Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Pulp Comics: The Shadow: Blood and Judgement by Howard Chaykin

In 1986, DC comics chose Howard Chaykin to to reboot a property they had the rights to, but was currently languishing unused: The Shadow. Chaykin agreed to write and draw the book, but only if he could tell the story he wanted. Part of that was bringing the Shadow into the era modern to the writing of the book. Chaykin's done a lot of work, and is heavily influenced by pulp/Appendix N writers. But, is this pulp? More importantly, is this the Shadow? Note: There will be spoilers in this essay.

The Good

Chaykin does violence very well, and action filled comics are his forte. He created Dominic Fortune for Marvel, one of the Marvel characters I truly enjoy. For the historical segments of this book, Chaykin did a lot of research into 1920's-30's architecture and Eastern dens of iniquity. Chaykin also has a nearly perfect drawing style for the mid 80's- square jawed men, broad shoulders, and women to drop the jaw of any red blooded male.He also illustrates the fashions of the times excellently.

To his writing: The plot works quite well for bringing a long absent Shadow back to America. The agents from the old days are getting knocked off one by one, to draw the Shadow back. The ultimate point is for our villain to gain youth and immortality at Shamballa. There's a pretty good portrayal of a version of the Shadow's psychic abilities.

The Bad

Because there is definitely some. Chaykin appears to enjoy drawing sex, or at least its implication, as much as he does violence. And in writing it, he turns EVERY male character into a sex maniac, regardless of age. I truly wish I were kidding, as he's talented in his writing and his art. There's no sense of fidelity, and I don't recall the Shadow being a womanizer from my previous readings(There's a ton of novels, and I've only read a very few.), nor do I recall him treating sex frivolously. I could be wrong here, I freely admit, but I get the feeling this is more due to personal tastes and predilections, and casts light on his collaborations with Samuel Delaney.

I'm also not really a fan of modernizing the Shadow. The book feels more dated than if it had been a period piece. I'm not saying it can't work, but the temporal nearness make it a glaring product of the age it came from. This is also some of the problem with superhero books: the fashions, technologies, and politics portrayed tie them to a specific time, and impose limits on immersion. As a period piece, it becomes more a fable, and more able to translate to the modern world at the same time.

Now, to the "contemporizing" of the Shadow that Chaykin did. Firstly, Shamballa is not a mystic place, nor are his powers derived from such practices. They are instead, products of super-science. Chaykin, in interview stated he didn't care for mysticism, labeling it as racist. Of course, he appears to completely ignore religion whenever possible in his writing. The Shadow's son's are of mixed blood(Look! The Virtue Signal!), and just as degenerate sexually as their father.

Honestly, after this I'm likely done getting anything by Chaykin. He doesn't know squat about actual goodness, and his Shadow doesn't even have another effective persona, to tie him to the world around him(he's in all of one scene).

Is it pulp? Is it THE SHADOW?

Well, I would have to say that it is a pulp story, though one with a fixation on sex.  This is the seedy side of things, and I don't mind dens of iniquity being portrayed in proper context(It is appropriate here, as part of the origin, though other scenes are not). The thing is, I don't see why the Shadow would even come back if he were as self-centered as portrayed here. The violence of the Shadow? No problem, he's here to take out trash. But the Shadow was also a HERO. This guy? Nope.

Chaykin has talent, make no mistake. I just wish he had an understanding of Justice, and not the false equality libiertinism he spouts.

When you play Social Justice, the world loses.

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