Review by C.J. Bunce
Ever since the success of Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One, everyone has climbed aboard to use the Year One tag to sell copies. Many times the Year One is not an origin story but a random early story that fails to satisfy readers’ expectations. A successful twist on the Year One was Andy Diggle and Jock’s Green Arrow: Year One, but there’s also been Teen Titans: Year One, Batgirl: Year One and Huntress: Year One, Nightwing: Year One and Robin: Year One, and even Batman: Two-Face/Scarecrow Year One. It’s not only DC Comics who has cornered the market on Year One titles. We reviewed Howard Chaykin’s well done Die Hard: Year One here last year, and if you look around you’ll even find a Judge Dredd Year One and a Punisher: Year One. This week Matt Wagner, writer of Dynamite Comics’s Green Hornet: Year One , takes on the 1920s-1930s masked crimefighter The Shadow in The Shadow: Year One. The first issue of Wagner’s Year One creation kicks off the better side of Year One stories.
Wagner and artist Wilfredo Torres begin their Year One with a mysterious force referred to as the “Shadow of Doom” in 1929 Cambodia, where we first meet The Shadow’s alter ego Lamont Cranston. He is in pursuit of a criminal called the White Tiger and this pursuit returns him to New York City, a city brewing with criminals for The Shadow to bring to justice.
I am fascinated by the current surge in interest in classic characters from the early days of serial dramas, pulp stories and golden age comic books. Dynamite continues to acquire licenses to these unique characters that less creative types might pass over as dated and inaccessible to a modern audience. A large part of the success of these characters’ rebirths is owed to artist Alex Ross’s own interest in these characters. Just look at the characters he has brought new life to as chronicled in his Dynamite Art of Alex Ross book. Ross’s mini-series project Masks is currently on Issue #4 of #8 (with Issue #4 hitting comic book stores this past Wednesday). Fans introduced to The Shadow in that series will find Wagner’s Year One Shadow very familiar. And so far we can’t get enough of the Masks mini-series.
For an introduction issue The Shadow: Year One Issue #1 is surprisingly dense with story and world building. Guiseppe Masaretti is a delusional crime boss with a girlfriend he is trying to free himself of–Margo Lane–a woman those familiar with The Shadow will know well as his future companion. And we see Margo and Cranston cross paths, but not for the first time. So for this Year One story–at least in Issue #1–we’re not seeing the true first year of the character. Plenty of backstory is referenced here, and the origins of the title character himself may very well be left for later issues.
The artwork looks great–from the early New York City landscape to a speakeasy to the clothing of the lead characters this world is believable and interesting. More importantly Wagner makes a 1920s-1930s character easily accessible and enticing for modern audiences. The Shadow: Year One’s first issue is simply a good read and worth recommending. Keep an eye out for incentive covers by Howard Chaykin, Chris Samnee, Alex Ross and Matt Wagner. Also, The Shadow monthly series is in its 11th issue, also from Dynamite Comics.
Check it out this week at your local comic book store.