MINI-SERIES REVIEWS...

cover #1The Shadow / Doc Savage

(1995 - two issues, published by Dark Horse Comics)

Writer: Steve Vance. Art: Stan Manoukian, Vince Roucher.

In the 1930s and 1940s, The Shadow and Doc Savage were the most successful of the pulp magazine heroes. And though the pulp era has long since faded away, the mantle was passed to the comic book super heroes and, over the years, both characters have enjoyed -- usually brief -- comic book revivals. So it's unsurprising eventually someone would think to team up these two icons of pulp adventure.

Which brings us to this 1995 mini-series -- published at a time when Dark Horse briefly had the rights to both characters (and was perhaps anticipating a spike in their popularity as this was around the time of the big screen The Shadow movie). Although this isn't the first time the two were teamed up -- that distinction occurred a few years before when DC Comics owned the rights and produced a crossover adventure between their Shadow series (The Shadow Strikes #5-6) and their Doc Savage (#17-18) -- in a story as good, and maybe better, than this mini-series. But since it was a different company, it's not considered part of the same canon.

This essentially comes across as a Doc Savage adventure guest starring The Shadow. Which is perhaps a logical approach given the tendency is often to depict The Shadow as a mysterious enigma, meaning it's easier to use Savage as a conventional protagonist. And the plot nicely evokes a classic Doc Savage adventure, with Doc and his two most popular aides (Ham and Monk -- the rest of the team mentioned but not appearing) are approached by a young woman whose scientist father has gone missing and she herself has been attacked by mysterious zombies. It's a briskly-paced romp, with the trio investigating, getting embroiled with Nazis, working in a few period references (including the Hindenburgh) and, of course, crossing paths with The Shadow.

Part of the point being, of course, to contrast Doc Savage's brighter, more optimistic adventuring (he and his team using sleeping darts and the like) with The Shadow's darker, more lethal crimefighting style -- in a sense a prototype of the later Superman/Batman contrast. I've said before that I'm not sure The Shadow was quite as ruthless and violent as latter day scribes like to depict him (I recall him using guns and killing people in shoot-outs -- but in an as-needed capacity).

But as I say: wrier Steve Vance does a good job of capturing the flavour of the genre -- especially Doc Savage stories, from the fast-pace, the outlandish twists, and the comical bickering of Ham and Monk. While visuals are clear and energetic, telling the story efficiently (though the artist maybe fails to evoke Savage's size who was often described as being a giant among men).

Of course the nature of the idiom, and the characters as established, is there's maybe no great depth to the tale. The Shadow is an enigma and Savage and his gang not exactly richly defined, emotionally complex heroes. You can enjoy reading it -- and are liable to forget about it just as quickly. But as a little hit of pulp-era adventure...it does the job.

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