Andy’s Read Pile: The Shadow Over Innsmouth
Hey, Gang of Four! Welcome back to another installment of Andy Larson not reading any sort of timely, relevant book that people might care about, mainly because his read pile is always so enormously huge that by the time he gets to a certain book, years have past since he originally added it to the stack.
However, I’m happy to report that in some ways just by a stroke of luck this isn’t the case this time in that this particular book is only 4 years old at this point! Well, scratch that, it’s more like 4 and a half…okay…you got me it’s a shy under 5 years at this point as it was originally released by Dynamite back in 2014. I’m talking about “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” which is not in fact an adaption of the classic horror story written by H.P. Lovecraft, although it does playfully adopt that famous moniker for the use of the story.
No, no, this is actually a story featuring that “Man that knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men”, the original pulptacular two gun avenging angel of justice, The Shadow.
Written by Ron Marz with artist Matthew Dow Smith, although it does borrow some elements from the Lovecraftian source material in which it gets it’s name, as you’ll soon see in the 10 cent synopsis, this is a classic Shadow crime noir drama through and through.
After Lamont Cranston and his companion, Margo Lane, are forced to land their seaplane in the small fishing village of Innsmouth due to heavy fog, they soon find themselves hearing of the devilish folk legends that have grown up in and around the quaint little town. Legends of cultists worshiping an ancient sea god, of inhuman fish men who rose from the deep and mated with the women of the town, and the ungodly hybrid monsters that came from those pairing that terrorize the villagers by night.
Soon, the duo becomes embroiled even further, when Margo is attacked by the said fish monsters and left unconscious on the pier. This spurs Lamont to investigate as his more famous alter ego, The Shadow, and soon he’s bringing his double revolver style brand of justice to these creatures from the inky depths of the sea.
In the end, the Shadow and Margo Lane uncover the truth about the shadows of Innsmouth. That these hybrid fish monsters are no more then Prohibition bootleggers dressed up in monster suits who are using these local ghost stories to scare off anyone who might want to investigate their criminal operations of using a submarine to smuggle booze in and out of these New England port towns. The Shadow soon settles their hash in dramatic fashion, smashing their operations, killing many of the bootleggers, and once again teaching the criminal underworld in general that:
“The Weed of Crime bears bitter fruit. Crime does not pay. The Shadow Knows! HAHAHAHAHA!”.
Things I Liked:
I won’t lie that one of my favorite things about this story was the fact that it was short. You see, I got this little gem digitally, based solely on the fact that they were running a Shadow sale a while back, and I was intrigued by the notion of the Shadow possibly fighting the dark horrors of the Elder Ones like Cthulu or others from the Lovecraftian mythology.
As a result of getting it digitally and not in print, I must have glossed over the page count during checkout, and didn’t realize that it was only like 36 some pages. This was a one shot book, and here I was thinking it was some sort of multi issue mini series. Again, if I had got it print, I believe I would have realized how short it was simply by looking at it, but that wasn’t the case.
Also, the brevity of the tale really added to its appeal as a traditional Shadow style sort from the golden days. There weren’t month long machinations, confusing subplots, unnecessary throw away characters that are killed off by the story’s end. It was just a simple “Shadow and the plucky companion, Margo Lane, show up and smash a criminal bootlegging ring”. Sure, it had Lovecraftian undertones but in the end, that was just a way for the criminals to scare people into not looking further into their nefarious dealings. It’s almost like a criminal plot right out of a Scooby Doo episode, and of course, there are those that are going to hate that and call it unoriginal or cheesy. But I am not one of them.
These are the Shadow stories I like reading. They are more akin to the original radio shows I listened to when I was a kid or “The Shadow Strikes” comic book that DC put out in the mid 90s. Yes, it’s somewhat campy a bit, simple sure, but it’s also a lot of fun and that’s what I want out of comics mostly. It’s definitely much better than the last Shadow book I read for this blog last summer in Garth Ennis’ “Fires of Creation”. Compared with that gratuitous torture porn of a Shadow tale, I’ll take bootleggers running around in rubber monster masks any day.
Things I Didn’t Like:
Previously, while I was discussing how short the book was, I also mentioned that I originally thought this book was about the Shadow fighting true Lovecraftian horrors, like evil cultists that worship Dagon, Yog Sothoth, or the dreaded tentacled faced icon Cthulu. I was excited about the Shadow using his mental powers and cloak/dagger fighting skills to help defend the Earth against these terrible monsters that lurk in the darkness.
