Zero issues tend to be revelatory affairs, or at least they were once upon a time, something writer Cullen Bunn and artist Colton Worley try to accomplish with “The Shadow” #0. This comic leads with the best of intentions, but has a few bobbles and slips along the way that combine with the smaller scope of this story to keep it from redefining the earliest days of the Shadow for generations to come.
Artist Colton Worley has a wide range of subject matter to draw, from stopwatches to scorpions and back again. For the most part he delivers on target, and in other cases delivers artwork that borders on masterful, such as the opening scene where Cranston learns the particulars of escape artistry from Harry Houdini. Not everything is so well constructed, however, as Worley’s drawing of fire in the fireplace is uncontrollable and wild. Additionally, some of the rabble shift in appearance during their fight with the Shadow, one from an apparent full beard (or an impossibly awkward shadow) to a neatly trimmed mustache, while a very similar head appears on three different bodies. The scene is muddled by ink splatters, which add noise and confusion, but muck up the storytelling a little too much when paired with the overwhelmingly red backgrounds. Another slip up comes when letterer Rob Steen puts a reversed word balloon, traditionally and most wonderfully used for the Shadow, in place for Lamont Cranston during his yesteryear training at the tutorship of Houdini.
The adventure in “The Shadow” #0 is standard issue: pluck a character from a present day adventure to serve as a touch point to a flashback or the protagonist. In this case, that character is Houdini’s wife, Bess. In the present day (well, relative to “The Shadow” #0, as it is 1936) Bess is being coerced by a gang of ne’er-do-well magicians trying to glean Houdini’s secrets, but Bunn uses that plot to drive the majority of the issue back into 1925, as readers learn that Houdini and Cranston shared a friendship that obviously helped shape the Shadow’s repertoire. What could have simply been a two-tiered action adventure is still a fairly simple, or rather approachable, story about the Shadow that just so happens to be touching as well.
We’ve seen the origin and training of Batman ad nauseam, including time spent with DC’s Houdini analog, Giovanni Zatara. Similar events for the Shadow, who predates Batman, come across as refreshing and intriguing. Bunn and Worley make a nice case in “The Shadow” #0 for a deeper exploration of the Shadow’s training and early days. Taken on its own, this comic book is a fun adventure with historical connections certain to entertain any reader, regardless of their investment in the Shadow.