The Shadow: The Fires of Creation: written by Garth Ennis; illustrated by Aaron Campbell (2012): How could it have taken this long to join Scottish master of ultraviolence Garth Ennis and ultraviolent pulp-hero The Shadow? In any case, here it is, and it’s mostly awesome. Thank you, Dynamite Comics!
The Dynamite/Ennis take on the Shadow brings something more of the supernatural into things than were there in the original — the Shadow at least dimly sees the future, and has been entrusted by what appear to be mystical forces with the protection of the Earth.
Set a couple of years prior to the U.S. entrance into World War Two, The Fires of Creation sees the Shadow’s alter ego Lamont Cranston working with US military intelligence prior to the formation of the OSS (Operation of Strategic Services, later the CIA) to stop a mysterious Japanese expedition into China from finding something extremely dangerous that could allow the Axis to win the war.
Ennis does a nice job of melding Shadowy violence with a narrative that at times resembles mid-century spy works by writers that include Graham Greene and John LeCarre. Along the way, the Shadow’s mysterious origins are touched upon — the criminals of Hong Kong remember his first forays into crime-fighting, and the Japanese soldiers running the mysterious operation are well aware that the Shadow is something to worry about. A lot.
Aaron Campbell’s art suits the material. It’s clean and illustrative, with a nice touch of darkness and murk when required. I think Campbell is still learning when it comes to layout (well, who isn’t?) as there’s a somewhat confusing bit towards the end of the story in which it’s difficult to figure out which way (or where) a character is going, and while that’s cleared up in later pages, it’s an odd misstep for what’s otherwise a solid job of comic-book illustration.
Unlike the pulp magazines, in which the Shadow often plays supporting character to lieutenants like Margo Lane and Harry Vincent, The Fires of Creation makes the Shadow the main character, something more common to the popular Shadow radio series. There are echoes of Howard Chaykin’s revisionist comic-book Shadow of the 1980’s, but Ennis’ character doesn’t parody the original in any way: he’s a committed bad-ass whose cause is righteous. Recommended.