Mysterious Being of the Night
The Pulp Years
by Todd D. Severin and Keith Holt
Supporting characters played an important role in The Shadow novels as well. Whether, a freshly recruited agent, perfectly suited for a dangerous mission, or a bumbling police commissioner that would unwittingly provide The Shadow with information, Gibson introduced an array of conflicting personalities into the series. The cast of supporting characters developed from the very first novel, as Joe Cardona, the Italian-American detective; Harry Vincent, the first of The Shadow's agents to be recruited; and Claude Fellows, The Shadow's contact man who sent and received messages, made their first appearances. These early issues had The Shadow as an almost peripheral character, waiting in the wings and plotting as his agents (proxy heroes) did the investigative groundwork. At critical points, The Shadow would launch into motion, rescuing the proxy hero from whatever terrible trouble he had become entwined, and defeating the villain.
Later issues saw The Shadow becoming a more central figure in the stories, but the posse of agents continued to grow, introducing some wonderful personalities to the pulp pages. Future issues would introduce Burbank, the communications master who sat immobile at his console, armed only with a pair of earphones, Clyde Burke, the New York crime reporter, Cliff Marsland, The Shadow's connection to the underworld, and Vic Marquette, a secret service operative who was so entwined with The Shadow's activities that he, like Joe Cardona, was essentially an agent. Other Agents and characters appeared as they were needed, including Ralph Weston, the police commissioner; Rutledge Mann, the failed business man who assembled news data for The Shadow; Moe Shrevnitz (later called Shrevvy), The Shadow's cab driving chauffeur; and a network of connections in Chinatown. The agents all knew of one another, but not one of them knew the identity of their master, The Shadow.
Women played a minimal role in The Shadow's life until "The Teeth of The Dragon," published November 15, 1937, when Gibson introduced Myra Reldon. Myra, an undercover federal agent, occasionally donned make-up to become Ming Dawn, a beautiful oriental woman. She was a cool professional, who became an agent of The Shadow, and proved invaluable in combating Oriental menaces like Shiwan Kahn.
With the June 15, 1941 issue, "The Thundering King," Gibson reluctantly bowed
to corporate pressure and introduced Margo Lane to the pulp series. The
young socialite, who was a mainstay of the radio show, successfully became
the woman in peril from her very first appearance and never transcended
this role throughout her life in the magazine. She was never popular with
the readers, who favored a harder-edged Shadow than appeared on the radio,
but nevertheless, she stayed till the bitter end.
Perhaps Gibson's greatest contribution to The Shadow was the fantastic array of villains and evil devices that he poured into the magazine. Once again, the concept of an evil genius bent on world domination was not original to The Shadow Magazine. In 1913, Sax Rohmer, began successfully parlaying the concept into a popular run of novels depicting the villainy of Fu Manchu, who used swarms of loyal minion warriors, drugs, poisons and his own incredible intellect to wage a campaign of terror across the world. Gibson, borrowed this concept and, once again, twisted and molded it to fit his own needs. In doing so he created such radical evil geniuses as The Red Envoy, the first of Gibson's many masked villains. The Red Envoy ("The Red Menace," November 1931) murdered every one in his path in order to get the secret plans for an aerial torpedo before he was eventually bested by The Shadow. Many villains followed, such as The Black Master, Mox, The Gray Fist, Zemba, The Black Falcon, and The Cobra. Each villain came equipped with his own secret identity, incredible criminal intellect and hell-bent plan for destruction involving a multitude of secret weapons such as "The Silent Death," an electric ray machine that dealt out death on a massive scale, or "The Black Hush," an ingenious machine that cast out a cone of pure darkness capable of negating electromagnetic activity, making alarm systems obsolete and casting the City into blackout.
Undeniably, The Shadow's greatest villain was Shiwan Kahn, the direct descendent of the infamous Ghengis Kahn who felt that it was his birthright to rule the world. From his first appearance in "The Golden Master," published September 15, 1939, it was apparent that Shiwan Kahn possessed all the same hypnotic and mystical powers that empowered The Shadow. Shiwan Kahn's battles with The Shadow spanned over three more issues ("Shiwan Kahn Returns," "The Invisible Shiwan Kahn" and "Masters of Death") and proved to be one of the highlights of an incredibly successful magazine run. Shiwan Kahn was pure evil, without even the slightest trace of humanity, constantly plotting world domination. Each battle forced The Shadow to extend himself to the limits of his endurance before he successfully thwarted Shiwan's plans. Finally, in "Masters of Death,"( May 15, 1940) The Shadow and Shiwan battled to the death in a fiery scene that left only The Shadow still standing.
The Shadow battled these geniuses with his multitude of skills, agents
and his trusty automatic pistols, two Colt .45's Model 1911A. No matter
how great the intellect of the evil genius, The Shadow's was greater. He
out manipulated them, out guessed them, out maneuvered them. No matter
how secret they thought their plans were, The Shadow knew.
The Shadow employed exploding powders, wall-crawling suction cups, a boomerang, and his famous girasol ring. Gibson borrowed upon his years of magic experience and empowered The Shadow with almost Houdini-like powers, which he used often to effect miraculous escapes. As the novels progressed, the stories became often more violent, with both of The Shadow's .45's blazing a path of vengeance into the night. But, perhaps The Shadow's greatest weapon was the one that created him. The laugh. The menacing, haunting laugh that burst across the sky at his arrival and drove terror into the hearts of the evil.
It was the Golden Days of the Shadow.