Friday, February 12, 2016

The Shadow in Autumn

The Shadow: Midnight in Moscow (2014-2015/Collected 2015): written and illustrated by Howard Chaykin; lettered by Ken Bruzenak: Nearly 30 years after writer-artist Howard Chaykin's violent, addictive, and stylish comic-book take on pulp hero The Shadow, The Shadow: Blood & Judgment, comes this slightly less over-heated but equally stylish and enjoyable graphic novel about the Weird Avenger of Crime.

The suits are all crisply pressed, the men and women gorgeous when they aren't grotesques, and the writing as sharp as ever. Chaykin hasn't changed much since the 1980's, and that's great in his case: why improve on a certain type of almost decadently sharp artwork and witty, often trenchant writing? All that and he can still stage an action scene or weave socio-political commentary into a retro-pulp adventure.

It's late 1949 and the Shadow contemplates retirement. Though as gal-pal Margo Lane notes on more than one occasion, he doesn't seem to be aging the way everyone else is. This could very well be a prequel to The Shadow: Blood & Judgment, which saw the Shadow come out of his retirement in the 1980's from a hidden Tibetan utopia when someone starts killing off his former lieutenants in his war on crime of the 1930's and 1940's. 

Has Chaykin mellowed? This time around, the hyper-violence is muted and most of the interpersonal relationships handled without the satiric, sometimes comically dismissive tone of The Shadow: Blood & Judgment. Whatever the reason, this Shadow won't offend some Shadow purists the way Chaykin's earlier story did. There's action and romance here, but there's also an elegaic quality to the proceedings. The aftermath of World War Two has left a world that doesn't want pulp heroes any more, in our reality or in the Shadow's where those heroes were a reality and not simply a publishing phenomenon.

But anyway, there's a wittily different femme fatale. There's a roll call of Shadow villains, lieutenants, and associates. There's an uncomfortable Shadow as Kent Allard as Lamont Cranston dancing with Margo on New Year's Eve (in the pulps, the Shadow was an American aviator named Kent Allard who occasionally also operated as millionaire Lamont Cranston -- but Cranston was also an actual, separate person in the pulps, though not always so on the radio show where the Shadow first appeared, seminal multi-platform superhero that he was). There's funky super-science and one wild space-shot. Atomic war may be a growing possibility, but not while the Shadow is still on duty. 

It's all great fun, with a real sense of melancholy and that permanent sense of Chaykinesque style. Highly recommended.

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