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The Shadow (Matt Wagner's Year One) (Dynamite Comics)

Shadow

(Matt Wagner's version)


Power Level:
Game system: DC Heroes Role-Playing Game

Who knows the vile contempt of murderers and thieves ? Who knows what evil lurks in the heart of men ? The Shadow knows !


Context

The Shadow is one of the greatest heroes from American radio serials and pulp fiction – cheap, thrilling novels written for the person on the street during the 1930s.

He was very popular, and came to embody many tropes that would be inherited by super heroes.

The Shadow is a very important character, and the very model of the “grim avenger of the night” archetype.


The seed of continuity yields better fruits

As with his Green Hornet: Year One, Matt Wagner’s The Shadow: Year One for Dynamite Comics provides an excellent introductory version of the character. Wagner’s take is very close to the classic versions of the Shadow, and strives to be a polished, classic-feeling telling. It draws from :

  • The pulp novels as its basis.
  • The radio show, as the most popular version of the character that ever existed. Many elements of the show ended up in the latter novels, anyway.
  • Some later elements, primarily the 1994 The Shadow movie  (that inspired the protagonist’s criminal past).
  • Various contemporary historical events and anecdotes, such as the contemporary Bela Lugosi performance.

Background

  • Real Name: Kent Gideon Allard.
  • Other Aliases: Lamont Cranston, “Dark Eagle”, Ying Ko (meaning “the shadow of doom” or “the shadow of judgement”).
  • Marital Status: Unrevealed.
  • Known Relatives: Theodore Bennett Allard (father, deceased).
  • Group Affiliation: Master of his own crew of agents.
  • Base Of Operations: New York City in 1929.
  • Height: 6’1” Weight: 180 lbs.
  • Eyes: Blue-green (red when using his powers) Hair: Black


Powers & Abilities

The Shadow is an extraordinarily gifted man with extensive experience. His assets include :

  • Elite training and experience as a military spy, including impersonation, disguise, stealth, intelligence gathering and analysis, shadowing, surveillance, assassination, psychological warfare, etc..
  • Superior piloting skills with contemporary airplanes.
  • Excellent night sight and night flying experience.
  • Extraordinary combat skills, particularly when it comes to marksmanship with dual-wielded handguns, and laying ambushes.

He is a tall man (especially for the 1930s) with a high level of strength and endurance. He is also exceptionally intelligent, determined and charismatic.

Allard finds it easy to learn languages, and speaks many with a native’s level of fluency. He can also do multiple dialects and accents. Furthermore he has an amazing control over his voice, which allowed him to develop the infamous, mirthless Shadow laugh and gravestone-cold Shadow voice.

Though he’s miles above common criminals, this version of the Shadow isn’t quite on the level of a full-on super-hero. He greatly prefers to attack from stealth since return fire does have a chance (albeit not a large one) of connecting, and being shot is not normally something that the Shadow can ignore (though he has superior pain tolerance).

The Shadow has various tricks most readers now associate with the Batman (Bruce Wayne). Among those are inexplicably vanishing before his interlocutor realises that the conversation is over, and having memorised reams of data about everybody involved in crime and/or law enforcement.

Amazing how you can see right through me

The Shadow seems to know everything that is going on in the underworld, and to always be in the right place at the right time. While this appears to be supernatural to his foes, only a part of this knowledge is gained through paranormal means.

The Shadow’s actual edge is that he’s a master of espionage, and essentially runs a modern intelligence agency where he doubles as the star asset. He and his agents employ cutting-edge methods, well above the level of what most mobs and police departments can hope to achieve.

The Shadow (Matt Wagner's Year One) (Dynamite Comics) shooting his .45

For instance the Shadow knows everything that the NYPD does. That’s simply because the Shadow is also “Fritz”, the old Germanophone night janitor none of the cops at the precinct ever pays attention to and who has all the keys (and/or there is an actual Fritz, who is one of his agents).

