The Shadow is a character that has been around for over 83 years and what people know about him varies depending on how old they are. Most know The Shadow as Lamont Cranston, millionaire and man-about-town. He has a network of associates he can call upon as well as the ability to fade into the shadows and telepathically push men's minds. He's been in comics, movies and radio programs. Orson Wells gave him voice in the late 1930s and Alec Baldwin gave him a face in 1994.
He is said to have inspired many of the heroes we know today including the title character from Alan Moore's V For Vendetta and his closest facsimile Batman. Bill Finger said that he used The Shadow and other pulp characters for inspiration when creating Batman with Bob Kane and even used one of the Shadow pulp novels, Partners In Peril by Theodore Tinsley as the basis for Batman's first adventure. In the early Batman comics we see the character written in more of a pulp style, using guns and not shying away from killing people. Much more like the Shadow than the Batman we know of today.
But the truth of the matter is that the Shadow we saw in the big screen and heard on the radio is a variation on the character. Going back to his true roots, The Shadow doesn't have any special powers… heck, he's not even Lamont Cranston. His original pulp origins make him more like a different comic book character… Moon Knight.
The Shadow started off as part of an idea to increase sales of publisher Street and Smith's Detective Story Magazine. A radio program was commissioned to enact some of the stories from the magazine and a deep voiced narrator was added to tie the show together. A few name choices were bounced around including The Inspector, The Sleuth, before they settled on The Shadow. The idea worked in part as listeners began asking for The Shadow Magazine instead of Detective Story.
Circulation manager Henry William Ralston knew to jump on the popularity and turned to Walter B. Gibson to write the first Shadow pulp novel, The Living Shadow in April of 1931. Over the next twenty years 325 novel length tales were created with Gibson, using the pen name Maxwell Grant, writing 282 of them. That was two stories a month. The Shadow Magazine ran until the summer of 1949.
The Shadow Gibson created was named Kent Allard, a celebrated fighter pilot who served in World War I, often known as the Black Eagle (or later Dark Eagle). Allard crashes into the jungle of South America where he discovers a great amount of wealth. He decides to fake his death and at some point decides to take on a life of crime fighting. He then returns to New York and takes up various aliases. The most famous of course being Lamont Cranston. But in the pulps, Cranston is a separate person, not just a name. In their first meeting Allard insinuates to Cranston that he had replaced a few key signatures and could easily just take Cranston's wealth, but instead he makes a deal that allows Allard to pose as Cranston while the real Lamont is traveling the world. Not sure how blackmailing someone is the first step into becoming a crime fighter.
Gibson hadn't done much fiction prior to working on The Shadow. He had been a journalist and been writing books for Harry Houdini just before the escape artists death. You can almost extrapolate from there Houdini's influence on the creation of the Shadow and his ability for men not to see him… except it wasn't Gibson who gave him that ability. The power to cloud men's minds originated as part of the radio program out of convenience. The producers of the show didn't want to take the time to explain where the Shadow was standing or how people weren't seeing him so the ability he learned in the Far East came to life.
It may have also been out of convenience that the radio program changed made its biggest change. Gone was Kent Allard, now the Shadow was Lamont Cranston. Maybe the whole concept of the fake death, taking the aliases and the real Cranston traveling the world would be too much to explain to the listeners… or maybe they just didn't want their hero to start off by committing multiple crimes.
To Be Continued…
The Shadow can currently be seen in the Dynamite Entertainment comic series The Shadow: Midnight In Moscow written and drawn by comic legend Howard Chaykin.