I personally found Garth Ennis’s take on the classic pulp character to be less than fulfilling. Granted, he goes a long way toward crafting the proper atmosphere – along with circumstances involving Nazis, Japanese, and Russian soldiers – but, as a story, it’s W-A-Y too talky with very little genuine action. For those who aren’t exactly in the know, The Shadow was one of the earliest action figures, using his gift to cloud mens’ minds in order to see that justice was delivered; and he wasn’t against putting his trusty .45s to good use any time gunplay was required. But Ennis’s inclusion of the Shadow’s greatest gifts almost feel like an afterthought here, making me wonder if this wasn’t some ‘other’ idea he retrofitted into the Shadow’s universe. Plus, one of the signature moments of any Shadow story was the chief villain being served his comeuppance by our intrepid hero, and that’s something completely missing from this six-part tale; in fact, the bad guy gets away mostly ‘scott free’ – it’s the grand passage of history that sees him brought to justice. As novel as maybe Ennis believed that ‘felt,’ it just didn’t feel all that Shadow-esque to this long-time Shadow fan.
What does work is the world. The 1930’s feel authentic in much the same way they do any of the better Indiana Jones’ films – a period when most countries of the world were taking a backseat to the spread of totalitarianism springing from Germany’s angry loins. The Shadow was perfectly suited for such an era largely because his version of justice wasn’t entirely family friendly (read some of the original pulps if you won’t take my word for it); he’d dispense a sentence in whatever way he saw fit, and that usually meant from the business end of his blazing pistols. Ennis’s take in indeed inspired; it’s too bad the Shadow didn’t quite seem at ease as well as he should have in it.
THE SHADOW is published by Dynamite Comics.
RECOMMENDED. This is one title I wanted to enjoy far more than I did. Let me say that the few appearances The Shadow makes are the highwater marks of the entire tale, which is simply too thick, too encumbered with facts, places, circumstances, and expository background to be anything other than a modern take on a classic character. Sometimes the nuances of character get lost in bringing a character to life for an all-new generation of readers, and I’ll chalk up my disenfranchisement to that alone. I’ve never been Ennis’s most ardent fan, either; I think he pens some great dialogue, but – like Quentin Tarantino in many ways – he’s never quite sure when to dial it back and just let the story happen. THE SHADOW is definitely entertaining; still, it’s only a carbon copy – an inferior one, at that – of the Shadow I’ve known for four decades.
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