Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Come On Folks...Where's the Shadow Movie TWO

It's time for the Shadow to invade the public consciousness once again.

One of the greatest literary creations ever, right up there with your Tarzan and your Sherlock Holmes, the Shadow hasn't been heard from much in recent years. His copyright owners are probably mostly responsible, as Street and Smith keep a tight rein on who gets to produce Shadow work, from movies to books to comics.

The shame of it all seems to me that no one has written a "contemporary" Shadow novel. Novelists Joe R. Lansdale and Philip Jose Farmer both received permission from the Edgar Rice Burroughs estateover the last twenty years to produce one Tarzan novel each. Farmer wrote one original Doc Savage novel some years ago.

But not many have dabbled in the Shadow. Certainly entertainment media have been slow to realize the potential.

Of course, we have had a fairly well-made Shadow movie, in 1994 and starring Alec Baldwin. Every time I sit down to watch it, I've forgotten almost everything about it except the actual Shadow himself (nice make-up and glittery eye effects.) I watch it and immediately forget what I've seen once more. The worst thing to say about the movie was that it wasn't bad, but it's dated already by its time frame, and not in a good 1970s kind of way.

So THE SHADOW movie was unremarkable, but not bad by any stretch. Acceptable might be another word, but not mediocre.

The last I'd heard, Sam Raimi had designs on making a Shadow could be argued he already has, to a degree, with DARKMAN. If you took the Shadow and mashed him together with Frankenstein's Monster, you'd have Darkman. Love the movie, even though there's flaws...DARKMAN is one of the best neo-Pulp movies out there, made four years before THE SHADOW and not suffering from "gotta be a hit"-itis. DARKMAN gets a point across while THE SHADOW pinpointed the BATMAN crowd like a voodoo doll.

I'm not saying Raimi's the best man. The old joke is, two young people are about to get married. The preacher asks the groom, "Who's your best man?" The groom's buddy steps forward. The preacher says, "Is this the best man you could find?"

Sam Raimi's kind of like that. At least he grasps the concept of what the Shadow could be, and is, if DARKMAN is an indication. What you fear with any Hollywood product is, well, the movie being a Hollywood product.

I think the Shadow would work spectacularly better as a series, one of those HBO type things like "Dexter." The problem with television is a lower budget, and that means losing the 1930s era in which the Shadow operated, as "period" stuff is much harder to replicate and sell.

From a personal standpoint, I don't think the Shadow has to be "period." I find something strangely alluring about the Shadow appearing anytime between the 1930s and the turn of the century. His anachronistic obsession with justice, his views on what constitutes evil from a time when Hitler threatened to take over the world, might clash interestingly with today's "shades of gray" society. The Shadow is an "A is A" kind of guy.

Pretty much everything I'm saying to repeated ad nauseum anytime a character like the Shadow or some superhero thing pops up in movie talks. The idea of television allows the Shadow to operate more as he should, a prevading presence in the lives of criminals and agents. In a modern context, think of Keyser Soze in USUAL SUSPECTS...Soze dominates the running time without physically appearing more than three total minutes the entire film.

My view is that the Shadow should be riding the cresting wave of Pulp Hero interest which has arrived in recent times. Comics (always the forerunners on thematic trends these days) have come around to the idea of Pulp as genre, evidenced by Hellboy's popularity, spawning the Goon by Eric Powell, referencing the Phantom published by Moonstone Comics, and circling to Atomic Robo by Red5 Comics, coursing bloodily through JONAH HEX at DC Comics and insinuating itself in Ed Brubaker's work at Marvel, particularly CAPTAIN AMERICA and the idiosyncratic SLEEPER from a few years ago.

If comics trigger the interest of the buying public, surely the Pulp wave will come next once the superhero "craze" has died down. At some point, American culture always returns to the dark side of heroics, the obsessed fistfighters and bullet dancers of Pulp. Indiana Jones followed SUPERMAN THE MOVIE into the consciousness of our society...BATMAN begat DARKMAN and THE SHADOW and THE PHANTOM movies. What's coming then, in the darkening surf after the superhero waves have passed?

Is that a Shadow of something?

All artwork by spectacular contemporary artists Chris Samnee, John Cassaday, Gary Gianni, Francesco Francavilla at, and the inimitable Jim Steranko on those classic novel covers of the 1970s.

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