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Radio: The Shadow

"Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!"

The Shadow began in 1930 as the host/narrator of a Radio Drama anthology series, introducing stories adapted from the Street & Smith Pulp Magazine Detective Story Magazine. Announcer Frank Readick buried himself in the role, chilling the airwaves with his haunting laughter. Intrigued, magazine buyers began asking for "that Shadow magazine." Not ones to pass up a profit opportunity, Street & Smith commissioned magician turned writer Walter Gibson to create the first story for their new magazine starring and named for the mysterious Shadow.

First published in April 1931, and continuing for 325 novels, The Shadow Magazine was hugely influential in the creation of other pulp heroes, and eventually the Comic Book superheroes. The pulp Shadow, although established as the same person as the radio announcer in the first issue, was a Chess Master who used a small army of agents and informants to manipulate both criminals and the police, until the final confrontation, when he would take a direct hand.

This popularity led to a Shadow radio series in 1937, initially starring Orson Welles. The stories were greatly altered to fit the format of a half-hour radio drama. Lamont Cranston, one of the Shadow's many aliases, was made his Secret Identity. The army of agents was replaced with "constant companion" Margo Lane. And most famously, the Shadow was not merely a Master of Disguise who was good at hiding in the dark, but could actually become invisible by clouding people's minds!

The radio series was a hit, lasting for decades with several changes of lead actor. The Shadow has also had several Comic Book series, ranging in quality, and a movie serial.

The most recent adaptation was the 1994 film, which stars Alec Baldwin. A new movie is now in development with Sam Raimi at the helm.

Not to be confused with the Fairy Tale "The Shadow" by Hans Christian Andersen.


This work provides examples of:

