The Shadow #1-6 (2012)

“They call me the Buffalo.”

“They call me sir.”

The latest comic book incarnation  of The Shadow comes from Dynamite. The first story, The Fire of Creation, was written by Garth Ennis with art by Aaron Campbell. Ennis has had a string of hit series for both the major publishers as well as his recently concluded series, The Boys,  for Dynamite. Aaron Campbell is a new name to me but he seems to have worked mainly on other Dynamite titles such as Green Hornet and Sherlock Holmes.

Set sometime in the 1930s, Lamont Cranston is working with US Military Intelligence to prevent an ex-crime boss turned Japanese army officer getting his hands on the “magic rocks” being auctioned among the world’s super powers by a Chinese crime lord. Along the way he must escape assassination attempts by the Nazis and the interference of the Military Intelligence officer sent with him to legitimise the mission.

I gave this one a try because I like the gun-toting vigilante known as the Shadow especially the incarnation from the 80s by Andrew Helfer and Kyle Baker. This version did not live up to that mainly because writers seem to have been restricted in what they can do with the character since that time – the book was pulled from DC without warning in the middle of a storyline. As a Garth Ennis piece it also did not live up to its potential, probably for the same reason, as a lot of the signature Ennis tropes are missing – the black humour, sexual deviancy and gallons of blood and gore. So we get a fairly standard pulp thriller that touches on the origin of the Shadow and his relationship to Lamont Cranston and Kent Allard without going into too many details. The Shadow’s only companion in this story, from his usual selection of sidekicks, is Margo Lane and the action mainly takes place outside of New York in a China under the control of Japan. A good enough read that retains the pulp essence of the character but I think I will stick to my Helfer back issues.

Green Lantern: 1001 Emerald Nights (2001)

“Reign of terror? I’m not sure I understand. But you’ve got lots of time to explain it to me. Well, at least the night.”

This prestige format one-shot from DC is part of their Elseworlds series where a twist is applied to a familiar hero usually by changing their normal setting. This mash up of Green Lantern with 1001 Nights was written by Terry LaBan who is more of an underground comic writer/artist but has done some work for major companies including The Dreaming for Vertigo and a Grendel mini-series for Dark Horse. The art was by Rebecca Guay whose work I know from the Black Orchid ongoing series from the 90s and some Sandman spin-offs.

In this story, Scheherazade is a Green Lantern has come to the town of Isafakhar to end the reign of the wicked sultan Ibn Rayner. But once she insinuates her way into the Sultan’s chambers, she finds that he is not the cruel ruler that she was expecting but more of a naive, misled puppet ruler. Through three tales of the reluctant hero Al Jhor Dan and his powerful genie, she tries to educate him in how a ruler show behave personally and towards his people.

A not bad story transposing the Green Lantern mythos onto the tales of the Arabian Nights. As usual with these Elseworlds tales, a lot of the elements of the superhero remain the same just subtly tweaked to fit with the new setting. So in this case the Lanterns do not have rings to start with but summon genies from lamps to carry out their will instead. Perhaps the story was a little over-moralistic but that is the nature of the originals I can live with it. Rebecca Guay’s art is perfect for this tale as she specialises in fantasy illustration and it looks great on the page – especially the leading ladies.

Camelot 3000 (1988)

“But no need to stand on ceremony. You may call me King Arthur!”

This book is a collection of the first comic book maxi-series, as claimed in the introduction by Don and Maggie Thompson. The series was written by Mike W. Barr who is probably best known for his writing on various Batman titles such as Batman and the Outsiders, the Year Two story in Detective Comics and the Son of the Demon graphic novel. The art was by British artist Brian Bolland who is more often associated, these days, with fabulous cover art but also worked on early Judge Dredd stories for 2000AD and DC’s The Killing Joke.

It is the year 3000 and Britain is under attack by relentless aliens from the solar system’s tenth planet. In it’s hour of need, King Arthur, it’s greatest defender, is reborn. His first act is to restore Merlin to his side followed by the reincarnations of his knights of the Round Table. They discover that Morgan le Fay is behind the alien attacks and so old conflicts are renewed.

I bought this book because it is one of the few examples of a comic series illustrated by Bolland whose work I love. Unfortunately the story did not match my expectations. For a comic that was DC’s first for mature readers, it felt very immature – let’s mix Arthurian legend with the future and an alien invasion and it’ll be cool. It seemed very thin and being stretched over twelve issues did not help. This book has not aged as well as some of it’s contemporaries from the mid eighties. It doesn’t help that a number of later comics, such as Fables, deal with the updating of mythological or fantasy characters much better.

But I came for the art and the art was good but it didn’t blow me away in the same way that his covers can do. Partly this is because it does not have the same detail as his work in black and white does – Bryan Talbot is another good example of someone whose work I prefer in black and white because so much more goes into it. I was also expecting more due to the problems that I know plagued this book as regards to deadlines however I don’t feel that it necessarily shows in the finished page. So all in all a bit of a disappointment – maybe you had to be there to appreciate it.