Speculating on The Shadow: Pulps to Comics

by Patrick Bain

052821D-300x157 Speculating on The Shadow: Pulps to ComicsI wonder what the demographic is for fans of The Shadow?  Me… I’m a guy in my mid-fifties.  I grew up on the radio version of The Shadow, but only because my Dad bought some reel-to-reel audio tapes of radio programs. Is the fanbase for the legendary crime fighter getting old like the pulp magazines featuring his adventures?  Or maybe there’s a dynamic young audience that can fuel future price growth for these collectibles?  So, let’s start speculating on The Shadow, from pulps to comics.

Why Speculate on the Shadow?

Batman-259-203x300 Speculating on The Shadow: Pulps to ComicsAuthentic Shadow fans probably peer down the Shadow’s pronounced nose at me.  After all, my love for the character originated not in Walter Gibson’s noir tales, but rather the lighter family-oriented radio adventures.  However, I will claim a little gravitas by stating my dad traded high-grade copies of early Conan comics (including issue #1) for the tapes.

Shadow-4-by-Michael-Kaluta-203x300 Speculating on The Shadow: Pulps to ComicsFrom a comic perspective, I loved the appearances of The Shadow in Batman comics.  Illustrated by Mike Kaluta and Irv Novick, check out Batman 253 and Batman 259.  Nam discussed their first crossover in Do You Have to Buy Key Comics.

But what triggered my curiosity for speculating on the Shadow?  I was inspired by purchasing Kaluta’s complete series from 1973 featuring the hero with blazing .45 automatic pistols.  Though I consider the series iconic, the prices remain modest.  So, what does that mean to the future of the Shadow?

Who Knows What Evil Lurks

Speculating-on-The-Shadow-1-1987-by-Helfer-and-Sienkiewicz-193x300 Speculating on The Shadow: Pulps to ComicsHoward Chaykin brought back a gritty version of Walter Gibson’s character in a 1986 four-issue mini-series.  Presumably, it fared well enough that Andy Helfer scripted a continuing “mature readers” series for DC in 1987.  The series featured some awesome cover art from Bill Sienkiewicz on early issues.  Later, Kyle Baker earned full-time art duties.  Unfortunately for me, the Shadow’s laugh fell on deaf ears as the stories were too disturbing for me to appreciate.

From a speculative point of view, these Shadow comics don’t resonate with today’s collectors, barely registering in the GoCollect marketplace.  I’ve even thought I should take my sets and create a bound reader since I doubt I could sell them for much any other way.

Speculating on Kyle Baker Shadow Art

Kyle-Bakeer-Shadow-9-Page-27-1988-201x300 Speculating on The Shadow: Pulps to ComicsInterestingly, art from the series I just panned is coming to auction in early June.  Kyle Baker has gone beyond this Shadow series, so perhaps you would like to grab something by him.  Several pages of panel art from the series sold through HA in 2020.  Prices ranged from roughly $600 to $800.

Pages like this one from issue 9 are comparable, maybe slightly less interesting, than the ones that sold in 2020.  However, they present an opportunity for Baker fans to get some of his earliest major works.

Shadows of the Shadow

Shadow-Dynamite-Entertainment-195x300 Speculating on The Shadow: Pulps to ComicsDC’s next series, The Shadow Strikes casts a shadow closer to his pulp roots.  It enjoyed relative success lasting 31 issues, but still failed to make a mark in the hearts of investors.  Dynamite Entertainment and Dark Horse have also pulled down his wide-brimmed hat.  Their Shadow instilled fear in the heart of criminals, but so far failed to inspire speculators.  So I still wonder, is there a young fanbase that can support future generations of Shadow collections?

The Shadow 14 variant cover by Tim Bradstreet (Dynamite Entertainment 2013).

The Seeds of Time

The-Shadow-April-1931-First-Issue-1-213x300 Speculating on The Shadow: Pulps to ComicsAt this point, maybe you’re ready to give up on The Shadow.  The character and his fans are old.  But something fresh just happened!  On May 20th, the first Shadow pulp magazine from April 1931 came to auction through HA.  It is described as rarer than Action Comics 1 and nearly as important.

The very first “hero pulp”, it hit newsstands some seven years before Action #1 started the Golden Age of comics. A radio narrator called “The Shadow” had proven a hit, and magazine publisher Street & Smith assigned Walter Gibson (under the pseudonym Maxwell Grant) to take the name and flesh out a full-fledged character before someone else did.

