The Shadow: Where Do I Start?

Before Batman was a hero, an orphan or even a glimmer in the mind of Bob Kane, there was another dark anti-hero who prowled the night and took matters into his own hands to bring justice to the streets: The Shadow. Brandishing twin pistols and an identity he kept secret under the brim of a black slouch hat and a crimson piece of cloth, the Shadow was the noir genre’s gift to what would become the superhero genre — costumed crime-fighters taking the law into their own hands, using brutal tactics and sometimes supernatural powers.

Originally created as a mere narrator for a series of detective radio serials, the ominous voice won over audiences and propelled the bit player into becoming a star of his own. Stories in both radio, pulp novel and comics fleshed out the character of the Shadow, a man lost in life who finds himself, finds a new cause and finds new skills in the wilds of East Asia. Bringing it all back to his homeland of the United States, the Shadow uses a mixture of deductive abilities, slight supernatural powers, and unbreakable pursuit of crime to make a name for himself in the world.

The Shadow ​got his start not in comics but in radio, but today, because we’re a comic book website, I’ll focus only on the best comic books to get to know him. But it’s going to be a challenge — as most of these stories were never collected, and if they were those collections have been out of print for decades. With that in mind, let’s see what lurks.

The Shadow by Dennis O’Neil & Michael Kaluta: In 1973, DC Comics acquired the license for the Shadow and gave then-Batman writer Dennis O’Neil and Michael Kaluta a shot at reviving this predecessor to the Dark Knight into his own adventures. What they created was arguably the definitive visual interpretation of the Shadow, with Kaluta taking the bits and pieces of the character from the 40 years prior and distilling it down to the quintessential version of the character. Staying true to the pulp origins, these stories put the Shadow square into the streets of New York City in a series of stories boiling down the best the Shadow has to offer. This series lasted for twelve issues, but the key ones to get are the first 6 — Kaluta draws them all with the exception of #5 by Frank Robbins.

The Shadow by Garth Ennis & Aaron Campbell: History? Period drama? Fire arms? Anti-heroes. That sounds like Garth Ennis’ sweet spot, and this recently debuted series plays up both the Shadow and his alter-ego Lamont Cranston as single-minded and strange, who has honed his skills and senses so much that being a crime-fighter is his only outlet. Dynamite will be collecting the first set of issues in December, but I’d recommend skipping the wait and picking this up in singles now.

The Shadow: Blood And Judgement: Flush from the success of his creator-owned series American Flagg, in 1985 Howard Chaykin was lured back to DC to provide his own take on the hook-nosed hero and in this four-issue series he did just that. Transplanting the hero from his traditional 1930s time period into the then modern day, Chaykin irked some long-time fans of the character but didn’t pull any punches. Chaykin, in effect, creates an “Ultimate” version of the Shadow akin to what you’d expect from a movie at the time, with the Shadow not only using his trademark twin pistols but also uzis and even rocket launchers. Chaykin’s passion for dark humor is rampant here, bringing an new twist to the traditionally dour Shadow. This hasn’t been reprinted in years but can be found relatively cheaply on the second-hand market; if you can afford to wait however, Dynamite plans to reprint these issues in early 2013.

The Shadow Newspaper Strips: These are the earliest Shadow comics, with the character’s owners tapping pulp novelist Walter B. Gibson and Bringing Up Father artist Vernon Greene to adapt the Shadow’s most popular stories into comics form. Although severely dated, this is the primordial soup of the Shadow when his characteristics weren’t yet set in stone. One part Dick Tracy and one part Batman, these stories are a must-read for any serious fan of the Shadow especially in the context of these other comic stories. These strips have been collected twice, most recently in 1999, and should be able to found in back issue bins or online.

The Shadow Strikes: DC made several attempts to get the Shadow going as a stable solo star, and t his last attempt in the late 80s is a personal favorite but seemingly lost to the sands of time in favor of Kaluta’s run. Written by prominent comics historian Gerard Jones with art by comics legend Eduardo Barreto, The Shadow Strikes wallows in the 1930s roots of the character, showing a deep appreciation for pulp heroes and culture of those times. In these great first issues, Jones and Barreto had the Shadow cross paths with his primary adversaries as well as fellow heroes like Doc Savage and even celebrities of the day like Albert Einstein. This overlooked run was never collected, but jumping into a good comic store’s longboxes and you’ll be set.


  1. The weed of crime bears bitter fruit.

  2. Now that Ennis is leaving the title, that is my cue to leave as well.

  3. Choice material and I’ll throw in The Shadow ongoing which followed Chaykin’s Blood and Judgement. It was written by Andrew Helfer with art by Bill Sienkiewicz and Kyle Baker. Another is The Shadow: Hitler’s Astrologer reuniting O’Neil and Kaluta. Good Stuff.

  4. Really liked the first few issues of the Ennis run, but had to cut it for purely financial reasons. Looking forward to picking up the trade and I’ve always been interested in checking out Chaykin’s run on the title.