[Editor’s note: This review may contain spoilers.]
[No Title] Part 1 of 6 (20 pages)
Writers: Scott Snyder and Steve Orlando
Artists: Riley Rossmo
When an Arkham Asylum employee named Lamont Cranston is murdered, Batman investigates and is immediately attacked by the killer, a mysterious cloaked figure calling himself The Shadow. Somehow this mysterious stranger is able to cloud the mind of the caped crusader in order to effect his getaway, but not before leaving behind the murder weapon, an ancient dagger, and piquing Batman’s interest, by mentioning his grandfather, Patrick Wayne.
Batman then traces the identity of the cloaked man, determining he also is named Lamont Cranston, and is an ancestor of the murdered namesake. Batman then interviews a series of former associates of the Shadow, learning that at one point he changed his name to The Master and gathered around himself a new group of operatives, both more loyal and more maniacal that the first crew.
Batman then traces The Master to his base of operations, where artifacts in a secret hotel lair lead him the French Alps and Henri Ducard, “the world’s greatest manhunter,” and one of the people the Dark Knight turned to for training before his formative years.
Now, as it turns out, Ducard may have been the Shadow all along!
Artist Riley Rossmo was a revelation for me. I’ve not encountered his work before that I recall, and I immediately Google him up, in part to find out if Riley was, in this case, a boy’s name or a girl’s name. He’s a boy, as it turns out. And he’s been active in the industry for about a decade, so I ought to have run across him before this. And, in point of fact I have, but somehow didn’t notice. He did Issues #7-8 of the New 52 Batman. But his Batman is not unlike Greg Capullo, so it must have slipped by me.
But what impressed me here is how Eisner-esque his overall art style and character designs are. Batman, Ducard, Det. Montoya and other main characters are drawn realistically, as are The Spirit and his army of femme fatales, but other secondary characters are done in a more cartoony style, like Commissioner Dolan and Ebony White, that makes them more expressive and interesting to look at, but they’re not so exaggerated that their appearance distracts from the story. From the murderous bellhop to walk-on parts like Officer Grogan, the minor characters help bring this issue to live and, oddly enough, it’s their cartoon appearance that somehow gives the story depth and makes it feel that much more real. And poor Lamont the Younger. Just the look of him makes him seem like such a dear, sweet guy, I really was kind of pissed of when he was killed. But we see the body, so he’s more than just dead, he’s what we used to refer to back in the day as “Bucky-Dead.”
Speaking of back in the day — way, way back in the 1970s, during the David Michelinie/Bob Layton era of Iron Man, there was an issue (don’t ask me which one exactly, I forget), in which a Stark Industries grunt employee, not at all unlike our Mr. Cranston, comes home from work and is attacked by the villains du jour (I want to say it was Whiplash, but I forget that, too). What I will never forget, however, is the man’s remorse when his dog is killed in the attack. Oh, man, that scene absolutely broke my 13-year-old heart at the time. So much so that, to this day, whenever there a scene in a comic book, movie, or TV show where a pet is hurt or killed, I think of that old Iron Man scene. Anyway, what I found interesting here is that the Cranston murder is almost a mirror image of that scene in brought to mind, in that here is is the human, not the pet that is killed, yet the sense of loss is the same, in part because the creative team chooses to give is a crippled dog to whimper over the fate of its master. And I could not help but yell at the book in the crime investigation scene that followed, “What about Russell?! Oh, my God! Will somebody please say what happened to Russell!!”
The story also makes great use of the Bat-Ops computer A.I., enough so that, if it could serve tea, Batman wouldn’t need Alfred at all. The story also does a nice job of drawing parallels between Batman and The Shadow. It’s interesting that as he discovers The Shadow’s mastery of disguise and creating false identities, he’s in his own fake persona of Matches Malone.
Also interesting is the way in which former associates and operatives of the Shadow are brought into the tale, this time in contracts to Batman, who tends to work alone, a fact highlighted in this issue by the complete absence of any member of the Batman Family save the Bat-Ops. And yet, whereas The Shadow kept a coterie of subordinates, Batman’s most trusted associates tended to be masters he trained under, such as Ducard, which makes it all the more jarring to suddenly suspect Ducard might have been The Shadow.
