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Who knows what freaky freakiness freaks in a freaking freak show? – The Shadow #2

October 6, 2011

I don’t particularly care for the Shadow, but he carries the minor distinction of being a favorite of my father. I never quite got the old man’s enthusiasm as he recited the “Who knows what evil…” opening, but good for him. He was of that last generation of boys whose primary electronic entertainments were serials on the radio, and it warmed my soul to picture him huddled next to one with a blanket over his shoulders doubling as a cape. Like father, like son.

The Shadow has had a long run across multiple platforms, including a lead balloon of a movie in 1994 starring funny abusive father Alec Baldwin. Lamont Cranston — and his myriad other aliases — has also had his share of comic book iterations, including a fondly remembered one in the early 1970s of which this second issue is a part. He wasn’t woven fully into mainstream DC continuity — he did cross over into Batman for a nice little story —  and his solo adventures could be a mixed bag. But a freak show? I still curse HBO for cancelling Carnivale, so this issue might tickle my fancy. One can hope. At least his giant Jimmy Durante schnauze will fit right in with the bearded ladies and wolf boys.

Denny O’Neil scripted “Freak Show Murders,” with Michael William Kaluta providing the art. What gets the ball rolling here is a deal gone awry, one centered upon a statue made from a rare space-age alloy. An American agent attempts to buy the statue, but is interrupted by a gun-toting harlequin:

The titular hero interrupts the shenanigans, but the baddie gets away with the statue. The Shadow thinks that the crook is affiliated with a nearby carnival (those magnificent deductive skills at work) and sends his gal Margo Lane in undercover. The off-beat assemblage is made up of the standard carnie stock (knife-throwers, Siamese twins, snake charmers, tattoos — somebody call the Circus of Crime) and a guy who smokes a lot:

The Shadow arrives shortly thereafter, revealing that the American agent, Kilroy, took refuge in the carnival disguised as a primitive freak. I’m not sure about the logistics of that supposedly life-saving masquerade, but kudos to Mr. Shadow for figuring it out. He soon gathers all the show participants in a tent for the Agatha Christie reveal, and shatters the duplicity of the duplicates:

The Shadow then follows one of the twins to a train, where they hook up with the other harlequin-costumed sibling. The Shadow, along with Kilroy, gives them battle. Both twins die, the last when he follows the precious statue out the window:

Cue the maniacal HAHAHAHAHA laughter. Evil. Hearts of men. All that jazz.

O’Neil’s script is a rough read, a disappointment coming from a guy who grounded the 1970s post-Adam West Batman renaissance in grit and crime. The story is a clunker laden with contrivances, and one gets the sense that he was having a hard time putting flesh on this character’s skeleton. I’m not so sure how to feel about the art of Mr. Kaluta (who also helped bring the worlds of Edgar Rice Burroughs to DC). I’m a bit conflicted. Sometimes it looks sort of cool, especially in the context of carnival freaks, but other times it looks a bit, how shall we say, odd. An unpleasant odd, not a variety-is-the-spice-of-life odd. Others might dig it wholeheartedly. It reminds me of my reaction to Sam Kieth’s art, specifically the stuff he did for the earliest issues of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. Perhaps Sam read these old mags and drew some inspiration from them. The ages match up — Kieth would have been right in the sunny years of childhood when this comic was published — so it seems plausible.

My half-assed amateur sleuthing for the day, ladies and gentleman.

Maybe my father — the blanket-cape-by-the-radio version — would go nuts for this comic. Not me.  HAHAHAHAHA.

One Comment leave one →
  1. m lewis redford permalink
    March 1, 2012 1:58 pm

    No … c’mon now, Kaluta one of the great masters who brought the incidental background scenary in comics to become part of the story itself. There was great-windswept-balmy-nights-tents-about-to-blow-out atmosphere in this issue (although, agreed, the story was klunkish from an otherwise gritty O’Neill) which was not part of the bish-bash-bosh of the main storyline but gave it a texture which is all that has remained after the story has been forgotten. This ‘background texture’ was so important in creating a world deeper than the pastels and blacks of more juvenile comics. I think about some of the early work of Kirby on Thor when he was going through the Jane Foster business – there were BRICKS in those buildings, there were lamps on the tables – this stuff was almost real. Kaluta’s ‘scenary’ meant you could hear the wind, you could smell the polish, you could feel the fall. I think it was in Shadow #3 he drew an office scene where light through a venetian blind was spilled across the desk and people – this was beautiful stuff. I remember Val Mayerick’s Sherlock Holmes (in Marvel Premiere being likewise textured). I might site Alfredo Alcala’s inking (actually Vince Colletta’s inking when it was allowed) as well, Mike Ploog’s work on Swamp Thing … I’m going to have to go away and research this some more: the incidental scenary brought to a co-fore to add layer to a story that when done well could become poetic

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