I’ve been a fan of The Shadow for a long time. I’ve enjoyed his outings in the pulps, the radio plays, and even the film featuring Alec Baldwin. However, at least in the late ’80s and early ’90s on, comic book writers haven’t quite known what to do with him. The best depictions of the character after that time I’ve encountered have effectively skipped over any idea of characterization for the character, in favor of making him a force of nature, or an unknowable cipher, instead of giving him grounded motivations.
Batman/The Shadow: Murder Geniuses tries to strike a balance between The Shadow as a person and The Shadow as a force of nature, but it doesn’t quite work. Part of the problem is Scott Snyder borrows cues for the characterization of The Shadow from the depiction of him from Howard Chaykin’s series. The problem for me is that is the version of the character that I like the least.
This version of The Shadow is so utterly detached from the world and humanity that he owes far more to Steve Ditko’s Mister A and Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Rorsach, as opposed to the character as envisioned by Walter B. Gibson, or as interpreted by Orson Welles and others in the radio show. This version of The Shadow is not the kind of person who would necessarily put together the network of agents we see in the comics or have the patience and societal emotional connection that we see in the radio play.
That said, there are things about it that work. The comic calls attention to how The Shadow as a character laid the groundwork for numerous street-level vigilante characters like (on the DC side of things), Batman himself, turning the story into something of a passing of the torch from The Shadow to Batman (though the tribute panel sadly eschews the Crimson Avenger).
Also, there is a great gag when The Shadow and Batman crash a meeting of supervillains presided by The Joker, where The Joker’s room-filling laughter segues smoothly into The Shadow’s own room-filling mocking laughter, with The Joker’s reaction being wonderful – wonderful enough that I’d love to see this comic get a DCAU animated adaptation.
Still, I can’t quite give the story the recommendation that I’d like. This isn’t the comic book outing of The Shadow that I’ve been looking for.
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