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Interview: Matt Wagner Discusses THE SHADOW: YEAR ONE

Writer Matt Wagner talks to Dynamite about his work on THE SHADOW: YEAR ONE

THE SHADOW: YEAR ONE is coming to a close, with issue #9 of 10 coming out recently. Dynamite Comics talked to writer Matt Wagner about this project and his work on the stand-alone series which delves into the early years of The Shadow.

QUESTION: Matt, this was, in effect, the never-before-told secret origin of the King of Secrets. Wasn’t it a little bit intimidating as a project? Did you pitch it yourself to Dynamite?

MATT WAGNER: When Dynamite first got the rights to The Shadow, I was both thrilled and bummed out. Thrilled, because I’m a total Shadow fan/geek/junkie from way back when. I first discovered the character when I was 13 or so, with the release of the famous DC series by Michael Kaluta and Denny O’Neil.

Around that time (this is mid 70s) there were also a bunch of the old radio shows available on vinyl Lps. And then Pyramid Books began to release a run of the old pulp novels in paperback form with stunning painted covers by Jim Steranko. So, I really got a mega-dose of The Shadow at just the right age to capture my imagination…and how! Bummed out, because when Dynamite first announced their acquisition of the rights, I was up- to-my-eyes busy on a long project for another publisher. I’d already had a long history of plying my talents with several of Dynamite’s other pulp-ish licensed heroes…and now it looked like I wasn’t going to be able finally get the chance to work on my favorite pulp character of all time. Maybe my favorite character, ever! But then, I was able to get far enough ahead on the other project that I was able to call Nick Barucci and say, “Dude, you’ve gotta let me have a crack at The Shadow.” Being such an uber-fan of the character, I knew there a mystery period of his narrative that hadn’t yet been explored—the story of how he first returned to America from his many years abroad and took up his cloaked persona and his ongoing crusade against crime. Since I’d already written the “Year One” adventures of both Zorro and The Green Hornet…the natural choice for my run on the character was The Shadow: Year One.

Q: Originally an 8-issue limited series, it soon expanded to 10 parts. Was it a need for more space for all the reveals or the popularity of the subject, or both?

MW: Yeah, as I got further and further into the story, it just became evident that I needed more space in order to include all the cool stuff I wanted to portray. This was gonna be The Shadow’s fledgling adventure and so I really wanted to incorporate a lot of the familiar elements that I knew and loved about the character. At first, I asked Dynamite if I could have two more issues to flesh out the series…and they said yes. Then, I asked if I could have more pages in the final issue (30 as opposed to a standard 22)…and they said yes again! I feel this really gave me the scope to provide a truly epic origin adventure for the world’s most famous pulp character.

Q: Did you do a lot of research over the many media to develop the intros of all these various aspects of the Shadow, or use your own vast knowledge and gut as a writer?

MW: A bit of both. And you’ve touched on something that’s a crucial element to my take on the character. Over the years there have been many different versions of The Shadow. In fact, during his heyday, there were two incredibly popular variations of the character…that were strikingly different from each other. In the best-selling pulp magazines, The Shadow was a dark-cloaked avenger who prowled the night and dispensed a bloody form of justice in his crusade against crime—he was truly mysterious and virtually unknown to anyone, a real loner. In the equally popular radio program, he was more of a private detective with mystical powers. He could “cloud men’s minds” and thus turn invisible (which was a brilliant conceit for radio, a medium with no visual component) and he almost never wielded a gun. And he had a “constant friend and companion, the lovely Margo Lane” who was privy to all The Shadow’s secrets. The Shadow comics of that day actually tired to incorporate both versions by having our hero appear like the pulp version but also have the power to turn invisible, an effect they portrayed by have The Shadow printed in blue ink when he couldn’t be seen. So, my attitude was that I needed to take these many versions and distill into my comic book version. The pulps are certainly my main source but I also introduce Margo Lane at really early stage.

Q: What was the inspiration behind your reveal of how Cranston first met Margo Lane?

