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THE SHADOW: IN THE COILS OF LEVIATHAN (review): “Ban Killer Drones”

Writers: Michael Wm. Kaluta, Joel Goss

Illustrator: Gary Gianni

Dark Horse, 1993

SOMETIMES A PERSON defines a style superbly or rather a style defines a person fed by many others in periods we have labels for as in so many art periods, holy periods, war periods, hippie periods, assemblies of the past flaunting talents and fashions, dialogues and darlings to animate the spirit of the time lumbering forward mired in muck. Certain propelling ideas become relics awaiting new devotees, and gradually their shadows lengthen to loom unbound in the atmosphere of generations.

Truly time smothers and forgets everything. Yet The Shadow knows.

The Shadow: In the Coils of Leviathan #1 / page 7 | The Shad… | Flickr

Shadow history is an interesting line of study, tracking ideas through time as they transmit from various pulsing sources. Tracking artist Michael Wm. Kaluta led me here to a 1993 four-part crime mystery THE SHADOW: IN THE COILS OF LEVIATHAN, one of a cluster of similar mini-titles by the same team over a few years, featuring Gary Gianni as illustrator, cover artist Michael Wm. Kaluta, and writers Michael Wm. Kaluta and Joel Goss.

Apparently, Michael Kaluta’s art regenerated The Shadow in an earlier era I missed entirely. Here he helps on the text, the cover, and the first of four stunning centerfold posters by a different artist in each issue.

The artwork by Gary Gianni in this series is fascinating, replicating city scenes in small panels with bustling figures familiar in golden-age comics, set in a style of excessive penwork that creases faces and clothes in wood-grain detail as if drawn on raw planks sunk in cement. The atmosphere is heavy, yet details are clear. The scenes vibrate. Selected dramatic moments expand the screen and occasionally flash into full-page action deserving many noble adjectives.

The Shadow: In the Coils of Leviathan #1 / page 27 | Flickr

The Leviathan mystery erupts in the very beginning, fiery and frightening, and lasts to the end. The writing mimics the art style, with excessive linework hanging on a hundred points of view that nudge the plot forward by increments. The threads are continually twining.

Radio drama ninety years ago featured The Shadow, and that debut trailed into the lives of numerous artists, writers, dramatists, and actors to the present giving pieces of their careers to renew the adventures of this mysterious crimefighter who appears like a wraith, indeed a shadow without a history or a home, an instantly embodied force to protect people from harm and render guilty perpetrators harmless, usually as far as I have seen with a blazing pistol, a fiery explosion, or other definite end.

No question. Evildoers have to die.

Modern relativism looks askance at this kind of moral certitude, yet it may be well to remember the level of crime and violence in American society ninety years ago when bull police served important taxpayers and few others. Divisions among people by religion, race, gender, age, class, origin, family, language, lifestyle, not to mention real crime and breaches of trust, might quickly turn perilous to evildoers like you, and no authority existed to pay much attention. Before civil society matures, individuals in cities always have to be a little afraid. The crimefighting Shadow planted and continues to plant hope that someone with power might notice, care, and intervene to protect the innocent.

In this episode, the threat is related to the explosive power of missiles and torpedoes just then being invented for propulsion and to deliver explosives. As the story shows, military users in the 1930s were agape at the possibilities.

The series of fiery incidents that kill a number of citizens in the story looks like magic, confused with a biblical demon. Strangely, a like terror is real today in numerous countries where people look to the skies in fear of American drones that have killed tens of thousands of people with missiles since 2002, including women and children alongside designated militants in war zones, and also in countries outside war zones. The orgy of killing, raining death from the skies, escalated since 2008. The surge of activity is lately being called America’s Shadow Wars, employing a massive arms industry to effect undeclared terror and devastation on large swaths of the world. This shadow adheres to a familiar philosophy: no question, evildoers must die.

A text story inserted in each issue called My City is embellished by masterful Kaluta illustrations, very much related to the heavily lined art by Gary Gianni, making a nice addition to the scenery. Reading it, though, is hardly possible. The concluding segment at the end of Issue 4 begins, “Sunset’s passing reflection retreats …” which may be enough to illustrate the density of the text, packed with unassimilable similes, nary a place to land. Yet maybe the end matters as we ponder our fate.

“Would you tell me now of your self-loathing, your bile, your illness of spirit and substance, of your inner betrayal, your inner affliction? As if I didn’t KNOW?

Would you tell me now, at long last, of your Repentance?

In my laughter you will hear my final judgment:

Tell it to the worms.”

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