May 01, 2017
The Shadow of the Moon!
It's the Shadow vs. UFOs, what more do you need?
Collectors of all sorts, not just those obsessed by four-colored tomes, know what it's like to come across something that you just have to have. In some cases it's something that's just always out of reach - usually due to price or scarcity. But other times, in those rare instances where the stars are in alignment, you can instantly get your grubby hands on that item you never knew you wanted or needed right until that moment. For me, one of those moments came with the Shadow Volume 7, number 10, published all the way back in 1947. Yes, I know the cover says January 1948, but it was on the stands before then.
Granted my copy of the issue is a little worse for wear, but it is over 70 years old and all there. And just look at that cover image. Have you ever seen something so simple, yet bizarrely absurd and magnificent at the same time? It's a giant image of the Shadow (well, just his head and arms) punching a flying saucer, with many, many more just leaving Earth, with a giant image of the moon thrown in for good measure. It's an abstract image, for sure, and instantly catches the eye because it just doesn't make sense.
A little back story. The famous Roswell, New Mexico UFO incident happened in the summer of 1947, which seemed to kick off the UFO craze that dominated popular culture in the 1950s and 1960s and still exists even today. Think of how zombies are just, well, everywhere today. UFOs and aliens were the equivalent 60+ years ago, and this is one of the first comic books to try and capitalize on the trend - and it made no sense.
The Shadow, you see, is a crime fighter and an inspiration for Batman. Sure there were tinges of science fiction or fantasy in some of his stories, his power of invisibility or to "cloud men's minds" for instance, bits of super science/secret formulas, and so on, but for the most part they were relatively grounded tales of crime noir. Having him travel to outer space seemed like a stretch. For another character like, say, the Shadow's Street and Smith publications pal Doc Savage, it would make more sense. Doc Savage was an adventurer in the truest sense of the word. Sure he'd battle super criminals, but he also had deep roots in science fiction. Yet for some reason the Shadow was chosen to fly into space. It's likely this had more to do with popularity than logistics.
And it did prove popular, as evidenced by the scores of imitators shortly after in the comics world. Most notably Batman, the Shadow's spiritual kin, would find his world turned upside down. Where before he would do battle with madmen and outlaws, now Batman would find himself routinely traveling the cosmos and battling alien threats for the next 17 years!!
That is a tale for another day. Today our focus is on the Shadow (Lamont Cranston) and his investigation on strange UFO sightings across the world...
Things to note when reading the Shadow comics. Many of them were adapted from the pulp novels, but pared down to fit the length of a comic story - about 12 pages here. As such many crucial elements get lost in translation, including characterization. Here we see that the Shadow's main character trait has been deftly narrowed to being a dick, and his stalwart girlfriend Margo Lane is now a whiny diva. Look at Lamont, he's got the same smirk on his face in each panel.
Although to the best of my knowledge this UFO tale was not adapted from the pulps, it's nice to know the writer still kept the characterizations so on the nose. Good job!
So, unperturbed, Lamont gets an airplane and flies to the mountain for a closer look...
Did I mention that the Shadow is a dick? Not just for calling Margo an idiot for not packing a parachute (he never actually let her in on his plans, so how that makes her an idiot I don't know). I'm pretty sure Margo wouldn't have worn a short skirt and heeled sandals if she knew she might have to jump from a plane, she probably would've picked something more sensible. The Shadow is also a dick for donning his "cloak of invisibility" while leaving Margo with no such accoutrements. They are clearly entering hostile territory and Lamont believes Margo won't need to conceal herself because... T&A? Honestly that's the best I can come up with.
Oddly enough that seems to work out as Margo promptly gets captured and...
It took Margo an hour to get dressed in that outfit. I'd imagine the tricky part was getting her boobs to stay in place each time she tried putting on that ridiculous top. And, did I mention the Shadow is a dick?
So the UFOs aren't alien, just some crooks launching them to the moon using volcanic fire. Look, I didn't write this, I'm just relaying the facts.
So they need Margo to play the Moon Queen because the workers are Moon Cultists who believe a Moon Queen summoned them? Sounds about as plausible as anything else so far - that is to say, not at all.
Of course the commander immediately knows the Shadow is involved, what with him being invisible and all. It couldn't be his men succumbing to volcanic fumes or something less crazy than an invisible man? Come to think of it, how did the commander move so fast - in one panel he's in front of Margo being held by 2 guards, next panel the guards are down but he's already got Margo, third panel she's in the UFO and he's turning on the gas.
So the Shadow hops on board and he and Margo go to the moon...
It's usually at this point that the story completely loses it for me. I always find myself getting blocked by a few points...
Moonitex. Okay, I guess that can be a thing?
And they are breathing what, exactly? Not oxygen, that's for sure.
And how do they manage to survive a hard landing on the moon inside a metal ball? They don't even have helmets!
And why is the sky red in one panel?
And how is the one guy talking without a mouth in the second-last panel?
And the cultist workers are so thrilled by the arrival of their queen - their MOON Queen who came from Earth instead of, you know, the MOON - they all just shrug and go back to work.
Ah, screw it. Whatever, they're on the moon. I'm going to try and enjoy this.
So they need compressed air to work in the moon mines, to launch spheres back to Earth, but to breathe on the surface of the moon...
Atmosphere factory? Seriously? The unguarded source of breathable air is just left wide open, and the Moon Master just lets a complete stranger in Margo roam wherever she likes unsupervised?
I know you'll think I've cut this off prematurely but no, seriously, this is how the story ends. No explanation of what happens to the moon colony. No aftermath of the people on Earth being, like, Holy Shit We Can Travel To The Moon! Nothing. They're on the moon for a couple of pages and escape almost immediately without a hitch because a man who has developed space travel couldn't bother to place guards around sensitive equipment.
Look, this isn't what you call a great story, even by 1947 standards. The art is fairly decent for 1947, but it's clear that the writing is lacking. The writer did try to turn it into a crime story, so it could fit into the Shadow's world a bit better, but you could tell they were struggling to make this all work, and focused on action and... other "stars" to cover the short comings.
It's not so much the subject matter or simplistic/goofy story - most of the Golden Age was just as Bat-shit insane. What it boils down to is it just doesn't live up to the cover. Granted the cover had a giant Shadow punching UFOs, that's a pretty hard image to live up to.
Ultimately this story is unfulfilling. Sure, it has those campy, zany moments that make it interesting, and I think it fits the insanity that is the Golden Age of comics well, but the lack of a clear resolution makes it feel like you're only getting part of the story and in the end, in spite of the fantastical material, it just ends up feeling like a curiosity instead of a classic.
Still love that cover though.
Thanks for reading.