Disguise, infiltration, elaborate false identities, double agents, shadowing, informants and a mastery of applied psychology are but part of the picture. His famous network of agents is where much of the Shadow’s superiority lies. At this point of the story, the Shadow has only recruited :

  • Claude Fellowes .
  • Margo Lane.
  • Stanley  (who is just his chauffeur, but knows that “Lamont Cranston” is Kent Allard as they were comrades in arms during WWI despite racial segregation. He’s also aware that “Suh” Allard is the Shadow.)
  • Margo Lane also suggests recruiting a taxi driver, so Shrevy  presumably becomes an agent shortly after The Shadow: Year One ends.

Strange and mysterious secrets of the Orient

This take on the Shadow does have super-powers, albeit not to the level that the radio version developed. They seem based on the theory of mesmerism and “animal magnetism”  that was popular during the XIXth century.

In this framework, the Shadow possesses exceptionally high levels of quasi-electric “vital fluid” that give him a formidable energy, willpower and constitution – and the ability to influence minds around him.

Other people around the world have similar abilities. The Shadow referred to them as “adepts”. The best-trained ones can communicate telepathically with each other. Their existence is apparently secret – the populace does not suspect some persons in its midst have genuine psychic powers.

The mesmeric abilities demonstrated by the Shadow in this series are :

  • Interrogation. The Shadow can force ordinary people to answer his questions, as if dosed with a cinematic “truth serum”. The hypnotised person will obviously be in a trance, and appear shocked and drooling.
  • Ordering people to forget certain things. This can be resisted by strong-willed persons. Margo Lane can for instance tear herself free from the Shadow’s hypnotic hold before he can convey his orders.
  • Vanishing to reappear some distance away seconds later. For instance he’ll often disappear when shot at and reappear in a nearby shadowed area. This is not actually teleportation, but something he calls “clouding men’s minds”. What it does is unclear – presumably it transfixes people into seeing the Shadow standing there while ignoring the fact that he’s actually moving away.

Such great power corrupts greatly, and it is easy for “adepts” to become evil.

The Shadow owns

These hypnotic powers are reinforced by Allard’s large red gemstone ring. At this point it has not been described as a fire opal girasol  yet, nor been given a backstory. Our game stats assume that without the ring, Allard can only reliably affect weak-willed persons – and that the ring can considerably speed up the hypnotic process.

Another signature asset are the Shadow’s death-dealing twin .45 pistols. These seem to be customised Colt M1911A1 or a variant thereof, and are often drawn as larger than baseline M1911A1s are.

Allard also carries some equipment in his costume, such as suction-cup hand pads used for climbing. When produced these were awfully handy, and one suspects that the Shadow will often have just the right piece of gear to get out of the deathtrap du jour.

The Shadow isn’t a gadget-intensive character, though – aside from the .45s, which see a whole lot of use. It is more like a card up his sleeve to escape imminent doom once in a while.

Allard is a wealthy man. Among his numerous possessions are :

  • A big limousine.
  • A heavily customised autogyro  (a sort of combination one-man helicopter and single-prop plane) whose body is proofed against handgun-grade bullets.
  • An extensive wardrobe and disguise tools kit (plus Margo’s stuff).

History

Kent Allard was presumably born during the 1890s. His father died when he was but a little boy. When the USA finally joined World War One, Allard enlisted and was noticed during Basic Training. He had exceptional physical skills and marksmanship, a talent for languages, and a remarkable eagerness for action – never letting ethics get in the way of his orders.

The Shadow (Matt Wagner's Year One) (Dynamite Comics) - gyrasol mesmerism

The Military Information Division trained Allard as a spy and assassin. Rapidly deployed, he became dreaded by Imperial German officers and earned the nickname “Dark Eagle” (“Schwarzer Adler”) as he flew in the dead of night to land behind enemy lines and to his grisly work. Toward the end of the war, he single-handedly discovered and destroyed a German air base.

After the war was won, Allard was a changed man – and not for the better. He may have come to crave danger and thrills. Furthermore, many Germans had sworn to kill him, and the M.I.D. thought that he knew too much about certain unsavoury decisions made during the war.

