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I loved The Shadow since I was a third grader and first checked out a vinyl record of many of the old radio dramas from my elementary school library.
I listened to them over and over as I was doing homework, as I was falling asleep at night, and just when I wanted to hear something eerie and cool as Lamont Cranston slunk his way through my imagination. I also checked out the album so many times the librarian imposed little “moratoriums” on me so other kids could get a chance to hear it.
Keep in mind, I couldn’t just pop on Amazon or Spotify to find these stories, and old radio programs and pulp magazine stories weren’t exactly a thing in the 70s and 80s. Today, you can purchase reprints of the pulp magazine stories, if you have the money, or hear the radio programs, many voiced by Orson Welles, on YouTube. I never got to see any of the old film shorts, so when the movie came out in the 90s, I was very excited. It was horrible, and I couldn’t convince people that this character is actually really cool and deserved better.
However, I never forgot “who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men,” and as Batman was my gateway drug into all things geeky, The Shadow was my darkly alluring doorway into pulp, mystery, and noir. I’m forever hooked to this day. Thankfully, the recent revival of him in the gritty Dynamite Comics series (including stories by Garth Ennis and Matt Wagner), has been terrific. Wagner even did a Grendel crossover. There are also some fairly recent Dark Horse and DC Comics stories out there as well.
This week, there has been news of author James Patterson bringing in new The Shadow novels, which could possibly build a bridge to a new (and hopefully worthy) movie.
In the meantime, here are four characters inspired by The Shadow you might already love, starting with the most famous one.
• Batman. When Batman creators Bob Kane and Bill Finger conjured up Bruce Wayne and his caped alter ego in Detective Comics No. 27 they were influenced by pulp heroes like The Shadow. Finger even said Batman’s first story was designed like a Shadow spinoff. Of course, Batman fans that have encountered the evolution of The Dark Knight’s origin have seen that the likes of Zorro, The Gray Ghost (watch the animated series if you haven’t), and, well, bats, contribute to his origin as well. Yet The Shadow still lurks in his character, and millions upon millions of fans can be grateful for it.
• The Fog. In the Pinky and The Brain episode, “Pinky and The Fog,” set in 1932, Brain imitates the radio hero “The Mist,” who has the power to “befog” men’s minds. Brain’s little mousy hat and cape donned in his latest ill-fated attempt at world domination are also a perfect tribute. If you’re not already a fan of one of the greatest cartoon series ever written, let this episode be your introduction. It’s also a fun look a how radio foley effects work.
• Darkwing Duck. There is only one animated Shadow parody that could stand up to the coolness of “The Fog” and that is Drake Mallard (aka Darkwing Duck), created as part of the very 1990s Disney Afternoon line up of shows. It was first conceived as a spin-off of the original DuckTales, but exists in its own ducky universe with nearly 100 episodes under its belt. The universes crossed more recently in the recent DuckTales relaunch. The Shadow is an obvious influence, but Darkwing also gets a little inspiration from similar heroes like Scarlet Pimpernel and Batman. His happy lurking grounds of St. Canard is a tribute to Gotham City. According to various fandom wikis, Darkwing Duck was going to be more of a James Bond type to start but, thankfully, they went in the more classic hero direction.
“Let’s Get Dangerous.”
• The Silver Shroud. The Fallout series has produced some great characters, some of whom deserve their own stand-alone games (I’m still hoping for a Nick Valentine spinoff game), but there’s also the legacy of The Silver Shroud. Players of Fallout 4 can take an entire side quest to find a Silver Shroud costume after listening to Silver Shroud Radio. If you complete the mission, you get to keep the costume along with a nifty Tommy gun! Since the Fallout series allows your character to be either male or female, this is one costume that looks great on anyone.
If you don’t get to play the game, here’s a mission walkthrough with YouTube gamer Oxhorn:
So, before new adventures of The Shadow emerge from the darkness and hopefully don’t get spoiled by the Hollywood over-tweaking of this classic character, check out the comics series, as well as some of the pop culture favorites he helped influence.