  • Anti-Hero: The Shadow is very firmly a Type IV. He ruthlessly manipulates his targets into ruining their lives and exposing themselves, and then brutally guns them down, laughing like a psychopath as he does it. He keeps a huge network of loyal contacts whom he takes care of and treats extremely well, but he also firmly removes their ability to choose in the matter, and makes none-too-subtle threats towards them should they betray him He never even really makes a claim to being a hero. He simply channels his evil tendencies into killing villains, hence his catchphrase of "Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?"
  • Animal Assassin: Appears in "Garden of Death"; not surprising since it was a staple of the pulps.
  • Badass in Distress: The Shadow himself, briefly, in The Romanoff Jewels.
  • Bait-and-Switch Gunshot: Standard practice in the radio drama, as you never know who's been shot until the survivor actually speaks up.
  • Canon Immigrant: Margo Lane, created for the radio series, eventually showed up in the pulp stories as well.
  • Catch Phrase: See the page quote. Also, "The weed of crime bears bitter fruit. Crime does not pay. The Shadow knows!"
    • Some of his earliest episodes instead ended with, "As ye sow evil, so shall ye reap evil. Crime does not pay. The Shadow knows!"
    • In DC's Neil\Kaluta comics he also had "The Shadow never fails!"
  • The Chessmaster: The Pulp Shadow.
  • Coat, Hat, Mask: One of the earlier examples of this trope.
  • The Cowl
  • Dark Is Not Evil: Author Walter B. Gibson designed him to be a hero with villainous characteristics.
  • Dirty Communists: Mostly averted in the novel The Romanoff Jewels, as one group of villains (the ones that the Shadow was originally chasing) were actually Czarist. The other villains, while Bolshevik, are acting not so much on political principles as much as good, old-fashioned ass-covering (the Bolshevik baddie was a man charged with guarding the titular jewels, and wants them back solely to avoid the... unpleasant... results of failure, and is not picky about who he has to kill or torture to get them). Their ruthlessness, however, would put them in this camp, if Communism had anything substantially to do with the plot.
  • Disney Death: In the radio airing of "The Blind Beggar Dies," The Shadow tricks Spike Grogan and Marty Nelson into thinking that they kill him so he could avoid his actual death. It's not the only time.
  • Disney Villain Death: Used in DC's Neil\Kaluta and Jones\Barreto comics.
  • Evil Laugh: He may have been on the side of the angels, but the Shadow's laugh was creepy as all hell.
  • Follow the Leader: A radio series called The Avenger was an obvious attempt to copy the success of the Shadow series, right down to the hero, Jim Brandon, being a mind-reader with the power to turn invisible, though he used electronic gadgets and chemicals rather than the Shadow's hypnotism and telepathy.
    • Famously, The Batman franchise was a major example.
  • Good Is Not Nice: Although completely good, the pulp Shadow frightens his own agents and demands unquestioning obedience. The effect of this on the agents is explored in the DC comic series.
  • Guns Akimbo: The pulp Shadow's weapons of choice were twin Colt 1911s.
  • Hypocrite: There are other examples, but a particularly egregious one is an episode called "The Silent Avenger" in which Lamont goes on and on about how society is so evil for creating the main villain of the story, a shellshocked sniper, for it teaches men to "take life in time of war and respect it in time of peace". This from a man who cackles evilly after he gets half his Rogues' Gallery to kill themselves and who doesn't really care if a poor blind kid who was being manipulated by an evil hunchback blows his own brains out rather than get arrested because "law and order must prevail". You want to feel free to make a comment on "respecting life"? Stop tricking your enemies into blowing their own brains out!
  • Joker Immunity: Completely averted. Whether he kills them directly (the pulps) or tricked them into killing themselves (radio show), the Shadow never lets his enemies live. If they villain survives to the end of the story, he's coming back for a sequel in which he will be killed.
  • Karmic Death: Happened sometimes in the pulps, but almost constantly in the radio show, due to broadcasting standards meaning the Shadow couldn't be quite so bloodthirsty.
  • Luckily My Powers Will Protect Me: Once an Episode, the radio Shadow will remind someone that they cannot see him, because he's clouding their mind.
  • Master of Disguise: The pulp Shadow had several identities, including the one usually considered his alter ego, Lamont Cranston. Cranston was a real person, and the Shadow could fool people who knew Lamont, with something like Latex Perfection.
  • Meaningful Name: In the radio show, the criminal Ms. Jean Harsh.
    • In The Romanoff Jewels, Frederick Froman is one. He picked the name "Frederick O. Froman", due to "F.O. Froman" being a Significant Anagram / Sdrawkcab Name for "Romanoff" — he was actually a scion of the Imperial family.
  • Mighty Whitey: The radio Shadow learned his ability to cloud men's minds "years ago, in the Orient", a secret his teacher did not see fit to teach the local students.
    • Not even the teacher's own daughter, who appeared in the early episode "The Temple Bells of Nehban".
  • Mook Horror Show
  • Multilayer Fašade: The radio Shadow had several of these, Lamont Cranston being the most famous.
  • Perception Filter: In the radio series. Notably, the Shadow achieved this by "clouding men's minds," and so did not have to worry about many of the usual problems with this power (although he did have to avoid cameras, and sometimes more exotic methods of exposing him were used).
