“The Shadow: Year One” #1 from Matt Wagner and Wilfredo Torres is a superb pulp affair with delicate and exquisite art that tells a layered and character-driven story set in 1929 New York. This issue, which sees Lamont Cranston return from his long travels overseas, is very much concerned with establishing the time and the tone of the series. Cranston is a stranger in his homeland — mostly because of his belief in justice, and how much it has left America.
This book is mostly setup, but because of the way Wagner and Torres structure and execute scenes, there is plenty of meat for readers. The opening sequence set in Cambodia is amazingly terse and effective. A villager mixed up with the wrong people sprays the darkness with his machine gun, but all that is needed in reply is a single “bang.” It’s a great way to establish the precision of The Shadow ever in his formative period of history.
Once in New York, Wagner and Torres add a few new cast members to the story. Margo Lane is a lady on the wrong side of society when all she wants is to be held on the right side of it. Wagner writes her a bit too thin as a woman making silly decisions instead of having her own upward agency, but there is still plenty of her tale to come. Hopefully, she will be given more strength and details later. This situation brings the Shadow into play, and his smooth jump to action is brilliantly displayed while attracting little attention at a ball. This situation of a girl swept up in the glitz of the wrong men only to have it blind her eyes has been played before, but Wagner and Torres manage to both accept the tropes of the genre while also playing with them slightly in their execution. Torres is a major component of this working because his artwork creates characters you can instantly care for or hate with equal passion.
Wilfredo Torres on art with Brennan Wagner on colors is a great artistic team for this book. Their storytelling skills are fantastic as they keep a relatively regimented page layout but deliver panels with striking emotional resonance frequently. This is a period story and as such the colors are muted enough to usher forth a historical feel. Torres also has a knack with making his character expressions match the dialogue very well.
“The Shadow: Year One” #1 looks to be yet another monumental success in the world of pulp comics. There is a disturbed hero, a broken city, a damsel in distress, and a villain acting very bad and about to be led into worse. A character driven story from the early years of the Shadow, this issue delivers plenty of terse set up that demands a return next month for more.