Sunday, January 13, 2013

365 Comics...13: The Shadow Annual #2 (1988)

I haven't had much of a history with the Shadow save for the 1994 Alec Baldwin movie which I quite hated. I've heard people say it's misunderstood and that it's supposed to be both camp and pulp but any time I've tried to watch it again (which may have been twice in the past 18 years) I can't invest much more than two minutes before I have to flee.

I've never read the pulps, never listened to the radio plays, and I don't think, until recently, that I've read rare than one or two comics.  So, what I'm saying is I don't know the Shadow, any more than I know what evil lurks in the hearts of men.

l do, however, know Kyle Baker.  He's one of my favorite artists, and a few years ago I learned (or was reminded... whatever) that he basically started in comics with a run on the Shadow in the 80's. I wasn't even a teen at the time so a book from DC featuring a guy in a trenchcoat and fedora that had NO ties to superheroes wasn't much on my radar then... Except that I remember the cover to the Shadow Annual #2 quite distinctly as it was quite prominently advertised in DC's comics that year.

Every so often I go through these collector phases where I start bin picking as many of the books from a writer or artist I like until eventually the whim leaves me, or I get distracted by something else.  When  I discovered Andy Helfer and Baker's Justice, Inc. mini-series-- which I loved-- during my Baker collecting fixation, I knew I had to get their Shadow work together even though I wasn't all that keen on the character.  I wound up finding for cheap a 6 issue run of The Shadow # 14-19 a few years' back but my lack of interest in the character kept the books in nerd storage (where things are acquired with the intent to appreciate but languish, squirreled away leaving only the cold comfort of possession) until recently. 

Issue #14 picks up immediately after the Shadow's death, and the subsequent issues are a madcap farce of pulp adventures and excessive vigilanteism. I can't tell if Helfer reveres or despises the character and/or the genre he sprang from, but those 6 issues are insane... like unbelievably so particularly given the time and the fact that it was a licensed property.  I could see an indie book of the era marking all sorts of insults upon its books' protagonists' corpse but this... roughly 25 years later... it still seems ballsy (of course the book was cancelled with issue #19, where the Shadow had his reanimated head attached to a suit of robotic battle armor and was set to face off against his greatest enemy who, voluntarily, had the exact same thing done.  Yeah,I don't think Helfer really cared about protecting the image or brand of the character).

This Annual #2 takes place between issue # 15 and 16 and was explicitly referenced in the latter's pages, so it seemed to the completist in me that I had to have it.  Plus, seeing that cover again tweaked some nostalgia buttons.

It's not as zany or bizarre as the main storyline at the time was, but Helfer and Baker certainly maintained their less than serious tone for this homage/rip-off of Citizen Kane (it's even dedicated to Orson Wells) as a wanna-be reporter searches for the meaning of the Shadow's last word, "Lenore".  It's frequently silly, and at times long-winded, but definitely a fitting and perhaps integral part of understanding the Helfer-era Shadow.  I could see this being a very polarizing book, because it's so antithetical to the character's nature and intended tone, and at the same time it really is fun (and often funny). 

Helfer does some really entertaining scripting,but for me it really is the Kyle Baker Show.  His style has changed pretty drastically in recent years as he's delved futher into utilizing animation styles and techniques, more pure cartooning than illustrating but here his distinctive line work shines.  It's a master class in surreality, where perspective and proportionalism don't even remotely require an adherence to reality.  I love his characters' over-gesticulating, hyper-expressive physicality, which here seems the perfect compliment., or rather additional accent to Helfer's words.

It's not "important'' and it won't be to everyone's liking but this is a buried gem of the 80's... if only for those of a certain disposition.

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