Strange Creature in Black
The Comic Book Years
by Todd D. Severin
The Revisionist Era: The 1980's
Interest in The Shadow fired back to life when Universal Pictures announced its plans for a multi-million-dollar Shadow film scheduled for release in 1985. Although that film never actually came to fruition, at the time it did succeed in generating a "Shadow" buzz, that eventually filtered down to Dick Giorgiano, then Vice President and Executive editor at DC Comics. Believing that DC still had the rights to The Shadow, he felt that the time was right to bring the character back to the comic pages and handed the project over to gifted writer/illustrator Howard Chaykin
Chaykin, who at the time was accumulating huge critical and fan praise for his series American Flagg, was quite reluctant to take the project. In the seventies, at both Marvel and Atlas Comics, he had already explored the "high art" style of the gangster days with such '30s-esque adventure characters as Dominic Fortune and the Scorpion. While this experience would seem to make him a natural to bring The Shadow back to the comic pages, he wanted nothing more to do with the '30's style. As he explained, he had a different attitude towards his work in the 1980's, and didn't want to get pigeon-holed as a retro '30's artist. He didn't want to become a "novelty act."
At that time however, Chaykin was itching to do a crime comic. His pleasure reading list consisted entirely of crime fiction, by such authors as Jim Thompson, W.R. Burnett, Elmore Leonard, Donald Westlake and Mark Behm. Chaykin realized that by being offered The Shadow, he was in actuality being given the opportunity to do a crime comic. Thus, when Giordiano persisted with his proposition and offered total creative control of the series, Chaykin broke down and the deal was done.
From the onset, Chaykin's version of The Shadow was the complete antithesis of O'Neil's version. Chaykin set out deliberately to break every rule that O'Neil refused to compromise on, starting with updating The Shadow to the 1980's. Thus, when The Shadow, DC's four-issue mini-series, was released in May of 1986, the world found a very different Shadow, complete with Armani overcoat and uzi submachine guns. To prepare for the series Chaykin did his research, studying the conventions of The Shadow from the pulps, radio and comics, and promptly throwing out everything that he didn't like. He hated the supernatural elements that were so much a part of Gibson's stories, claiming that the supernatural was "hoo-doo and bull----," and instead decided to explain The Shadow's mysteries in natural terms. He also threw out the key element of Oriental villainy, which he found "uninteresting and offensive," and created his own underworld for The Shadow to inhabit. In essence, Chaykin obliterated everything that made The Shadow who he was, and instead used the name and a few basic concepts to create his story. This is the quandary that O'Neil fought so hard to avoid, stating that he found no reason to strip The Shadow of everything but his name as it was a grave injustice to both Gibson and the legions of Shadow fans. Chaykin felt no such loyalty. As he said, his version of the Shadow was "going to p--- the f--- out of the 40-year old [Shadow fans]. This I do affirm."
"I'm sure that the die-hard Shadow fans out there are going to much prefer
the traditional approach," Chaykin said, "because I'm sure that they do
feel that Gibson's works shouldn't be tampered with. I don't believe that
The Shadow as a property is a property worth approaching with that reverence."
It's hard to imagine handing the project over to someone with this much animosity for the material, but Giordiano proceeded with his plans, approving Chaykin's script and story idea. Thus in the first few pages of issue #1 the reader was witness to the brutal murders of Moe Shrevnitz, Rupert Sayre, Jericho Druke, Clyde Burke and Clifford Marsland, all faithful and trusted agents of The Shadow.
The story took place in 1986, as The Shadow was lulled out of his retirement in the fabled city of Shambala to investigate the murders of his friends. In an interesting twist, the demented soul behind the murders turned out to be none other than Lamont Cranston-- the real Lamont Cranston-- who had harbored a deep hatred for the Shadow (Kent Allard) since Allard stole his identity. In this story, Cranston re-named himself Mayrock, rebuilt his empire, and now that he was 95 years old, needed the Shadow to take him back to Shambala where the advanced scientific technology there could transplant his brain into his genetically cloned "son" who was created to be Cranston's new body (did he say that things would be explained in natural terms?). In order to blackmail The Shadow into doing Cranston's bidding, he constructed a nuclear bomb which he aimed at New York, threatening detonation unless The Shadow obliged.
While the plot was pretty far-fetched, there were some nice twists, such
as the implied romantic relationship between The Shadow and Margo Lane,
now known as Marilyn Forsythe, an eighty-year-old woman, and the characterization
of Harry Vincent, who traveled from carnival to carnival doing a sideshow
Unfortunately, Chaykin's basic disdain for the character came through loud and clear. As Chaykin described him, The Shadow was not a person whom he liked nor someone whom he would want to associated with. Thus, The Shadow was portrayed as not a heroic figure bent on justice, but a heartless, psychopathic killer, with few redeemable qualities and even fewer reasons to interest the reader. This hostility towards The Shadow, combined with a very confusing story-telling style complicated by the lack of any narrative captions, a generous amount of unexplained and senseless sexual depravity and the lack of any characters compelling enough to make the reader care about the story, all made for a rather uninspired comic.
In Chaykin's mind, he was the God writing the "Bible" that explained all the contradictions that he found present in Gibson's work. Unfortunately, Chaykin failed to clear up any perceived shortcomings in the original stories and instead added a tremendous amount of his own, such as the unexplained presence of the Shadow's two oriental sons, where they came from and what exactly their purpose was.
As expected, loyal Shadow fans were furious. It wasn't so much that the Shadow had been updated that incensed the legions, it was the way in which it was done, without respect to the original character or the works of Gibson. Of course, this is exactly what Chaykin had warned the comic book world of before the series came out. He didn't have reverence for the original, only for his own version.