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The Shadow
Strange Creature in Black
The Comic Book Years

by Todd D. Severin

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The exact relationship between The Shadow comic strip and The Shadow comic book is unclear, and even Gibson in his excellent retrospective The Shadow Scrapbook, remains sufficiently vague in this area. Clearly, the comic strip was adapted to the comic book, often times publishing entire runs of the strip in the pages of the comic book, however the temporal relation of these two publishing ventures remains shady. Gibson claims that he scripted all the Shadow Comics until 1946 when he walked out of the offices of Street & Smith during a contract dispute, but most likely he started scripting with issue number two.

Issue one then, hit the stands in March 1940. According to legend, the comic book was primarily used as a marketing tool to get more readers interested in the pulps. Upon seeing the derivative plans for the new comic, Gibson, a man driven to maintain the integrity of his creation, is said to have stormed into the Street & Smith offices and insisted on receiving royalties for The Shadow's appearances in the comic books. Rather than royalties, the publishers offered Gibson the opportunity to script The Shadow's exploits in the comics at twice the going rate. At that time comic book writers were receiving $5 per page of script. In a show of respect to the man who created their goldmine, Street & Smith offered Gibson $10 a page, and he immediately began churning out scripts for Shadow Comics and another S & S comic that he created, Super Magician Comics.

Early issues of the Shadow comic featured painted covers from the pulps and a variable amount of new Shadow material and stories reprinted from the comic strip. Most of the early new stories were crafted from the original pulp novels, that Gibson worked on to condense the layers of plot and intrigue into comic-sized stories. Vernon Greene did most of the artwork on these early issues and adequately filled the pages with images of the black cloaked avenger. In the comic book, Gibson and Greene decided to add a red scarf that covered part of The Shadow's face to enhance the character's visual impact, as opposed to the upturned coat collar image that graced the comic strip. This is the now familiar image of The Shadow that has endured through the generations.

The Shadow comic book, like the strip, followed the format of the radio show, which was continuing to grow in popularity. Interestingly, the very first appearance of Margo Lane on the printed page was in the comic book, months before Gibson finally relented to the publisher's pressure and included her in her first Shadow pulp novel, "The Thunder King."

In keeping with the radio show's themes, Gibson eventually was forced to add the premise that The Shadow could cloud men's minds to become invisible. This created a whole new series of problems, as now Greene had the unsavory task of coming up with a device to render an invisible hero, yet still keep the character of The Shadow on the pages. After all how much action and drama could exist on a comic page if the Shadow disappeared every time the story got hot?

Various possibilities on how to circumvent this problem were suggested. Reportedly, someone even came up with the imaginative solution of using invisible ink. But in the end, the art department came up with an even more convincing visual effect. Whenever The Shadow turned invisible, his image was printed in ethereal tones of blue, with no inked black lines. This stunning visual effect was quite revolutionary for its time, and had the desired impact of creating a nebulous creature, lurking in the shadows, stalking his prey, yet still visible to the reader.

Gibson filled the pages of the comic with endless gimmicks, convoluted plots and villains culled from the pages of the pulps. Gibson was once quoted as saying that all of his pulp villains made the transition easily to the comic pages, so often times long dead men of evil would be resurrected for the comic and become recurring nemeses, including The Shadow's greatest villain, Shiwan Khan.

The comic book stories all involved intriguing mysteries, usually wrapped around some magic illusion or oriental theme. Titles such as The Seven Sinners, Death Rises out of the Sea, The Black Pagoda, Six Fingers of Death and The Hand of Death, hinted at the excitement that awaited the reader.

In a typical exciting Shadow adventure, The Shadow meets the Dagger, The Shadow was sent by the FBI to crack down a suspected prisoner uprising on the Caribbean prison colony of Shark Island. There, The Shadow stumbled upon the plot of the evil Dagger, who had rallied the prisoners and most of the guards behind him to overthrow the commandant of the prison. From there, the Dagger, secretly funded by the Nazi's, planned to capture a nearby American defense base and turn it into a haven for foreign enemy submarines. Battle after battle ensued as The Shadow fought off the overwhelming number of adversaries, including prisoners, corrupt guards and even a man-eating shark. Finally, the Dagger fled the island, only to highjack a nearby yacht on which Margo Lane was a passenger.

At this point, Gibson relied on his years of magical expertise, as he got The Shadow onto the yacht by having him hide in a supply crate. Once aboard the boat, The Shadow "pressed up the top of the crate while punching the front" thereby snapping open the crates clamp." A neat trick that he had learned from Houdini.

Once freed, The Shadow went on to defeat the Dagger and save the helpless Margo Lane. Greene handled most of the comic art work until his induction. His work, while adequate for the comic strip, was a little too loose and cartoony to create a dramatic impact in the larger comic book medium. After his departure, the bulk of the work was turned over to a comic shop headed by Charlie Coll which included Jimmy Hammon, Russell Henderson and Ted O'Loughlin. None of these artist excelled in creating an appropriate atmosphere for Gibson's plots.

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