Review by Frank Plowright
Back in the day this was an extremely eagerly awaited book. At DC in the mid-1970s Denny O’Neil and Michael Wm. Kaluta had re-introduced the Shadow to comics the way he should have been: dark, mysterious and terrifying. It’s mystifying that the only collection of this seminal work, published in 1989, remains long out of print. That was the case for this 1988 graphic novel, originally published by Marvel, now represented by Dynamite Entertainment.
Kaluta’s style had modified considerably in the fourteen years since he’d last drawn the Shadow, a period in fact during which he drew very few comics at all. Years of painting had induced a more refined style. This is technically better art than his 1970s Shadow, but there’s also a loss of spontaneity, and whereas previously Kaluta had inked his own work, the cultivated inking of Russ Heath is equally acceptable and adds to the gloss. There was also a considerable progression in Denny O’Neil’s writing, and his approach here eschewed the gritty pulp style narrative captions he’d used when writing the Shadow before. So, it might have been the same creators as the previously acclaimed work, but both had moved on. This is further a different beast by virtue of being allocated 62 story pages, the equivalent of almost three old comics.
It’s a rare writer who would hinge his plot on a strong belief in astrology among the higher echelons of the Nazi party, in 1941 still very much in the ascendant in Europe, but on the cusp of a calamitous (for them) tactical decision. The Shadow and his agents have been tracking one Gretchen Bauer in New York, daughter of a prominent astrologist advising the Nazis, aware that she’s in danger. It proves the case, and some fine chase sequences follow over the first half of the book.
O’Neil’s plot is credible, page-turning and engaging, while the Nazis are perennial crowd pleasing villains. Matters eventually progress to Germany, where the old adage that the Shadow knows certainly comes to bear.
The artwork remains excellent by today’s standards, the period convincingly portrayed, and the cast imbued with life, but the colouring is in places shoddy. The original publication predates the advances in colour techniques we now take for granted, and the colour applied to the opening pages is particularly crude, followed by a sequence with the entire cast afflicted by the pallor of the grave. Dynamite’s back cover blurb notes the book as being “completely remastered”, but they’d have been better advised to reconsider the colouring.
The world of the Shadow was high-octane and technologically advanced during his pulp days, and in both incarnations O’Neil and Kaluta are faithful to the period and its opportunities. This hardback is a very welcome re-release, if highly cover priced at $19.99.