The Saturday Comics: The Shadow

4 Jun

June 4, 2011

Who Knows What Evil Lurks In the Hearts Of Men?

The Shadow Knows!

I refer, of course, to perhaps the most famous show OTR ever produced.

So who was The Shadow?

“Years ago in the Orient, The Shadow learned a strange and mysterious secret, the ability to cloud men’s minds so they cannot see him”

Or “using advanced techniques that may one day be available to law-enforcement, The Shadow fights crime as invisible as the wind, as inevitable as a guilty conscience.”

In his everyday identity, The Shadow is “Lamont Cranston, wealthy young man about town.”

Or an amateur criminologist. Or sometimes he was the best friend of the police commissioner.

Usually he was just some rich guy who stumbled into plot to rob a bank, or spent the night in a haunted mansion, or ran into his double, who just happened to be newly released from prison and planned to frame Cranston for war crimes or something. The show ran for almost three decades so the quality depends on when the episode was made. It could be a supernatural show with ghosts one season, a show where Cranston foils attempts at art forgery the next season.

But it doesn’t matter. An invisible man is the perfect character on radio- everyone is invisible. It’s radio, everyone is a disembodied voice. No special effects were needed. All they did was give his voice some echo and poof! He’s The Shadow.

BAD GUY 1: We got Cranston locked up in the vault. No one can get in or out, see?
BAD GUY 2: Hey! The vault is empty! What happened?
SHADOW: Ha ha ha, Cranston is gone, I am the Shadow!
BAD GUY 1: How did you get in? And what happened to Cranston? He was here just one second ago.
 SHADOW: Heh heh heh!

Once you suspend a ton of disbelief, this is a really good show. (Please discount the story where the guy thought he was a gorilla simply because he was hairy, thank you very much.)

On the radio, The Shadow was played by a whole lot of actors, but the first one was the best, Orson Welles. He only stayed for one season but his is the voice everyone remembers.

The Shadow was so popular they made a series of movies about the character. For some reason they never turned him invisible. He was just a silly looking guy in a hat that was too big for him and long black cape that he almost tripped over. Why he didn’t turn invisible is anybody’s guess. Roll film, stop film, actor walks off set, start film, hey! He turned invisible!

The Shadow on film was played, I swear I am not making this up, by a guy named Rod LaRoque. A better porn name is difficult to find. “Rod LaRock.” I suppose Long Cockman comes close. And while we are on the subject of dirty-sounding names, the radio Margot Lane, The Shadow’s assisstant, was first played by Agnes Moorehead.

The movie Shadow is a very different character than the radio Shadow, and for a good reason. Like the comic books and strips, the movie Shadow is based on the pulp fiction version of the character. While an invisible man is perfect for radio, it is kind of boring to watch. In print, The Shadow was a man in a dark cloak and hat. He carried a pair of guns and often used them. There was no invisibility for him, this Shadow had to rely on a perfect skill of disguise. And this Shadow wasn’t even Lamont Cranston, he just pretended to be. Confused?

There was a Lamont Cranston in the pulps and the Shadow did claim to be him but he wasn’t. It was a disguise. The real Cranston was a wealthy playboy. He was usually travelling around the world or away at some glamorous resort. His high-class connections were just what the shadow needed to open doors so while Cranston was away, The Shadow would assume his identity.

The real identity of the Shadow, and you didn’t hear it from me, was Kent Allard, a World War One Aviator.

In addition to the pulps there were many comic book versions of The Shadow, and one of the best was put out by DC in the 1970’s, written by the legendary Denny O’Neil and often illustrated by the equally legendary Michael William Kaluta. And since this was a DC comic, he even met Batman. In fact, Batman claimed it was The Shadow who influenced him to fight crime.

But this is a Saturday Comics installment so let’s tear ourselves away from the comics (which I have a complete set of, including those Batman issues) and look at the rarely seen newspaper strip.

These are pretty hard to find. The strip began in 1940 and ended just two years later when World War Two broke out and the strip’s creators were drafted. Examples are hard to find online but luckily I have my own collection.

Some years ago in the 80’s the strips were collected in comic book form. the paper they were printed on was cheap even by comic book standards and my issues are all very, very yellow, much worse than other comics from the same era. The pages were even printed crooked!

I can’t vouch that the strips are formatted the same way they were as originally printed. Compare the dimensions to the strip above and you’ll see why I have doubts. I am also afraid some panels, like the title panel in the strip above, have been removed totally. At any rate, the odds are you have not seen these strips so sit back and check out an OTR legend and comic strip rarity, The Shadow!

As a bonus, I’m including what may be the most famous single broadcast of OTR, the infamous War of the Worlds broadcast starring Orson Welles and The Mercury Theater.

Special and extreme thanks to Jim of Relic Radio for providing the War of the Worlds. Check out his site for tons of great- and free! radio shows.

More special and extreme thanks to Peter Church of the wonderful Radio’s Revenge podcast for finding the music that opened this page, The Shadow theme.

24 Responses to “The Saturday Comics: The Shadow

  1. bmj2k June 4, 2011 at 12:08 am #

    So, how many years did it take before I realized that I could use html in the title? And audio too? I’ve dragged this blog kicking and screaming into 1998.


    • Mac of BIOnighT June 4, 2011 at 12:40 am #

      Very nice discovery, except that my computer is connected to my stereo (I mean a real one, no computer speakers) and when the voice started unexpectedly and very loud I almost shat my pants >__>’ ;-P
      Anyway, great artwork there, very retro, I love that style 🙂

      (Moorehead – hah! I never thought of that 😀 )


      • bmj2k June 4, 2011 at 12:45 am #

        I honestly expected that to happen to someone. I’ve never stuck audio in here before so I knew no one would be expecting it and thought about sticking in a quick warning at the top, but since the player appears right at the start of the page and there is few second’s lag before it plays I thought that it would be OK. Sorry to startle you, but that was the exact effect The Shadow goes for so you got the real Shadow experience!