Allard faked his death and vanished.

The weed of crime bears bitter fruit

As a member of the Lost Generation , Allard travelled the world – Central America, Africa, Russia and eventually the Far East. Increasingly amoral he became a pimp, drugs-runner, extortionist and murderer. The gradual discovery of his magnetic influence over weaker minds further corrupted and emboldened him.

He eventually made too many enemies. During his downfall his favourite concubine, who had recently become pregnant with Allard’s son, was raped and butchered. The American had to flee to the hidden city of Shambhala – which, in this setting, seems roughly similar to the version seen in the writings of the Theosophical Society  during the 1930s.

The monks there knew of powers akin to those of Allard. But they also knew ways to redeem the fallen and have them turn the shadow within their soul toward the cause of justice.

Their ministrations worked admirably with Allard, who was fully converted to serving the common good and protecting the innocent. They also helped him develop his powers further.

However, the Tulkus (the monk’s leading council) failed with another Westerner who came shortly after Allard. Dr. Gerhardt Zorn was not unlike Allard, but his wounds during the War had been far greater and he was irredeemable and broken.

Guided by a signal in Hell

Barely human in his evil, Zorn murdered the Tulkus members and fled. Allard gave pursuit across multiple countries, but couldn’t catch Zorn. The German’s psychic powers were more insidious and far-reaching than even his own.

Allard’s adventures during that time are unrevealed, but he presumably acquired his distinctive fire opal ring whilst chasing Dr. Zorn. He also met an American globe-trotting playboy named Lamont Cranston, from New York City.

The Shadow (Matt Wagner's Year One) (Dynamite Comics) - autogyro and grapnel

Cranston held a remarkable physical likeness to Allard. The latter bribed him to take over his identity in the USA whilst Cranston carried on with his hedonistic foreign travels. This facilitated Allard’s work as Zorn reached the United States in 1928 or 1929.

Despite being chased by Allard, Zorn started taking over New York City mobs with his psychic powers, and his bestial corrupting influence may even have helped precipitate the Great Depression.

Birth of a legend

As he stalked Zorn amidst the beginnings of the Depression, “Lamont Cranston” gradually came up with the distinctive trappings of the Shadow :

  • Though Allard had used scarves to hide his face before, the choice of a scarlet one came from filching a nearby red tablecloth to hide his face during an impromptu intervention.
  • Back then, Hungarian actor Béla Blaskó (better known as Bela Lugosi ) was having a huge success on Broadway as part of a stage adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Many New Yorkers were very impressed by the handsome, sinister, charismatic actor. Observing this, the Shadow adopted part of Lugosi’s Dracula costume, particularly the cape.
  • The Shadow’s catchphrases gradually appear as “Cranston” delivers his trademark theatrical (and, by modern standards, overwrought) monologues.
  • The Shadow recruits his first agent, an accountant and insurance expert named Claude Fellowes. The terrified Mr. Fellowes was being forced to become an underworld accountant when the Shadow came in and recruited him, giving him an opportunity to serve the greater good as he’d always wanted.
  • Soon after that, the Shadow runs into Margo Lane, an upper class, mmm, professional companion who becomes one of his main agents as well as his lover.
  • A confrontation with Zorn helped Allard gain a better understanding of his psychic abilities, though that occurs at the very end of the Year One chronicle.

Description

The Shadow is famous for his aquiline  nose, angular features and burning, piercing eyes. Unless disguised he’s dressed like an upper class Manhattanite of his time.

The dark vigilante delivers very theatrical, elaborate monologues to intimidate his enemies. Those include a lots of stuff about terrible evil, righteous justice, inevitable punishment and the wickedness of criminals – except with even more overwrought adjectives.

The Shadow (Matt Wagner's Year One) (Dynamite Comics) eyes closeup

This was easier with the then-contemporary diction, which was more theatrical and less “spontaneous” than what it gradually became. The dialogue also represents the roots of the character as a radio show protagonist, where a lot of the action and character design had to be established through dialogue.

