The Golden Age of comics always has its place, even in the modern era. Dynamite Entertainment is one of the companies that is continuously whetting our appetite for heroes of the past. One of their biggest assets is Matt Wagner, a writer and artist who has a real knack for writing Golden Age material without making it seem dated. Wagner has brought to life the old Sandman, as well as Green Hornet and Zorro. This month, he delves into The Shadow with the first issue of Year One.
Wagner brings in elements mainly from the radio series. For instance, he uses the age-old alter ego of Lamont Cranston, a wealthy man about town, instead of the old print name of Kent Allard, an aviator who fakes his own death. This story is set between when Cranston first develops his psychic ability and when he decides on the look and name of The Shadow. We first see Cranston in a small South American village, where he pretends to be a legendary spirit of vengeance in order to take out a drug czar. Cranston returns to America at the cusp of the Great Depression. Prohibition is in full swing. Criminals run rampant. It’s a time that calls out for The Shadow.
I won’t lie; The Shadow: Year One #1 is a slow roll. Wagner paces this story very deliberately and there’s little to no action. The plot centers on three elements. The first is Cranston’s return to America and his quest for justice. The second is a crime lord named Guisepppe “Joe” Massaretti, who is quickly rising to power (this is also how we meet Shadow love interest Margo Lane). The final element is a snoopy reporter, looking to bust open the secret life of Lamont Cranston. Wagner painstakingly sets up these three intersecting tales, not letting The Shadow to be seen until the last page. It’s very much a Golden Age pacing, which might not sit well with all readers.
For those who love The Shadow, the content of this eight issue series will either be nirvana or cause for bitterness. Up until now, The Shadow has operated largely in secret. Wagner sets out here to shed light on what brought Cranston back to the states, his first dealings with Margo Lane, how he came up with the costume, even how The Shadow set up his ring of agents. Some will be intrigued by all the new information, while others will see it as unnecessary and an easy shill for Dynamite.
As is usual with Dynamite, the art here is subpar. Wagner isn’t penciling The Shadow, that chore falls on Wilfredo Torres, who doesn’t really shine. There is no detail to his work, nothing that gives the panels any real depth. Solid, uninteresting backgrounds are there for uninspired human forms to dialogue over.
Torres’ inks are particularly upsetting. The Golden Age was known for the hard lines and thick, heavy black inks. Torres uses light inks, which take away from the overall feel. Colorist Brennan Wagner uses mostly dull earth tones to tell the story, which doesn’t help the art pick up any bang. Skin tones tend to mesh with clothing colors, background buildings all blur together. The whole thing is quite unsatisfactory.
Matt Wagner’s exceptional writing skills save The Shadow: Year One from dreary art and glacial pacing. Will this be a successful run? Only The Shadow knows.
(3.5 Story, 2 Art)