Helfer’s plot is a byzantine maze, scattershot and pot-boiling, wherein the narrative is taken for a long drive, scenes crashing into seemingly unrelated scenes until spiraling into a strange cohesion. One can become confused easily, and this is an extremely wordy comic, though not in The Marvel method. The only moral center, The Shadow himself, is compromised by the utter amoral character of his Agents, and the severe immoral nature of his enemies. There are no heroes here, only the neo-fascist stringency of the titular hero. It’s great stuff and great character-building. No one individual repeats the personality or beat tics of another. In a comic with such a large cast, this is a masterclass in character development. Which is not to say everything works. Because sometimes it doesn’t.
The true stars of this book are, of course, the mighty Bill Sienkiewicz and Kyle Baker. How they got Sienkiewicz to do the first arc I will never know. But, damn, you know the man, and you know what he’s capable of. And he brings his A game, as he always does. But it is Kyle Baker, who takes over the comic after the first arc, that really brings the utter absurdity into blurry focus. His exaggerated character and background work is a perfect match to the story, translating a fever dream into a visual realization.
This version of The Shadow is not for everyone. It is crude, violent, dense, and requires patience. But as an outlier of the work being done by the Big Two at the time, it is a fascinating and, ultimately, entertaining piece of work. It certainly pointed the way to Vertigo and Image, where it might have lasted a bit longer. At least past the Android Shadow bit that probably sent the book to the cancellation bin. The creative team survived and thrived. I would have liked to see more, alas. I don’t know if this is a “good” comic, but it is a hugely entertaining one. And dropping acid before reading wouldn’t hurt.