The Shadow Now by David Liss, Colton Worely, Tim Bradstreet

Make no mistake – this is one very, very, good graphic novel, collecting 6 issues and a complete story arc. Transporting the Shadow’s unflinching violence to a modern era setting was always going to be fraught with difficulty; if done wrong, we’d have had a hot mess. But everything about The Shadow Now is top quality – layered story, beautifully laid out and painted panels, and an avoidance of nearly every cliche in the superhero format. It is hard hitting in the right places and none of The Shadow’s milieu was jettisoned in the process.

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Story: Lamont Cranston returned to the East and performed rejuvenating techniques as the decades passed. When he returns to a modern city, the world has changed but he hasn’t. Is he a relic in a much more sober world or can he still help the people of the City? Shiwan Khan hasn’t forgotten The Shadow in all the years he’s spent in jail; he’s aged but has he repented? Or was he waiting for The Shadow’s return all along? The Shadow is about to find out as everything he left behind begins to crumble.

A lot of what made the Shadow interesting was the innocence of the time in which it was originally set, the 1930s. True to the era of mobsters, the violence was always present and a lot of the Shadow’s battles were with his trademark twin guns. He killed without hesitation (unlike e.g., Batman, Superman, The Green Hornet). That easy violence seamlessly translates into 2014 and the underworlds of Russian and Vietnamese mafia. Very few of the ‘non kill’ heroes could have made the transition work as well as The Shadows does in this story. Recognizing that the violence makes this an adult title, the story is correspondingly very mature.

To bring him into the present, The Shadow work with the descendants of his former colleagues and enlist the aid of others – including Margo’s granddaughter. But Khan also has a granddaughter and she is very much of her grandfather’s mold. Margo and Batu Khan could have been throwaway cliches but here they are given very modern sensibilities. Margo doesn’t fling herself at Cranston’s feet and Batu is very much a troubled teen. Each is willing to do what needs to be done but each has their weaknesses, as well. I really have to give kudos to the author and illustrator for giving us fully fleshed female characters who are neither perfect nor cliche love interests.  They drive a lot of the story, even more so than The Shadow.

The convoluted plot involves a lot of betrayals and playing deep. Khan isn’t a mustache twirling cackling evil foil and the Shadow doesn’t always get it right. There are a lot of very bad characters moving around them and somehow everything feels both modern and yet retains the undercurrent of 1930s Shadow. I am very glad the authors eschewed humor to put a bit more realism into the danger. People die, often, and without a second thought.  There are no long speeches or evil plans, and punches aren’t pulled.

As good as the story ended up being, it is beautifully complemented and enhanced by the art. This is a very cinematic piece, feeling almost like movie stills as with those old “movie in a book” captures from the 1970s. Page layouts are dynamic and I was highly impressed with the quality of everything from the coloring to the painting/lighting to the incredible angles. I was reminded over and over at just how much expertise must have gone into The Shadow Now in order to produce this high a caliber result.

The Shadow has always been one of my favorite characters and it has been a pleasure to see the pulp resurgence in the last few years. I have seen good and bad – serial cartoon 1930s style stories published right next to edgier more modern attempts. This definitely tops all those, even if not set in the 1930s. The change in mise en scene could have been train wreck but it all works so beautifully here.

Highest recommendations.  Reviewed from an ARC.

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