  • Police Are Useless: The police in the Shadow radio dramas are almost hilariously bad at their jobs when they're not being racist Irish stereotypes or dirty cops. Commissioner Weston, the head honcho, almost never listens to Lamont and Margo's ideas even when it's obvious that Lamont's been right in his "cuckoo theories" time and time again. He never figures out the "how" or "why" of the crimes unless Lamont indirectly or directly helps him, and he's always arresting the wrong people until the very end of the story. In fact, without the Shadow, Weston probably couldn't catch anyone.
    • Somewhat averted in the pulps, where the police, while they can't hold a candle to the Shadow, are usually at least minimally competent (especially Joe Cardona), and Weston, though often befuddled, at least realizes and appreciates when Cranston hands him a good idea.
  • Psychic Powers: The radio Shadow, in addition to clouding men's minds, sometimes demonstrated telepathy and an ability to detect the presence of danger.
  • Punch Clock Villain: David Tholbin in The Romanoff Jewels counts as one. He's joining in with Froman and the Czarists solely for two reasons — for an astronomical amount of money and a chance to court Betty Waddell. It doesn't keep karma from catching up to him.
    • Harry Vincent might just qualify, at first, as a Punch Clock Hero — in The Living Shadow, his primary interest, at first seems to be that his mysterious benefactor saved his life and has set him up with a cushy lifestyle, all for the price of total obedience.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: The very first Shadow novel, The Living Shadow, originally had no Chinese characters involved. However, Street and Smith, trying to get the first issue published as soon as possible (to capitalize ion the popularity of the radio character) but also hoping to contain any possible damage should The Shadow Magazine be a failure out of the gate, recycled a cover from a 1919 issue of their detective stories magazine. This showed a Chinese man cowering from a menacing shadow. Walter Gibson, once he was aware of the intended cover, quickly rewrote his story to include a Chinese connection.
  • Rich Idiot with No Day Job: Lamont Cranston, amateur criminologist. In the pulps, there was a real Lamont Cranston, whose identity the Shadow had borrowed while the man was out of the country on an extended tour. This caused a bit of a problem when the real Cranston suddenly returned. In later stories, the real Cranston sometimes assisted the Shadow in pulling off a "two places at the same time" gambit.
    • Howard Chaykin's 80s revamp had its own real Lamont Cranston, quadroplegic billionaire Preston Mayrock, who was decidedly more sinister and active than the original.
  • Rogues Gallery: Consisted mostly of one-shot villains, but quite a few of the Shadow's enemies made multiple appearances. The most notable foe in this regard would be Shiwan Khan, who made a total of four appearances. Others who made multiple appearances were Voodoo Master (three), the Prince of Evil (three), and the Wasp (two).
    • Among the one-shots, we have: Gray Ghost, Blue-Face, Five-Face, Zemba, Gray Fist, Black Dragon, Silver Skull, Red Envoy, Red Blot, Dr. Z, the Blur, and the Cobra, plus a host of others.
  • Roma: In the pulp novel "Malmordo", the eponymous villain uses prejudice against "Gypsies" to make it appear as though they're his allies. In fact, they were simply being charitable to what they thought were penniless refugees. The Shadow speaks Romani fluently, by the way.
  • Scarf of Asskicking: The Shadow's red scarf is probably his most iconic visual element. The film gives Alec Baldwin a prosthetic nose every time he dons it so the Shadow's gigantic beak pokes out over it.
  • Secret Identity: Lamont Cranston, in the Radio Drama.
  • Secret Identity Identity: Lamont Cranston, although it only comes into play when he returns from his journeys abroad.
  • The Shadow Knows: Trope Namer
  • Shamgri-La: Where the Shadow learned his powers.
  • Shrouded in Myth: The Shadow has this reputation in-universe. His true identity is Kent Allard. But there's a body inside the plane that Kent Allard crashed in...
  • Sound to Screen Adaptation: Adapted to film in the modern era with Alec Baldwin in 1994.
    • There are also a few less-remembered films from the 1930s: 1937's The Shadow Strikes and 1938's International Crime. These starred Rod LaRocque as Lamont Cranston/The Shadow.
  • Stealth Expert: The pulp version didn't have invisibility, instead being a master of disguise and able to hide in shadows.
  • Superhero: The Radio version, with his psychic invisibility and other telepathic powers, was arguably the first proto-Superhero.
  • Superhero Sobriquets: The Shadow has been called both The Master of Darkness and the Knight of Darkness. The former is older, while the later may have been invented due to the popularity of Batman's own sobriquet "The Dark Knight".
  • Two-Fisted Tales: The Shadow was one of the great pulp characters.
  • Yellow Peril: Shiwan Khan, one of the Shadow's recurring villains, as well as a number of one-shot villains.
    • Subverted as well. The pulp Shadow has Asian allies.
    • On at least two episodes of the radio show, the "obvious" Chinese villain turned out to not be the episode's killer (though in both cases he was guilty of other crimes). In one of those episodes, "Bones of the Dragon", Cranston is in Chinatown visiting friends.
    • Subverted in the very first pulp: the Chinese villain turned out to be a white man in disguise.


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