The Shadow 1941: Hitler’s Astrologer

By Dennis O’Neil, Michael William Kaluta, Russ Heath & various (Dynamite Entertainment)
ISBN: 978-1-60690-429-9

In the early 1930s, The Shadow gave thrill-starved Americans their measured doses of extraordinary excitement via cheaply produced pulp periodical novels, and over the mood-drenched airwaves through his own radio show.

“Pulps” were published in every style and genre in their hundreds every month, ranging from the truly excellent to the pitifully dire, but for exotic or esoteric adventure-lovers there were two stars who outshone all others. The Superman of his day was Doc Savage, whilst the premier dark, relentless creature of the night dispensing terrifying grim justice was the putative hero featured here.

Radio series Detective Story Hour – based on stand-alone yarns from the Street & Smith publication Detective Story Magazine – used a spooky-toned narrator (variously Orson Welles, James LaCurto or Frank Readick Jr.) to introduce each tale. He was dubbed “the Shadow” and from the very start on July 31st 1930, he was more popular than the stories he related.

The Shadow evolved into a proactive hero solving instead of narrating mysteries and, on April 1st 1931, began starring in his own printed adventures, written by the astonishingly prolific Walter Gibson under house pseudonym Maxwell Grant. On September 26th 1937 the radio show officially became The Shadow with the eerie motto “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of Men? The Shadow knows!” ringing out unforgettably over the nation’s airwaves.

Over the next eighteen years 325 novels were published, usually at the rate of two a month. The uncanny crusader spawned comicbooks, seven movies, a newspaper strip and all the merchandising paraphernalia you’d expect of a smash-hit superstar brand.

The pulp series officially ended in 1949 although Gibson and others added to the canon during the 1960s when a pulp/fantasy revival gripped the world, generating reprinted classic yarns and a run of new stories as paperback novels.

In graphic terms The Shadow was a major player. His national newspaper strip – by Vernon Greene – launched on June 17th 1940 and when comicbooks really took off the Man of Mystery had his own four-colour title; running from March 1940 to September 1949.

Archie Comics published a controversial contemporary reworking in 1964-1965 under their Radio/Mighty Comics imprint, by Robert Bernstein, Jerry Siegel, John Rosenberger and Paul Reinman. In 1973 DC acquired the rights to produce a captivating, brief and definitive series of classic comic sagas unlike any other superhero title then on the stands.

DC periodically revived the venerable vigilante. After the runaway success of Crisis on Infinite Earths, The Dark Knight Returns and Watchman, Howard Chaykin was allowed to utterly overhaul the vintage feature for an audience at last acknowledged as grown-up enough to handle more sophisticated fare.

This led to further, adult-oriented iterations and one cracking outing from Marvel before Dark Horse assumed the license of the quintessential grim avenger for the latter half of the 1990s and beyond.

Dynamite Entertainment secured the option in 2011 and, whilst reissuing much of those other publishers’ earlier efforts, began a series of new monthly Shadow comics.

A year after Howard Chaykin and DC catapulted The Shadow into the grim ‘n’ grungy contemporary arena the dream-team that had first returned him to comic-book prominence reunited for a larger-than-life grand romp, ably abetted by the inking skills of master artist Russ Heath.

Denny O’Neil and Michael Kaluta had produced a stand-out series of adventures in the early 1970s (collected as The Private Files of the Shadow), set in the mad scientist/spy/gangster-ridden ‘thirties, and when they reunited to produce a Marvel Graphic novel expectations were high. As it turned out, in many ways that complex and devious yarn was the final chapter in that astounding graphic procession. In 2013 Dynamite re-released Hitler’s Astrologer with the entire affair re-mastered by Mike Kelleher, finally doing justice to the colouring of Mark Chiarello, Nick Jainschigg and John Wellington – as well as letterer Phil Felix – which had nor fared well under the production processes of the time…

On Easter Sunday 1941 a beautiful woman is pursued through the teeming crowds of Times Square theatre-goers by sinister thugs until rescued in the nick of time by agents of The Shadow.

She is Gretchen Baur, personally despatched to America by Josef Goebbels to gather astrological data for the Reich’s Ministry of Propaganda. However, now the confused fräulein cannot understand why agents of her own government have tried to abduct her…

The Shadow reveals that she is an unwitting pawn in a deadly battle for supremacy within the Nazi Party that revolves around her father, Der Führer’s personal astrologer…

And thus begins a tense and intricate conspiracy thriller that ranges from the bloody streets of New York through the killer skies of Europe to the very steps of Hitler’s palace in Berlin as a desperate plan to subvert the course of the war comes up hard against a twisted, thwarted love and a decades-long hunt for vengeance.

Deliciously and suitably Wagnerian in style, this action-packed mystery drama exudes period charm; nobody has ever realised The Shadow and his cohorts as well as Kaluta, whilst Russ Heath’s sleek inks add weight and volume to the cataclysmic proceedings.

This sinister saga of the man in the black slouch hat with the girasol ring is another superb addition to the annals of the original Dark Knight, and one no one addicted to action and mystery should miss.
The Shadow ® & © 2013 Advance Magazine Publishers Inc. d/b/a Conde Nast. All Rights Reserved.