This is a Shadow that has lost his teeth.
What They Say:
Revolutionary Part 2 (of 4) – The Shadow finds himself face to face with George Orwell smack dab in the middle of the Spanish Civil War, but his mystic powers fail to illuminate what significance this literary legend holds for the world. No time to figure that out! The Shadow’s campaign against a murderous gang of gun runners takes him on a tour of Barcelona’s underbelly where he meets the beautiful and dangerous Black Sparrow! But is he really an old friend in disguise? Pause to ponder that and you might miss the deadly dogfight over the Spanish countryside. Pack a parachute, Shadow, because you’re going to need it!
Writer: Victor Gischler
Artist: Aaron Campbell
Colors: Carlos Lopez
Letters: Rob Steen
The Shadow finds himself in Spain, led by vague, mystic feelings that his presence is needed there. He comes into conflict with a group of gun runners using the Spanish Civil War to their advantage and tangles with a lovely, yet deadly, woman warrior calling herself the Black Sparrow. The Shadow also meets a young British soldier named George Orwell, but who he is and what role he plays in this latest adventure remains a mystery even to the clairvoyant crimefighter. All of this leads to a death-defying showdown in the air.
One of the aspects I loved about the way Garth Ennis wrote The Shadow was the sense of menace he imparted to both Lamont Cranston and his alter ego. He seemed like a force of nature, a wraith barely contained by a vague-yet-powerful code of conduct that directed his menace towards the guilty and away from the innocent.
Unfortunately, under Gischler, The Shadow tries far too hard and falls far too short. His menace is undercut by his internal dialogue. Under Ennis, the only views we were given into Crantson’s mind were the brief glimpses he afforded to his lover and confidant, Margo Lane. Because Lane stood as a proxy for the reader, we were subject to the same power dynamic that played between the two: Cranston was in control and Lane—while trusted and valued—was his second. Our view of Cranston was tinged by her feelings: he was sexy, dangerous, and possessed of a knowledge and power beyond mortal ken.
Lane has been replaced by Miles, an affable sidekick whose main job appears to be chauffering The Shadow by car, plane, or whatever means available. While the power dynamic was clearly in favor of Cranston with Lane, it was much more fluid and porous than it is with Miles. Miles cracks jokes, tries to use The Shadow’s mind tricks on others and fails miserably. If Lane was The Shadow’s second, then Miles is his third. The comic clearly conveys that while he is useful, Miles does not warrant the same amount of respect.
While the interplay between Miles and The Shadow does work to diminish the character’s menace and power, there’s something more that I frankly can’t quite identify. It’s not the art, as Aaron Campbell was performing that duty back when Ennis was writing the comic. It’s something ineffable within Ennis’ take on the character that was conveyed through dialogue (and at times lack of dialogue) and the way he structured the plot. This is a Shadow that has lost his teeth.
From a reviewing perspective, this makes for an interesting issue as there is nothing concretely wrong with it. Campbell’s art, Lopez’s colors, and Steen’s lettering all work well together and fit the tone and content of the story. A new villain is introduced—the femme fatale calling herself The Black Sparrow—that provides an Elektra/P’Gell adversary/provocateur for The Shadow, and a rather creepy mastermind calling himself El Cid. There is a fun action sequence involving planes and in-the-air acrobatics, but this defanged Shadow casts a pall over everything, making it an unsatisfying read.
The Shadow is a character that has transcended his creator and exists beyond individual artists, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t subject to the style and artistic choices of the people currently crafting his stories. Garth Ennis did a wonderful job of capturing the dangerous and appealing aspects of The Shadow. Such a wonderful job that Victor Gischler’s take on the character pales considerably in comparison. While there is nothing concretely wrong with this issue, it’s just not satisfying given that the main draw—the magnetic charisma of the protagonist—is practically nonexistent. Plot is certainly important, but in cases like this where the plot involves such an iconic character, how that character is portrayed matters even more and, unfortunately, it just doesn’t work.