Review by Frank Plowright
Howard Chaykin first re-booted The Shadow into the modern era with Blood and Judgement, but Andy Helfer grabs Chaykin’s revisionist interpretation and excels with it.
Helfer lays his stall out from the start introducing new assistants for the Shadow across the opening pages. There’s Twitchkowitz, a compulsive pharmaceutical dabbler, his stock purloined from the local hospital, nurse Gwen, twenty stone of former wrestler still formidable at 58, and Lorelei who counteracts the tedium of life within an iron lung by running a sex phone line while her day to day needs are minstered by trained apes. Helfer also messes with the old cast. Harry Vincent and Margo Lane are now an aged, bickering odd couple, and Joe Cardona a slightly addled Inspector sidelined due to his age.
There’s an interesting contrast between writer and artist when it comes to the title character. Helfer has no interest in the Shadow as an icon with 50 years of history, utilising him as just a sound board for the odd quip regarding his alternately hypnotic and terrifying voice, and the peg onto which he hangs his quirky and complex story. Bill Sienkiewicz on the other hand, for all his ground-breaking stylistic leaps, revels in the image of the crooked nose under the slouched hat, two guns emerging from the gloom.
The wonder of ‘Shadows and Light’ is that in an age when TV shows had determined three plot threads were the maximum level an audience could take in Helfer continually throws in new characters and situations without ever losing control of the main plot. In all 15 characters have a significant part to play in the first chapter alone, and that doesn’t include old enemy Shiwan Khan recast as a philanthropic businessman, a sinister evangelist encroaching on the territory of others (revisited in volume 3), a terrorist attack on a consumer electronics firm, and a bunch of technical geniuses with a Shadow fixation. Helfer even has the time to follow-up a loose plot thread from Chaykin’s Shadow and keeps Chaykin’s additions to the cast on board.
Having grown as an artist throughout the 1980s, this was the last time Sienkiewicz would illustrate an entire run of comics for almost 20 years, yet his experimental Steadmanesque art never overcomes his storytelling ability, and he displays a hitherto unsuspected flair for straight-faced comic touches. Twitchkowitz is his most memorable character design, reduced to to bizarrely flowing hair and opaque round glasses, a look instantly identifiable when adopted by Todd McFarlane a decade later for his cop Twitch Williams in Spawn.
This isn’t for the reverential fan of the Shadow as laid down in the pulps, but a cracking good read that stands the test of time. And Helfer ups the ante in the next volume.