Strange Creature in Black
The Comic Book Years
by Todd D. Severin
High Camp Days: The 1960's (cont'd)
But things began to change just around the turn of the decade. By 1964, when Archie released its first issue of The Shadow, the Silver Age of comics was already in full swing. Marvel Comics had burst onto the scene and found tremendous success with The Fantastic Four, Spider-Man and the Hulk. Stan Lee, the publisher of Marvel, added to his success by embarking on a tour of the college campuses, espousing the virtues of the new generation of heroes and adding legions of new fans to Marvel's ranks. Over at DC Comics, a rebirth was occurring of the glorious heroes of the forties with Batman and Superman finding new life amongst the addition of the newly revamped Flash and Green Lantern. Comic book fever had again taken the nation by storm and readers were flocking to the drugstore by the millions to find the latest issues of their heroes. At the same time, another powerful entertainment trend was running rampant across the nation. Secret Agents. Spies. Gimmicks and gadgets. This trend, launched by the tremendous success of the James Bond series of films, capitalized on the growing fear of the Red Menace and the frigid Cold War. James Bond premiered in 1961 with Dr. No, and immediately followed in 1963 with From Russia With Love and 1964 with Goldfinger. The Man From U.N.C.L.E., the ground breaking television show, made its television debut that same year.
Every body, it seemed wanted to be either a secret agent or a superhero.
When Belmont decided to publish the new Shadow novels, they gave the audience
what they wanted. Rather than reprint old pulp stories, Belmont released
eight new Shadow novels written by Dennis Lynds as the new Maxwell Grant.
These novels focused on a different version of The Shadow. Someone whom
the publishers felt was more in tune with the times. More hip. A Shadow
more similar to The Man from U.N.C.L.E. than anything Walter Gibson ever
It was only natural that Archie Comics should follow suit. The Shadow #1, which hit the stands August 1964, revealed the new Lamont Cranston as the Shadow, America's top secret agent in the U.S. Secret Service, complete with blond hair and secret gadgets. This first adventure found The Shadow foiling the evil Shiwan Khan's plot to steal the plans for a new, experimental cold war weapon.
Gone were the famous brimmed hat and scarf, gone were the agents and blazing twin .45's. In order to masquerade his identity, Cranston did nothing more than take off his glasses and put on his cape. In essence, Archie stripped The Shadow of everything except his name and the ever present, Margo Lane, his secretary, and Shrevvy, who now chauffeured them around in a Rolls Royce.
All pretenses of this new Shadow being even slightly related to The Shadow
of the pulp days were thrown out the window with the second issue of Archie's
Shadow. The cover blurb blared out the message, "Watch for an H-bomb series
of shockers in the absorbing book length novel. . .The Triangle of Terror."
This issue found The Shadow hurtling across the cover to save a helpless
Margo Lane from the clutches of Shiwan Khan, but this wasn't The Shadow
of yesterday, this was Shadow the Superhero, complete with skin-tight superhero
costume, mask, boots and cape!
The following issues focused on this super-Shadow, who seemed to develop new powers with each episode of his implausible adventures trying to protect America's interests against the evil Shiwan Khan. In one tale, The Shadow suddenly appeared with a belt buckle power beam and later a multi-action Shadow gun that was capable of shooting weakness gas and electric blasts. Another found The Shadow with boot springs for jumping. Each story told the familiar tale of The Shadow defeating a communist menace to America, usually by using his hypnotic powers to brainwash the villain into following his will.
Jerry Siegel, the original scripter and co-creator of Superman, took over the writing chores with issue 3 and launched The Shadow into an absurd, over the top word of super-heroes and super-villains with tales like, "The Menace of the Radiation Rogue" and "The Incredible Alliance of Shiwan Khan and Attila the Hunter."
A typical Siegel Shadow epic, "The Shadow battles the Brute", found The Shadow matched against one of Shiwan Khan's most menacing underlings, one of his goons who was zapped with a growth ray until he became a hulking behemoth. The Shadow tried to subdue him by hypnotizing him but was unable to penetrate the Brute's protective goggles. Finally, The Shadow shattered the goggles with a "supersonic note from his "special whistle" only to find that underneath the goggles, the Brute was wearing special hypnotism-proof, unbreakable contact lenses! Truly a bad day for The Shadow's hypnotic powers. Eventually the Brute, realizing that he'd been double-crossed by Shiwan Khan when he failed to get his portion of the stolen loot, turned against Khan and perished while saving Margo Lane from a falling stone gargoyle. And if the plot wasn't enough, Siegel told the whole story in his over-the-top, slam-bam, surprise a second, ultra-hero style.
Siegel brought to The Shadow the previously mentioned superbelt and Shadow gun, as well as some truly awful dialogue. One time, as The Shadow battled the monstrous Brute, we were treated to the villain saying, "Of course I have a terrible temper, smash things, rob and steal and am as treacherous as an eel! Outside of that, I am quite likable! And handsome too. . ."
The artwork, first handled by John Rosenberger in the clean style he brought to The Fly and The Jaguar, and later by golden age veteran Paul Reinman, was neither dark enough to adequately capture the espionage mood nor dramatic enough to compete with Marvel in the superhero category. All of this made for some rather uninspired story-telling and it was no surprise that the comic was canceled in September of 1965 after only its eighth issue. Doug Murray, the comic writer for The Monster Times, later ranked this version of The Shadow as one of the ten worst comics ever published.