“The Shadow” #1 is a clear statement of intent from Garth Ennis about how he is going to handle this title. There were a few options available to him but he has settled on a brutally violent and historically fed drama about one man. There is no doubt the Shadow is the center of this title. All other subjects and objects revolve around him like satellites caught in a gravitational pull.
We open with some contextual placement of the story to come. Ennis drops some knowledge about former Japanese atrocities and ties the information to the ship upon which the Shadow massacres most of the hired goons. The violence on display in the first half of this comic is not for those looking for a delightful Sunday read. Watching bullets eviscerate skulls and brains is harrowing stuff — from here on out we know the world we are in. There are no pulled punches, the Shadow murders without a second thought. He even does it when it isn’t the only option available to him. This guy is a little off the rails.
The kinetic flow dissipates as the Shadow, Lamont Cranston by day, meets with two gentlemen to slather exposition across the pages. There are hints at some strained interactions in the past and possible future. This is all information we need but it isn’t exactly heart-racing and it’s only really mildly enjoyable.
The final scene plays Cranston against Margo Lane on the balcony of their shared abode. This back and forth is possibly the most telling about how Ennis wants this Shadow to be. He is a cold man in many senses and he borders on the strange. The way he treats Lane is a mix of overly familial fondness and unrepentant inconsideration. He is above her, most likely sees himself as above all people, which informs his killing style as well as the possibilities for the future.
Aaron Campbell makes these pages feel dense and thick. He applies ink liberally to build worlds and facial reactions. He modifies a page away from the standard layout to try and best accommodate Ennis’ tone of the scene. There are a handful of very cool moments delivered by Campbell, but these are amidst other pages that don’t push anything eye-catching forward. Carlos Lopez mutes the palette to build a sense of history and time. He also doesn’t overplay his reds, of which there is much. There is one mistake where a color mix up between two men’s suits gives the very opposite impression in one panel.
“The Shadow” #1 is a fine comic but it actually sets up for future greatness rather than impressing right now. The opening scene is bombastic and the final scene is crisply expressive in a surgical manner. In between, we suffer the exposition that keeps the narrative afloat between character moments. Cranston isn’t here to be our stand-in or to make us feel safe. Cranston is a man on a personal mission and he most likely doesn’t care if you believe or support or have any views at all. We are being shown a one-man act engaging in a way you might not be used to.