As much as I love super heroes, there’s a large part of my heart that will always belong to the pulp heroes of old. I think this is because before I got into comics, I stumbled across some reprints that my dad had lying around (odd in hindsight considering dad ain’t a reader). I was familiar with Doc Savage, Conan the Barbarian and The Shadow long before I discovered The Fantastic Four, The X-Men or The Justice League of America. I read super hero comics more than anything else, but every so often, I spend a large swathe of time getting to know my dear, old friends.
And so it was this past weekend that I found myself immersed in the world of Lamont Cranston that I came to a stark, harsh realization; The Shadow (one of the inspirations for Batman no less) is much cooler on almost every level than Batman.
Don’t get me wrong. I love Batman. I’m very pro Batman. I will end friendships if I so much as suspect someone isn’t pro Batman. But rereading some of the old pulps featuring The Shadow, listening to the old radio dramas and even digging into the new series from Dynamite Entertainment, it was a truth I just couldn’t ignore. At least, not anymore.
The Shadow is a Better Dresser
I’m not knocking the way Batman dresses. He’s Batman. He looks cool as hell and the costume works. It’s the definition of awesome. But The Shadow, man, just look at that snazzy dresser. It’s one thing to take to the streets to pound out injustice in a custom made suit with a layer of armor that strikes fear into the hearts of that cowardly and superstitious lot we call criminals, but to do the same thing wearing a finely tailored suit, trench coat and fedora? That takes a certain level of class and hardass that most of us will never achieve. Not to mention the element of surprise fighting crime in a nice suit provides. You expect the crazy asshole in the bat suit to beat the shit out of you. The guy dressed like he’s got dinner reservations at a 5 Star restaurant? Not so much.
The Shadow Doesn’t Seem to Have Intimacy Issues
By all accounts, it is next to impossible for Bruce Wayne to have any kind of meaningful, long term relationship with a woman. The Batman can thwart The Joker, overcome debilitating back injury and even take down the entirety of The Justice League of America, but when it comes to having a mature, adult relationship with Silver St. Cloud, Selina Kyle or anyone else? Forget about it. Not so for The Shadow. Sure, like Batman, when Lamont Cranston/Kent Allard is in crime fighting mode, he’s all business. He takes to the streets with a singular focus and even uses most of his vast fortune to wage his bloody war on crime. But the guy is still able to make time with Margo Lane. In fact, he goes one further and even let’s her help out in his above the law war on crime. Margo Lane is his implied lover, his friend, his confidant and his partner. The Shadow knows how to treat a woman.
You Don’t Get A Do-Over With The Shadow
It’s a cliché at this point among fans when it comes to The Joker making Batman look more than a little impotent. Depending on the source, The Joker has killed anywhere from thousands to hundreds of thousands. Sure, Batman always stops him before things get outright Hellish, but everyone knows that sooner or later (sooner, always sooner), The Joker is going to bust out of Arkham, wrack up an absurdly high body count, rinse and repeat. I know, I know, there’s a line Batman doesn’t want to cross, if he kills he’s no better than the criminals, blah, blah, blah. The Shadow don’t care about that shit. He cares about not having hundreds of thousands of innocent people dying. Batman talks about waging a war or crime, but he really isn’t. In war, people die. That’s a fact, as unfortunate as that is. The Shadow understands that in a war, the key is taking the enemy’s will and ability to fight, and that means crossing the line Batman can’t bring himself to cross.
The Shadow’s Stories Have a Better Setting
Gotham City is one of the most iconic fictional cities ever. Even if you’re not reading a Batman comic, you know when a character has stumbled into this metropolis. It’s dark, it’s brooding. It’s a cool place to fight crime. But let’s face it, when it comes to fighting crime, 30’s and 40’s New York City is where it’s at. You don’t have to draw from multiple sources of inspiration to make the cityscape standout because New York at that time had such a singular look. Then there’re the more sinister options available. Not only do you have access to run-of-the-mill criminals, racketeers and gangers (with Tommy guns no less), but now you have access to the most awesome set of villains ever; Real, authentic Nazis. Not Neo Nazis, not unfrozen Nazis, not time displaced Nazis. No, we’re talking to real McCoy, folks. Nazis decked out in Hugo Boss designed uniforms wrecking shit on Hitler’s direct orders. Batman may have The Joker, but he most certainly doesn’t have to face the evil of The Third Reich.
The Shadow Rubs Your Impending Doom in Your Face
Something sinister is going down in Gotham City, Batman’s gonna show up, whip you silly, maybe hang you by your ankles from a lamp post and then he’s gone. The only talking going on is happening in his head. Batman’s big on self-narration. Dude is in and out before anyone can finish the sentence “It’s the Bat!” He brings the hurt, but not so much with the shame (besides, you know, hanging you from a lamp post) The Shadow, however, makes you feel like an ass. There you are, down on the docks, smuggling a shipment of opium into the city when you hear… laughter. Deep laughter. Haunting laughter. You don’t know where it’s coming from, but you know what it means. Then, just to rub salt in the wound, a voice that seems to come from everywhere calls you out by name and lists the atrocities you’ve committed over the years, in front of your friends, no less. Sure, you’ve got your gun drawn, and true enough, you’ve got some henchmen armed to the teeth. But you know how this ends. Any second now that laughter’s going to stop, the list will end, and then it’s hot death for you.