The Shadow #2 (Dynamite Entertainment)
This comic has me conflicted.
Not about reading it, or loving it. This is definitively something I need to read and recommend, and I know I’m going to feel strongly about pretty much every page. Rather, I’m conflicted about where to start this diatribe. There’s a choice, see, two starting points that are equally valid and important. I’ve been staring at my computer screen for minutes, silent and static before even writing this much. All this was meant to do was quiet the terror of the blank page but now I’m lost in the mire.
Let’s flip a coin.
I knew this comic was going to be good the moment that Si Spurrier was writing it. He’s the genius behind some of the deepest, most complex, and politically charged comics of the modern era – and, yes, he’s British and so there also a stint on Judge Dredd and the associated stuff, but coming out of that he’s done the Spire and God Shaper and Weavers and Cry Havoc and… listen, if he’s working on something it’s going to be great and full of a simmering anger at social injustice and the complacent idiocy that allows corruption to fester.
Mind you, Dan Watters is not a writer to pass over, either. He lives and breathes in the darkest parts of the human imagination, having written Limbo and Little Nightmares and Assassin’s Creed. Each of those titles speak of the societal ennui that has murdered the soul of a generation that knows there is nothing for them, that the lies of their parents have led to a nightmare from which there is no waking.
Lastly, there are artists Daniel HDR and Natalia Marques, the former of whom adds moody inks and ghostly lines to the latter’s eerie color palettes and love affair with shadows. Something this bright should not be this haunting, and yet…
With that in mind, could there be a better character for them to write than the Shadow? You’d be hard pressed to think so; the Shadow stares unblinking into the evil that lurks in the hearts of every living thing. Traditionally, this means that the Shadow fights gangers and thieves and the like, the symptoms of crime rather than the causes. Is this truly what the Shadow, above and beyond any other hero, would be fighting?
Yes, there’s anger and hate and evil in the gangs and thieves and all the rest, but the police are all too happy to shoot and kill people they even suspect of doing bad things, regardless of whether they do them or not. We have all sorts of fictions dealing with crime lords and their lackeys finding judgment at the hands of some reckless madman with a gun, which only leads to more madmen and more guns.
The question is often asked: why don’s superheroes deal with real world problems?
The answer is that superheroes deal with the real world problems of their worlds, but the Shadow is unique in that his arch-rival is literally the evil that lives in the heart of every living thing. He’s shooting gang members, sure, but that doesn’t actually fix the problem of institutional racism and enforced propaganda and media compliance that makes those gangs look like the only way out of a terrible situation.
Street gangs, terrible as they might be, are still only a symptom. They’re victims of generational abuse that are lashing out, a reflection of the pride and greed and wrath that have hurt them and degraded them and demeaned them time and again. The same pride and greed and wrath that feeds false narratives and pushes for border walls and thinks racism will make anything great and looks back at false histories and believes in alternative facts.
The real causes are the people that hide behind corporate personhood while crashing national economies to make themselves rich, that ignore the health and suffering of the people they steal from to make themselves a little wealthier, that believe that an accident of birth gives them the right to a pride they have done nothing to earn. The real causes are the people that are killing the planet and everything on it to feed a strange death cult that venerates the worst impulses of the human soul.
And who looks unblinking into the heart of human evil?
The Shadow. The Shadow knows.
He is alone in this, sad and evil. Sad because he is alone and immortal, more force of nature than anything human. Evil because he has stared into the abyss too long, his laughter tinged with the madness he found there, an insanity he uses to keep the evil at bay as much as he uses his guns to cleave the cancer out. There is no forgiveness for some things, and salvation has always been the lie those who do evil use to abdicate responsibility. The Shadow knows all of this and is terrifying because of it.
So bring him into the modern world, bring him into reality and turn him loose. Burn him and steal his memories, lock him away and try to forget he exists. The Shadow knows. Give him the chance to recover and he will come for you, a righteous madman full of anger, written by two writers and an artist that understand the broiling rage of eight billion suffering souls that have been lied to in order that they might feed a paltry few. Their work comes down from the highest authority.
Jack Kirby once said, “You fellas think of comics in terms of comic books, but you’re wrong. I think you fellas should think of comics in terms of drugs, in terms of war, in terms of journalism, in terms of selling, in terms of business. And if you have a viewpoint on drugs, or if you have a viewpoint on war, or if you have a viewpoint on the economy, I think you can tell it more effectively in comics than you can in words. I think nobody is doing it. Comics is journalism.”
Who are any of us to doubt the King?