This time I’m finishing up the run of DC’s The Shadow Comics – at least the ones that I own a copy of, with a story arc that goes back to some of the character’s original pulp roots.
The premise of this arc, on paper, should make for a gloriously macabre crime thriller, taking a mix of the pulp genre and combining it into the exploitation genre. This arc pits The Shadow and his agents against the Finn family, a group of brothers involved in organized crime, selling drugs, arms, and smuggling diamonds, while secretly disposing of the bodies of the people that they kill through their operations through the hot-dog plant of the one brother in the family who has gone legit and who is unaware of the rest of the family’s dirty deeds.
Instead, the book turns it into a dark comedy… and it’s not funny. The Finn gang is effectively made up of a group of complete morons, with perhaps the only reason why The Shadow and his Agents haven’t mopped them up already is because they’re assuming that their opponents are competent, when instead they’re idiots, making stupid decisions. For example, a central plot event in the series has the Finn Brothers getting the bright idea, “There’s this one psychotic who thinks he’s an agent of The Shadow – let’s unleash a bunch of Hollywood Psychotics from a mental institution – put them under the control of a Libyan general (as tensions with Libya were already at a high) we’re selling guns to, and let them smoke out The Shadow.” In turn, the Libyan takes his army of psychotics and sets out on a plan to unleash a deadly chemical weapon on New York, to wipe out the city, because He’s Libyan.
I’m not sure if this is better or worse than, just a few months later, Jim Starlin having Ayatollah Khomeini make The fucking Joker Iran’s Ambassador to the United Nations, as part of the Death in the Family storyline.
While the storyline itself is a failed farce, this arc does some things right. the first two story arcs – Howard Chaykin’s original run, and Andy Helfer’s Shadows and Light arc, felt incredibly over-crowded. They were shoving too many plots into too few of a number of issues. Here the book basically sticks with only one plot. The narrative focuses almost exclusively on the work to bring down the Finns, and once The Libyan gets involved, he also becomes the focus of the plot, with the Finns then reacting to how things have gotten out of hand, rather than driving the plot from the villainous side of things.
Artist Kyle Baker does a very good job of taking over the art, following in the footsteps of Bill Sienkiewicz in the “Shadows and Light” arc. His work fits, thematically, with Sienkiewicz’s work, but with his own twists. It does become overly comedic at points, but that’s more or less a reflection of the story.
That said, if you’re a fan of the pulps, or The Shadow in general, this story will probably rub you the wrong way, as Baker’s writing, especially in this comic, has that vibe of “I think this character and this comic are stupid, and so I will write the character accordingly.” On the one hand, it’s better than just not caring, but on the other hand, considering that The Shadow as a character can and has had interesting dramatic stories told with them, I can’t help but feel that potential is squandered here.
This arc ends with The Shadow dead, and his sons taking his body back home with him returning attached to a cyborg body, while his agents attempt to carry on without him – at which point everyone gave up on the comic and canceled it, so I’ll stop here.
If for some reason you want to read this mess, it’s available from Amazon.com.