MW: Well, I thought it was a good idea to have our main character have someone to whom he can relate. It also gave me someone to act as narrator, as I feel it’s really important to maintaining The Shadow’s sense of mystery that we’re never inside his head. So Margo plays the role of Watson to Cranston’s Sherlock. The pulps had a specific intro for how Margo met Cranston and recognized that this Lamont wasn’t the same one she had previously known. I used that in my version but I also added another factor in that she’s a “poor little rich girl” who’s found herself high and dry after her father’s death and financial ruin. And so she’s basically spent the past several years as something of a gold-digger, bouncing from affairs with one wealthy man to another in order to maintain the lifestyle of her youth. But, when we first meet her, she’s kind of at the end of her rope in regards to these romances. She’s developed something of a reputation among the upper crust and so, upon returning to America, she finds her only opportunity as the moll of a bootlegging gangster. Here again, I’m distilling various versions of The Shadow and one of the things I liked about the Alec Baldwin film version was that fact that, when he first winds up in Asia following WWI, he becomes amoral and “shadowy”. I wanted to give Margo a dark background as well so that there was a significant factor that linked the two together.

Q: Watching the Shadow assemble his vast network of agents is awesome! I would love to see more of the adventures THEY must go through. Spinoff?

MW: HA! You’ll have to ask Dynamite.

Q: How did you develop the idea of the black hat and cloak? Anything of a Batman nature there?

MW: Well, let’s be totally clear here…The Shadow predates Batman by many years and served as a significant inspiration for the character. Lamont Cranston is the prototype for Bruce Wayne in nearly every way (minus the losing-his-parents aspect) and the fact that both characters dress in black to fight crime from the shadows is a very clear connection. Additionally, the very first Batman story--The Case of the Chemical Syndicate—is directly adapted from a Shadow pulp story—Partners in Peril. In my version, The Shadow adopts his costume in a series of stages. He draws inspiration for the cloak after hearing a woman describe how utterly frightened both she and her husband were after seeing Bela Lugosi appear in the Broadway production of Dracula—“Like the Angel of Death, himself!”

Q: When all is said and done, what do you hope readers come away with after reading The Shadow: Year One?

MW: Obviously, I’d love it if readers came to love the character as much as I do!

Q: Is it me, or has Dr. Zorn been especially evil and ruthless in this mini?

MW: Chilling. Yeah…I like to make my bad guys reeeeally bad! Zorn’s been a lot of fun since he’s just such a monster. In the last two issues, we see more of that come to the forefront.

Q: How has it been working with Wilfredo Torres?

MW: I first discovered Wilfredo’s work when I was casting about for who I’d like to work with on Year One and a friend pointed me to Wilfredo’s blog. I had a particular vision of how I wanted The Shadow and Wilfredo’s been able to hit that look to a “T”! I lobbied hard to have Dynamite hire him for the book and I’m so happy we were able to get him.

Q: What is next on the horizon for you, Matt?

MW: The Shadow: Year One has been quite a dream project for me. And my next endeavor even tops that! I’m currently both writing and drawing GRENDEL VS THE SHADOW! This stemmed from an email I received one morning from Dynamite’s editor-in-chief, Joe Rybandt who said he couldn’t sleep the night before thinking about this possibility. When he asked me if I was at all interested, my response was, “Are you kidding?! But…I’ve definitely gotta draw that one as well!” So, as fun as it’s been to get the chance to redefine one of my all time favorite characters…I’m having even more of a blast facing The Master of Darkness off against my own character! Like I said…dream come true!

Make sure to check out THE SHADOW: YEAR ONE from Dynamite and check out our exclusive, extended preview of the most recent issue and other Dynamite books.

7 Comments
Posted by cbishop

That was a great interview, but was instantly eclipsed by GRENDEL VS THE SHADOW?! Holy mother o' pete! I cannot wait to see that! :D

Posted by Owie

My LCS never got this in monthlies, but I'll definitely check it out as a trade, as a long time Wagner fan. I have been waiting for the Shadow/Grendel meet-up for a while now, so I'm glad to hear he's actively working on it. That should be great. Grendel/Batman was excellent and G/S should be another great opportunity to see these two noir types against each other.