The Shadow Knows
In the first part of our extensive interview with publisher Anthony Tollin (yesterday), we learned how a story that apepared in The Shadow Magazine some two and a half years prior to Batman’s debut, proved to me the template for the Cpaed Crusader’s debut in Detective Comics #27. This is fodder for the historians who have studied what Bob Kane and Bill Finger each brought to the table during the creation of DC’s second successful super-hero. The story will be publsihed this summer in the ninth volume of Shadwo facsimiles being publsihed by Tollin.
Greenberger: How will you celebrate this discovery in volume nine?
Tollin: By pairing it with Doc Savage #8, which showcases Doc’s utility belt (which Bill Finger acknowledged was the inspiration for Batman’s). By the way, Doc’s utility belt was introduced by ghostwriter Harold A. Davis, Newsday‘s first Managing Editor. (
And The Shadow #10 will be a super-villains issue, featuring The City of Doom (the second Voodoo Master story which inspired Batman’s Doctor Death storyline), The Fifth Face (featuring a master of disguise called Five-Face) and "The Immortal Murderer," a 1944 Alfred Bester Shadow radio script which pits The Shadow against an immortal Neanderthal (and yes, it was a rewrite of Alfie’s earlier Vandal Savage story from Green Lantern #10). Along with Sax Rohmer, Walter Gibson pretty much originated the concept of super-crime, and the villains he called super-crooks. In 1933, Gibson introduced a slew of super-villains including The Red Blot, The Wealth Seeker, The Black Falcon and Gray Fist. Others soon followed including The Cobra and Dr, Rodil Mocquino, the Voodoo Master; and years later, Shiwan Khan. Early on, Gibson realized that a superhero like The Shadow needed something more than garden-variety crooks and gangsters to test his mettle, just as Jerry Robinson would later realize that Batman needed his own Moriarty when he created The Joker. In fact, The Shadow’s Dr. Mocquino appears to have inspired Batman’s first recurring villain, Doctor Death.
Greenberger: What else will be in the book?
Tollin: The Shadow #9 , our special "Foreshadowing The Batman" volume, reprints "Lingo," one of Walter Gibson’s all-time classics which inspired the Batarang, Theodore Tinsley’s "Partners of Peril" (the novel that inspired Detective Comics #27’s "The Case of the Chemical Syndicate," plus a bonus Tinsley novelette: "The Grim Joker" (featuring a murderous, white-faced crime clown). Next spring, we’ll be releasing a special "Foreshadowing The Joker" volume that will reprint Ted Tinsley’s "Death’s Harlequin" and the 1940 Shadow radio script, "The Laughing Corpse." The latter, broadcast six weeks before Batman #1 debuted, featured a chemical that caused victims to laugh themselves to death, quite similar to The Joker’s original M.O. "Death’s Harlequin" was on sale the same month as Detective Comics#27 (when we can be pretty sure that Bill Finger was paying close attention to The Shadow Magazine) and pitted The Shadow against a murderous clown who like The Joker was a vision of madness: "The thin lips were drawn away from skull-like teeth. The cheeks were sunken and leathery. Dank black hair lay matted thinly on a baldish scalp the color of old parchment. A living corpse in the costume of a gay Harlequin! With a wide-muzzled gun. And a jeering laugh that made the silence in the room crawl with menace."
Greenberger: Any idea what DC’s reaction was when you made them aware of this?
Tollin: Actually, Paul Levitz was quite interested and very cooperative with my request to reprint panels from Detective Comics #27 in the historical articles. Paul recognized that his story was part of Batman’s history, and basically just wanted some copies for DC’s library.
Greenberger: Do you think this will change people’s perceptions of Batman’s origins?
Tollin: Actually, my hope is that it alters people’s perceptions of The Shadow. Finger and Kane As I observe in my supporting historical article: "The Shadow was a master of disguise. Perhaps his greatest masquerade was transforming himself into Batman, and in that guise continuing his reign as the world’s greatest detective superhero into the twenty-first century."
I find it quite interesting that at nearly the same time that DC Comics was taking legal action to eliminate Victor Fox’s Wonderman because it was an imitation of Superman, they were about to launch a new character who was a far more blatant imitation of The Shadow, right down to the plots, bat-motif, surroundings, villains and supporting players. At that time, The Shadow was still far more prominent than the recently-launched Superman, since he was featured in the only twice-monthly hero pulp as well as the weekly radio thriller, which was the #1 daytime series in the radio ratings. As pulp publishers of the Spicy line, Harry Donenfeld and Jack Liebowitz and their editors had to realize that Batman was based on The Shadow, even if they didn’t know that the plot of the first Batman story was a recycled Shadow novel.
While I want to give proper credit to Walter Gibson and Theodore Tinsley for their part in inspiring Batman, I’m certainly not out to tarnish Batman or Bill Finger. I have no animosity towards Batman. I’m actually very fond of the character, and Adrienne [
Greenberger: Are there other parallels between The Shadow and Batman?
Tollin: Certainly. I’ve recently spotted several more early Bat-stories that were lifted from Shadow novels. Readers will be able to compare for themselves when I reprint "Serpents of Siva" in The Shadow Volume 12. The Golden-Age Batman lifted The Shadow’s suction cup climbing device, autogiro, and "yellow boomerang," along with the friendship with the
Greenberger: How is this line performing and what’s coming after this?
Tollin: Each Shadow and Doc Savage volume has outsold the previous, and sales are still building. This is most unusual within the Diamond and comic collectors market, where sales usually drop after the first issue. This seems to indicate that our sales are actually generated by people who are actually reading and enjoying the books, and encouraging others to do the same.
The Shadow and Doc Savage reprints are available from most full-service comic stores, and also Borders and some Barnes & Noble stores. They are also being tested in double-packs at a small number of Costco and Sam’s Club outlets. They’re also available directly from me (firstname.lastname@example.org or www.shadowsanctum.com), with six-issue subscriptions available within the
Greenberger: Beyond Doc Savage and The Shadow, are there any other pulp figures you’re looking to resurrect?
Tollin: The Avenger and Nick Carter, and hopefully The Whisperer as well. Do you think readers would like to discover the secret life of Police Commissioner James Gordon, aka The Whisperer?
Greenberger: With Moonstone’s recently announced Spider anthology and your facsimile reprints, why do you think people remain interested in the pulp heroes?
Tollin: Hopefully. It definitely seems to be the case. But there are many pulp heroes that always seem to be with us. Don’t forget that Zorro, Tarzan and Conan all originated in the pulps, as well as Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe.
Greenberger: Anything else you’re working on?
Tollin: Well, two double-novel pulp reprints a month is keeping me pretty busy, and this will only increase when The Avenger and some of the other S&S characters are added as quarterlies. I am expanding a Shadow coffee table history that I wrote a few months back. And at this year’s Friends of Old-Time Radio Convention, I’ll be directing an X-Minus One cast reunion. We’re thrilled that this year we’ll be reuniting the series’ scriptwriters, Ernest Kinoy and George Lefferts, who haven’t seen each other in 40 years. Kinoy of course went on to win an Emmy for his screenplay for the landmark TV miniseries Roots.
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