Interview: Garth Ennis and Aaron Campbell On Bringing ‘The Shadow’ To Dynamite

Jae Lee’s cover for the first issue

This April, Dynamite is resurrecting the pulp hero of radio, serials, and only later, comics—The Shadow. Garth Ennis will be handling the story with Aaron Campbell providing the art for the new series which sees the gun-toting hero facing off against the usual suspects in 1930’s New York and Shanghai.

MTV Geek got a few questions out to Campbell and Ennis via e-mail about the book.

MTV Geek: What were your respective experiences with the character before starting The Shadow?

Garth Ennis: The best one I read was Howard Chaykin’s mid-80’s story. Not much actual use given that it’s an update and I’m doing a classic 30’s story, but still a great read.

Aaron Campbell: Being a child of the 90’s, I missed out on the DC runs and the old pulps and the Alec Baldwin movie certainly did a lot to curb any interest I might have otherwise developed for the short Dark Horse iteration. I do connect strongly the character, though.

Depending on how you define the term, The Shadow is arguably the first superhero ever. I mean the entire archetype for the super hero genre is there in The Shadow. The extraordinary and mysterious origin story, super human powers, super villain nemeses, alter-egos and secret identity, fighting for the greater good, living outside the excepted parameters of society. As with the Green Hornet, even though I had little contact with the characters before hand, I’ve found that I have this intrinsic draw to them. It’s almost like they’re in my blood and I haven’t really figured out yet why that is. Maybe it’s the historic period, or that sort of wonderful kitschy innocence of the pulps, or the idea that back then there was still so much that was unknown and uncertain. Whatever it is I love working with these types of characters.

Geek: So no love for the Russell Mulcahy movie?

Campbell: Nope.

Ennis: Not much.

Alex Ross’ variant cover for #1

Geek: The character is essentially the “Case Zero” in terms of a lot of elements that we now associate with the superhero or masked character or however you’d like to classify it. Besides both of your names top-lining the book, what do you think would make this immediately appealing to modern readers?

Ennis: I never really think about the appeal, or what audience would like any particular story. I tend to forget what I’m doing will ever be read while I’m writing it, and just get on with the task at hand.

Campbell: The Shadow is an awesome character in an awesome time. I mean what’s not to like? It’s New York City and other exotic locales in the 30’s, WWII is getting ready to start. You have the old-school mystique of Eastern mysticism wrapped up with a badass gunslinger. Plus The Shadow is one of those characters that everyone is aware of but very few know much about so there’s this chance for readers to explore something completely new.

Geek: Why do you think now is a good time to bring the character back?

Campbell: The time is always right for a great story and a great character. That’s eternal. And with as muddled and confused as the mainstream super hero genre has become in recent years I think something like this is a breath of fresh air—a fresh and un-biased start.

Ennis: Another one I don’t think a lot about. I like the character, so any time is a good time.

Geek: Along the same lines, how do you think he’d function in the modern age?

Ennis: Probably in much the same way, only with greater reliance on technology—most notably the internet. Not really my department.

Campbell: I think that if he had existed in comics continually since the 30’s, like Superman and Batman, he would operate just fine because he would have evolved slowly over time. But he didn’t and I feel that to take him out of that time period would have no merit and would ultimately separate him from what makes him interesting and unique. There are plenty of characters to choose from in the here and now. I think The Shadow needs to remain a part that bygone era.

Howard Chaykin’s cover for the #1 issue

Geek: He was always sort of the scarier, “just-this-side-of-a-villain” character—did that at all factor into the appeal for either of you?

Ennis: Very much so. He has a strong sense of the dramatic, he likes to engineer quite grim and punishing ends for his foes. And when the moment comes he strikes hard, fast and with total ruthlessness. My kind of character.

Campbell: Absolutely. A character with no duality has very little value in my opinion. They might be nice, clean reading material for the kiddies, but there’s just nothing there to hold my interest.

Geek: Could you tell us a little about your version of the character? One consistent seems to be the ever-changing secret identity of the character.

Ennis: See last answer. I’m also focusing on the slightly mystical element to the character—there’s a possibility that he can even cloud men’s minds after they’ve died. And I decided that the very phrase “The Shadow knows” was of key importance—he knows a lot more about what’s going on than he’s saying, he sees himself as an agent of fate—putting the pieces in place, moving the players around the board, pushing evildoers towards their eventual doom.

Geek: Were there any particular elements from past runs on the character that you wanted to get into the book either in terms of look or feel?

Campbell: I have managed to gather a big stack of Shadow material going back to the late 70’s: Baker, Sienkiewicz, Kaluta, Chaykin, Gianni, etc. I’m not trying to mimic anyone’s style, though. It’s there more for an historic context, and of course to intimidate me by the sheer ponderous force of their combined absolute greatness. I want this to stand on its own merit and allow my vision of the character (and Garth’s) to shine through. I’m not trying to redefine The Shadow, but it’s also not a love letter.

Ennis: Nothing specific. He’s such a great looking character to begin with, that side of things tends to look after itself. Likewise the era: it’s hard to write a dull story set in 1930s New York and Shanghai.

Geek: Aaron, could you elaborate more on the look for the Shadow as a character and the book as a whole?

Campbell: Well, for the most part it’s going to be the Shadow that we are all familiar with. Black cape with the red lining, big floppy fedora, trench coat and red fluttering scarf, dual m1911 pistols.

Looking back through all the existing material you’ll find though that there’s never been one consistent way of depicting him. His costume has always had little differences here and there and the individual styles vary dramatically. For my part, I’ll be sticking to what I know and the style I’ve been developing, which is to say heavy on the shadows, a certain adherence to reality, and an almost fanatic devotion to place and time.

John Cassaday’s variant cover for issue #1

Geek: Could you tell us a little about the villain(s) of the piece? Who are you putting the Shadow up against?

Ennis: The villains are Major Taro Kondo of Japanese military intelligence, and a Chinese bandit king by the name of Buffalo Wong. There are also a number of suitably sinister Germans kicking about.

Geek: Finally, could you tell us a little about pulp titles that you’ve been into in the past? Anything that you wish other people might check out?

Campbell: If there’s one pulp that everyone should get a chance to see it’s Jim Steranko’s “Chandler” which appeared in Fiction Illustrated in 1976. It has been called the first graphic novel and it is amazing. I can only hope that one day it will get reprinted.

Ennis: None come to mind. It’s really the Shadow and no one else.

Ennis and Campbell’s The Shadow #1 will be on shelves this April.

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