|SECRET ORIGINS OF
The year was 1930. To boost sales of their Detective Story Magazine, pulp publishers Street and Smith decided to sponsor a weekly, Thursday night radio program where an announcer read stories from the magazine. Rather than referring to him as "the guy who reads the stories," Street and Smith's ad agency suggested naming him The Shadow.
As the show developed, the announcer playing the Shadow (James La Curton) began to get into the role -- speaking in a haunting, whispery voice, laughing mysteriously, telling his audience "Crime does not pay," and asking "Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?"
It had been hoped that the program would stimulate sales of Detective Story Magazine, but soon customers began asking their newsstand dealers for "that Shadow magazine." Street and Smith knew an opportunity when they saw one, and quickly created a brand new pulp entitled The Shadow, to be published four times a year. But who would write it?
For years, journalist Walter Gibson had been turning out newspaper features and magic magazine articles that ran the gamut from daily magic tricks and puzzles to explaining ancient mysteries, methods of fake spirit mediums, and even crooked carnival games. He'd also written several books about the methods of his friend, Houdini. When he contacted Street and Smith editor Frank Blackwell about getting some work, he ended up being assigned the first issue of The Shadow. Asked to come up with a pen name, he invented the alias "Maxwell Grant."
With journalistic speed, Gibson turned out the first Shadow adventure in just a few weeks. Its working title was Murder in the Room Next Door. But when he turned in the story, he discovered that there was no budget for cover art. Street and Smith were planning on using the only piece of stock art they could find with a shadow on it. But that shadow was cast by a frightened Chinese man -- and since there were no Chinese men in Gibson's story, he had to rewrite it to include one.
Gibson handled the daunting task of adding depth to a shadow like a master. He created a mysterious presence, an almost supernatural being clad in black who warred on crime with the aid of a group of agents he himself had recruited. In his first adventure, The Shadow operated largely behind the scenes, and was more supporting player than star. He preferred communicating with his agents in obscure codes and signals, and appea
red in person only at the last minute, to rescue operatives from inevitable doom. Before handing in the final version, Gibson' changed his working title, Murder in the Room Next Door, to the far more suitable The Living Shadow. The pulp's cover painting was taken from an old issue of "Thrillbook," and altered only slightly to emphasize the shadow.
To Street and Smith's surprise, the first issue, dated April, 1 1931, nearly sold out. The title was soon promoted from quarterly first to monthly, then twice a month! How many writers did it take to produce two complete novels a month -- an average of 120,000 words. Astonishingly, the answer was just one -- Walter Gibson, who was hired as The Shadow's regular writer.
The Shadow quickly grew from a supporting character to the unrivaled superstar of the entire pulp industry. Only Doc Savage, the globe-trotting adventurer who was one inspiration for Superman (just as The Shadow was an inspiration for Batman), even came close.
Over the years, Gibson created a small army of agents for The Shadow, including right-hand man Harry Vincent, reporter Clyde Burke, gangster Cliff Marsland, insurance agent Claude Fellows, cab driver Moe Shrevnitz, and mysterious communications chief Burbank. The lovely Margo Lane, a creation of the radio program, was eventually added to the pulp's cast as well. Other reoccurring cast members included ace detective Joe Cardona, and Police Commisioner Ralph Weston.
The series went through several changes in format and frequency during its 18-year run, which finally ended with the summer 1949 issue, The Whispering Eyes. The character was revived for a relatively short run in a series of paperbacks that began in 1963 and ended in 1967 with The Shadow's final text adventure, Destination: Moon.
John Nanovic edited The Shadow pulp series from 1931-1943. Of the 325 Shadow novels published, Lester Dent (Doc Savage author) co-wrote 1 (with Gibson), Bruce Elliot wrote 15, Theodore Tinsley wrote 27 -- and Walter Gibson wrote an amazing 282, a feat that should make even John Grisham tremble.
