Friday, November 21, 2008

Volume Three, Number Nineteen

In the early 1960s Archie Comic Publications-sometimes referred to in the indicia of some of its comics as "Radio Comics"-published a line of paperbacks under the name of "Belmont Paperbacks" which, among other things, reprinted under license the pulp prose adventures of The Shadow. As these paperbacks were relatively successful Archie/Radio decided to also publish a comic book featuring the legendary pulp hero. The potential for an exciting hero genre comic reminiscent of the quality material MLJ Magazines published in its early days was clearly evident, but once placed in the hands of Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel the result was a comic that ranks high among the worst comics published in the 1960s (sharing top honour with MF Enterprises' Captain Marvel and Dell's Werewolf and Dracula).

Actually the first two issues of Archie's "Shadow" (which debuted November, 1964) weren't all that bad. While the artwork was somewhat pedestrian and the stories for the most part bland both issues stuck pretty close in concept to the pulp Shadow. But beginning with issue number three not only was a new artistic direction taken (with former 1940s Green Lantern artist Paul Reinman at the helm), but a whole new direction for the comic itself was introduced. Gone was the cloaked version of The Shadow and replacing him was a costumed superhero version of The Shadow who in his purple and green outfit battled such threats as "The Radiation Rogue", "Dr. Demon", "Attila The Hunter" and "The Princess of Death"; none of whom would have given even Captain Sprocket a difficult time, but under the direction of Jerry Siegel became deadly foes against the new version of The Shadow.

This is not to say that Jerry Siegel was a terrible writer. He wasn't by any stretch of the imagination. However, as with many writers from the golden age of comics-Joe Simon immediately comes to mind-he lost touch with the times resulting in comics scripts that did not in any way reflect his true talents.

The artwork was not Paul Reinman's best either. In the 1940s he was extremely innovative and had an excellent visual storytelling ability but by the 1960s he was nearing the end of his career and basically was only going through the motions. All in all the potential of this comic was nowhere realized, and after issue number eight it vanished from the newsstands. A couple of decades later in an interview in "Comics Interview" #3 (May, 1983) Dick Goldwater, son of one of the company's founders John Goldwater, stated that the reason for the failure was because the comic was not well distributed. As the same distributor that handled the company's Archie titles-which were found at every outlet-handled "The Shadow", this statement by Mr. Goldwater is extremely dubious at best. The most likely case is that the comic just didn't sell and after eight issues of bad sales Archie Comic Publications simply pulled the plug. That's the most likely scenario but in "Comic Reader" No. 200 (April, 1982) Lou Mougin, in an an article about the 1960s Archie superhero line, put forth a hypothesis that is much more to my liking. According to Lou, what REALLY happened was that the pulp version of The Shadow got so fed up with the abomination that was appearing in the comics that he pulled out his 45s and blew him away. Makes sense to me.
NEXT: Final days of The Fly and an eye toward the future.

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