As I believe I’ve mentioned before, The Shadow is my all-time favourite superhero (technically pulp hero). For many years, I collected his original pulp stories through a complex combination of the original, crumbling magazines, paperback reprints, and black-market pirated copies. I was such a big fan that I had my own fanzine, Agents of the Shadow, which ran for twelve issues or so.
There was only one problem. I began to realize that many of the original stories weren’t really that good. This isn’t surprising. Most of the over 300 short novels were written by one man (Walter Gibson), who, if legend is to be believed, would often work on multiple novels simultaneously on different typewriters, in order to meet the incredible deadlines of a magazine that was publishing twice a month.
Eventually, I drifted away to read better books, but I've never completely let go. It seems that Walter Gibson did have some magic, and although many of The Shadow novels weren’t great, perhaps together they are more than the sum of their parts. Those novels, combined with their cover artwork, have continued to echo around in my head ever since.
Several years ago now, a company called Sanctum Books finally convinced the notoriously hard-nosed magazine publisher Conde Nast (who had inherited the rights to The Shadow Magazine) to let them reprint those old stories. Since then, once a month, they’ve been putting out very nicely done Shadow double-novels in comic-book sized paperbacks.
There was a time when I probably would have bought every issue that came out. Time, money, and interest don’t really allow for that now, but I do buy the occasional one, just to check in with my favourite hero. I don’t expect much from them, and occasionally, I’m pleasantly surprised. Such is the case with my most recent reading, The Gypsy Vengeance.
The Gypsy Vengeance has a fantastic cover, which can be seen above. I suspect that covers like this had a huge part to play in the success of the magazine (and my own enduring interest in the character). The novel itself starts in a rather traditional Shadow style, with our hero already on the case of a complex crime. The first two-thirds of the book involve the Shadow and his agents (in this case Harry Vincent, Cliff Marsland, and Clyde Burke) trailing the various players in a race to get their hands on some stolen Spanish jewels. Despite the inclusion of a gypsy fortune teller, and an early gunfight with mobsters, it is pretty bland stuff, and at one point the plot hangs by a very tenuous thread. Then, just as I thought it would go down as a completely unremarkable addition to the chronicles of The Shadow, Walter Gibson, worked in a sharp, unexpected, but completely believable twist that saved the day.
Once again, my hero used his intelligence and his pistols to triumph over evil and left me smiling in the end.