The Week in Reviews: The Shadow and The Adventures of Superman

There were a lot of exciting comics produced this week, and while we often don't run very many reviews, many of them demanded attention.

Here is the first of a two-part collection of reviews of some of the most-anticipated books of the week, here focusing on writer Ron Marz's The adventures of Superman #15 (a reprinting of stories already published digitally) with artist Evan "Doc" Shaner and his Dynamite Entertainment one-shot The Shadow Over Innsmouth with artist Ivan Rodriguez.

The Adventures of Superman #15: Supes Classic

So, I’ve been waiting for this comic to come out for a while now and I’m really glad it’s finally here… What? You tell me you read it ages ago digitally? You’re telling me that I’m a miserable luddite hopelessly mired in the past and clinging to physical-release comics like a drowning man holding on for dear life to a piece of driftwood when digital comics are where all the cool kids hang out, dadio?

Well, let me tell you something, reader. I like my comics in old-timey physical form because that’s what I know, love, and am perfectly comfortable with. Similarly, I like my Superman to be square-jawed, inspirational, and wearing his red underwear on the outside of his tights. In that same vein, there’s something about the Big Blue Boy Scout punching robots that never really gets old.

Anyway, if you’re anything like me, then you’ll love this comic from writer Ron Marz and artist Evan “Doc” Shaner. It’s a great standalone read that tells a complete and compelling story of the Man of Tomorrow and does it beautifully. It’s got action, heart, coherent thematic content, and lovely artwork.

So, without further ado, let’s jump into the breakdown…

The Good:

Let’s start with story here. I know this comic has been out for ages in one form or another but I still don’t want to spoil anything. That being said, Ron Marz tells a wonderful tale that highlights many iconic elements of the Man of Steel. This comic touches on his relationship with Lois, his status as a lone survivor on an adoptive world, his (for lack of a better term) optimistic folksiness, his unassailable morality, and his wink-and-a-nod “have a good day, citizen” interaction with those he saves.

Essentially, Supes is confronted by a mysterious robot with apparent ties to Krypton and must deal with the threat. More than a simple “hero punches automaton” story though, this comic starts by touching on the theme of family, specifically of the discovery of family hitherto unknown, and ends on this theme in a touching and effective manner. It’s also full of lovely touches like Superman trying to talk to and reason with the robot before ever once resorting to violence. Additionally, rather than destroy another threat, he is content to let it go on its way so long as its ability to menace the innocent has been neutralized. It’s things like this that make me feel like I’m reading a Superman comic and not some other powerful super-being.

Also, kudos for Marz and Shaner for crafting one of the cutest Clark and Lois interactions that I’ve (in my admittedly limited experience) ever read. The chemistry between the two is just sweet.

Turning to the art, I’m on the record as really appreciating Doc Shaner’s work and he certainly doesn’t disappoint in this comic. All throughout this comic, everything is depicted with polish and panache with the design and execution capturing a kind of timeless quality that works particularly well for Superman. That being said, there are a lot of little things that I love about Doc’s work in this issue. For one, he perfectly captures my personal conception of Superman. I love the classic costume and I really like the fact that he doesn’t look “roided-out.” In my mind with Supes’ power and abilities coming from his unique alien physiology rather than raw musculature, I always appreciate seeing him look like a not-abnormally buff guy which also helps the reader to accept that he can dress down as Clark and be a believably normal fella.

Additionally, some of Shaner’s usual touches are wonderfully present like the hand-drawn panel borders, the beautiful and seamless integration of sound effects (which more artists need to wake up and start using), and beautifully expressive faces captured with an economy of detail. Beyond this, there are even more noteworthy points. For instance, there are cameos from Joe Kubert, DC’s Popeye parody Captain Horatio Strong, and even Shaner and his family at one point. Doc even provided a handy list of the cameos on this issue’s cover.

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t say how neat it was seeing Superman’s parents Jor-El and Lara decked out in Golden Age-y/Silvery Age-y/Pulp-y pseudo-futuristic getups. Searching around, it looks like these outfits are actually based on Pre-Crisis depictions of the two. While I like the Byrne-style Kryptonion clothing as much as the next guy, these are great to see now and again too.

Oh, and kudos to colorist Matthew Wilson. He does great and sometimes very subtle work here. He reminds me favorably of Jordie Bellaire and Shaner’s coloring of his own work. There are some brilliant moments in this comic that would not have worked nearly so well with a less competent color artist. In particular, there is a flashback in this issue with nicely muted colors that serves to set it apart from the rest of the book very nicely.

The Bad:

I can honestly say that I’ve got nothing.

The Questionable:

Where we talk about things that are neither good nor necessarily bad, but are at least a little head-scratching.

I’ve really got nothing here either. If I really had to bring something up as a criticism, I’d say that there is one panel immediately after Superman is first swatted away by the big robot that looks slightly off in terms of anatomy with the way Supes is twisting around but that is an incredibly minor quibble.

In Conclusion:

In my mind, this is just about a perfect Superman story. I’ve never really been a DC guy but I have always appreciated both Batman and Superman. I love the old Fleischer Superman cartoons, watched the Bruce Timm series, saw a bunch of the old George Reeves shows, and have seen all the Christopher Reeve movies (for better and worse) despite not really reading Superman comics. Still, this feels like the Superman that I know and love. I’d recommend this comic to anyone.

So, what are you waiting for? Go to your comic shop! And if I were you, I’d try to get there faster than a speeding bullet…

You can check out our interview with Ron Marz and Doc Shaner about this issue here.

The Shadow Over Innsmouth: Shadow, Shadow-Doo Where Are You?

