From D C Comics, cover dated March 1974, comes The Shadow # 3. This short-lived series only lasted for twelve (12) bi-monthly issues between October 1973 and September 1985.
This issue sports a terrific cover drawn by artist Michael Wm. Kaluta, both pencils and inks. Kaluta was a very talented artist, but unfortunately has never been able to complete artwork quickly enough to produce a monthly book. With a bi-monthly it was possible, but only for a short while. Kaluta drew the first four issues of the series, then had to have a fill in artist complete issue number five. Then he was back for his swan song with issue number six.
Issue number three features a story entitled; “The Kingdom of the Cobra”. The story is written by Dennis O’Neil and the artwork is provided by Mr. Kaluta with assistance by Bernie Wrightson. This combination makes for a very well drawn book to go along with an excellent story!
The first important thing is that the series is set in the thirties, not the present, which allows O’Neil to really capture the mood and characterizations of the Shadow and his group of helpers. This issue we see Margo Lane, Harry Vincent and Burbank. Margo & Harry play important parts in the story’s resolution, as well. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The book opens with a bank robbery that is foiled by the Shadow. The strange thing is that the leader of the gang of bank robbers is a certain gangster by the name of “Blue Jaw” Grady. But he is supposed to be in prison! And in fact, when the Shadow calls the prison, pretending to be a reporter, the warden says that “Blue Jaw” is still behind bars!
Needless to say, the Shadow chooses to investigate! He sends in Margo Lane, disguised as Agatha Flut, a member of the women’s jail reform club, to see what she can uncover. She finds that the cells are left unlocked and that the man pretending to be the warden is actually a mobster, who she recognizes, as King Cobra! She calls Burbank with the information, but is discovered by King Cobra and taken prisoner. The Shadow then enlists Harry Vincent, disguised as a prison guard, to bring a certain prisoner to the prison.
Vincent accomplishes his task then slips unnoticed into the prison’s generator room where he places dynamite! For what reason, the reader doesn’t know. The new prisoner is soon discovered to be a plant. He is captured by the other prisoners, and King Cobra has him locked up with the real warden and his chief guard, the only two remaining members of the prisons staff. All the others were killed at Cobra’s orders. It seems that King Cobra has taken over the prison and is using it as a “safe house” to launch other mobsters/gangsters on crime waves for a one fourth of their ill gotten gains! And then they safely return to “the prison” to hide out!
As expected the new prisoner is none other than the Shadow. He sheds his disguise and assumes his identity, as the Shadow! He picks the lock of a “guaranteed pick-proof” cell door and goes in search of King Cobra! He battles his way to Cobra and along the way uses his ability to disappear into the shadows and remain unseen, only to appear from out of the shadows at another location. In this case, outside of the warden’s office, where King Cobra is holding Margo Lane captive!
King Cobra douses Margo with gasoline and threatens to light her on fire, with his cigar, if the Shadow doesn’t surrender. The Shadow surprises Cobra by tossing aside his guns and surrendering to save Margo’s life. He is captured and led down “the last mile” to the room containing the electric chair. The Shadow is strapped down and Cobra prepares to execute the Shadow at midnight!
But that falls into the Shadow’s plans, as just before midnight, since Harry hasn’t heard from the Shadow, he detonates the dynamite, blowing up the generator room and all the lights go out in the prison. And with no power, there can be no electrocution! The Shadow slips from his bonds and takes care of the guards. Cobra flees from the Shadow and Vincent keeps him from leaving the prison. King Cobra dashes into the wreckage of the generator room and finds a couple of sticks of un-exploded dynamite. He sets it off in an attempt to take the Shadow with him as he dies!
The reader then sees Harry and Margo overseeing the new wreckage and thinking that the Shadow has finally met his doom, they hear faint laughter, that grows stronger and then they see the Shadow rise from the wreckage. The story ends with the words; “The Shadow never fails!”
This issue does an outstanding job of taking the pulp character, the Shadow, and adapting him to the comic book format seamlessly! Both the story and the artwork is superb! Therefore, I give this comic a full five (5) out of five (5) Legion Flight Rings! If you don’t already own this Shadow comic book series, you should. If you don’t want to invest in all twelve issues, you must, at a minimum, pick up issues one through four and issue number six, as those were all drawn by Michael Kaluta. Though issue number three has the best art of the bunch, at least in my opinion!
Before I wrap things up, I would be remiss in not mentioning that these five issues were reprinted in a hardback book entitled; The Private Files of The Shadow. It came out in 1989 and features an all new cover, as well as, an all new Shadow story, both written and drawn by Michael Kaluta, entitled; “In the Toils of Wing Fat“. I do not think that the book is still in print, but you might be able to find a copy on eBay, or some other used book source, like Abebooks.com.
I ‘m pleased to say that I got Mr. Kaluta to sign my copy, at a Motor City Comic Con in 1995, and he was nice enough to add a small Shadow silhouette with his signature, as well. I’ll leave you with this Bernie Wrightson drawn house ad:
Yes He Does!