Those who know The Shadow only from the radio program, or the 1994 film starring Alec Baldwin, don't really know The Shadow at all. The Shadow -- the real Shadow of the pulps -- did not have the power of outright invisibility. He had only what might be described as "literary" invisibility.
Gibson's skillful writing expertly walked a fine line between the real and the fantastic, describing a shadowy, almost supernatural being with the ability to blend into shadows, but not actually become one. An unexpected flash of light could still expose him -- but criminals unfortunate enough to actually see him usually ended up wishing they hadn't.
As Jim Steranko (cover illustrator of the Pyramid/Jove Shadow paperback reprint series) put it, "The Shadow didn't believe in the death penalty -- he was the death penalty."
Who knows who made all the Golden Age superheroes killers? THE SHADOW KNOWS! The Shadow (and Doc Savage) were the original inspiration for ALL super-heroes, and since imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, the heroes kill because their inspiration, The Shadow, killed! But just who IS The Shadow?
The Shadow Unmasks!
Contrary to popular belief, The Shadow's secret identity is NOT Lamont Cranston. There is a real man named Lamont Cranston, but The Shadow merely "borrows" his identity at times. In fact, The Shadow often takes on a number of different identities, including a man named Henry Arnaud, and even a janitor named Fritz -- but these, too, are aliases. Who, then, is The Shadow?
The Shadow is, in reality, Kent Allard, a renowned WWI aviator. The Shadow first revealed his true identity in The Shadow Unmasks (August 1, 1937, cover pictured right). Here's the story, as told by The Shadow himself:
"I was actually a (WWI) ace. Winning air battles seemed to come to me naturally; and I gained a preference for night flights. The enemy called me The Dark Eagle. They were glad when they shot down my plane.
But I was not shot down. I landed by design; and drilled the gas tank of my own ship. Wearing a black garb, I traveled by night, on foot, within the enemy's lines. I entered prison camps, yes; but never as a prisoner. I visited them only to release men who were held there, to guide them in their escape.
By day, I adopted disguises, and working entirely on my own, I contacted our secret agents. That was when I learned my faculty for penetrating the deepest schemes.
I became a roving secret agent, and finally located a secret air base maintained by the enemy. It seemed suicidal to visit the place and map it. They actually trapped me after I had finished. But my experience as an aviator served me. I escaped from the base itself, in one of the enemy's own planes.
The war ended. I found that aviation offered part of the life I needed; but it provided neither the action of battle, nor the keen work of the secret agent. I rejected the idea of becoming a soldier of fortune. I considered warfare an uncivilized institution except when absolute necessity required it.
I saw such necessity in the field that others had neglected. Crime was becoming rampant in America and elsewhere. Underworlds were organized, with their own hidden battle lines. Only a lone foe could pierce that cordon; once inside, he would have to move by stealth, and strike with power and suddenness. I chose that mission.
I resolved to bury my identity. I flew south and landed in Guatemala. I spent a few months among the Xincas and gained their friendship. I came home, disguised so no one could recognize me. I became The Shadow.
I had once known Lamont Cranston, millionaire globe-trotter, whose hobbies were exploration and aviation. Cranston was often absent from the country; so I adopted his appearance. It gave me all the advantages I needed.
I visited Cranston as The Shadow. I let him see me as himself (Shadow #209, cover pictured right). That visit gained Cranston's full cooperation."
The Living Shadow
But there's more. Several stories infer that somewhere along the way, The Shadow's face was hideously mutilated. Although this possibility has never been stated explicitly, it has been alluded to many times -- initially in the very first Shadow story, The Living Shadow (April 1, 1931). A gangster whose ability to recognize agents of both law enforcement and the underworld had earned him the nickname "The Spotter" told of a time he saw The Shadow:
"I seen The Shadow..." said Spotter eagerly. "I looked for his face. I saw nothing but a piece of white that looked like a bandage. Maybe The Shadow ain't got no face to speak of. Looked like the bandage hid somethin' in back. There was a young guy once who the crooks was afraid of -- he was a famous spy in the War, and they say he was wounded over in France -- wounded in the face. I think The Shadow is this guy come back."
