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Literature / The Shadow

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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.

The character in the pulp fiction series was named Kent Allard, a World War I pilot who, after the war, dedicated himself to fighting crime. He dressed in a Coat, Hat, Mask outfit that may be the Trope Maker, and hunted criminals by night. Unlike Batman, who was obviously inspired by The Shadow, The Shadow used guns and wouldn't hesitate to shoot bad guys. He also used magic tricks to confuse villains, and was a master of disguise and concealment. He used a series of secret identities, the most common of which was Lamont Cranston, an Idle Rich man. (Unlike the radio show, where "Lamont Cranston" was actually The Shadow's real name, in the pulps Lamont Cranston was a separate person who sometimes helped The Shadow when both were in New York.) The pulp Shadow was a Chessmaster 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.

First published in April 1931, and continuing for 325 novels (most but not all of which were written by Gibson), The Shadow Magazine was hugely influential in the creation of other pulp heroes, and is considered a forerunner of the larger superhero comics genre. It inspired a radio program that in its turn became one of the most popular shows of the classic American Radio Drama era, running 17 years. There was a comic book and multiple film adaptations, by far the most famous being a 1994 film starring Alec Baldwin as The Shadow.

There have also been a few reboot novels: The Sinister Shadow, 2015, Empire of Doom, 2016 (both by Will Murray) and then another reboot with The Shadow, 2021 (James Patterson & Brian Sitts).

Tropes found in "The Shadow":

