“The Fire of Creation, Part One”
In any case, I like what I see in this premier issue of The Shadow. It is (unlike The Spider, apparently), set in its proper world, that of the 1930s. It's graced with atmospheric art illustrating a compelling story that is somehow connected with wider world events than just contemporary New York, specifically the atrocities being perpetrated during that period by the Japanese in China. This issue is basically just set-up, introducing the situation and the characters, but it accomplishes that very well.
One thing I was curious about is already answered here – this version of the character seems, as far as I can tell, to be based more on the radio show version than the pulp magazine version. I can't say that I've read that many of my ever-growing collection of Shadow stories, but it is my understanding that the more notable supernatural aspects of the character were confined to the radio plays. The pulp character was a highly effected cloaked and vigilante lacking the radio version's abilities to “cloud men's minds” and read a person's fate, both of which are in evidence here. Even the Shadow's secret identity of Lamont Cranston (itself a ruse in the pulps) seems an otherworldly figure here, and we get hints of resulting trouble in the relationship between Cranston and Margo Lane. That latter character, as I understand it introduced into the radio show in the 1930s, did not appear in the pulps until relatively late, sometime in the 1940s. I have not listened to more than a handful of the radio shows, so don't know how many other pulp supporting characters might occasionally appear on the air, but I did recognize Moe Shrevnitz whom I only know from the print adventures.
In any case, whatever the pedigree of the elements that are put together to make this latest comics version of the character, I am pleased with the result. Maybe best of all, this title is authorized by Condé Nast, so we don't have some kind of legal challenge to look forward to as has resulted from Dynamite's publishing of its Lord of the Jungle and Warlord of Mars titles....
“3: The Call of the Primitive” [ previous issue ]
This issue continues the adaptation of Tarzan of the Apes from the ape man saving Jane and Esmeralda from the panther to the aftermath of his saving Jane from the mad bull ape Turkoz. Is that climactic sequence the first time we get translated “ape-speak” in this title? It seems to me that previously its just been grunts and so forth – which we also get in this issue. For instance, on page 13 we witness Tarzan spying on Jane as she disrobes for bed – “Oo” indeed! The art in this title is generally good, although I find some of the characters drawn almost cartoonish (Professor Porter), while I frankly find Castro's Tarzan himself a bit too thuggish in his features, looking too much like Marvel's rendition of the character in the mid 1970s series when they picked up the licence from DC. I found John Buscema's Tarzan too much like his Conan.
One thing I kind of like in this adaptation is that Nelson takes a little space to expand on the characters. The standout beneficiary of this is Jane's African-American maid Esmeralda, who is portrayed as the smartest of the new stranded party. It is she who correctly perceives that Tarzan and “White Skin” are one and the same – that Tarzan taught himself to read and write English but does not know how it is pronounced. Therefore he can write the meaning of his name, “White Skin,” but pronounces it in the ape language as “Tarzan.” To which insight Jane is plainly dismissive. Similarly, Esmeralda recognizes the baby skeleton in the cabin as nonhuman – and is again dismissed. And see her expression moments before when she hears Professor Porter's comment about the two adult “specimens [being] of the higher, white race.” This is, of course, part of Nelson's effort to remove the racial overtones of ERB's original story as he discusses in the commentary on the first issue linked from my previous blog entry, but it works here except that Jane's reaction reflects very poorly on herself.
All in all, continuing to be a quite enjoyable treatment of an oft-told story. (Although isn't that a rather unfortunate placement of the “flap” of Tarzan's loincloth on the cover...?)
“Gods of Mars, Part 5! Helium Divided” [ previous issue ]
In this continuing adaptation of the second John Carter book, news that John Carter has returned from the Barsoomian “heaven” – which he boldly proclaims as “a land of false hope! A valley of torture and death” – splits Helium in a confrontation with Zat Arras, the Zodangan who has established himself as dictator in the absence of the Heliumite royal family. But news of Dejah Thoris' capture along with Thuvia by Black Pirates leads John Carter and his supporters to mount an invasion.
One thing more apparent here is a distinct coloring contrast between the white Earthman John Carter, his half-Barsoomian son Carthoris who has a pinkish hue, and the very rest of the cast, very red Barsoomians all – well, most, considering there are also green Tars Tarkas and black (really grey) Dator Xodar.
Speaking of Dator Xodar, we unfortunately get to revisit what I found to be the objectionable addition to the story from last issue as Sola relates meeting Thuvia and hearing “of her love for Jawn Kar-turr,” and the Black Pirate can be seen in the background whispering in the ear of Kantos Kan (who muffles a snicker, “Kk-kk!”) No … just no. This is quite an annoying blemish on an otherwise fine rendition of ERB's world.
I'm not sure why, but this story has really felt rushed the past couple of issues. Next issue brings the conclusion. I wonder if Dynamite will continue directly into the third novel, which actually is named The Warlord of Mars?
At some unspecified time between A Princess of Mars and The Gods of Mars, Dejah Thoris is teaching her son Carthoris history when he asks her about a legendary “Battle of the Face of Barsoom.” The lack of verifiable information despite a few surviving veterans who prove surprisingly reticent inspires her to organize a “field trip” for Carthoris and other “hatchlings” to conduct an archaeological study of the battlefield. She and other women plus male guards precede the main group to set up camp, but their airship breaks down and strands them in a deserted city infested with feared white apes – which proceed to slaughter the men while the women watch in horror from hiding. And, we're promised, “Next Issue: It Gets Worse.”
I'm not really sure what the point of this miniseries is, other than a money-grab. Were I not an inveterately compulsive completist, I think I would pass on it. The only thing mildly intriguing is the possibility, based on the name of that battle, that we might get to see the mysterious “Face” on Mars incorporated into these tales of Barsoom.
A couple of comments about the art. One very interesting feature of the great cover by Brandon Peterson*:
“I don't got / No belly-button!”
Makes sense, what with Barsoomians being oviparous. Of course, inside the issue navels still abound. The inside art is by Liu Antonio, who did much of A Princess of Mars in the early issues of the main Warlord title. I have to say, I'd forgotten how: a) hatchet-faced his Dejah Thoris is; b) how huge he draws her breasts; and c) that he “tips” them with the smallest “pasties” ever, so that it looks more like she has very small, golden nipples! Do I prefer other artists...? Guess.
Oh, and the double-page spread at the end of the issue, showing the slaughter of the guards, is almost comical in its gruesomeness.
Nevertheless, I'm in this for the long haul. Yes, it's another way Dynamite gets more of my money ... superfluous miniseries of properties I love.
Cheers!, and Thanks for reading!
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*Who, incidentally, did this wonderful sketch of Supergirl for me at Dallas Comic-Con in August 2009: