Today, Michael and Drew are discussing Batman/The Shadow 1, originally released April 26th, 2017. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
Michael: Perspective is a key component of storytelling — both from the storytellers and the readers. A creator’s familiarity and appreciation of a character inform the story, as does the reader’s in their reception. In Batman/The Shadow 1 Scott Snyder and Steve Orlando pen a story of Batman investigating the mystery of The Shadow. I’m not super familiar with The Shadow so I shared Batman’s POV: as he learned more about The Shadow, so did I.
The inciting incident of Batman/The Shadow 1 is the death of Lamont Cranston: probably the nicest guy to ever work at Arkham Asylum. Cranston works in the food service department at Arkham, delivering room service quality food drops to Batman’s most infamous rogues — all with a smile on his face.
While investigating the crime scene of the deceased Lamont Cranston, Batman encounters The Shadow and unwittingly begins down a path of The Shadow’s mysterious past. Along the way, he enlists the help of his former (deceased?) mentor Henri Ducard. But alas, he is none other than the man of many faces himself: The Shadow.
I think that we can all agree that there was a lot wrong with The New 52. For me personally I didn’t enjoy getting to see all my favorite characters’ relationships wiped clean; having to retread their first interactions and growing pains. Of course, that reintroduction to characters for some was intended as a genuine introduction for potential new readers. The Batman/The Shadow 1 is my introduction to The Shadow in the way that Justice League 1 might’ve been readers’ introduction to certain DC heroes.
Batman is DC’s safest bet, so it’s only logical to use him as an entry point for characters and concepts that might be foreign to some comic book readers. Case in point: the current “The Button” arc that explores Watchmen’s relationship to DC Rebirth. But on a deeper level it makes sense that Batman come face-to-face with The Shadow — one of the dark avenger types that inspired the creation of Batman in the first place.
Batman/The Shadow 1 has all of the trappings of a Batman comic: a GCPD crime scene investigation, Arkham Asylum and even a few Rogues Gallery cameos. Snyder and Orlando use this familiar storytelling skeleton as an introduction/exploration of who The Shadow is. Batman deduces that Lamont Cranston is the descendant of another man named Lamont Cranston — one of the monikers that The Shadow used back in the day.
Batman interviews Cranston’s old associates: Harry Vincent, Clyde Burke, the grave of Cliff Marsland and Margo Lane. He finds his way into one of The Shadow’s hideouts and discovers scores of weapons and disguises used in The Shadow’s war on crime. The parallels laid out between Batman and The Shadow are obvious, but they’re not overstated or gratuitous. To drive the point home a little further, Riley Rossmo even dresses Bruce up in another favorite disguise of his: Matches Malone.
As I mentioned earlier, I thought that Henri Ducard was dead; then again Batman/The Shadow may exist within its own universe. Regardless I think it’s a wise choice to have Ducard have such an important role here. Whether or not The Shadow trained Ducard or Ducard has been The Shadow all along, by placing one of Batman’s mentors into “the family tree” highlights The Shadow’s influence on Batman in-story as well as outside of it.
Riley Rossmo is growing on me as an artist. The way he draws Bruce as Matches Malone is very similar to Bruce Timm’s house style on the DCAU: top-heavy with broad shoulders and lean legs. Rossmo’s best work of the book comes when he’s drawing The Shadow. The Shadow’s supernatural, abstract nature appeals to Rossmo’s style. The haunting laughs and Ivan Plascenica’s blood red scarf flies off of the page with a life of its own.
Drew, whaddya think? Did you notice those case file numbers? 1931 was the year The Shadow was created and 1994 was the year the Alec Baldwin movie came out — Snyder does so love his trivia. Batman uses some tech to track down The Shadow/Cranston but for the most part this is a strictly detective story. Do you think that’s intentional? To bridge a gap between the modern version of Batman and the noir vigilante The Shadow? Final note: I thought Batman was being overly polite to “Bat-Ops.” It was kinda odd to me how he cordially asked a computer to repeat itself
Drew: I half wonder if “Bat-Ops” was originally written as Alfred, speaking to Bruce remotely from the Batcave, but then changed to make it clear that the Shadow’s powers are in clouding mens minds and not, say, interfering with radio transmissions.
Backing up to your previous questions, though, I definitely agree that Snyder and Orlando are leaning into the pulpy elements of this story. It’s easy for me, as a longtime Batman fan to think of this as a Batman story featuring the Shadow, but the creative team is committed to making us feel the Shadow as an equal force in this issue, even if he only gets a fraction of the screen time. Tone is a great way to do that, and while this issue definitely features some of the techy elements that distinguish Batman stories, we also get plenty of the spooky mysticism and cast of characters that define the Shadow.
I’m particularly enamored of the was letterer Clem Robins handles the Shadow’s dialogue.
Everything about the way the Shadow’s dialogue looks is odd — the rough, wavy font, the rectangular balloons, the distinctive yellow drop shadow. It works as a simple shorthand for the kind of audio effects that have been used to represent his powers in radio and film, but to my eye, it also calls back to the pulps, looking as though it was printed on the rough, yellowing paper that gave the genre its name.
That kind of double-meaning abounds in an issue that suggests that one of Batman’s most influential mentors was actually the Shadow, a character universally identified by historians as Batman’s spiritual predecessor. Rossmo can’t help but get in on that action, filling the fight scene above with parallels and symmetry. The moment that truly caught my eye, though, was as the two burst out of the late Lamont Cranston’s apartment:
I mean, come on — that’s basically the perfect image for the next essay someone writes on how Batman followed in the Shadow’s footsteps.
Of course, as Michael mentioned, the parallels between these two characters also saturates the writing, as Batman’s investigation of Cranston carries him from deceased allies to embittered ex-lovers to loyal servants. My favorite detail, though, isn’t mentioned or even shown all that clearly, but the few glimpses we get of Cranston’s Gotham hideout makes it clear that he keeps several trophies under glass.
Nobody draws any attention to this detail, and indeed, while there is a brief scene set in the Batcave, we never see any of Batman’s signature trophies, but we recognize this as a distinctly Batman-like thing all the same. It’s subtle enough to not feel grating — especially if you’ve already picked up on the obvious similarities between these characters — but it helps to quietly confirm just how much these two have in common.
All of which is to say: I had an absolute blast with this issue. I’m with Michael — and, I suspect, most of the world — in being far more familiar with Batman than the character that predated (and at least partially inspired) him, but this issue manages to satisfactorily introduce the Shadow while acknowledging a longer, if perhaps less storied, history. That’s a tough trick to pull off, but this team manages to make it look easy.
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