  • Animal Assassin: Appears in "Garden of Death"; not surprising since it was a staple of the pulps.
  • Arbitrary Skepticism: In "The Shadow over Innsmouth", the Shadow initially expresses disbelief about fish-men and ancient gods. Margo reminds him that they've seen strange things before.
  • Ax-Crazy: Doctor Foster in "The Nursery Rhyme Murders." He kills people based on Nursery Rhymes
  • Badass in Distress: The Shadow himself, briefly, in The Romanoff Jewels. Also briefly in Green Eyes.
  • Bilingual Backfire: "The Golden Pagoda". At one point, the Chinese crimelord Li Hoang personally executes the guard who not only failed to keep Harry Vincent prisoner, but begged for mercy. He wasn't begging for mercy, he was reporting events accurately and almost screwed up The Shadow's plan. "Li Hoang" was an impostor, who didn't speak a word of Chinese. The Shadow does, knew exactly what the guard was saying, and realized what the real situation was.
  • Cacophony Cover Up: In Gangdom's Doom, gangsters set up a fake riveting crew on a skyscraper under construction to cover up the sound of machine guns being fired at street level.
  • Cape Swish: The Shadow used his cape to block bullets.
  • Coat, Hat, Mask: One of the earlier examples of this trope.
  • Crossover: The Shadow Over Innsmouth is... a crossover with The Shadow Over Innsmouth.
  • The Cowl: The Shadow represents a darker take on hero work and works, well, in the shadows.
  • 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 Villain Death:
    • The Voodoo Master has one, retroactively, in his first appearance. He was supposed to die, but Gibson, the editors, and more importantly, the readers loved Dr. Rodil Mocquino so much that Gibson retconned his death just so he could face off against the Shadow again.
    • This is the fate of the Light.
  • Doomy Dooms of Doom: Over a dozen of the pulps had "doom" in the title. "Bells of Doom", "The Golden Doom", "Room of Doom"...
  • Dueling Messiahs: The Shadow vs The Light. Both think they are fighting the good fight, but they have their differences: The Shadow knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men and judges them not by their thoughts or desires but only when they put that evil into action. The Light seeks to purge all who have tainted souls, even if they are innocent of actual wrongdoing.
  • The Driver: Shreevy, a cab driver in both the novels and the radio show. In the pulps he was one of The Shadow's paid operatives, the official cab driver for The Shadow who operated as part of the gang. On the radio program he was not one of The Shadow's operatives, but was an occasional comic relief character.
  • Evil Counterpart: Shiwan Khan, one of The Shadow's antagonists, had the same ability to "Cloud Men's Minds", and was one of the few villains to appear in more than one novel.
  • Faking the Dead: Kent Allard's origin story had him faking his death in a plane crash in Central America, before making his way to New York and fighting crime under a series of secret identities.
  • Genre Roulette: The pulps could have The Shadow in one story going after gangsters, the next fighting cackling mad scientists, then quasi-mystical descendants of Genghis Khan. It was that sort of title.
  • 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.
  • I Should Write a Book About This: The final page of "The Shadow over Innsmouth" has H. P. Lovecraft make a comment:
    Lovecraft: A shadow? In Innsmouth? I like that.
  • Janitor Impersonation Infiltration: The Shadow had a cover identity as Fritz, the janitor at police HQ, that allowed him to snoop about in the police files to his heart's content.
  • 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 the villain survives to the end of the story, he's coming back for a sequel in which he will be killed.
    • Played straight at least for Rodil Moquino, the Voodoo Master. In two of his three clashes with The Shadow, he seemingly dies, but is back for another round. The Shadow makes sure he's dead the third time.
    • The Japanese agent in "The Fire of Creation" appears to escape, leaving the Shadow with the load of worthless rocks (actually uranium) before World War II breaks out. The comic's epilogue shows him enjoying life in Hiroshima a few years later, then there's a really bright light in the sky...
  • 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:
    • Ms. Jean Harsh is a harsh criminal. No points for subtlety.
    • 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 pulps Shadow had something similar: The Shadow had deliberately lost himself in the jungles of South America long before becoming The Shadow, where he ended up being the "white god" for a native tribe, the Xinca. He learned the language, and eventually brought two Xinca back with him as servants once he resumed his true identity of Kent Allard.
  • Mook Horror Show: In the original pulps, the mooks are terrified because the ungodly terror that can blend in with the shadows is shooting them full of holes and laughing like a madman while doing it. That is, when he's not doing it to them in the guise of just about anyone...
  • Multilayer Fašade: The Pulp Shadow had a number of these as well: Cranston, Isaac Twombley, Henry Arnaud, Fritz the janitor at NYPD headquarters, "Monk" Thurman... the pulp Shadow was such a Master of Disguise that he could pass for anyone within reason.
  • Police Are Useless: 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.
  • Proto-Superhero:
    • One of the most influential of the era, to such an extent that both Batman's creator and Batman himself (in an in-Verse crossover story) acknowledge The Shadow as their inspiration.
    • Though there was a weird period in the 1960s where the Shadow was presented as a full-on superhero, cape, mask, pirate boots, and all.
  • Punch-Clock Hero: Harry Vincent starts out as one in the pulps — the entire reason he joins on with The Shadow as an agent was out of gratitude for The Shadow saving him from suicide, as well as being set up in a cushy apartment. At first, fighting the good fight against crime doesn't factor into the picture.
  • 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.
  • 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 on 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.
  • Resurrected for a Job: Downplayed. The Shadow can't bring people fully back to life, but he can keep them from crossing over for a short while, usually long enough to get information or, in one case, land a plane.
  • Rogues Gallery: The Shadow usually faced a lot of one-shot villains who always got killed off at the end of the adventure where they were featured. However, he did manage to get a gallery of recurring enemies, especially once he branched out into comic books (including several mini-series across different publishers and even crossovers with the likes of Batman).
    • The most notable recurring foe that the Shadow had in the pulps was Shiwan Khan, who made a total of four appearances there and also made a number of appearances in the comic books and was the main villain in the 1994 film. Others who made multiple appearances in the pulps were Voodoo Master (three), The Prince of Evil (three), The Wasp (two), "Diamond" Bert Farwell (two), Isaac Coffran (two), Steve Cronin (four, two times acting as The Dragon to Farwell and Coffran, respectively), and King Kauger (two, one as the story's unseen mastermind). The Shadow also fought the criminal organization known as the Hand (no, not that Hand), with him defeat one of the group's five "Fingers" across different stories, and another collective called the Silent Seven, a conspiracy of underworld criminals which sought to control a violent crime wave in New York City.
    • Among the one-shot villains in the pulps, we have Gray Ghost, Blue-Face, Five-Face, Zemba, Gray Fist, Silver Skull, Red Envoy, Red Blot, Dr. Z, the Blur, and the Cobra, plus a host of others.
  • Saved to Enslave: At least some of the Shadow's agents are persons whose lives he saved.
  • 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.
  • "Scooby-Doo" Hoax: Innsmouth was supposedly founded by a cult of Deep One worshipers, who mated with the locals and made them rich. In fact, they're submarine-using smugglers dressed up as Deep Ones.
  • Secret Identity: Kent Allard. In the pulps, there was a 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. (The radio show simply made The Shadow "Lamont Cranston" and eliminated the duality of the real/fake Cranstons.)
  • Secret-Identity Identity: Lamont Cranston, although it only comes into play when he returns from his journeys abroad.
  • The Shangri-La: Where The Shadow learned his powers.
  • Shrouded in Myth: The Shadow has this reputation in-universe. His true identity in the pulps is Kent Allard. But there's a body inside the plane that Kent Allard crashed in...
  • Significant Anagram: In The Romanoff Jewels, one of the main villains was named Frederick O. Froman. He chose this name himself, as his actual surname was "Romanoff" and a he was distant relation to Czar Nicholas II. "F.O. Froman".
  • Stealth Expert: The pulp version didn't have invisibility, instead being a master of disguise and able to hide in shadows.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: In the sixth Shadow novel, The Death Tower, a Dirty Cop tries to launch an APB for the Shadow after the Shadow eludes his trap. The next chapter immediately begins with the cop's superiors rescinding his order, as they point out the Shadow's only physical descriptors are wearing a black hat and cloak. Not only is this vague, but it could lead to many cases of Mistaken Identity of normal people who happen to be wearing the same clothes. They also remind him that plenty of other criminals have claimed to be the Shadow before, meaning they're not even sure if the man the cop fought was even the real Shadow to begin with.
  • This Is My Name on Foreign: In The Shadow 1941: Hitler's Astrologer graphic novel, the Nazi officer Col. Friedrich Wolff is revealed to be a renegade Russian army officer named Ivan Fedorovich Volko.
  • Two-Fisted Tales: The Shadow was one of the great pulp characters.
  • Unscrupulous Hero: The Shadow has no problem gunning down criminals (or worse, like arranging for them to be institutionalized and lobotomized), intimidating people he saved into being his informants, or even defrauding and impersonating a rich man to keep up the "rich playboy" act. This was used less frequently in the radio versions of the stories but criminals still often met their ends here.
  • 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.
    • Subverted in the very first pulp: the Chinese villain turned out to be a white man in disguise.
    • This was done actually exceedingly sparingly in the pulp novels when compared to other pulps of the time. John Nanovic, the editor for The Shadow Magazine throughout the bulk of its run, did not want "ethnic" villains in the hopes of expanding the magazine's readership and so discouraged Gibson from employing such villains unless there was a story or plot reason.