By: Garth Ennis (writer), Aaron Campbell (artist), Carlos Lopez (colorist)
The Story: It seems The Shadow isn’t the only one who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men, as he is joined by none other than Garth Ennis in a new ongoing series.
The Review: It’s hard not to admire the pulp heroes of old. In the absence of optic blasts that could reduce mountains to powder, or Kryptonian DNA capable of absorbing solar radiation and turning a child into a demigod, the Pulps put themselves in harm’s way and did what they could to fight the Good Fight using the means available to them. They were, at best, Optimized Men, talented individuals that represented the pinnacle of human achievement, but still men and quite capable of being killed in their self-appointed line of duty. And on some level I’ve always identified with that. I think it’s largely why I’ve always preferred reading titles like Batman, Daredevil, and Punisher over more epically-scaled books like Superman, Justice League, and X-Men; the latter don’t deal with the likelihood of death nearly as often as the former, and I’d argue it takes a real Hero to willingly put himself in mortal danger like that and still fight on. This quality is what made the pulp heroes so appealing to me as a kid, so when I first read that Garth Ennis would be redefining one of the great pulp heroes of all time, I was excited to see what the creator of Crossed, Hitman, and Preacher would do with such an icon of the industry. The result, I’m pleased to report, is more than I expected and hugely promising.
Although Ennis’s tale is firmly rooted in the past, he strips away the nostalgic veneer with which we view that era and instead sets the stage with an unforgiving flashback reminiscent of the war comics he so clearly enjoys doing. This brutal sequence modernizes The Shadow’s worldview and lends credence to the notion that he really does know the evil that lurks in the hearts of men. But while The Shadow’s world has been contemporized and made a bit more gritty, he has inversely undergone a more supernatural and disturbing transformation. Typically, The Shadow’s abilities have been written off as the result of tricks learned while traveling through East Asia and have been limited to his ability to cloud mens’ minds…a useful skill to have when you’re about to blow their brainmeat out the backs of their skulls. Ennis has wisely kept that much intact here, but then added a kind of precognition that makes his carnal exchanges with Margo unnerving to say the least. Reading this issue, I got the impression that Lamont Cranston was a man with one foot in the Real World and the other in something much darker that we’d be better off not asking too many questions about. For my own tastes, I would have preferred a stronger understanding of where the plot is heading, as 22 pages of characterization does not a great comic make, but Ennis has proven himself often enough that I trust him to hit the ground running next month.
This is my first time experiencing Aaron Campbell’s art, and for the most part I really enjoyed it. His scenes with The Shadow are a kinetic ballet of gunplay that I think would have made Walter Gibson beam with pride. What I like most is how Campbell has taken Ennis’s penchant for violence and translated it perfectly into The Shadow’s world. You look at Campbell’s art, paired with Ennis’s words, reimagining an eighty-year old character, and you can’t imagine The Shadow not being this violent or looking this menacing. I think Campbell is less successful with the scenes involving Lamont Cranston, which seemed just and gritty and inked over as those with The Shadow. I felt that some kind of change in tone, less ink perhaps, or tighter linework, would have been a welcome visual cue to separate the two lives of this man. Not a dealbreaker by any means though.
Conclusion: Ennis and Campbell seem to have done the impossible and made an already terrifying masked avenger more menacing than ever. I like that. Ennis’ dialogue is razor sharp, Campbell’s art is wonderfully atmospheric , and The Shadow’s justice is uncompromising and brutal. This could be the start of something very good.