Apparently, The Shadow's facial wound was severe enough as to virtually obliterate his features, or, as The Black Master (March 1,1932) remarked upon seeing The Shadow's face, "The secret of The Shadow. At last it is understood! The man of many faces -- with no face of his own!"
Dead Men Live
When The Shadow assumes his many faces, his appearance is often described as "masklike" -- with good reason. In order to create the many different faces he employs, The Shadow apparently wears some sort of wire-frame contraption that he uses as a base upon which to build his various disguises. In Dead Men Live (November 15, 1932), a description of The Shadow applying a new face is given:
"The Shadow's hands appeared (holding) what appeared to be a thin mask of wire gauze, no more than a skeletal framework, filled with a few solid patches."
(The Shadow fits this device to his face, an action not described, and bends forward towards a mirror.)
"Into the range of light came a head and a strange, weird reflection from the mirror. It was the image of a man who seemed to have no face! Guised with the colorless surface of the thin mask, only The Shadow's eyes were visible as they glowed through a plastic mass of grayish hue."
The Shadow's Shadow
Has anyone ever seen The Shadow's real face -- and lived? No! But one man did see it -- and died. The Shadow's actual, undisguised face was exposed in The Shadow's Shadow (February 1, 1933). The story details international criminal mastermind Felix Zubian's plan to discover The Shadow's secrets.
Zubian managed to uncover the identities of several of The Shadow's agents, and eventually succeeded in tailing The Shadow in his Lamont Cranston guise -- becoming the Shadow's shadow. In the final chapter, The Shadow confronted Zubian. Zubian shot The Shadow -- and here's what happened next:
"Zubian's snarl became a cry of triumph as he saw The Shadow roll upon the floor. The slouch hat was carried away by the bullet. The head of the Shadow lay obscured beneath the folds of his cloak.
In that wild moment, Zubian thought he had slain his enemy. He did not realize that The Shadow's plunge had allowed him to escape the shot: that the black hat alone had received the bullet.
Zubian was aiming to fire further shots, to make sure of the Shadow's death; but he never accomplished that final purpose.
An arm swept upward from the floor. Behind it came those glowing eyes; but it was not the eyes that stopped Felix Zubian. He was staring into the face of The Shadow -- not the disguised features of Lamont Cranston or Henry Arnaud -- but the visage of The Shadow himself!
What Zubian saw there; what expression on The Shadow's countenance made even that fiendish villain gasp in horror; no one could ever know. For Felix Zubian knew his last moment of life in that fateful instant.
His trembling finger faltered on the trigger o
f his gun. The Shadow's unfailing hand did not yield. The last shot that was fired on that night came from The Shadow's automatic."
What "expression" could make a killer like Felix Zubian gasp in horror? It was hardly Kent Allard sticking his tongue out. Although we can never be certain, it was most likely the sight of the Shadow's mutilated face, since it is explicitly stated that The Shadow's face was undisguised.
Only The Shadow Knows
The Shadow's scarred countenance, or, as Walter Gibson called it, his "horror face," explains much. It accounts not only for his extraordinary skill at disguise, but also his incredible remoteness from society and his shunning of intimacy.
But Gibson never explicitly revealed the true story behind The Shadow's face (at his editors request), and so this is, in all likelihood, a mystery that will never be fully solved. The actual appearance of the Master Of Darkness' face will forever remain something only The Shadow knows!
NOTE TO THE READER: How do, I, Robby Reed, author of this article and creator of this blog, know so much about The Shadow? Well, In House Of Mystery #161, September 1966, I actually used my Dial to transform myself into "Shadow Man" (as pictured left)! My adventure as Shadow Man lasted for only three pages, but I have to tell you, those were some of the greatest pages of my entire superhero career! It was a tremendous honor to be the Shadow, or even a blatant rip-off of him, if only for a while, because The Shadow is one of my FAVORITE superheroes of all time. Those were the days!