By Ande Parks, Bilquis Evely, & Daniela Miwa
The Shadow is the ultimate pulp-hero and vigilante. The main ongoing series starring this character is one of the consistently enjoyable books from Dynamite, while the current Year One limited-series is among the absolute best in pulp-action story-telling. Once a year, a different creative team takes over the character for an over-sized annual issue which provides a brief respite from the main plot in order to indulge in a brief side-story involving the dark hero. Although these issues don’t really add anything to the overall story, they have consistently been great one-shot tales in their own right. The 2013 annual is no exception to this.
The most recent annual issue of The Shadow somehow manages to cram a big story into a single installment that is both elegant and well-fleshed out. Given the relative scope of the plot, it could easily have felt rushed or forced, but this was not the case. Ande Parks included an emotional, character-driven backstory underlying one of the conflicts in the 2013 annual that actually felt a lot deeper than it could have given the short timeframe in which to tell this tale. This plot hook was settled into a story of organized crime, blood magic, and the boundless veracity of a timeless quest for violent justice. Again, there was a lot put into this one-shot story, but it was executed with tremendously skillful organization. Furthermore, Parks really accurately captured the voice of the grim protagonist, with some fantastically written dialogue that was not only effective, but felt real for the character.
However, the artwork was a bit of a drawback for this latest addition to The Shadow. Although it is uncertain why this appears to be the case, many of the artists who tackle this character just can’t seem to get him right. Throughout the 2013 annual in particular, the character appears inconsistent and rushed throughout the book. While most of the other players look fine, the Shadow himself looks absurdly cartoonish at times, and although it may sound like such a minor detail, his hat looks atrocious. Alright, that may seem silly, but the uniform is such an integral aspect to this timeless character. It often appears as if he’s wearing a dark sombrero in this issue, which really takes away from the serious, dark tone meant to be conveyed by the story. Otherwise, the visuals provided by Bilquis Evely are fairly crisp with a very classic sensibility that fits well with the pulp genre. The colors done by Daniela Miwa add a lot of life to the relatively rigid illustrations, and there is a lot more depth suggested through this aspect of the art.
The story was a very well-crafted one-shot tale which was certainly an enjoyable read on its own. Admittedly though, these annual issues don’t necessarily provide any new plot development to the ongoing series, nor do they really attempt to cover any new ground in terms of story-telling. This isn’t a flaw in the creative team; it is simply the nature of writing a standalone story involving a proto-typical action hero in his standard setting. The visuals are relatively mediocre, but they get the job done. The Shadow Annual 2013 may not break any new ground or dazzle readers with its seemingly rushed illustrations, but if you’re a fan of the character, this is at least a well-written story that provides a fun read.