Wednesday, October 31, 2018

100-Page FAKES! presents: THE SHADOW # 5

100-Page FAKES! imagines mid-1970s DC 100-Page Super Spectaculars that never were...but should have been!

A previous installment of 100-Page FAKES! offered an expanded version of The Shadow # 6, featuring artist Mike Kaluta's final (and finest!) work on the title. Today, we're going back one issue to re-visit what was originally intended as a quick fill-in art job by the artist who wound up taking over the book with its seventh issue. That artist was Frank Robbins.

As an artist, Robbins was a lightning rod for criticism from comics fans in the '70s. His work was (for lack of a better description) cartoonier than the pseudo-realistic style of Neal Adams. Robbins' artwork on The Shadow and Detective Comics (starring The Batman) horrified some, and the reception was no better over at Marvel Comics, where he worked on The Invaders, Captain America, and Ghost Rider, among others. I was mostly in that horrified camp at the time, but I developed an appreciation of his style before long. Looking back, I think Robbins' artwork was influenced by the great Milton Caniff (creator of Terry And The Pirates and Steve Canyon), and it had an underappreciated noirish flavor to it. And lemme tell ya, noir goes just ducky with characters like The Batman and The Shadow.

Robbins was also a writer, and he deserves credit for helping to move The Batman closer to his Darknight Detective roots in the aftermath of the campy '60s Batman TV series. Before celebrated writer Denny O'Neil turned in his first Batman story, Robbins had already shipped Robin the (former) Boy Wonder off to college, boarded up stately Wayne Manor and the hidden Batcave below it, and moved Bruce Wayne and Alfred Pennyworth into a penthouse overlooking Gotham City. Robbins co-created Man-Bat with Neal Adams. Ultimately, Denny O'Neil's writing was flashier and more striking, but Robbins was a very important figure in Batman's development, and he should be better recognized for his achievements.

Hey, we need some reprints to fill out this ersatz Super Spectacular, so howzabout we include a Batman story written by Robbins and illustrated by the also-underrated Irv Novick? From 1970, "Dead--Till Proven Alive!" finds the world's greatest detective investigating rumors that a member of a popular British rock 'n' roll group has died and been secretly replaced by his surviving bandmates. It's not The Beatles, but an incredible simulation. We round things out with an adventure starring Crime Smasher (the non-costumed postwar incarnation of Fawcett Comics' popular WWII hero Spy Smasher), the two-part introduction of Charlton Comics' hero The Peacemaker (who paradoxically loved peace so much he was willing to fight for it), and two Golden Age exploits of The Shadow.

The Shadow in "Night Of Neptune's Death!," The Shadow # 5 (June-July 1974)
"The Shadow Meets Double Z," Shadow Comics Vol. 6 # 1 (April 1946)
The Batman and Robin in "Dead--Till Proven Alive!," Batman # 222 (June 1970)
Crime Smasher in "The Last Request," Crime Smasher # 1 (Summer 1948)
The Peacemaker in "Introducing: The Peacemaker," Fightin' 5 # 40 (November 1966)
The Peacemaker in "The War Peddler," Fightin' 5 # 41 (January 1967)
"The Shadow Faces Death By Degrees," Shadow Comics Vol. 3 # 12 (March 1941)

The Shadow is copyright Advance Magazine Publishers/The Condé Nast Publications, and everything else belongs to DC Comics Inc. The Crime Smasher and Peacemaker stories are now public domain, but the rest can only be suggested here in representative sample pages. I share the whole thing with my subscribers. I hereby name Frank Robbins a duly-deputized agent of The Shadow. Here's to one more blow against what evil lurks in the hearts of men.


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