Strange Creature in Black
The Comic Book Years
by Todd D. Severin
Return to the Pulps: The 1970's (cont'd)
Critical reaction to the early issues of the bi-monthly series applauded the creative team's ability to bring the real Shadow back to life. O'Neil even went so far as to introduce Kent Allard, the real identity of The Shadow, into the comic, debunking the long held premise of the radio show that The Shadow was in reality Lamont Cranston. But as Will Murray, famed Shadow historian, has noted, O'Neil's Shadow was really an amalgamation of all The Shadow's that had existed, from the pulps, the radio and Dennis Lynds' Belmont novels, as well as a few new twists of O'Neil's own invention. It is a credit to O'Neil's writing skills that he could bring together so many disparate versions of The Shadow and make the whole concept work.
Kaluta and O'Neil worked together on the first four issues, at which time, Kaluta became bogged down and couldn't make his deadline. Issue number five was a fill-in done by Frank Robbins, and Kaluta returned with what may be his greatest work on The Shadow, "Night of the Ninja," which appeared in issue six. This story returned The Shadow to his favorite pulp locale, Chinatown, in search of a deadly ninja assassin. Kaluta's attention to detail was breath-taking and it was clear that he enjoyed detailing the images of The Shadow prowling through the dark, mysterious streets, battling ninja warriors and bringing the guilty to justice.
Unfortunately, that issue would be the last issue Kaluta would do. Despite
the bi-monthly production schedule, the amount of time Kaluta poured into
each page made it simply impossible for him to keep up with the deadlines,
and the editors had no choice but to take him off the book. It is a great
testament to the quality of his work that Kaluta is recognized today as
the single artist most closely associated with The Shadow, when in actuality,
that reputation was garnered illustrating less than half the issues of
a comic book series that ran for only twelve issues, more than twenty years
ago. Clearly, those five issues packed quite a punch
With issue #7, Frank Robbins took over as full time artist, and immediately the fans cried foul. Robbins, who had garnered a hefty reputation for his work on the Scorchy Smith comic strip and Johnny Hazard strip (which he created), brought with him a straightforward, angular, almost blocky rendering style that contrasted sharply with Kaluta's nebulous, fluid technique. In retrospect, Robbins' art was probably better suited to the rather static comic strip medium than the dynamic pages of the comic book. The legions of cult followers of Kaluta's art wrote letters in angry protest to Robbins' work, unfortunately overshadowing some of the fine scripts that O'Neil continued to produce. After three issues, Robbins left and was replaced by Filipino artist E.R. Cruz with covers again done by Michael Kaluta.
Cruz's style was actually well suited to the book. His ethereal lines resembled Kaluta's, yet his staging lacked his predecessor's dramatic flair and his rendering lacked the emotional investment of Kaluta's. Be that as it may, the artwork was certainly adequate for the scripts supplied by O'Neil and occasionally by Michael Uslan including issue #11, which saw the Shadow team up with another old Street & Smith pulp character, the Avenger.
Unfortunately, however, with the loss of Kaluta the series had lost most of its fan support and was canceled after issue #12 in September 1975. O'Neil has said that he had no warning of the series' impending cancellation and in fact learned of the fact when a reader pointed out to him that The Shadow had been omitted from the company's subscription ad. O'Neil stated that he greatly lamented the loss of the title which he clearly enjoyed writing, but had no choice but to move on
The world had not seen the last of the O'Neil/Kaluta Shadow however. In 1989, DC comics reprinted issues 1-4 and #6 of the famous Kaluta run in a hardbound graphic novel, The Private Files of The Shadow. With a new cover by Kaluta, the package was a beautiful collection of some truly wonderful stories, re-presented for the first time in full-process color that greatly enhanced the art, The real prize, however, was the return of Kaluta to The Shadow with a new 15 page story that he both wrote and drew. "In the Toils of Wing Fat," brought The Shadow back to Chinatown to free the kidnapped son of the Japanese ambassador. The entire story was told without dialogue, but captioned by the frantic voice of a radio news reporter describing the carnage at the scene of the kidnapping, the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. In the end, The Shadow rescued the child, dealt out explosive death to the culprits and proved once again that "crime does not pay". The Shadow comic book was not the only place where the Shadow appeared during the Seventies.
Making full use of their license and trying to arouse interest in their new Shadow venture, DC had The Shadow cross-over into another of its titles, thereby creating one of the great team-ups of all time. Batman #253, which was released simultaneously with the first issue of The Shadow in November 1973, featured a beautiful Kaluta cover, artwork by Irv Novick and a story by regular Batman scribe, Denny O'Neil. Being the writer for both the Batman and The Shadow, O'Neil used the opportunity to acknowledge the tremendous debt Bob Kane and Bill Finger owed to Walter Gibson, as the Batman was clearly inspired by the exploits of The Shadow. In this story, "Who Knows What Evil--?" Batman, on the hunt of a gang of counterfeiters, found himself aided mysteriously by an unknown, nebulous figure, an expert marksman, a pilot of an antique autogyro, and the bearer of an icy laugh that even chilled Batman from his "boots to his cowl." As the crime was finally wrapped up, Batman received a note arranging a meeting with his mysterious assistant, who proved to be none other than The Shadow, who had been shadowing Batman to see if he deserved the splendid reputation he had as a crime fighter. Batman immediately confessed to The Shadow, that while he had never told anyone his secret, it was indeed The Shadow who had been his biggest inspiration. The issue ended as the two dark creatures of the night shook hands, acknowledging their roles as mentor and student in the battle against evil.
The Shadow returned to the pages of Batman with issue #259, released in December of 1974 as a 100 page giant issue. In this lead-off story, O'Neil revealed how a young Bruce Wayne witnessed The Shadow foil a robbery attempt some time before the fateful night when his parents were gunned down, launching him down the path that would lead to him becoming The Batman. The Shadow and The Batman teamed-up to foil that would be robbers attempt to steal once again the same jewels. Again The Batman acknowledged his debt to The Shadow, who faded away into the darkness before Batman could ever thank him.
Unfortunately, with the demise of The Shadow series, the cross-over appearances of The Shadow ceased as well. Once again, the dark avenger of the night was forced into retirement and he would not be seen again that decade.