Believe it or not, friends, for a guy who has something of a reputation for being a curmudgeon, sometimes I’m so goddamn happy that I don’t have a care in the world. Seriously. Life can be just perfect, regardless of whatever else is going on. Let me tell you why today was just such an occasion.
I went to the comic shop — it’s new comic Wednesday, so nothing unusual about that — and there it was : the first issue of Howard Chaykin’s The Shadow : Midnight In Moscow from Dynamite Entertainment, the long-promised six-part series that sees one of the masters of the medium return to the character that he single-handedly re-defined nearly 30 years ago in the pages of the instantly-legendary The Shadow : Blood & Judgment, And ya know what? It feels like he never left.
Probably because, in a very real sense, he never did. And I’m not just referring here to the numerous variant covers that he’s provided for other Shadow books since Dynamite acquired the character’s license, I mean that Chaykin has cast a long — errmmm — shadow over the classic pulp icon ever since his one and only outing as his writer/artist, and even though there have been some terrific Shadow stories told by other creators since — Andy Helfer and Kyle Baker’s 1908s series for DC remains a wickedly subversive read and really stands out as an under-appreciated gem to this day, and Garth Ennis had a nice run writing the erstwhile Mr. Lamont Cranston’s exploits in recent years for Dynamite — the fact remains that the the only reason the property endures to this day at all is because of Chaykin’s four senses-shattering issues all those years ago. The rest, including the Russell Mulcahy film? All aftershocks from the main event, dear reader.
Chaykin himself’s done plenty of first-rate work since, mind you — his recently-concluded and criminally-overlooked Buck Rogers mini-series for Hermes Press is a great “jumping-on point” for those of you who may not be too terribly familiar with his work — and he even enjoyed a fairly successful TV writing career for several years (most notably on the original The Flash series for CBS) before returning to comics, but I always hoped, no matter how far afield he traveled (figuratively speaking, of course) that one day he’d come back. And now he has. And like I said, life’s pretty much goddamned perfect.
Not that the book is, mind you, but so what? It’s plenty awesome as first issues go, and even though Chaykin’s pencil and ink work isn’t as tight as it once was, and his writing is somewhat wordy by today’s increasingly-devalued standards, it’s still the best thing on the racks this week by far, and would be just about any week. Like any opening salvo, the main thing Chaykin’s gotta do here is set up mood and atmosphere, and he does that with just as deft a hand as ever, despite this series’ shift back into the past.
I suppose a few brief historical notes are in order here, though, before I leave anyone in the dust : Blood & Judgment, you see, brought The Shadow into the (then-) present day for the first time in decades, and while that made long-time fans nervous, there was no need to worry — Chaykin, fresh off a highly-touted run on his groundbreaking, creator-owned independent work American Flagg! was more than ripe for the challenge of updating a character that had, essentially, never been updated, and he captured the dark charm, mystique, and righteous vengeance at Lamont Crantson’s core immediately. His series was laced with violence, a smattering of sex, and plenty of sardonic “gallows humor,” and by the time it was over, everybody was happy. I’ve honestly never met anyone who’s read that book that doesn’t love it.
So when it was announced that Midnight In Moscow would be taking us back in time — and not to the 1920s/30s, the era where most Shadow stories are set, but to 1950 (to be specific, the story actually begins on New Year’s Eve 1949) — a lot of people were, once again, perplexed. Not your humble reviewer, though : I figured Chaykin was doing what he’s always done best — exploring uncharted territory. We’ve never seen a Shadow adventure set in this time period (at least not in comics), so here, I figured, would be a chance to find out what he was up during some of those “missing” years. So far, Chaykin’s typically daring move seems to be paying off, as the future that we know is coming hangs over the proceedings here like, in the words of the late, great Stuart Adamson, “a blanket on a cage.” The “Big War” is over. The Cold War is looming. And in Chaykin’s view, that might be an even scarier proposition. So why is The Shadow choosing now as the time to —- oh, never mind, I won’t spoil it. Just wait for the last page.
I’ll tell you what, though, friends — before you get to that last page, it’s gotta be said that every page of this book oozes foreboding. While the main details of the plot are still sketchy — in brief they seem to revolve around a scheme to “atomically shrink” gold to make it easier to rip off and transport — you can bet we’re only just scratching the surface of what’s sure to be a complex plot here. Don’t ask me what the soon-to-be-blackmailed scientist in London has to do with anything. Or why The Shadow himself appears to generally be laying low these days. Or what the hell Moscow even has to do with anything. But I trust that we’re not just in good hands here — we’re in the best hands.
And that extends beyond Chaykin himself. His colorist of choice in recent years is Jesus Aburto, who did an absolutely sensational job on Buck Rogers and appears ready and eager to top himself here, and his regular stalwart letterer, Ken Bruzenak, is back on the case, as well, which means that all those awesomely-stylized “HAHAHAHAHAHA”s haven’t lost any of their visual “oomph.” To those who ask what the hell difference a letterer makes, just take a look at the pages reproduced above and below. As a matter of fact, they also serve as pretty solid evidence that the entire creative team here is firing on all cylinders.
So yeah — the gang’s all here, from the Shadow and his best gal, Margo Lane (along with their team of crack undercover sleuths) on the page, to the stellar array of talent assembled to make those pages, and you probably couldn’t ask for a better take on the character from even his creator, the legendary Walter Gibson. This is a fucking event, people, courtey of a guy who belongs on the “Mount Rushmore of ’80s Comics Creators” right alongside Moore and Miller, and for folks who are most familiar with Chaykin for his recent (and superb) work as artist on Image’s Matt Fraction-penned Satellite Sam, it provides a chance to see why all of us old-timers have been raving about his writing, as well as his drawing, for so long now. For those pretty much unfamiliar with comics in general — probably the reason I posted this review up here rather than on one of the more comic-centric sites I write for — it’s a terrific excuse to to pop into your LCS and pick up a contemporary book from one of the most respected creators around, who’s back to doing what he does best. Seriously, right after Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns, Chaykin’s Shadow is it as far as revered mainstream comics from that decade we’re all still talking about goes, and he immediately steps back into the character and his world with breathless ease here. Get in on the ground floor of this one while you can — there were only three copies left when I hit the shop just a couple of hours after it opened today, so you’ve been warmed — it promises to be one terrific ride.