Hello, folks, Si Spurrier here with some behind-the-scenesery on my new run on The Shadow, with Daniel HDR on art.
Let’s start with a quick note on how the project came about. I met editor Joseph Rybandt through mutual chum Garth Ennis. Joe’s a giant slab of Splendid who whispers louder than most people talk and holds his booze with admirable – nay, British-esque – aplomb. He’s the sort of guy who seems simply scaled up in every dimension there is, physical and otherwise, and therefore never ceases to catch one by surprise when dropping reminders he’s also sharper than a razor and funnier than an otter with the shits. We’ve been talking about working together for a long time, and for The Shadow the stars finally aligned.
A swift word on the three names in the byline too. Having signed-up for the gig, I dived into the chance to write this most legendary and pluripotent of characters with zeal. I toyed with the idea of doing – for want of a better phrase – a “straight” story. By which I mean a classic Shadow tale of criminals, spies, derring-do, espionage and shots fired in the darkness. A lovely little thriller, without much wider ambition. But after mulling it over – with the news blaring from the next room and my US pals wringing their hands at the daily cavalcade of unrealpolitik – the opportunity simply felt too singular, too timely, and too important, to miss. I decided to push it. To do something insanely challenging, something intricately structured, something dripping with meaning. I’ve waxed lyrical many times elsewhere about my agnostic relationship with The Superhero as a trope… well, here was a chance to write about one of the first, one of the purest, one of the most unshamedly monstrous. In today’s world of questionable truth, police brutality and open extremism, this felt like soil too fertile to ignore.
This Shadow arc, be warned, is very consciously about stuff.
In the event, no sooner had I written issue 1 than my life hit some unforeseen complications. A parallel gig became an unavoidable timesuck – occupying me fulltime for several months – and coincided with a major relocation of my home and family. In despair I realized there was no way I could do justice to this elaborate, ambitious story I’d opted to tell, without first engaging some help. So I turned to another friend, Dan Watters. a young writer of exceptional talent, he first caught my eye with his retro-voodoo-sci-fi noir book Limbo, with Caspar Wijngaard, from Image Comics. From issue #2 of this Shadow arc onwards, Dan and I have slipped into a thoroughly delightful symbiosis, with him doing the lion’s share of the heavy lifting: spinning script gold from the straw of my egregiously long and frighteningly fiddly outlines. You are, I assure you, in safe hands.
The same is eminently true of our artist, Daniel HDR. As you’ll see in this first issue – I promise we’ll get stuck into it shortly – he’s the perfect candidate for a story of this type. His clean draftsmanship suits the hard-boiled obsessiveness of the script – all those repeat-angle shots! – while his action sequences are as tense and stylish as they are kinetic.
All righty. Enough preamble. Shall we dive in?
Okay, so immediately we’re establishing the grid. Two columns of four – that’s our standard template for this whole arc. The only times we break this (as you’ll see in later issues) are when we want to deliberately jolt the reader out of the rhythm.
I wouldn’t suggest something this structured and regulated for many stories, but this happens to be one of them. One has to be prepared to sacrifice a certain amount of freeform energy in return for a sense of overbearing tension, which works with tales of a hard-boiled nature. When the structure breaks down – when the grid gives way to splashes of pure action – it really does sing.
Here we’re meeting our main character (not sure I’d go so far as to say she’s the “protagonist” per se, but she’s definitely our main point of reference for most of the story), Maria. I love how much freedom and movement Daniel’s able to incorporate into this one recurring view, from the unseen patient’s perspective, of Maria moving around and talking.
Pages 2 & 3:
Yeah. A school shooting. An early statement of intent, I guess. Don’t go expecting a fun, light-hearted romp about swinging on chandeliers. This is The Shadow, baby. Things are going to get dark.
Writing that SFX into a script at the end of page 3 – “hahahahahahah” – was something of a tingly, bucket list moment.
