Strange Creature in Black
The Comic Book Years
by Todd D. Severin
Jack Binder, the head of the Binder shop who turned out many of the golden
age greats such as the original Daredevil for Lev Gleason and The Destroyer
for Timely, was contracted to do most of the back-up stories and occasionally
crafted The Shadow as well. His Shadow was leaner than Greene's and darker,
lending more mood to the intrigue. The best Shadow of all, however, was
drawn by Bob Powell who took over the series in June of 1947 until late
1949 when the comic discontinued. Powell, a veteran of the Eisner-Iger
shop, had previously drawn Sheena Queen of the Jungle for Jumbo Comics,
Mr. Mystic for Will Eisner's Spirit comic section, as well as Shock Gibson
and Captain Freedom for Speed Comics. With his Mr. Mystic strip, a Shadow
rip-off character, Powell first encountered the world of the supernatural,
and he laced his pages with images of dripping candles, skulls and dark
dungeons. Powell brought this experience with him to The Shadow comic.
His work, impersonal, with coolly geometric panels and understatedly realistic
artwork, thrust The Shadow into a whirlpool of atmosphere that finally
lived up to the potential hinted at earlier.
Unfortunately, by this time Gibson had left the title, having written all of the scripts for the first six years. The writing chores were turned over to Bruce Elliot, who also picked up the pulp after Gibson's departure. While, Elliot maintained the mystery format, with hidden clues, blind cul-de-sacs and danger behind every corner, his stories were less complicated and less atmospherically dense than his predecessor's, leaving every Shadow fan to wonder how a story would have turned out with the Shadow "dream team" of Gibson and Powell. Nevertheless, The Shadow comic was at its best during this final phase of its existence.
Each sixty-four page comic featured two or three Shadow adventures plus
several back-up features, including Doc Savage who made his comic book
debut in the pages of The Shadow, vol. 3, number 10. Two months after this
debut, Doc got his own title and the strip was discontinued in The Shadow,
only to resume in January 1944 after Doc's book was canceled.
Other back-up features included The Hooded Wasp (the most popular of S&S's original costumed heroes), Nick Carter, Supersnipe, The Iron Ghost, Bill Barnes and another Walter Gibson creation, Norgil the Magician. Frank Merriwell, the grandfather of all adventure heroes, even made his first comic book appearance in Shadow Comics, a fitting tribute to the character that in essence helped spawn the industry. These back up features were usually handled by the capable Binder studio.
Finally, given the youthful sidekick craze of the forties, it was only
natural that The Shadow should get a companion as well, and Shadow Jr.
was introduced to the comic, appearing with The Shadow at times and in
his own back-up feature. Needless to say, Shadow Jr. failed to leave an
impression on the legions of faithful Shadow fans. The Shadow comic, like
its predecessor The Shadow pulp, was an immediate success. Shadow fans
flocked to the newsstand to pick up the latest issue of their hero's adventures,
now available for them in stunning four color. Encouraged by the financial
windfall, Street & Smith added several more titles over the years to their
stable of comics, Doc Savage Comics, Bill Barnes Comics (later known as
Air Ace) Red Dragon Comics, Army and Navy Comics, Super Snipe Comics, Super
Magician Comics, Top Secrets of the FBI, Devil Dogs, True Sport Picture
Stories and Pioneer Picture Stories. During the boom year of 1942, these
comics racked up a combined monthly sale of 1,500,000 copies and close
to 3,000,000 a month in 1943.
During this period of prosperity, Gibson was shocked to receive a lawsuit from the Bell Syndicate, threatening a lawsuit unless he immediately discontinued using one of his supporting characters, the half-heroine, half-villainess named Valda. Valda had made several appearances in the Shadow Comic, prowling through his adventures in a skin-tight black cat suit that she'd found in a costume shop. Bell Syndicate claimed that this image was a direct violation of their copyright on Miss Fury, the famous feline crime fighter created by Tarpe Mills.
While Valda was certainly not an important addition to the Shadow mythos, Gibson wasn't one to be pushed around. He pulled out the stash of syndicated Shadow strips in which Valda made her first appearance, which were later reproduced in the Shadow Comics in question. These strips show a lean, feline Valda, a full year before Miss Fury first hit the newsstands. Needless to say, the charges were dropped and Gibson was gentleman enough not to counter sue for violation of the copyright on what was really his creation.
The Shadow, S&S's best selling and most popular character, also made an appearance in Super Magician Comics #13 (vol. 2 no. 1).
Shadow Comics finally ended in the summer of 1949 with its 101st issue. This was the same time that the pulp magazine was canceled and Street & Smith decided to concentrate on the lucrative women's magazine market.