Since I’m a tad young to have listened to the radio show, I’ve always assumed that the famous Shadow mirthless laughter was very much like Vincent Price’s – for instance this classic excerpt (link to a sound file).

It wasn’t actually like that in the radio series, but there’s nothing to say that I’m not right when it comes to this version of the Shadow. 🙂

The Shadow is also noted for his spectacularly cold, ruthless and menacing voice.


Personality

The Shadow is a proselyte. He reportedly was a moral man at first, but his lust for action and latter power turned him into a monster. He was given the opportunity to become a good man again, but the Shadow knows what evil lurks in the heart of men *because he lived there*. As a result he utterly detests wickedness, and fights it as a zealot would.

He played an important role in establishing various super-hero tropes. Grim avenger of the night, secret identity, man of mystery with an endless arsenal of secret weapons, knowledge and abilities, urban killer vigilante, a quasi-costume with a specific colour pattern, borrowing heartily from crime fiction and espionage novels to feed a genre that is neither of these things, etc.

As such, the Shadow as an archetypal, elemental quality to him. Though at this stage he’s not as accomplished and unstoppable as he’ll become, he’s already something of a force of nature rather than a conventional protagonist.

The narration is never privy to his thoughts. The cold man of mystery remains a cypher, and the point-of-view character is actually Margo Lane.

Strategies

The Shadow is a killer vigilante establishing a reign of terror against the underworld. He employs scare tactics and occasionally gruesomely murders his opponents. However, his priority remains to protect the innocent, and he will grudgingly save lives even if that means letting a major criminal go.

The Shadow (Matt Wagner's Year One) (Dynamite Comics) dramatic statement

The Shadow seems to spend much of his time undercover and gathering intelligence, though he also has something of a normal life for a man of his class as “Lamont Cranston”.

Unlike most of his contemporaries, Kent Allard is not racist, misogynistic, antisemitic or otherwise prejudiced. His enlightened attitudes (and linguistic skills) greatly facilitate his work as he can work among population that other law enforcers only feel contempt for and write off as barbaric and/or inscrutable.

Unless that puts him at a serious disadvantage, the Shadow will offer to spare his opponents and have the police take them instead. In practice, this almost never works.


Quotes

“I am the specter of judgement and the weapon of justice. I am the Shadow.”

“To save a life… is nearly as crucial as taking one. It creates a bond that stands firm and true. I am the tether to which your life is now bound ! And I am the scourge of men such as those who brought you here. Remember our bond !”

“The stench of evil sickens and blinds those who suffer its taint. The Shadow knows !”

“I have tracked him across mountains and the jungles. Even the oceans will not sway my justice !”

“The arrogant, the brutal, and the foolish… all are the seeds of crime’s dank and thorny tangle. A blight that must be hacked down to its very roots !”

“Loyalty… and honor… are but empty virtues… for a viper that hisses and strikes ! Who can know the depths of such mindless savagery ?”

“The foul reek of crime is a lure to the wicked and the depraved… but the wages of murder bring only death ! The Shadow knows !”

“Fools ! Like fear itself… the Shadow is everywhere !”

“You are rudderless… cast adrift on the all-consuming maelstrom of crime ! Your very lives hang by a fraying thread ! Surrender now… and live to see the dawn !”


The French connection

Though the Shadow has acquired an archetypal quality, and has inspired some major 1930s characters such as the Spider and Batman, he is himself noticeably derivative.

The two main sources are very similar characters created by French cinema studios. The most famous was Judex  the Mysterious Shadow by Arthur Bernède and Louis Feuillade (the director of Les Vampires and Fantômas) for the cinémas Gaumont, as the Shadow looks and operates almost exactly like Judex.

The second is Ravengar  the Shielding Shadow, launched in the US by the rival Pathé cinema firm, who could cloud men’s minds.

