Thursday, September 16, 2021

The Golden Bookshelf:

The Private Files of the Shadow

The definitive issues of DC’s pulp classic The Shadow collected and re-colored.

For a generation of comics fans, the first six issues of DC’s The Shadow in 1973-74 represent the definitive version of the 1930s pulp detective hero. Writer Dennis O’Neil conjured up appropriately complex and violent potboilers, but it was the lavish artwork of Michael William Kaluta that etched the short series indelibly into the ranks of the classics. In 1988, DC collected those stories, along with a new Shadow thriller written and drawn by Kaluta, into a handsome hardcover edition that pre-dated the DC Archive series but anticipates their high-quality approach.

The first story re-introduces the Shadow and his 1930s world to a 1970s audience. The Shadow himself is a rather cold and unapproachable figure, more a plot device than a full-fledged hero. The sympathetic characterization is carried by his cast of agents and assistants, such as Margo Lane, Harry Vincent, the chauffeur Shrevvy and the communications officer Burbank. The Shadow stories, as developed in the pulps and on the radio, are conventional puzzle-mysteries with moments of action supplied by the Shadow’s violent confrontations once the criminal has been revealed.

Because of this formula, the appeal of The Shadow depends significantly on atmosphere, and that’s what Kaluta supplies in spades. His artwork renders architecture and fashion in exquisite detail, like a 19 th century etching. The composition is precise; the violence is explosive. The whole look effectively captures the style of 1930s pulp illustrations. The third story, inked by Bernie Wrightson, and the sixth, a tour-de-force by Kaluta featuring a confrontation with a Ninja assassin in New York’s Chinatown, are the artistic highlights. Unfortunately, the enterprise was unsustainable as Kaluta started falling behind on deadlines and was eventually replaced by the alarmingly-different Frank Robbins (not reprinted in this volume). The bonus story, written and drawn by Kaluta in 1988, recaptures the early magic.

The Private Files of the Shadow edition is a great way to enjoy all these stories on good paper, re-colored by Lovern Kindzierski and Elaine Lee. The original edition may be out of print, but DC will probably find a way to get this classic work back on the bookshelves before too long.

 

 

The Private Files of the Shadow

DC Comics, 1988

HC, 128 p. full color, original price $19.95

Writer: Dennis O’Neil, introduction by O’Neil

Artist: Michael Kaluta (artist)

 

 

 

 

 


Rob Salkowitz is a Seattle-based writer and authority on all manner of aging newsprint. You can e-mail your comments and queries to Rob at rob_comics@yahoo.com. Use "ComicBase" as the subject line.

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