Strange Creature in Black
The Comic Book Years
by Todd D. Severin
A Laughing Matter: The 1950's
The Shadow made his next comic book appearance in a slightly altered form, and not in the pages of his own magazine. Tales Calculated to Drive you Mad, the satirical brainchild of Harvey Kurtzman and William Gaines, publisher of EC Comics, was the home of the now-famous Shadow parody, the invisible Shadowskeedeeboomboom. Kurtzman, who had previously made a name for himself with his pioneering work on EC's Frontline Combat and Two-Fisted Tales, found himself exhausted by the research he needed to do before writing each issue of his war comics. He decided that what he needed was a less demanding, more lucrative format for his creative talents and found that with satirical humor. Mad premiered in October 1953 on a bimonthly production schedule.
In the second issue of Mad, Kurtzman created Melvin, a take-off on Tarzan, that became his first parody of a specific comic character. Many character parodies followed, such as Superduperman, Mickey Rodent, Teddy and the Pirates, and of course, the Shadowskeedeeboomboom.
In the fourth issue of Mad, Margo Pain discovered that someone was out
to kill her after many attempts on her life were unsuccessful. In typical
Mad fashion, the murderer turned out to be none other than the Shadowskeedeeboomboom,
who knocked her off because she was the only one who knew of his secret
identity. The art work on this feature was beautifully rendered by Will
Elder, complete with thousands of hidden sight gags, beautiful women, and
a Shadow depicted as a three-foot tall, buck-toothed midget. While clearly
not an important part of his legend, The Shadow's appearance in Mad is
noteworthy on a couple of different fronts. First, given that both the
Shadow pulp and The Shadow comic were discontinued in 1949, it is a testament
to the popularity of the character that he was still found to be worthy
of parody in 1953. By this time, The Shadow radio show was on its last
legs and facing its imminent cancellation which occurred in 1954. Yet,
despite The Shadow's fading public presence, he remained firmly entrenched
in the consciousness of the comic book audience and therefore deserving
of the Mad treatment.
Secondly, the humorous take on The Shadow, a character known for his
steadfast seriousness and dark, somber atmosphere, allowed fans the first
opportunity to laugh with their hero. Such as the time, the Shadowskeedeeboomboom
challenged Manduck the Magician to a duel of hypnotic power.
Further, at a time when there were no printed versions of The Shadow, these humorous out-takes managed to keep The Shadow in the public eye.
High Camp Days: The 1960's
That The Shadow was resurrected onto the comic book page during the explosive Silver Age of the 1960's is not surprising. The Shadow radio show had been released into syndication in 1963 and The Shadow was riding a new wave of growing popularity, so it was only natural that this renewed interest should generate a new comic during the comic craze of the sixties. What was shocking, however, was the way in which he appeared and the publisher who presented him. Archie Comics, the company better known for publishing teen humor titles like Life with Archie and Betty and Veronica, acquired the licensing rights to The Shadow when its parent company, Belmont Books, began publishing a new series of Shadow paperbacks in 1963.
During the 1950's the superhero comic had faded into near extinction, being replaced by westerns, romance, crime or horror comics. With the demise of the superhero, there also came a steady decline in comic book creativity, as well as sales. The only artistically challenging publisher of the fifties, EC Comics, saw its empire crumble immediately after the senate hearings on the relationship between comic books and juvenile delinquency and the subsequent imposition of the Comic Code Authority.
Comic books were in danger of becoming a faint memory of the past.