Strange Creature in Black
The Comic Book Years
by Todd D. Severin
High Camp Days: The 1960's (cont'd)
While it seems that it would be easy to dismiss Archie's version as a brief aberration in the comic book continuum of The Shadow, in reality, this would be doing the series a grave injustice. It's true that the series was despised by Shadow fans, but this should not take away from its significant historical value. In 1965, on a Saturday night at a party in the Playboy mansion, Hugh Hefner screened the 1949 movie serial Batman and Robin for his friends and associates, hoping that they would find the film as unintentionally funny as he did. The screening was a huge success. The film was so bad that it was good, and so was born into the pop vernacular the concept of "camp".
Camp became the rage of the sixties, best epitomized by the 1966 Batman and Robin television series, with its crazy dialogue and Batman theme song (followed by the dance craze, the Batsui). Camp also took the comic business by storm. Time magazine ran an article in 1965 titled, "Banfans and Supermaniacs". Marvel began to name their comics "PopArt". DC embraced camp head on, immersing its heroes in the "zeroes for heroes" crazy camp lingo. And Archie, the much maligned publisher of The Shadow, found new life as well with the souped-up, camped-up, wild and wacky versions of their old MLJ heroes the Shield, the Web, the Comet and the newer Fly.
There was no doubt about it, camp was hot, and the campiest comics of them all, the Archie heroes, were all scripted by none other than Jerry Siegel. No other writer delved as deeply into the camp mode or created more absurd stories than Siegel. By 1966, when camp was at its peak, Belmont Books published a paperback reprint of some of its comics, titled High Camp Super-heroes. The introduction to this rather inauspicious work was written by the "king of camp" himself, Jerry Siegel, who noted that comics had become cool again because, "High Camp devotees had gone ape over long underwear-attired villain clobberers".
Seen in this context, The Shadow comic may actually have been quite visionary, as it's clear that Siegel used the book as a forum to begin experimenting with the boundaries of over-the-top story-telling. As such, Siegel's work on The Shadow helped to create the very backbone of camp, a full year before it became popular. In essence, The Shadow was camp before camp was camp.
It remains a mystery whether or not this was Siegel's intention. Whether he meant for The Shadow series to be so intentionally "bad that it was good" or whether the series was just bad. Probably, only The Shadow knows.
Return to the Pulps: The 1970's
He is feared by all who transgress the law, by all who plan evil…He comes from nowhere and melts back into nothingness as silently as his namesake. He acts in the name of justice, striking swiftly, stunningly, finally…With spitting automatics and a laugh that chills the marrow, he leads a band of loyal agents against the nation's wrongdoers.
Follow him now, as he battles the clock in a desperate race to solve. . . The Doom Puzzle!
The Shadow #1 - DC Comics
Immediately, it was clear that this wasn't The Shadow of the sixties. When DC comics beat out Marvel for the rights to publish a Shadow comic book in 1973, the definitive comic version of The Shadow finally hit the stands. As scripted by Denny O'Neil and immaculately drawn by Michael Kaluta, DC's The Shadow came the closest of any comic to realizing the gritty pulp origins of the Master of Darkness.
Actually the story of how this particular comic came into existence is a tale in and of itself. With the radio show again enjoying popularity in syndication, and the unexpected success of the Pyramid paperback reprints of the early pulp stories by Walter Gibson, Carmine Infantino, then the editorial director at DC Comics, decided that The Shadow was again ready for a revival onto the four-color page. Fortunately, by that time, whatever painful memories there may have been of the failed Archie Comics version had faded, and the editorial department had a clean slate on which to re-create The Shadow mythos.
Initially, the project was handed to Len Wein, then the successful writer of DC's Swamp Thing, to do the scripting chores. There was really no doubt about who the artist would be. Jim Steranko, who had already proven himself as one of the ground-breaking illustrators of the sixties with his cinematic artwork on Nick Fury, Agent of Shield and Strange Tales for Marvel Comics, was then painting stunning covers for the Pyramid Shadow paperbacks. His selection as the artist to craft the adventures of The Shadow was a natural. Unfortunately, negotiations with him fell through when he demanded to use his own writer and the plans for the comic were stalled.
Rather than give up, however, Infantino re-thought his strategy and brought together a new creative team. This time he selected Denny O'Neil, fresh from his critically acclaimed stint on Green Lantern/Green Arrow to be the voice and Alex Toth, the gifted artist of the forties and fifties, to be the vision of The Shadow. O'Neil was a good choice. As the current writer of the Batman series, he was adept at writing mysteries in the dark and somber tradition initially created by Walter Gibson. But again, troubles arose with the artist and Toth walked out. Finally, Bernie Wrightson, the moody artist of DC's Swamp Thing signed on for the project.
As the script was completed and work began on the comic, a teaser ad featuring Wrightson's art appeared in many of DC's titles, but before the first issue was completed, Wrightson, who found himself in a time crunch with his other work, was forced to pull out. Jim Aparo was O'Neil's next choice, but he also was unable to work the project into his schedule. So now DC was stuck. They had the rights to the character, a script, even advertisements announcing the comic book, but they had no comic.