Review by Frank Plowright
In many ways the Shadow is a no-brainer of a title for Garth Ennis to take on. The classic version is forever embedded in the 1930s, just before the World War II era Ennis loves so much, and it’s only a thin line separating his attitudes from another Ennis favourite, the Punisher. Sure enough, Ennis formalises the dialogue a little and locates the Shadow in China during the 1930s Japanese invasion and everything seems set to work out fine.
Where Ennis’ Shadow departs from the traditional version is the extrapolation of his catchphrase “The Shadow Knows”. Ennis treats this literally, rather than a phrase designed to instil doubt in criminals, the Shadow aware of what’s coming globally and the destinies and fates of individuals. It’s a neat idea, but never really explored beyond throwaway comments and for overall motivation, as the Shadow’s aware of what’s rising in both the East and the West and the danger it presents. The reason for toying with this at all is that it provides a very neat epilogue, but it’s not handled as well as it might have been.
Whether or not Aaron Campbell was selected by Ennis for the artwork, he’s the type of artist that Ennis prefers on other projects, no nonsense, able to adjust to the dialogue, sometimes in great wedges, and present what’s necessary for the story without any great flourishes. Campbell’s glory is located in the detail, which is sketchy, but where a platoon is needed he’ll provide the numbers, not just shadows, and uniforms and machinery are accurately rendered. So, however, are shootings and massacres, and anyone preferring theirs less explicit might want to look away.
A search for minerals able to create a fearsome weapon is set against the backdrop of the Japanese controlling China and the atrocities they commit. Into this Ennis throws a fearsomely confident bandit, a blundering American agent barely able to control his anger at anyone whose view of patriotism differs from his, and a suitably caustic and callous Shadow. The Fire of Creation therefore ought to have the right ingredients to create a compelling period thriller, but it doesn’t match expectation. Ennis plays well with the Shadow’s ability to cloud men’s minds, but swamps the pages with dialogue explaining the background to the plot, and doesn’t really take it anywhere very surprising until a good twist in the final chapter. Nor, once everything has been played out, is there really much that’s challenged the Shadow, the major threat that’s been building throughout dispatched with ease. The Fire of Creation is a story that works, but not one to rank high in Ennis’ achievements.