The Shadow

On the front page of my website, it asks "Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?". That is a reference to The Shadow. The Shadow is one of the oldest "superhero" characters, and is my personal favorite superhero.

© Dynamite Comics If nothing else, The Shadow is about the coolest thing you can put on a noir pulp/comic cover.

© Dynamite Comics

If nothing else, The Shadow is about the coolest thing you can put on a noir pulp/comic cover.

Before my purely theoretical readers go running to the comments to tell me about Batman or Green Lantern or Wolverine or whatever, I'd like to make a preemptive counterpoint that none of those characters were ever voiced by Orson Welles. That should crush your argument for at least a few more paragraphs.

Orson Welles, doing what comes natural.

Orson Welles, doing what comes natural.

Lamont Cranston is a well-to-do weirdo with an interest in mysticism and criminology. He lives a double life as The Shadow, a vigilante who uses his supernatural skills to cloud and manipulate the minds of his enemies.

He can make himself invisible, in the sense that your consciousness does not register him. He can guide someone's thoughts, manipulating what they say and do if they are exceptionally weak willed, and can use them to recall memories, even ones they have forgotten. Those are just among his primary powers. Most versions of The Shadow have other powers in the form of co-conspirators and a pair of Colt 1911 .45 handguns, presumably kept from the Great War.

His abilities were taught to him by Hindu mystics in the far east, under various circumstances depending on which iteration of The Shadow is in question. But the Hindu mystic angle has always been a staple of the character.

I think what I find most intriguing about The Shadow is that he is far more ready to indulge his dark side than even most anti-hero archetypes. On the job, The Shadow goes out of his way to be morbid, alarming, and even cruel, to both his enemies and allies.

© Dynamite Comics "Yes, I am here to save you. Is this not comforting?"

© Dynamite Comics

"Yes, I am here to save you. Is this not comforting?"

In the '37-38 radio series episode "Death From the Deep", The Shadow is tracking down a submarine that has been sinking random ships all over the Atlantic, with no clear pattern, and no survivors. Cranston interrogates a witness, the engineer hired to design the submarine for an eccentric billionaire. This engineer is now plagued by guilt for what he's helped do, and wants to make things right. The Shadow gets the information he needs out of this man, then watches as the engineer shoots himself. Batman would have made a grab for the gun.

For a more extreme example, let's turn to Dynamite Comics' "The Shadow in the Fire of Creation." The Shadow is pursuing a shipment of weapon-grade uranium across southern China during the early stages of the war in the Pacific. Also pursuing this shipment is a special unit of Imperial Japanese troops, led by a vicious, evil commander.

The Japanese soldiers try to hunt The Shadow down in a mountain pass. He confronts them at night, out in the open, mocking them and berating them for the way the Japanese have treated the subjects of their conquest. The soldiers fix bayonets and charge, planning on killing him as messily as possible. Unfortunately, the ground between them and The Shadow, who is already chuckling to himself, is a minefield. Within a minute, the entire unit is scattered about the field, dead, or dying in extreme pain while The Shadow laughs maniacally at their suffering.

© Dynamite Comics Note the expression on Margo and Agent Finnegan's face after spending a week working with this man. Friendship is Magic.

© Dynamite Comics

Note the expression on Margo and Agent Finnegan's face after spending a week working with this man. Friendship is Magic.

Earlier that day, Lamont, his friend Margo Lane, and an Intel agent that was roped into all this were hard at work. They spent the entire day digging out this specific patch of land and planting the land mines. He'd stolen these land mines from this Japanese unit earlier, staging a weak distraction and taking the crates he wanted with little difficulty.

The Shadow had already proven that he could outmaneuver, manipulate, and outsmart this unit with ease. But he went out of his way to arrange a confrontation that would end with his enemy suffering as much as possible. Batman would have dragged them off into the night and tied them to a tree or something. Hell, Punisher would have just shot them. It takes The Shadow to spend all day putting in unnecessary effort to violently kill enemies he's functionally beaten already. But anyone with even a cursory knowledge of Japan's occupation of China can argue he's still pretty much the good guy here.

My point, if there's a point to be had, is that The Shadow appeals to a very human sentiment. He strives to do the right thing, to bring justice to evildoers and help the innocent. But at the same time, he inspires fear in everyone, friend and enemy alike. He doesn't just defeat his enemies, he crushes them utterly and makes them hurt for every mistake they make.

© Dynamite Comics Meeting the Green Hornet and Kato. As it's the 30's, note that everyone has a hat.

© Dynamite Comics

Meeting the Green Hornet and Kato. As it's the 30's, note that everyone has a hat.

Anyone who had the pleasure of suffering the 2016 US election knows that people don't just like winning, they like smooshing their opponent's face into the dirt unnecessarily after they win. That's part of The Shadow's appeal. To his credit, he wouldn't ever stoop so low as to do half the horrid things politicians get up to, even in the name of good intentions.

He will, however, push an arms dealer (and romantic interest) off a castle's walls after she's already surrendered to him. She'd been gunning down witnesses though. You don't want to do that when The Shadow is in town.

© Dynamite Comics It's kind of like the ending of Gone With The Wind.

© Dynamite Comics

It's kind of like the ending of Gone With The Wind.

Like it or not, this cold bastard is one of us. And he's effective as a hero because he's one of us. What separates him from the criminals is that he's motivated by some sick perversion of justice and altruism rather than greed or hate. Like a particularly effective SAS officer.

© Dynamite Comics This reminds me, if I'm going to talk about comics ever again on this site, I should do a piece on Gold Key's Twilight Zone comics.

© Dynamite Comics

This reminds me, if I'm going to talk about comics ever again on this site, I should do a piece on Gold Key's Twilight Zone comics.

Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow Knows.