Oh, one quick aside, it tickled me to no end, in the scene where Lamont arrives home and plays his phone messages, to see a shout out given to The Maniaks so soon after I dedicated an entire Time Bubble column to them. I’d like to think Snyder and Orlando included that deep cut as a wink to me, personally, but I know the must have scripted that bit long before I wrote that column.
Although I give highest praise to Rossmo, there were a few artistic choices that confused me. Because all of the masks in The Shadow’s secret lair seem to be hanging in mid-air, I momentarily took them to be holograms, maybe past victims of this more murderous version of he who knows what evil lurks. Deciding that, no, they’re just masks of The Shadow’s many identities took me out of the story momentarily.
Also, Bat-Ops makes a 100 percent match between the dagger used to kill kill Lamont the Younger and The Strict Contestor, the sword Ducard used when training Bruce Wayne in his pre-Batman days. Yet the two look nothing alike in form, and are described differently in function — the Contestor being made, we are told, of Brazilian Rosewood, and the 50,000 year-old dagger, which appears to be made of stone, but certainly is too old to have been carved from a tree found in the new world.
I also found myself taken out of the story by the tour through The Shadow’s old gang, including Margot Lane. I’m not familiar enough with Shadow pump stories to know any of them except Lane, so, quite frankly, I felt like my lack of knowledge was being rubbed in my nose a bit with these scenes. Of course, the feeling did send me to Google to look up all of the names mentioned. So, that all worked out to the good and was very educational. However, if these people were adventuring with The Shadow in the 1930s, they should all be centenarians by now. Or, more likely, they should all be dead. Even by comic book rules where time turns more slowly, I could not help but think to myself, how is this conversation even happening? That person should be about 112! And even where we get not the original operative by a dependent, such as the daughter of Shadow chauffeur Moses Shrevnitz, the math does not work. This girl looks to be in her 20s, how could her father have been that age in the 1930s? I mean, we’re told The Shadow’s original Lamont Cranston persona had a 1900 birthdate and that he died in 1963. Moses, generally depicted as older than the Shadow would be at least 100 now. He had a kid in his 70s, or 80s? I mean, my grandfather was born in 1917 and I’m 49 now. So, again, if Patrick Wayne palled around with Lamont the Older, as we are led to believe, wouldn’t that put Batman in my general age range? Granted, it is sometimes hard to think of a character as younger than me when I began reading his adventures as a 6 or 7 year old, but Batman should be mid- to late-30s max, I should think. That would put Patrick Wayne in his prime in the 1950s, not the 1930s.
The same math conundrum goes for Cranston’s decedent. We aren’t told if the namesake was a son or grandson, but he was said to be 33 at time of death, which wold give him a 1984 birthdate, which works with the original Cranston’s death in 1963, but not by a lot.
Meanwhile, we have the operatives of The Master being described as multi-generational, which does add a compelling creep factor. But these peeps came in after the original allies were kicked to the curb, so having those same agents still alive and kicking was another knock on my suspension of disbelief.
The only other thing that sort of drew me out of the story, apart from The Shadow being an apparent cold-blooded killer of his own kin, was his Shade-like ability to shift in and out of corporal form, as if a living Shadow. Now, granted, in order for The Shadow to sill be around, he must have picked up some mystic abilities, and I’m sure we’ll get some good reason why it only looks for now like he’s a killer. Still, I kept thinking to myself, “Aw, c’mon, THAT’S not The Shadow!”
So, we’ll have to wait and see if it is or not. We have five more issues of this DC/Dynamite series to go. I will mention, too, that this issue took me about 15 minutes to read, and that counted lingering over Rossmos drawings here and there, and going back once or twice to figure out what I missed (as with the dagger, and masks). So, that’s about at the limit of my tolerance for a $4 book. To feel like I’ve really got value for my entertainment dollar, I think a book with that kind of a price tag to occupy a little bit more of my time.
A cool book with a cool hook and some truly fabulous art, and yet tying The Shadow so closely to his original timeline, and Batman so conspicuously to the current day, does create a juxtaposition that doesn’t quite work.