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The Shadow

The Shadow was best known as the hero (or anti-hero) of a long-running syndicated radio show and pulp magazine. Later, he was featured in comic books, television and a film as well.

In fact The Shadow was originally the announcer of a radio show for "Detective Stories", a pulp fiction magazine published by Street & Smith in the 1930s. The radio show was intended to boost circulation of the Detective Stories magazine, but it backfired on the producers. Listeners found the announcer so much more memorable than the radio stories themselves, that they flocked to newsstands demanding issues of "The Shadow Magazine", which didn't exist! Street & Smith were smart enough to respond to the demand, and they hurriedly commissioned Walter B. Gibson[?] to start writing stories about The Shadow for a new magazine. Gibson wrote almost all of the more than 200 Shadow stories over a twenty-year period--just about one novel-length story per month--under the pen name of Maxwell Grant.

Gibson's ingenious characterization of the Shadow lay in adopting elements usually applied to evil and sinister characters, and instead giving them to his hero crimefighter. Thus we have a figure in black, working by night, breaking and entering in the interests of justice, terrifying criminals and finally gunning them down. The Shadow was truly a noir superhero.

The Shadow evolved somewhat over his popular lifetime. He was always an elusive crimefighter who masked his features under a slouch hat and black cape. Originally, though, he was "shadowy" because of his skill at concealing himself and hiding in the shadows. Later, and in his radio shows, he was genuinely invisible because "while travelling in the Orient he learned the mysterious power to cloud men's minds, so they could not see him." In the original pulp series his real identity was Kent Allard, famous aviator, and "Lamont Cranston" was merely his most common disguise. In the radio series this was changed, and "Lamont Cranston, millionaire playboy" became the real identity of the Shadow.

The catch phrase of the radio show, which has become a part of American culture, was a deep, sepulchral voice intoning, "Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!" followed by an eerie laughter.

A 1994 movie remake of The Shadow, starring Alec Baldwin, recast the story yet again. In this version, Lamont Cranston was the orphaned son of a missionary or far-eastern adventurer. As a young adult, after a bitter struggle with poverty in the gutters of the Far East, he became an opium smuggler, and ultimately became a master criminal. Cranston was then kidnapped by an order of monks and brought to their monastery, where he was reformed and learned the mental powers to confuse and hypnotize people. In particular, he learned to become invisible, except for his shadow.

It has been suggested that the modern superhero concept owes its origin to The Shadow. In particular, Batman shares many similarities with the original superhero noir. In fact, one of the reasons it was decided that Batman would not carry a sidearm was that he would look too much like the Shadow to be seen shooting a gun.

The Shadow is a fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen.

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