Batman/The Shadow #1 may not be the first time that the Dark Knight has met his more direct literary antecedent, but it may be the flashiest and most high-profile team-up of the two legendary characters, boasting a script by two of DC’s top writers Scott Snyder and Steve Orlando, and evocative art by Riley Rossmo. The opening issue certainly proves that the creative team knows what has made these two properties so resonant with fans for nearly a century; the issue is long on atmosphere, noir touches and dark, pulpy mystery. As such, it should please fans of both the Caped Crusader and the pulp and radio character who directly inspired him.
The story is set in the present day, as Batman investigates the death of an Arkham Asylum employee with a connection to a mysterious man named Lamont Cranston, who apparently died in 1963. What is Cranston’s connection to the dead man? Why is Cranston shrouded in mystery, hated and feared by his former, now aged associates? And what is his connection to the seemingly sinister foe Batman has battled, a dark figure in a slouch hat and red scarf called The Shadow?
The Shadow, like a few other pulp figures such as Doc Savage and the Spider, had a monumental impact on the creation of super-hero comics, and Batman in particular. The tone and aesthetic of the radio show and pulp satires heavily influence the look and design of Batman and Bruce Wayne when creators Bob Kane and Bill Finger were developing him. The first Batman story was based on a Shadow story called “Partners in Peril,” and Finger himself admitted to Jim Steranko in his book on comics history that he pretty much ripped off the Shadow stories. So, Batman’s success owes a lot to this character, who invented the concept of dark and mysterious noir super-hero whose tactics and outlook brushed right up against the line.
Snyder and Orlando are smart enough to utilize that shared style and yet also highlight the fact that Batman is a more refined and in many ways enlightened version of the archetype. The Shadow could often seem harsh, brutal and merciless in his pursuit of criminals, less an icon of dark justice like Batman, more a pitiless force of vengeance whose wrath criminals earned through their choices. While this is the opening issue, and obviously this initial conflict between the two characters will likely mellow into a partnership, it’s nice to see the creative accentuating the differences between two characters that initially seem so similar. I will say that the story of Batman/The Shadow #1, while intriguing and compelling, is very simplistic in its structure. It’s effective in how it establishes its central mystery and in how it draws the reader in, but in terms of its narrative, it follows a pretty predictable pattern for a debut issue. But what it lacks in surprises it more than makes up for in atmosphere, so the issue is still a fun read.
Rossmo’s art works well for the book, merging the overt super-heroics and action stylings that feature in Batman stories with the moody atmospherics and almost horror overtones that nibble at the edges of the Shadow’s world. Rossmo is just as comfortable with showing us Batman kicking a foe out a window and jumping out after him as he is with creepy scenes relying on almost chiaroscuro approach. The scenes involving the Shadow stand out, of course, with Rossmo and colorist Ivan Plascencia allowing the blacks to bleed into each other, altering the structure of panels and making characters seem to be made of blackness. There are a couple moments that I felt lacked a bit of clarity, but those were minor, and it’s a small price to pay for style, which a book like this has to provide in spades.
Batman/The Shadow #1 delivers exactly what it should, a spooky and noir-influenced crime tale about two icons coming together. With the talent involved, and the strength of the properties played to, I have high hopes that the rest of the series will show us that there may be two heroes who know what evil lurks in the heart of men. 8.5/10