A Surfeit of Shadows: The Shadow Magazine Volume 1 #s 76-127



Books 76-somewhere around 110ish (which covers around two years of publishing time, 1935-1937) were GREAT, uniformly 8/10s or 9/10s and there were some really great stand-outs in that bunch. There was The Python and Zemba, which were 11/10s. There’s also The Voodoo Master and it’s follow-up, City of Doom. Those deserve individual write-ups and I may do them later.

What makes those particular ones great is the antagonists. Doctor Mocquino, The Python, and Zemba are supervillains not only because they have hordes of minions but because they are are intelligent, and they also are constantly on the offensive. When The Shadow–himself a highly aggressive superfoe of crime–is forced onto the defensive, it raises the stakes and it ups the pacing. A smart, aggressive villain (who also commands sufficient firepower, because, let’s face it, at this point everybody knows that’s the only way around the mammoth .45 automatics that are looming for you otherwise), is one of the things that sets a great Shadow story apart from a mediocre one.

I must even mention The Yellow Door in which–hold on to your hats–Harry Vincent DOES NOT GET SLUGGED OVER THE HEAD AND HOLDS HIS OWN UNTIL THE VERY LAST CHAPTER, upon which, yes, he then needs to be rescued, but not before! I know, shocking, right? Mind you, this does come right after The Gray Ghost, in which he lets the damsel of the novel get to his head and then jumps in front of The Shadow’s automatics at the wrong moment but also never mind.

shadow_magazine_vol_1_123But, unfortunately, then there was a really rough patch in the hundred-teens, reaching an embarrassing nadir in Washington Crimes in which The Shadow fails to disclose the solution to the problem that, admittedly, he solved in chapter one (which would have negated much suffering–most of it his own), is outsmarted in chapter two, spends 95% of the book rushing around the vicinity of Washington whilst being two steps behind both antagonists and, in general, does everything but trip over his own cloak hem throughout.

(In this lot is also the first of the Theodore Tinsley-authored books, Partners in Peril, which was apparently wholesale plagiarized for some of the early Batman stories, and believe me, it shows. Both of these I skipped. The shift from “crime pulp” to “adventure pulp” is not seamless, Tinsley was given the keys and went for a ride, but didn’t even attempt to mimic Walter B. Gibson’s voice. This might probably be a good thing overall, but….

I might return to them later, but then again, I might not.)

And the uncomfortable thing about hitting this patch is that it jolted my immersion. It’s a lot easier to pick apart something that’s poorly done, than something you’re actively enjoying….and unfortunately that run did it. I started analyzing the prose and the structure rather more than I had been for the last (yes, okay) hundred-plus books. Gibson has a pretty distinctive sentence structure, for one thing. If I actually remembered anything about grammar I’d expound on that, but never mind.

Anyhow, what were some of the things I didn’t like? Well:

Heavy reliance on the Lamont Cranston identity, sometimes in back-to-back stories, and without varying the formula. Some of the best books in the series thus far are when The Shadow takes on a completely different identity, often revealed only at the very tail end of the novel as the ultimate–or penultimate–or may be just one other twist in a series of twists. Terror Island, and The Broken Napoleons, for instance. The “Cranston takes a vague yet pointed interest in helping the police with their inquiries” plot wears thin when the same beats play out time after time and yet neither Cardona nor Weston figure things out even slightly.

Not using The Shadow’s agents. I meme the hell out of Harry Vincent, sure, but he serves a valuable narrative purpose when he gets to be on-screen–edd_cartier_28shadow_unmasks29_002

–especially when he gets to be on-screen with other Shadow agents, such as Cliff Marsland, Clyde Burke, or Hawkeye. They add humanity, they add tension (generally, yes, because we know Harry Vincent is going to screw up and are waiting to see how), and by their positioning on the chessboard they serve to show, not tell, how much smarter, better-prepared, and better-equipped The Shadow is than the crooks he fights. Speaking of which, we haven’t seen anything of Miles Crofton lately, or The Shadow’s autogyro in general. Crofton’s rather cool, there should be more of him. (Jericho Druke does get a moment to shine in The Golden Masks, though.)

Anyhow, conversely to the first point, that The Shadow is great when lurking in a totally new personality, another way the agents are useful is to showcase The Shadow in his own personality rather than one of his assumed guises. And….it’s pretty neat to watch how this guy commands instant respect whenever he switches on. At the same time, he can comfort the distraught and reassure the innocent with the understated calm that wins their confidence and restores their courage for the fight.

shadow_magazine_vol_1_106Not building on what was already established, and poorly-structured plots in general. These late novels read like some of the forgettable early ones, in which there is very little actual plot–just a lot of events happening, through which our hero stumbles and over which he has very little control. Not to mention having to frequently zigzag between one plot-point and location to another. One of the things that should set The Shadow apart from other superheroes, such as (pfui) Batman, is that he’s a hero who controls events rather than just reacting to them. Without this, there’s a big chunk missing.

Fortunately, the rough patch ended with The Masked Headsman, and there’s also the standout Quetzal. Now, Quetzal actually is kind of a borderline case, because while it has some of the features I just listed as flaws–use of the Lamont Cranston identity where “Lamont Cranston” has only the thinnest of excuses for being involved, lack of the usual agents, mostly detailing how movement from Point A to Point B is accomplished, and largely reactive rather than active hero–it’s….actually still kind of a great Shadow novel.

In QuetzalThe Shadow is flying down to the west/southwestern border areas to investigate and retrieve valuable military documents being offered up by the crime lord known only as Quetzal. In the opening scene he realizes that the plane has gone off-course, quietly reaches for his automatic, and is promptly jumped by every other passenger onboard, including a middle-aged woman with a .38….y’know, this one also cries out for a full-length write-up, so….

And The Masked Headsman features a full return to working order for all parts of The Shadow’s organization. What does a return to normalcy mean? It means: large sums of lawfully-held money at stake, blood having been spilled, more blood en route to spillage if steps are not taken, a cunning but not really cunning enough villain, innocents in the line of fire. It means that The Shadow has his full deductive capacity and sneakiness and physical prowess on deploy.  Also, dirty commies getting blown up by their own leaders in the name of The Cause. Always nice to see that. It even means a return to normal business and the hazards thereof for Harry Vincent, and if you guessed “iron maiden,” then DING you win no prize. (He also gets a hint of a chance of a romance with an exiled Spanish damsel, who is not actually playing him for a dupe in the process! It’s amazing!)

(There are also two, count ’em, two Mad Scientists with Beautiful Daughters.)

At this point, this write-up is long enough in and of itself, so I’ll leave out the discussion of 1937’s The Shadow Strikes and 1938’s International Crime, which were some of the early attempts at adapting The Shadow to the screen, and quite weird attempts they are indeed.

Rated: Yeah. So…..

8 thoughts on “A Surfeit of Shadows: The Shadow Magazine Volume 1 #s 76-127

    1. Books 76-105 are really excellent and some of them are superb.
      105-110 are a step below that.
      110-125ish, with the noted exceptions, struggle.

      Now, part of this could be that I was just reading them back to back to back (stuck indoors due to weather), mind you. Someone who is wandering in and out of the series or at least READING OTHER BOOKS ONCE IN A WHILE SOMEBODY HELP MEEEEE I feel wouldn’t have as much trouble.

      Also, so far all of the novels I’ve attempted to re-read (admittedly, the ones I liked best to begin with) have held up to the scrutiny very, very well. So I might re-try “Jibaro Death” sometime and find it pretty okay.

      Definitely going to start doing some more stand-alone reviews, though. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s