October 15, 2013

Bitter Fruit: A Review of Dynamite's THE SHADOW NOW

To be honest, I'm not a big fan of "modernized" pulp comics - mostly, I think taking a classic character and placing him/her in a modern context can seem jarring. However, when I heard that David Liss and Colton Worley - who did a great job in bringing The Spider into modern times - were writing a new Shadow series (called The Shadow Now) for Dynamite, I had confidence that they would do a pretty decent job....

However, I was not all that impressed with the book, and hope that it redeems itself in the next few issues.

It's not bad - it kicks off into high gear plot-wise from page one, but it never quite feels right. Much of it is the writing - Liss' use of the Shadow as a first person narrator seems wholly inappropriate (in fact, the Shadow comes across as a mix of hard-boiled detective and exposition machine). We are brought up to speed very quickly - the Shadow's posing as his Lamont Cranston III (his own great grandson), and he had left his crime fighting efforts to rejuvenate himself. After finding that his current organization is less than efficient, he finds himself in a world where his ability to cloud men's minds....well, in a world with laser gun sights and 24 hour surveillance, it can be a challenge. In short, the Shadow finds himself outplayed as an old enemy resurfaces on the cusp of victory....

....and the story just seems too mechanical, as if Liss used TV Tropes as a reference guide. It's not terrible, but the pieces never quite seem to come together. Many of the changes in Liss' Spider - most notably in one or two key relationships - give the book a greater sense of drama and heighten the stakes; here, it seems mostly to be modernization for its own sake. There are some clever touches, but it never quite feels right. (I will give it three issues, but in all fairness, the kickoff issue of The Shadow Now does not motivate me to actively seek out the second issue.

Although I loved Worley's art in The Spider, some of the artistic choices seem a little forced (like giving Cranston/Shadow an everlasting case of red eye). It's not bad, and the layout/composition of many pages is excellent, but on the whole, it's a case of too much ambition not paying off out of the gate.

Modernizing pulp heroes seems to be the rage these days, and perhaps my involvement as a potential writer and current copyeditor for pulp publications has colored my perspective. The Shadow Now is not a bad book, but its first issue is rather weak. Here's hoping that the next few issues grow stronger.

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