Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Night of the Shadow

Cover art by Nick Cardy
It's well-known, of course, that one of the major influences in the creation of Batman was the Shadow. In fact, Bill Finger lifted the plot of the first Batman story from a Shadow novel that had been published a few years earlier. He wouldn't have suspected that both characters would become iconic and still be active decades later. 

When DC Comics had the license for the Shadow in the 1970s, they quite wisely kept him in the 1930s. (A later attempt to move him into contemporary times is better left undiscussed.)  It's too bad DC never did a story set on Earth-2, where we could have had a Shadow/Batman team-up with both men in their prime.  

But Earth-1 Batman had a few chances to meet his inspiration. In Batman #253 (Nov. 1973), he was helped from the sidelines by a retired Shadow. I haven't read this one myself--it's never had been reprinted and the original is always out of my price range. But a plot summary from the DC Wiki tells me the Shadow hinted he would indeed become active again.

Gee whiz, the guy apparently ages well. He was a World War I vet, which means in '73 he would have been (at best) in his late 70s. 

He next visited Batman in an issue I do own--Batman #259 (December 1974). Here we learn that the future Caped Crusader briefly met the vigilante when Bruce Wayne was still a runny-nosed brat.

It happened when a "Boy Genius of Crime"named Willy Hank Stamper robs a bank in Gotham. The Shadow shows up and blasts down several of Stamper's gang. The crook takes a hostage, but stumbles into a few more innocent bystanders on the way out of the bank--including Thomas and Bruce Wayne. Poor little Bruce is terrified by the ensuing gun battle.

That terror isn't helped much when Bruce sees his parents  gunned down in Crime Alley a few months later. 

Now lets jump ahead a few decades. Following up on information that someone is planning on stealing a priceless tiara, Batman encounters an older Willy Hank Stamper, who seems to want to get revenge on the various bystanders he blames for getting himself caught and sent to prison for most of  his adult life. Batman nearly catches Stamper fairly quickly, but the need to deal with a medical emergency prevents this. 

There's an attempt on Bruce Wayne's life soon after. Then that tiara goes missing, but someone leaves a clue that sends Batman to the scene of the bank robbery from his childhood.

He does find Stamper there. A thug with a gun wouldn't normally be a serious threat to the Dark Knight, but the location and the sound of pistol shots causes Batman to revert to crybaby mode.  It' is only the sound of spooky laughter that pulls him out of this and allows him to subdue Stamper.

Yes, that was the Shadow's laughter. He'd been around the entire time, leading Batman back to this location, where the younger hero then proved his worth.

The meeting between the two heroes is fun and insightful, especially a moment in which the Shadow offers Batman a gift of a pistol, which Batman declines. "Sure I admire him.. I've been inspired by him... But I'm my own man."

It is very possibly the first time Batman's aversion to firearms is codified as a part of his psychology rather than just a part of superhero tradition. 

The story was written by Denny O'Neil, who was also writing DC's The Shadow at the same time. That O'Neil clearly gets both characters is obvious and one of the reasons the story is so good. Irv Novick does a fine job with the interior art. 

That's it for now. Next week, we'll follow along with two of the most successful pirate hunters in history--Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble.


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