It is with a heavy heart that I sit down to review this comic from writer Ron Marz and artist Ivan Rodriguez. When I first heard of the existence of this comic early Wednesday morning, I knew that this was an amazing premise and I couldn’t possibly pass up reading it. However, to paraphrase George R.R. Martin, in reading this book I thought myself safe and happy and suddenly my joy turned to ashes in my mouth.

I admit that I’m slightly overselling my disappointment but not by much. Honestly though the idea of seeing Lamont “The Shadow” Cranston fighting otherworldly Lovecraftian horrors got me so excited that I could hardly keep myself from immediately running to the comic shop. While I’ve never been a big reader of The Shadow, one of my fondest memories of my grandfather is of him telling me how much he loved the character as a kid and misquoting one of his catchphrases to me as, “the weed of evil bears bitter fruit.” As far as Lovecraft goes, I own two different complete collections of his work and I’m made my way through at least 75% of his creative output. Frankly, I love his brand of horror and overwrought language. On top of that, I’ve been a reader of the work of C.J. Henderson who spun tails of hardboiled detectives taking on the sorts of dark things that lurk in Lovecraft’s universe.

On a side note, I’ve learned in writing this review that Henderson died this past month. I’d met the man at several comic conventions and he was always a joy to speak with. I encourage you to visit his site (linked above) and check out his work. It’s pulpy but immensely enjoyable stuff.

Anyway, I digress. You can see though why I would be so jazzed by the prospect of reading this comic. Want to find out why I was less than thrilled by it? Well, you’ll have to brave the…SPOILERS!!!

A book’s title, cover, and preview pages sell a book a certain way. This book sold itself as The Shadow meets Lovecraftian horror. Did it deliver that? The answer is simply no. What it delivered was an episode of Scooby-Doo.

Tell me if this sounds familiar. A couple of plucky heroes go into a strange, foggy town. One or more of them have a run-in with what appears to be a demon, spook, specter, or other supernatural force. Then they are told a legend and strongly encouraged to leave as a result. Next, one or more of our heroes has a further run-in with the entity which ends in a stalemate. Finally, our heroes hatch a plan to catch/confront the entity and do so. In the end, it turns out that the entity is really one or more people in silly costumes capitalizing on local legends and/or myths to cover up criminal activities and frighten away suspicious interlopers.

Does that sound like something Scooby-Doo and the Mystery Gang would get mixed up in on a Saturday morning? Well, it also happens just like that in this book. With The Shadow. And rather than fighting Lovecraftian horror, the Shadow merely shoots up some bootleggers with the not-really-assistance of Margo Lane.

Wait, I hear you crying, Lovecraftian horrors don’t make sense in the world of The Shadow! This is the only way that anyone could tell this story and have it make sense! Well, then maybe rather than selling me a bill of goods before pulling a bait-and-switch, you just don’t tell this story. I don’t see any way you can package this tale without it being disappointing on some level.

Of course, up until this point I haven’t really taken this story on its own terms. Looking at it objectively though, I still can’t praise it which is unfortunate and frustrating because I just finished reading and reviewing a comic by the same writer that I didn’t have a single bad thing to say about.

Anyway, even judging this narrative as it stands it doesn’t really hold up. When The Shadow first tangles with the apparent Innsmouth Fish-Men (basically the aforementioned local legend/myth says that evil gods were brought to the town of Innsmouth where this story is set and resulted in fish creatures interbreeding with the townsfolk and resulting in a race of fish people who live just off the coast at Devil Reef, all of which comes from the original Lovecraft) there is a massive narrative cheat. The reader should know or at least suspect that the Shadow is an experienced and inveterate gunslinger. As such, the fact that he fails to hit a single apparent horror suggests that the threat is somehow supernatural. When we later learn that it isn’t and The Shadow subsequently has no problem shooting the place up, this scene makes absolutely no sense.

Additionally, the story makes use of the old “two characters have a loud and fake argument as justification for one to leave while the other investigates so that the former character can appear later at an opportune moment to save the day” gag. Not only that but the argument comes literally out of nowhere such that a savvy reader knows what Lamont and Margo are up to immediately. Not only that but Margo’s only accomplishment after Lamont Cranston leaves is to poke around the docks at night again and get captured. This time though, she is grabbed by an apparent Fish-Man and rips his mask off. (Shock! It’s old man Zadok Allen who encouraged them to leave earlier.) It isn’t as though Lamont used the time when the townsfolk thought he was gone to do anything of importance or anything at all as far as the reader knows.

Really, The Shadow just shows up just before Margo is about to be killed and blows away all of the costumed bootleggers with no problem. This just shows that Margo’s presence was unnecessary and if earlier he’d waited until the fish creatures were more fully engaged in their smuggling activities, he should have had no problem just killing them then.

The thing that redeems this story slightly is the appearance of the HP Lovecraft himself. He hears of the events of the comic secondhand and apparently puts together a reference to “The Shadow,” the name of the town, and the local legends/myths as inspiration for the story “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” which actually inspired this comic. It’s cute but it’s spoiled a bit by the poor likeness to Lovecraft that artist Rodriguez provides. Lovecraft had such a long and thin face that it isn’t hard to caricature him but the only place where he really looks like himself is in a reflection on a glass because the shape of the glass is meant to deform his image. The thing is that rather than a deformation, the reflection only results in a picture that is recognizably Lovecraft.

I haven’t talked much about the writing in general or the artwork in this comic. Suffice to say that beyond what I’ve specifically discussed, both are perfectly serviceable. The problem is that neither is good enough to save the story from its inherent problems. In the final analysis, I cannot recommend this book. Perhaps someone unfamiliar with the work of Lovecraft will find this an entertaining read featuring The Shadow but having read Lovecraft’s work (and watched the adventures of a certain sleuthing cartoon hound) I just can’t get excited about it. Sorry to say but I must leave this review with a resounding "meh."