THE SHADOW: THE FIRE OF CREATION by Garth Ennis & Aaron Campbell
Garth Ennis loves violence and war themes in the comics he writes. Still, until Dynamite Comics tapped him to be the debut author for their new Shadow comics, I hadn’t thought about him writing the character. When I did hear about it, and after I saw the fabulous cover art for the first issue, I got really excited.
The Shadow: The Fire of Creation is a good Shadow pulp novel, and I do mean novel rather than comic book. True, the story is relayed in sequential art, but it feels more like an actual novel laid out across the pages. There are a number of characters and story lines that all converge at the end in a panoramic spray of violence.
When I think of the Shadow, I think of Chinatown, New York City, daring escapes through alleys and dark nights strung across the metro area. Evidently when Garth Ennis things of the Shadow, he thinks of multi-layered plot and the grim specter of World War II taking shape around the globe.
The story is compelling and moves along at an adventure film clip pace that establishes the characters and the stakes, and spends a healthy amount of time using dialogue to set up all the backstory. As I read, I kept imagining what the graphic novel would look like as a movie, which may be how Ennis and artist Aaron Campbell envisioned the final project.
However, I wished there had been more Shadow action, .45s blazing, chases, narrow escapes. Instead, there was a lot of Lamont Cranston waxing eloquent on one thing or another, pulling rank like Batman, and bullying people – even friends and lovers – into doing whatever he wants them too. To me, this Shadow isn’t a likeable guy, not just the grim avenger who metes out justice to criminals. He was interesting to watch, but I didn’t feel compelled to understand or align myself with him. He was too cold and impersonal.
The secondary characters have a chance to step up and take center stage for a time during the novel, and they’re as over the top and as colorful as anything you could ever hope to read in the original pulp novels. Ennis has a great hand on them and he does a lot toward unveiling history and culture at the time in broad strokes.
Aaron Campbell’s art is really good, kind of edgy and unfinished in some respects, so it looks raw and intense. There is a lot of darkness on the pages even in the daytime. He also captures the Shadow’s arrogance in the stance of the character in the slouch hat and as Cranston.
Evidently Dynamite Comics is going to let different authors into the wheelhouse to write scripts in the series, so it will be interesting to see how the Shadow changes from story arc to story arc.