A Writer's Commentary: Matt Wagner talks The Shadow: The Death of Margo Lane #1, on sale now from Dynamite. Cover and interior art by Wagner.
I'm happy to have been asked to provide a Writer's Commentary on the first issue of my newest project for Dynamite Entertainment, THE SHADOW: The Death of Margo Lane. Fortunately, I'm both writing and drawing this series so, hopefully, I can provide even more insight for this behind-the-scenes look at how such a comic goes from idea to full fruition to publication. So, let's get to it…
The Shadow is familiar and well-established character in most people's minds but perhaps not so much his "constant friend and companion, the lovely Margo Lane". Margo was a regular fixture of the long-running Shadow radio program from the 30s-40s but didn't play such a prominent role in the pulp magazine version of our hero's adventures. My comic-book approach combines elements of both narratives. For this intro page, I wanted to spotlight Margo and introduce her to readers, along with a montage that reflects the dark and dangerous world she faces as one of The Shadow's agents. We also learn that she acts as his most intimate chronicler.
From our intro to Margo we move straight into a double-page action spread. This is also a montage that's meant to convey a sense that The Shadow has been active in his crusade against crime for some time. We've got many of his classic visuals here; an urban setting, battling gangsters, his blazing automatics, his mystic girasol ring and his stealthy exploits. He now faces one of his more frustrating foes, the mysterious Red Empress, here represented by an iconic element that was featured on many Shadow pulp covers…a living skull!
His search for his foe meets a dead end and so The Shadow, in his guise as Lamont Cranston, and Margo carry their quest to the Orient. I couldn't resist the matinee-serial shot of a plane overlaid on a map with directional arrows. One of the joys of working with these older characters is getting to use such classic scenarios.
This page was inspired by a piece from a 20th century illustrator whose work I admire, Mead Schaeffer. I also liked the idea of using a full-page splash, which in comics is usually reserved for, well…splashy action shots, to depict a more quiet and contemplative moment. You might also notice by this point that we're using a distinct and somewhat limited color palette for this series. I had a very specific look in mind for this story and I worked with my son and colorist, Brennan Wagner, to develop the evocative hues we would use throughout the five-issue run. Part of the inspiration for this palette came from the original Mead Schaeffer piece, which Brennan has used to beautiful effect.
As Cranston and Margo return to the states via luxury ocean liner, they are attacked one night on deck by a pair of mercenary thugs out to claim a reward the Red Empress has leveled on our heroes. The radio version of The Shadow wielded "the power to cloud men's minds" to make himself invisible. The pulp incarnation was much more action-oriented and operated via subterfuge and misdirection. Here again, I'm combining several elements for this scene where we see Cranston easily outfox and defeat his enemies while barely lifting a finger and utilizing his training in Eastern mysticism. I also wanted to establish Margo as more than just arm dressing for The Shadow; she's one of his active agents and is both willing and capable of holding her own in a fight. Another important element of this scene is The Shadow's ruthlessness when dealing with violent criminals. He casually commands one attacker to leap to his death in the middle of the ocean…and then tosses his already-dead comrade's body overboard like a bundle of refuse.
The action shifts dramatically back to New York and the revelation that a prominent heiress has gone missing. Anyone who's familiar with my work knows that I love weaving Art Deco-inspired elements into these sorts of narratives.
Longtime fans of The Shadow will recognize these two characters as Police Inspector Joe Cardona (a precursor of Jim Gordon) and Clyde Burke, one of The Shadow's many covert agents. Burke was a reporter for a tabloid newspaper and operated as a side investigator for the Master of Darkness.
A New York City night. A bridge in the distance. A dank alleyway. A clandestine meeting. All very Shadowy!
In the pulps, Lamont's Cranston's family mansion was located just across the river from Manhattan, in New Jersey. In fact, The Shadow is not actually Lamont Cranston but a former WWI spy and aviator named Kent Allard. The real Lamont Cranston is a millionaire big-game hunter who spends most of his time abroad and has agreed to let The Shadow utilize his identity in all regards as the most prominent of his many disguises. You might notice that, even though she speaks to him as "Lamont" in conversation, Margo's chronicles of The Shadow only ever refer to him as "he"…almost as if she doesn't really know what to call him.
The Shadow has deduced that the abducted heiress is most likely being held in an abandoned warehouse…one that, according to the sign, had previously been home to a business owned but the Rozen Brothers. This an Easter Egg for longtime Shadow fans as George and Jerome Rozen were twin-brother artists who contributed a majority of covers for the original pulp magazine. It is their depiction that most fully defined The Shadow's iconic appearance.
One of Cranston's most active field agents acted as chauffeur for The Shadow; Moe Shrevnitz was a cab driver whose life was saved by The Shadow before becoming one of his operatives. From an artistic standpoint, I'm particularly happy with the last panel on this page. As a character, The Shadow tends to glide about in the darkness, looming and intimidating those he pursues until those moments when gunfire inevitably erupts. You rarely see him running. But here, I managed to strike a pose for our hero that shows him in a full sprint…and yet it doesn't feel out-of-character. He still looks exactly like…THE SHADOW!
Another element from the original pulp adventures were the suction-cup devices that The Shadow used to scale buildings. Panel #2 is another visual homage, this time to one of the pulp magazine covers from fairly early in that publication's 300-plus issue history.
A deadly snare? No problem. The Shadow knows!
After having avoided a booby trap on the previous page, our hero finds the missing heiress laid out like trussed-up bait. Notice what the bad guys have done to her pet leopard! His concern over the poor victim's obvious distress leads The Shadow to rush to her aid…and trigger yet another trap.
And we end with a classic cliff-hanger…our hero ensnared by his enemy's devious machinations. Could it be any more evident that I'm having a total blast with this series?!