These days, revivals of classic characters in comic book form often come with new costumes, revised origins and modern trappings. Not so for Dynamite Entertainment’s take on “The Shadow.” From its first issue under the guidance of writer Garth Ennis, the series rooted itself firmly in the pulp and radio anti-hero’s 1930s origins. And that’s a track that will continue when October’s “The Shadow” #7 welcomes new writer Victor Gischler along with guest artist Jack Herbert. Series artist Aaron Campbell returns with #8 in November.
Best known for his work on Marvel’s “X-Men” as well as a current run with Dark Horse’s “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” spinoff “Spike,” Gischler is returning to his crime novelist roots in a way to write the Shadow. In his opening story, Lamont Cranston’s alter ego begins to lose some of his unique mystic powers, setting off a cross-globe trip with an ally not seen in many years.
Speaking with CBR News about the gig, the writer noted his own personal history with the famed character — or at least his famous catch phrase — the draw of pulp style over realism, the allure of taking the lead out of his comfort zone and back to the Eastern killing fields where he was born, and the challenge of continuing in the steps of Ennis’ style.
CBR News: Victor, the Shadow is a character who at this point has had a ton of classic iterations and lived in a number of different media. What was your initial introduction to the character, and which version from over the years is having the biggest influence on your work here?
Victor Gischler: Honestly, there are so many that it is difficult to single out just one. And over the decades, each iteration adds something to the mix. To be honest, I always think of my stepfather when I think of The Shadow. As a kid (5-6 years old), I always heard him shouting “The Shadow Knows!” in a booming radio voice. (Does anyone know where my G.I. Joe is? THE SHADOW KNOWS!) When he was a child he was a fan of the radio show. The result was that from an early age I thought of The Shadow as this mysterious, larger-than-life character.
Of course, I’d imagine that Garth’s opening arc also has a bit of influence on what’s coming in #7 and beyond. What do you think you’ve gotten from his take that really nails the character and his world?
I think Garth added a little extra edge to the title, and I’d like to continue that. Naturally, I can’t do exactly what he does, so I’ll have to do it in my own way. When scripting, I don’t think “edge.” I think “pulp.” But the edge comes through on its own.
We know that your story focuses on the Shadow’s powers — both their origin and their effectiveness. What about that part of the legend made for an interesting story in your mind?
Well, we all know The Shadow is good with his guns and his fists, but it’s “the power to cloud men’s minds” that stands out when we think of The Shadow’s powers. I started thinking that a guy with that kind of power might come to rely on it, and it would maybe be a bit disturbing for him if that power suddenly went on the fritz. But I wanted to go a step beyond just The Shadow’s needing to deal with him power acting wonky. I also want to suggest that these powers stem from a very vague, very mystic origin which sometimes manipulates him into specific situations which he doesn’t always understand.
There’s also a strong thread of mysticism and Eastern cultures in this story. With this series so far providing a more historically accurate take on the Shadow alongside its pulp roots, how did you approach your version of the “Far East” in the 1930s?
Well, when forced to choose, my pulp tendencies win out over any inclination I have for historical accuracy. Although I certainly don’t go out of my way to be inaccurate. For me the Far East serves the dual purpose of being an exciting and exotic local, but it is also the place where a young Cranston honed his skills. It seemed natural that he might go back to seek aid from his old masters when his powers started giving him trouble.
Overall, what’s your in to Lamont/the Shadow as this happens to him. Cranston is a man very much driven to atone for his past. How does the sudden loss of this thing he’s come to depend on impact his personality?
Yes, exactly. As I mentioned before, I think he would depend on these powers. Imagine if you suddenly lost your sight or your hearing. Or, strangely, if you lost your sight for some things, but not for others. It would be confusing and disorienting. I think Cranston feels the same way about his powers. Life would be put on hold until the problem was fixed, right? Or would you discover that this was the new normal?
One player who will also take part in this story is Miles Crofton, who I believe pilots Lamont’s autogyro! Why pick this character up from the Shadow’s pulp history? What’s he like as a foil for the lead as opposed to someone like Margot?
I couldn’t resist taking one of the characters from the old supporting cast and putting my own stamp on him. The autogyro doesn’t make an appearance (although I gave some serious thought for how to squeeze it in), but Miles is a useful sidekick both in piloting and supporting Cranston in his adventures. He’s tough and loyal and just cool.
As we move into issue #8 and beyond, what are you most excited to build up over the course of this arc? What are the classic pulps notes you’d like to hit in this series?
Mostly, I’d just like to maintain a pulpy, slam-bang pace. A lot of out of the frying pan and into the fire type stuff. I love that it’s set in the 1930s. That means 1930s airplanes and cars and motorcycles and clothes. I also love the old pulp notion that a masked character can step out from behind the curtain at any time. I want that!
Lastly, we know Aaron Campbell is continuing on with the series under your pen. What’s it like to have a collaborator on board who’s familiar with both period pulp and now this character specifically?
Aaron is awesome. I’ve seen his work. Just great stuff and perfect for The Shadow. It’s comforting to know that the guy on the pencils is going to translate your script in just the right way. I have no worries at all that he’ll nail it.
“The Shadow” #7 by Victor Gischler and guest artist Jack Herbert features covers by Alex Ross, Francesco Francavilla, John Cassaday and Darwyn Cooke.