Walter-Gibson-Bound-Volume-e1622218921468-231x300 Speculating on The Shadow: Pulps to ComicsThe pulp in almost Fine condition sold for $156K including Buyer’s Premium.  For context, the 2020 Bookery’s Guide to Pulps listed a “Fine” condition value of only $25,000.  While it’s a mistake to build a house on this speculation, I note another sale.  The highly sought magazine from January 1933 (The Creeping Death) also sold about 25% higher than a similar copy sold in December of last year.

I can’t resist mentioning that the first six Shadow stories, bound in one volume, sold for $31,200.  The book belonged to the personal collection of Walter Gibson.

Join the Speculating Frenzy or Watch the Shadow Fade?

bookerys-guide-to-the-pulps-second-edition-232x300 Speculating on The Shadow: Pulps to ComicsMost fictional characters have a very finite lifespan.  Will the Shadow fade with the children who invested in the character fifty, sixty, seventy, and eighty years ago?  Could a popular artist, a film series, or celebrity plug breathe new life in the hero?  Perhaps, creating a whole generation of new fans.

Something to watch for is a huge influx of these old pulp magazines in the market.   Along with the Golden Age comics, they appear to have the most collectability.  Historically, high and mid-grade copies are in short supply.  But, as fans get older, they will begin distributing their collections into the market.  Will supply create new collectors and investors who want to purchase remnants from the depression era?  Or, will fewer people take an interest in a character they didn’t grow up reading?

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8 comments

KatComics June 5, 2021 - 3:23 pm

I too was introduced to the Shadow though radio re-broadcasts that my father listened to (I’m in my mid 40’s). I think there will always be collectability to these books as the stories and most importantly the art is out of this world. I really hope another version of the Shadow can make it in comics, novels or even film (Baldwin was ok!) Would we have characters like the Question, Phantom Stranger or Rorschach if it weren’t for the Shadow…I think not!

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Patrick Bain June 5, 2021 - 5:57 pm

Terrific comment! The Shadow has inspired many characters…including the Batman! I agree that the Shadow is a character that is only waiting another great retelling– through movies, comics, or even possibly the “James Patterson” novels.

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Nick June 5, 2021 - 11:26 pm

The 2011 or 2012 series from Dynamite was enjoyable, with some stunning covers. I’m a fan from my childhood Shadow radio tapes days, but I think he’s too niche a comics property to drive much speculation these days. The pulps would be the originating print material, and the comics have ended up being just nice memorabilia for fans. Also a others mentioned, the legacy of the pulp heroes was fully vested in the comics-native properties of Batman, etc.

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Patrick Bain June 5, 2021 - 11:58 pm

I like your comment, Nick. I perused some of the Dynamite covers while looking for images for the article, definitely impressive. Unfortunately, I haven’t read any of their stories, but I hope they are good enough to create some new fans. Based on current Overstreet prices and lack of CGC sales (or census), I agree there is NO speculation going on. Interestingly, I suspect the lofty price for the first Shadow pulp has nothing to do with speculation. It seems it could be the case of established fans seeking to upgrade their own collection.

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David Blot June 5, 2021 - 6:40 pm

The Andy Helfer’s run is underristamed in my opinion. Not only Sienkiewiz and Baker artworks are great, the designs of the book are perfect and consistent on all issues (and the annuals) and the writing, far from perfect true, but also very refreshing, somewhere between the JLA De Matteis / Giffen issues of the time and the Vertigo things to come. I prefer those scripts to the Chaykin’s ones (the artwork though is as gorgeous).

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Patrick Bain June 5, 2021 - 10:33 pm

I found the covers very compelling. The stories were beyond what worked for me. But it is true that these type of stories probably ushered in some of the critically acclaimed mature stories to come. Since you give that series a thumbs up, I would be curious about your age if you are comfortable sharing.

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David Blot June 6, 2021 - 4:40 pm

Aha yes, no prob : I’m 50 and French. And there is certainly some nostalgia in there, I bought those Shadow issues when I was 17 and just starting to read US comics (not just French reprint). But I still think that some of those ‘before Vertigo’ books (this and also Shade, Doom Patrol, Animal Man, Skreemer, and obv Sandman and Swamp Thing) were more groundbreaking than when the formula is in. (By definition in a way I guess). Hopes I’m clear !

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Patrick Bain June 6, 2021 - 5:17 pm

Merci! Before the pandemic I made several trips to France for business. I did spend a day checking out comic book shops on one of my trips. I was impressed with how busy they were.

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