Guest post: A look back at The Shadow
I asked writer/artist/director/pulp expert Larry Latham for his take on the news of the revival of “The Shadow,” and what he sent me was so interesting and informative, I’m sharing it all here for Nerdage readers! You can follow Larry’s excellent web comic and his well-researched posts on pulps, mysteries, comics and more at www.lovecraftismissing.com. “Lovecraft is Missing” is set in 1926. It follows three strangers who are drawn into a web of horror when a little known pulp author, H.P. Lovecraft, mysteriously vanishes. Now, on to “The Shadow”:
It’s always fun when someone tries to revive one of the iconic hero characters like The Shadow; fun, at least, until you have the book in your hands and find that, once again, the concept just doesn’t quite work. The Shadow is one of those characters, and a number of truly talented creators have taken their shots with him, both in film and comics, but the track record isn’t good.
The Shadow started as the host of a radio show, Street & Smith’s Detective Story Hour. At first, the character did no more than introduce each weeks story, much as Raymond performed the same honors on Inner Sanctum and Uncle Creepy, Cain, The Crypt-Keeper, Vault Keeper, Old Witch and dozens of other hosts did in their respective books. The Shadow’s eerie laugh and the famous tage line, “Who knows what eveil lurks in the hearts of men?,” proved more popular than expected. Several two reel Detective Story short films put the character on the screen for the first time, and in 1931, to capitalize on the character’s popularity and protect their creation, Street & Smith introduced The Shadow magazine, dated April 1, the first of the great hero pulps. Magician turned writer Maxwell Grant dashed out the first story; the magazine was issued so quickly that they didn’t have time to have a cover painted. The editors pulled one from the shelf that featured a Chinese man recoiling in horror, which caused Grant to rewrite part of his story to work in a Chinatown angle.
The magazine was so popular that it went to twice monthly status in 1932; the last issue was published in 1949. For the first several years the Shadow was a true mystery man, who left most of the work up to his aides. By wartime, he had settled down into a more conventional crime fighter.
Like any popular character, the Shadow was licensed out to anyone who showed an interest. The first film versions, The Shadow Strikes (1937) and International Crime (1938), were basically B detective pictures, with the Shadow only appearing in a single scene in the first film. Lamont Cranston was the real start of the pictures. In 1940, Columbia made a 15 chapter serial, but by that time they were well into their “silly” phase, and though Victor Jory looked perfect as both Cranston and the Shadow, the serial is full of hokey thugs who play pattycake while waiting on the crime boss; in addition, almost half of the cliff hangers in the film have the roof collapsing on the Shadow. In 1946, Monogram Pictures made The Shadow Returns, Behind the Mask and The Missing Lady, all starring Kane Richmond as the Shadow. All were low budget.
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