        • Mac of BIOnighT June 4, 2011 at 12:49 am #

          Actually, that was the Shadow eperience amplified x thirty ;-P


          • bmj2k June 4, 2011 at 12:52 am #

            And BTW, Peter (Jello Again) Church added the clips at the beginning and end himself, they were not in the original file. (You got the stuff he put on dropbox, right Mac?) The one at the end is pure genius, especially after a pause.


      • bmj2k June 4, 2011 at 12:42 pm #

        The reproduction in the yellowed comic is pretty lousy compared to the strip I posted above it. It isn’t as crisp and I think some of the finer detail work is washed out. The cover of the comic uses the panel of the Shadow shooting out the lamp, blown up and badly colored. This wasn’t a high-end company by any stretch.


  2. Marc Barnhill June 4, 2011 at 8:34 am #

    The radio series also featured “The Man Who murdered Time,” a nifty “Groundhog Day”-like time loop story, in 1939, two years before Malcolm Jameson’s short story “Doubled and Redoubled,” and possibly the earliest such tale.


    • bmj2k June 4, 2011 at 12:26 pm #

      I just listened to that one a couple of weeks ago. It’s a good one.

      I just did a couple of quick searches and found nothing earlier but I wouldn’t be shocked to see something that came before.


  3. JRD Skinner June 4, 2011 at 11:25 am #

    Great post! I need to dig into more of what Jello has shared up on dropbox.


  4. bmj2k June 4, 2011 at 12:47 pm #

    By the way, some of you may (but more likely won’t) recognize that I cannibalized an old blog for much of this.


  5. The Hook June 5, 2011 at 9:11 am #

    What an incredibly underrated character! The Shadow could have been a contender…


  6. Mac of BIOnighT June 5, 2011 at 1:19 pm #

    Come to think of it, there’s an episode of the Batman animated series that pays homage to both the Shadow and the fact that it was one of the characters Batman’s creators were inspired by. I think it’s called “The Grey Ghost” or something.


    • bmj2k June 5, 2011 at 2:08 pm #

      I need to look for that.I’ve heard of it but I never saw it.
      Wasn’t that cartoon great?


      • Mac of BIOnighT June 5, 2011 at 9:29 pm #

        Not as great as it could have been without the stupid, horrible, fascist censorship cartoons are still subject to in most western countries 😦


        • bmj2k June 5, 2011 at 9:43 pm #

          What would you change if you could do this as you wanted, but for the same age range?
          And what would you change if this were an Adutl Swim cartoon?

          If you don’t get the Cartoon Network in Italy you can see what Adult Swim is here:


          • Mac of BIOnighT June 5, 2011 at 10:01 pm #

            The problem is, this should have been an adult cartoon, it visibly wanted to be, but it was turned into a diluted surrogate of what it could have been…
            Way too many people attach the concepts of sex and violence to the word “adult”. That’s not my view at all, just look at today’s cinema: there has never been more violence and sex and films have never been so stupid and childish. Adult to me means mature and deeper. The Batman cartoon could have been just that.
            Adult Swim is interesting, but it still stinks like a mix of ghetto and elite (I like neither). I simply think that a show – regardless of its being animated or live action – should simply be broadcast at a time of the day or night that is suitable for it, with no fuss and no censorship, no spotlights and no barbed wire.


            • bmj2k June 5, 2011 at 10:18 pm #

              Someone needs to take your definition of “adult,” frame it, and stick it in every office in Hollywood. And I think an adult Batman cartoon in that style would have been awesome, but I also think that for the young audience they targeted it was as good as it could have been.

              What do you think of the old Fleischer Superman toons?

              As for Aduit Swim, it is stupid as can be but some of it is totally hysterical.


              • Mac of BIOnighT June 6, 2011 at 11:00 am #

                Actually, if you listen to the commentary on the dvd edition, you will hear that they were forced by censorship to make Batman a cartoon for kids, their original intentions were different 😦
                Superman, just awesome!!! 🙂 I have all the episodes on a very well remastered dvd edition, they are among the most beautifully made cartoons ever. I wonder what happened then, and why all American “realistic” cartoons started to be made hastily and crappily, with no visual talent at all (Italy never produced any anyway)? But these were magnificent. Too bad Bud Collyer doesn’t have a lot of space to show off his talent here 😦
                The other video I can’t watch from my country 😦


    • bmj2k June 5, 2011 at 6:15 pm #

      Voice of Adam West! Bonus points!


  7. elmediat July 26, 2011 at 11:01 am #

    Great info ! The Shadow has been my favourite for a long time. My folks talked about growing up with the radio shows and when I was a kid in the 1960’s the revival of the old shows was a delight. There we were in the junior elementary grades taking about The Shadow, The Fat Man, and Sherlock Holmes. Television’s paltry special effects and mostly mundane content still couldn’t match radio’s the theatre of the mind.


    • bmj2k July 26, 2011 at 11:09 am #

      “Theater of the mind” is the best way of describing radio I ever heard. I think part of the appeal of radio for me is the interactive nature of it. Unlike TV, you need to use your imagination to “see” the action in your mind. I grew up in the 70’s and talked about these old shows with one of my frineds in school and we were probably the only ones who had any idea what we were talknig about. In 1994 we went to an old time radio convention and were easily the youngest ones there.


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