I thought it might be neat to have someone draw connections between the Shadow’s powers and the Elder Ones, in that they possibly originate from the same dark source, but that the Shadow uses his powers to protect while others would want to enslave. This is especially true given some of the Lovecraft stories I’ve read like “The Dunwich Horror” in which there are ancient forbidden tomes which can grant great power and perhaps it was one of these that first gave Lamont Cranston his unique abilities in the far east which helped him cloud men’s minds. Similar Lovecraft stories like “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward” talk at length about Qabalistic and alchemical feats performed by wizards, so I thought the Shadow would dovetail perfectly into this strange and unusual universe.
But sadly, we didn’t get any of that. It was all a hoax. All of the fish people from the real Shadow over Innsmouth story were just criminals using folk lore and superstition to scare off anyone that might start poking around in their affairs. The closest thing we get to any real Lovecraft in the story is his cameo at the end of the story as just the real life writer.
So in the same way that I liked the fact it was just a simple Shadow story, I also disliked it because of all the wasted potential they had in exploring how the Shadow would interact with the creatures and characters of the Lovecraftian mythology. The knife cuts both ways I guess in this book.
Given this week’s somewhat short reading material compared to other weeks, I thought I’d use this segment to educate all you comic folks on the Shadow movie serial from 1940. I do this because again, after reading this book, it made me think about some of those golden age stories of our hawk nosed vigilante. And since a lot of you probably will never listen to a Shadow radio show despite the early seasons having the incredible Orson Welles doing his voice, I thought I’d give everyone a visual alternative which can be found very easily on YouTube.
In this 15 part serial developed by Columbia Pictures, our hero battles a super villain known as The Black Tiger, who has the power to make himself invisible and through that power is making his bid at world domination. The goofy thing about this serial is the fact that it’s typically the Shadow who turns invisible in most of the mediums, not the bad guys he fights, so the roles are definitely reversed.
The reason for this was that Columbia relied heavily on fistfights, chases, and headlong action to pad out it’s serials, and balked the prospect of a 15-chapter adventure where the audience wouldn’t see much of the hero because he would be turning invisible constantly. So instead they went the more traditional Shadow from his pulp roots and just dressed him up in a fedora, cloak, and scarf to conceal his identity.
It’s not a terrible idea though to give us a more pulp style Shadow, and I’m sure saved a ton on special effects as those could be replaced with more traditional punches that are typically free.
I will say the concept was saved a lot by the Shadow’s actor, Victor Jory, who really tried to remain faithful to the radio character despite not having the invisibility power, especially with including the radio show’s signature sinister chuckle whenever the Shadow confronts a villain.
It also helps that Columbia patterned the serial after its wildly successful serial of 1938, The Spider’s Web, which was also based on a masked hero the pulps in The Spider. (which who consequently would team up with the Shadow in Dynamite’s “Masks” Series decades later.)
But I’ll let you be the judge of whether or not you think this serial is worth the celluloid it’s printed on. Check out Part 1 “The Doomed City” by watching the link below!
As mentioned, I’m of two minds over this book. On the one hand, it was a nice little Shadow adventure more in line with the stuff I read as a kid, so in that way, I really did enjoy it. It was comfort food, like meatloaf and mashed potatoes. Sure, some people might scoff and turn their noses up at it thinking its too low brow for them. But for someone that grew up reading and listening to Shadow stories like this, it was a welcome return to those days of my misspend youth, a nice healthy dose of nostalgia, which is usually all I ever want from my stories about golden age superheroes.
Some writers try to write elaborate plots with some of these characters, and in most cases, they miss the boat. They make them too serious or too heavy and it collapses under it’s own weight. Most golden age character stories should be light and easy on the plot as they are supposed to be a temporary return to those simpler days where the stakes were easy to pick out and the battle lines were clearly drawn between good and evil. On this point, this Shadow story works so much better than a lot of other ones I’ve read what with it’s ultimately tongue and cheek monster movie fake out. It doesn’t try to be something it’s not, and delivers the comic book goods in a quick satisfying 36 pages!
However, I’m also of the mind that I did feel a little cheated by the reveal in the end. I really was hoping for some sort of story in which the Shadow really did battle the insanely devilish forces of horror that Lovecraft had concocted over the years. It was the main reason I bought the book in the first place as I was excited about possible mash up of these two universes being brought together. Maybe something like the Lobster Johnson adventures that appeared in the pages of Mike Mignola’s Hellboy Universe.
And although as I said, I was happy with the story that I ultimately got, there’s a part of me that probably wouldn’t have purchased the book if I had known this was what it was going to be in the end. And that part of me is sort of yelling at the rest of me saying I was cheated out of seeing the Shadow battle Cthulu, and that’s something that just can’t be forgiven.
So in the end, I’ll have to downgrade my grade slightly on this to a “B-” just because as short and sweet as it was, this was one time it could have been so much more.
Andy’s Read Pile Grade: B-