Pages 4 & 5:
Now that, my friends, is one helluva DPS. Daniel doing a cracking job of introducing our eponymous vigilante as an unknowable, unrelatable being – rather than a human we want to get to know. Big props here to colorist Natalia Marques, whose washed out palette simultaneously reminds us this is a flashback and drenches this whole scene in an unnervingly romantic glow.
And here’s our other “main” character. In scripts we’ve taken to calling him “Crispy”, although by the end of this issue you may well suspect who he really is.
The layout of Crispy’s hospital room, the bandages Mary’s removing, the bag of bio-waste she’s putting them in… right now it all seems pretty innocuous, but it’s all been obsessively arranged, blocked-out and setup to deliver a single iconic image on page 20. Yes, this is that sort of book.
Some cute little flashes down the bottom there of the Shadow’s adventures over the years. These are actually a sly little preview of some of the stuff that’ll happen in later issues. We’re going to be delving deep into the Shadow’s past, in the process of dragging him – kicking and screaming – into the unlovely present.
I love Mary’s line about the laugh, here. All those awful sounds she’s heard, and the Shadow’s laugh is by far the worse.
I mentioned up above that I’ve been quite open, in other interviews, about my equivocal view of Superhero Comics. (In brief: when they’re great, they’re great. When they’re bad, they’re unhealthily lazy dreck with the potential to seriously damage readers’ moral perspectives on the world.) Mary’s views on the subject, here, are wallowing at the less charitable end of my opinion-spectrum.
Some serious darkness coming out now. The Shadow serving these dumb brats a big steaming plate of inconvenient Truth.
Note, by the way, that his judgment of these two kids – “born to a privilege you neither deserved nor noticed” – “no idea you began life on a pedestal” – “and as the world improves for those beneath you your empire erodes” — applies to a frighteningly huge contingent of the western world. And, on a slightly closer-to-home level, IMO is the guiding toxicity behind a scary majority of comic book discourse online.
Panel 4… our first glimpse of two concepts which are going to be very important in this book. The first is the idea that the Shadow’s gaze has the ability to seriously f*ck with your mind. His “powers”, such as they are, have been handled with pleasing ambiguity over the years. Nobody’s wanted to fix them down or trap them in amber too much, because it flies somewhat in the face of the character’s sheer unknowableness. We’re going to be exploring his “mess with your head” skills far more, moving forward.
The other thing to mention here is the motif of these weird segmented creatures. These slithering nightmare-echoes. These are all manifestations of something which – for now – we’re not explaining at all. It’s called LEVIATHAN. It’s gradually going to become one of the core concepts behind our book.
“Who knows…” Another bucket list line of dialogue there.
BTW, I think panel 1 was originally rather more graphic than it currently is. Normally I’d rail against that, but I actually think there’s something quite potent about this sort of just off camera horribleness. We don’t need to see an exit-wound on the back of the kid’s head. Our imagination’s far nastier anyway.
Panel 2 – the silent one – is one of my favorite panels in this issues. This is the sort of beautiful stuff you can do with a grid. You build up this relentless rhythm and then – bang. A silent, still moment becomes obscenely powerful.
Our first appearance of the name “Leviathan” down the bottom there. What is that?
Mary still hard at work here. All these bandages and bloody wrappers are – I assure you – building up to something. The TV stuff here is really just a tease. A glimpse of the world outside this (increasingly claustrophobic) little hospital room. And an appetizer for some of the key threads of our story.
Crispy in action, and Mary building up to what she thinks she’s worked out. This elderly, bloody, wasted, ruined wreck of a man – this crispy-fried corpse that refuses to die. You’re him. Aren’t you…?
And here’s the lovely cliffhanger, and the payoff for all Daniel’s meticulous positioning of objects, light-sources and figures in this room. Check out the shadow down the side of the bed, cast by the glow from the dead TV… the bloody bandages forming a red-stained scarf… That’s one seriously lovely bit of light-work there.
And that’s all we’ve got. Next month we shift the story out of the hospital and into the wider world. As the shadows just keep getting deeper…