“Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?” asks Frank Readick Jr. “The Shadow Knows!” These famous lines, along with a dramatic score and ominous cackle, mark the iconic opening to 1930s The Shadow radio serial. Originally, in an effort to boost sales of the Detective Story Magazine, The Shadow was created as a marketing tool for the magazine’s radio adaptation. Fans know that The Shadow himself was not actually a story character until popular demand generated by the opening refrain insisted upon one.
Seizing the opportunity, the pulp magazine publishers Street and Smith hired Walter B. Gibson to pen The Shadow. The bimonthly series ran regularly for 20 years, with Gibson authoring 282 of them. The Shadow himself resembled a typical antihero and, according to Gibson, was modeled after Bram Stoker’s Dracula. In keeping with superhero tradition, The Shadow nurtured a sidekick, kept a secret identity, and fought supervillians. Although the series formally ended in 1949, Gibson wrote 3 additional stories by 1980. By 1937, The Shadow’s popularity would earn himself his own radio drama.
So who was The Shadow? His “real” name was Kent Allard, a World War I aviator who fought as The Black Eagle. Faking his death, he returned to New York City to begin a crime fighting career. But Allard was, in fact, his super-secret-double-probation identity. In a clever twist, Allard frequently adopted the identities of others, particularly one wealthy gentleman named Lamont Cranston. In his exploits, Allard worked with a full complement of allies that included journalists, socialites, and law enforcement. Eventually, to the dismay of his audience, The Shadow found himself a love interest, Margo Lane.
The 1930s and 1940s is regarded as the golden age of comics. As was inevitable, The Shadow and his other popular contemporaries were the inspiration for a suite of superhero copycats including one particular Dark Knight who bears an uncanny resemblance to the wealthy Cranston/Allard alter ego. In the ever expanding comic book universe, an aging Shadow eventually teams up with the caped crusader in several 1970s editions of DC Comics Batman.
Superheroes never retire, it seems. Though The Shadow’s popularity has waned, he is periodically called from his respite to fight the unceasing war against evil. The latest installment may be delivered soon. When? Only The Shadow knows!