What They Say:
The Shadow sets a trap for his foes, but neither Taro Kondo nor the fearsome Buffalo Wong are inclined to step into it without taking certain precautions. A night of slaughter in the Shanghai underworld sees Margo Lane learning just how high the stakes are, and how far her master will go to win his deadly game.
Writer: Garth Ennis
Artist: Aaron Campbell
Despite an assassination attempt by Nazis, The Shadow and his ever-present companion, Margo Lane, arrived in Shanghai hot on the trail of a superweapon called the Spirit Cannon possessed by the warlord Buffalo Wong. Wong intends to auction this mysterious weapon to the highest bidder, but Taro Kondo, working for the Japanese government, is methodically killing all of his competitors. While Lamont Cranston works as an information broker for the United States, his alter ego, the Shadow, cuts through the Shanghai underworld in his hunt for Kondo. He knows that if he kills Kondo then the Japanese initiative will falter and the United States will gain control of the Spirit Cannon. However, Kondo proves to be a sly and dangerous adversary.
One of the strengths of this series is how much information Garth Ennis packs into each issue. In only three issues he’s taken us from New York to Shanghai, introduced new characters such as the truculent Mister Finnegan (Lamont’s government contact), Buffalo Wong, and a worthy adversary in Taro Kondo. In addition, Ennis has probably done more to flesh out and complicate the relationship between Cranston and Margo Lane than the previous eighty someodd years of Shadow stories, radio plays, and comics.
While the previous issue was more action-oriented, this one is almost all exposition. We learn more about Kondo and his plans, the nature of the Spirit Cannon, and see Cranston expertly manipulate Finnegan, assuring the man that he is in charge of the operation when in reality it is Cranston’s show. The alternating scenes between Cranston and Kondo nicely illustrate how these two manipulate the people around them. Kondo orchestrates the death of the Russian envoy and manages to placate both the pirate Buffalo Wong and General Saburo Akamutsu, both of whom hate each other: the General because Wong is rude and unwashed, and Wong because the General because of the air of stodgy superiority with which he carries himself. His greatest manipulation occurs at the end of the issue, but that’s all I can say without spoiling things.
Cranston plays his own game, simultaneously placing players on the board while convincing Finnegan that the agent is the one actually running the show. Watching him and Kondo work is like watching to Chess grandmasters, and the difference in their playing styles consist of whom they are willing to sacrifice. Kondo keeps himself away from the fray while Cranston puts himself out in the open to draw out his adversary.
Which is not to say that Cranston is inherently noble or decent. The other great strength of this series so far is Ennis’ depiction of Lamont and The Shadow. Cranston is a cold, hard man trying to balance out the red on his ledger (to borrow the Black Widow’s phrase), but his methods for doing so are harsh and unforgiving. There exists a hard, dark edge to his personality, and his way of dealing with it is by channeling it through his alter ego. The Shadow is relentless and remorseless and his only redeeming quality is that his violence is directed at murders, thieves, and other assorted criminals.
It’s hard to believe that this series is only three issues old. In that short amount of time, Garth Ennis and Aaron Campbell have told a fast-paced globe-trotting story rich with action and character-development. This is the most nuanced and sophisticated takes on this character that I’ve ever seen and I can’t wait to see where this team takes him.