Though Judex achieved some fame, both characters were essentially swallowed by World War One. Amusingly, when some adventures of the Shadow were published in France during the 1940s, the character’s name was “translated” as… Judex since one couldn’t tell the difference anyway.

But even Judex was heavily derivative – the project was essentially a benign version of Fantômas due to the censorship issues that crippled French pulp avengers and super-heroes throughout the XXth century.

Scholar Xavier Fournier also argued that Judex borrowed heavily from previous French “dark avenger of the night” characters, such the Comte de Monte-Cristo and Ténébras.


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Game Stats — DC Heroes RPG Print Friendly

Tell me more about the game stats

The Shadow

Dex: 05 Str: 04 Bod: 05 Motivation: Seeking Justice
Int: 09 Wil: 08 Min: 09 Occupation: Vigilante
Inf: 09 Aur: 08 Spi: 09 Resources {or Wealth}: 007
Init: 025 HP: 050

Powers:
Hypnosis: 03, Superspeed: 02, Teleportation: 02, Ultra-vision: 03

Bonuses and Limitations:

  • Hypnosis requires at least a Phase of full eye contact and verbal communication.
  • Superspeed only to accelerate learning languages ; it is a Skilled Power.
  • Teleportation has no Special Range Bonus (-1), doesn’t physically teleport the Shadow and can probably be resisted – see below.
  • Ultra-vision is Night Vision only.

Skills:
Acrobatics*: 05, Artist (Actor): 04, Charisma*: 09, Evasion (Ranged only): 06, Martial Artist (incl. Techniques): 05, Thief (Stealth): 07, Vehicles (Air, Land, Water): 07, Weaponry (Firearms): 07

Advantages
Area Knowledge (New York City), Confidant (his agents), Expertise (Military equipment and protocols, Disguise, Biography of criminals, gonifs and molls in New York City), Familiarity (Criminology), Headquarters (Expensive), Iron Nerves, Languages (Mandarin Chinese, Cantonese Chinese, Khmer, German and others), Scholar (Espionage), Schtick (Paired pistols).

Connections:
Underworld (High), Street (High).

Drawbacks:
Secret Identity, MIA toward Seeking Justice.

Equipment:

  • Custom .45 semi-automatic pistols [BODY 04, Projectile weapons: 04, Ammo: 08] and presumably four extra magazines or so.
  • FIRE OPAL RING [BODY 03, Detect (Psychic adept): 03, Power Reserve (Charisma, Detect, Hypnotism, Superspeed, Teleportation): 02, Superspeed: 00, Limitation: Power Reserve (Charisma, Hypnotism, Teleportation) applies to the *user*’s ability scores ; Superspeed is only applicable to Charisma (Interrogation) and Hypnotism Tasks].
  • Omni-Gadget AC 3 APs.
  • ARMOURED AUTOGYRO [STR 05 BODY (Hardened Defenses) 07, Flight: 06, Radio communications: 09, R#03].

Clouding men’s mind

The Shadow can vanish from one spot and reappear in another. For game purposes, this is effectively a short-range Teleportation power. Using it will frequently allow the Shadow to Blindside.

However, the Shadow doesn’t actually teleport – he “clouds men’s mind” so they won’t perceive him moving, then dashes to the new spot. This means two shortcomings compared to textbook Teleportation :

  • He has to be able to swiftly, physically cross the space between his departure point and arrival point – he cannot “teleport” on the other side of a wall unless it is feasible for him to climb/jump over said wall.
  • A sufficiently strong-willed person might resist the “clouding” effect. We have no example of this occurring in the series, but perhaps somebody who suspects misdirection might “roll to disbelieve” using a non-standard MIND/WIL against a OV/RV of 10/10 (the GM should lower the OV/RV if this person is a psychic like the Shadow). A successful roll would let them see the Shadow moving rather than just disappear, and let them react normally.

By Sébastien Andrivet.

Source of Character: The Shadow: Year One from Dynamite Comics.

Helper(s): Darci, Peter Piispanen.

Writeup completed on the 7th of June, 2015.

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