As I’ve mentioned before, I consider myself to have grown up on The Shadow. Naturally, there were other influences – thanks to the comic books provided to me by a very generous distributor at no cost, I might add – but The Shadow is probably what I consider the frontline of my youth. No, I’m not so old that I heard his radio shows when they originally aired; I grew up in the Midwest where a local radio station played recordings of his adventures every Friday and Saturday night. While others in my generation were out pulling girls’ pigtails, I was home tucked in under the covers with my ear pressed to the radio. I loved every moment I heard, so much so that – once I could afford it – I collected many of them on cassette tape and even a rare album collection.
Naturally, when The Shadow re-appears in the comic books, I take notice.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type 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, unblemished assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
From the product’s advertising: “New Year's, 1950--the end of a tumultuous decade...and Lamont Cranston, the man the world and the underworld know all too well as The Shadow, has had enough. It's time for the Mysterious Nemesis of Crime to hang up his cloak, his slouch hat, and his twin .45s, and retire from public life... ...But despite this momentous decision, Margo Laine and the rest of the Shadow's agents fear that mankind, teetering on the brink of nuclear Armageddon, may not be quite ready to be bereft of the Dark Avenger.”
What? Could it be … The Shadow is retiring? That’s part and parcel what readers learn when MIDNIGHT IN MOSCOW opens. Oh, sure, there are hints that there’s another plot afoot – there’s a parallel storyline running throughout the book which suggests that the world hasn’t grown as quiet as Cranston privately believes – and any reasonable person might conclude that eventually these two paths are going to converge.
That said, there’s probably no better hands to have this character in that Howard Chaykin’s. He’s certainly experienced with the character, so when Lamont talks about the need to finally do something else with his life methinks that Chaykin is probably only toying with how those times are a’changin’, much in the same way a classic character like The Shadow can’t quite seem to secure any street cred with today’s jaundiced audiences. The hero appears in print every so often, and reprints of the original novels pop up from time-to-time; but – for reasons I’ll admit to not quite grasping – The Shadow has never really been a character who struck a chord with audiences in, say, the past thirty or forty years. His comics’ runs usually get hacked up; the big budget movie (with Alec Baldwin, for Pete’s sake?) was pretty tepid; and rumors of another cinematic take come and go with great frequency.
So Chaykin probably is approaching this character with much the same perspective: has he lost his place in the world?
Certainly, it would seem that villainy hasn’t gone quietly into the night circa early 1950 when this tale begins. There’s a hint that the past twenty years have been as hard on The Shadow as they’ve been on the greater world at large (a World War, the Great Depression, the growth of organized crime, etc.), so maybe it’s with some wariness that Cranston chooses to hang up the cloak, scarf, and hat.
Need I say it looks like his departure may be coming too soon?
THE SHADOW: MIDNIGHT IN MOSCOW is published by Dynamite Comics. The story is written and illustrated by Howard Chaykin (who also turns in duties on the cover); with colors provided by Jesus Aburto; and letters by Ken Bruzenak. From what I’m understanding, the digital version comes with additional materials, which basically take the shape of some black-and-white sketches and script work for the original piece. Lastly, it all comes at the cover price of $3.99 … a bargain if every there were for such an impressive take on a vintage hero.
HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION POSSIBLE. As one who kinda/sorta grew up with The Shadow, I’ve learned in my five decades on God’s green Earth to take what I can get, and I’m totally jazzed by MIDNIGHT IN MOSCOW, Howard Chaykin’s latest foray with the man able to cloud men’s minds. This first issue offers up just enough mystery I would think to interest even the average comic book reader, though I suspect they’ll leave these parts unexplored in favor of the usual suspects, such as passé mutants, hardened vigilantes, and demigods. Me? I’ll stick with the classics, thank you very much. After all, who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!
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