The Shadow/Batman #5
Publisher: Dynamite Comics/DC Comics
Writer: Steve Orlando
Artist: Giovanni Timpano
Cover: Brandon Peterson
Colors: Flavio Dispenza
Letters: Taylor Esposito
Reviewer: Steve Sellers
If there are any two characters in comics that were meant to be brought together for a crossover, Batman and The Shadow would be well up there. The beauty in the two characters is that they embody the same archetype and draw on many of the same influences, in addition to the obvious creative debt that the Dark Knight owes to The Master of Darkness. At the same time, they differ greatly in their motivations and their approaches, even if they are both dark avengers of the night.
Up to this point, DC and Dynamite have made a reasonable attempt to unite these two mythologies into a coherent narrative. This series has taken numerous elements from The Shadow’s own library and woven them into Batman’s history in a seamless way, while also telling a good, accessible story. The goal with a title like this is to appeal to both audiences and remain true to what both characters are fundamentally about.
While The Shadow/Batman makes some missteps, it holds up as a solid example of what a good inter-company crossover can achieve.
Brandon Peterson is an artist that I’ve appreciated since his time at CrossGen, and his cover for this issue does not disappoint. This cover features both heroes prominently, in a back-to-back formation that suggests solidarity in the face of impending danger. Batman is an imposing physical presence standing at the rear, while The Shadow cuts a leaner and distinctive figure at the front. They are different in certain aspects while belonging to the same legacy, and Peterson portrays that through pose and stature. The background offers a creepy and pulp-inspired vibe with the simple red background. The use of eyes scattered in the background is an interesting touch, though not reflective of the interior except perhaps in a symbolic sense. It’s good enough to draw me into the comic, in any case.
I’m unfamiliar with the work of Giovanni Timpano, but he does respectable work on this issue. One of his greatest strengths is in his visual portrayal of each of these iconic characters, all of them different in just the right ways. He has a good eye for faces, which is apparent with the iconic hawk nose of The Shadow, but also with the expression of Ra’s al Ghul. Timpano’s version of Ra’s shows the character’s immense age in his eyes, implying the world-weariness of immortality. Likewise, his Batman is a powerful physical force in contrast to the much smaller and wiry stature of Damian. Timpano’s visualization of these characters is rock-solid, and there are no moments where his character models look distinctly off.
In terms of other elements, I’m somewhat more concerned about the panel layouts. Some of them look perfectly solid, such as the scenes where The Shadow is held prisoner and tormented by Shiwan Khan. The action scenes are likewise reasonably decent, and the poses and physicality both come across well in those pages. At other times, however, the layouts come across as a little more slapdash, though this is more noticeable during some of the flashback sequences. These moments seem to lack flow between panels, though not so much that it impedes the story too greatly. The big set pieces are suitably dramatic, and his splash pages are effective in getting across the urgency of the narrative.
The coloring this issue is generally serviceable, though it doesn’t distinguish itself too much either. For the most part, it succeeds at establishing the dark tone with just the right shading. When Batman and The Shadow are in darkness, those panels look perfectly in keeping with the look one would expect to see in a comic featuring these two. However, there is effective use of lighting during the daylight battle between Ra’s and Damian, and the reflections and brighter tones come across nicely in those pages. The flashback scenes are far more muted and subdued in tone to suggest the time shift, and they succeed in that respect. At the same time, these lighter shades make those scenes less visually interesting even though they succeed in their intended use. Still, those are minor concerns, and nothing that’s overly distracting in a visual sense.
Taylor Esposito handles the lettering work this issue, and I have no real complaints with it. While interior fonts are generally solid, the interesting aspect of the lettering shows in the balloons, captions, and sound effects. Esposito makes good decisions in the placement of balloons, but also with the shape of the balloons. Where voices need to look electronic, the balloon shape suggests static purely through sharp edges. The use of a box shape to indicate The Shadow’s voice is an odd but interesting choice, though it makes sense how much his voice is an iconic part of his character. However, I most appreciated how sound effects are shown in these pages. These effects are used sparingly, but when needed, they take up volume without taking attention away from the artwork. Gunshots are big, loud, and dramatic, and they have impact because they’re only used in key moments.
Ever since I discovered his work on the DC Rebirth titles, Steve Orlando has been a solid, reliable writer for DC, and that’s no exception here. Because of those credentials, his work is strongest on the Batman side of this crossover, where he gives the reader some strong moments. This is especially apparent during the confrontation between Damian Wayne and his immortal grandfather, Ra’s al Ghul. This battle took several issues to set up and arrange, and it doesn’t disappoint, playing on the mental level as well as the physical one. While not a conflict we haven’t seen before, the feud between the Bat-Family and the al Ghuls is always satisfying to see when done well. Although I tend to be particular when it comes to portrayals of Ra’s, Orlando shows a good grasp of one of Batman’s premier villains, and Ra’s is treated with the majesty and threat level that he deserves.
I’m somewhat more skeptical when it comes to Orlando’s take on The Shadow, though I can see where he arrived at it conceptually. This version draws rather noticeably from the 1994 Alec Baldwin film, particularly when it comes to The Shadow’s motivations, his backstory, and his relationship with his nemesis Shiwan Khan. All of those are solid ideas and good elements to build a Shadow story around. The danger is in humanizing The Shadow to the point where he loses his sense of mystery, dread, and awe, and this script at times comes too close to that line. While having Khan maintain the upper hand to an extent is reasonable, The Shadow seems so consumed by guilt and self-hatred that he comes across as less effective than he should be. There’s only one real moment where The Shadow is even remotely a threat to Khan, and even that is short-lived. The problem with this is that it opens the question of why Khan would regard The Shadow as a worthy opponent, rather than just killing him then and there. This story would have worked somewhat better by giving The Shadow a few more good moments, and by having him seem less emotional during his exchange with Khan.
All that having been said, there are many elements that work in this script, and mainly this lies in the larger picture. Establishing The Silent Seven, originally a group of The Shadow’s enemies, as a secret cabal of genius immortals is a good reinterpretation. Orlando placed some thought into his imagining of this group, including their backstory and the internal politics of the organization. I’d be interested in seeing some variant of this in The Shadow’s own series, even without the presence of Ra’s involved. There are also good moments with Batman and Alfred as they conduct their search for Damian, though again here, Orlando’s firm understanding of the DC Universe works to his credit. There are also good references to The Shadow’s past as well, making use of the varied elements of his history to build a larger background.
While The Shadow/Batman largely succeeds as a crossover series, there are some minor quibbles that hold it back from a more enthusiastic recommendation. At the same time, this is a series that is worth following and that shows respect for two of the greatest detective heroes in fiction. This comic pays tribute to the literary tradition that The Shadow has given to Batman by uniting them as a legacy in the pages.
All in all, I would say that The Shadow/Batman is worthy of a full-price recommendation, and for that it deserves a solid 8.5/10. Batman fans should be more than satisfied with what they’ll find, while fans of The Shadow should be able to appreciate this book’s respect for The Shadow’s legacy.
Written By Steve Sellers
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