This is the next to last of my commissions I took while my wife was in the hospital and these were fun to do. I’ll try to do another big run. But for now I’m down to this and one more. My Halloween costumes in 1992 and 1994 collide. Yes I did The Shadow in 1994. I was cool.
Batman/The Shadow: The Murder Geniuses by Steve Orlando and Scott Snyder with art by Riley Rossmo is one of the weirdest comics I’ve ever reviewed. That says a lot. It’s a crossover between two pulp heroes. It should be a simple pulpy story. It’s a very strange book. And good. But weird.
The story focuses on Batman investigating murders seemingly committed by Lamont Cranston against his descendants. He’s supposed to be dead though. And Batman doesn’t know he’s The Shadow. Or Henri Ducard or so he claims. Or any number of people he claims he was who trained Batman because he wants an heir. There is an actual plot about Joker and the Stag teaming up that involves a quest for the immortality that damned The Shadow for eternity.
What this is a meditation on the differences between the two. The idea that the Shadow trained Batman works on a meta level as The Shadow set a template Batman liberally ripped off. But Batman is iconic in all media and The Shadow is much more limited. Why?
Well for one thing The Shadow has a much more complicated lore. I’m not nearly as well versed as there’s not as much readily available but it’s messy. Even his core identity is a mess. His continuity changes violently from version to version.
But there’s a reason The Shadow didn’t catch on. He’s a dark, fatalistic character with a sadistic streak. Batman is a dark character but to quote Kingdom Come, at his core he’s someone who doesn’t want anyone to die. He could seek immortality but he sees value in life’s limits. I’d argue this is why Batman lasted and The Shadow didn’t. His lore lived.
And nothing I’ve said is irrelevant. This is about that. And what a rich journey this story is. This is a fascinating look at two pulp icons. Orlando (who scripted) and Snyder know Batman and The Shadow. They have a really great story too about immortality and why mortality is great.
So why is it weird? Because I had to discuss the meta elements first. This is a story that wants you thinking about popularity. It wants you thinking about influence. The idea in this story that the Shadow has mentored much of DC is a fascinating idea. The actual narrative is solid on a plot level but that meta level is crucial.
The drawback here is the art. It’s really off. Very Sam Kieth at times. Not really my jam and not what you want in a pulp story. It works just enough to let the script shine but it’s really unappealing.
This is a bear of a book. A really fascinating book that celebrates and interrogates two franchises. This is one of the best crossovers ever.