Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Dark Avenger: The Strange Saga of The Shadow - Will Murray

One of the first books I ever bought about pulps was THE DUENDE HISTORY OF THE SHADOW MAGAZINE by Will Murray, an author/editor/pulp fan who I probably met through our mutual friend Tom Johnson. This was more than 40 years ago, so some of the details have slipped my memory. But I was a big fan of The Shadow, having listened to the radio shows, read all the original novels published by Belmont (having no idea at the time that they were written by Dennis Lynds, another guy who would become a friend years later) and all the reprinted pulp novels from Bantam, Pyramid, Jove, Tempo, Dover, etc. So I dived into THE DUENDE HISTORY OF THE SHADOW MAGAZINE with great enthusiasm and was well-rewarded. I loved it. It’s one of the all-time best books about pulps, in my opinion. Plus it’s a beautiful oversized paperback with a great cover by Frank Hamilton.

Of course, my copy was lost in the Fire of ’08 and I never got around to replacing it.

But now we come to today, and Will Murray’s latest book DARK AVENGER: THE STRANGE SAGA OF THE SHADOW. This is a greatly revised and expanded version of THE DUENDE HISTORY OF THE SHADOW MAGAZINE and includes all the information Murray gleaned from the past forty-some-odd years of research. I opened it with the same enthusiasm I felt four decades ago and wasn’t the least bit disappointed. This is the best, most exhaustive volume about a single pulp magazine ever written.

Anything you want to know about THE SHADOW MAGAZINE is in here. The authors are covered extensively (mostly Walter B. Gibson, of course, but there’s plenty about Theodore Tinsley, Bruce Elliott, and Lester Dent, as well), as well as the editors and illustrators and the Street & Smith executives who were involved in the magazine’s production. The entire run of 325 novels is broken down into distinct categories, and Murray explores how they were written, how the series evolved, and the various influences that caused that evolution. He touches on the various versions of The Shadow after the pulp ended, but this is mostly about the 18-year run between 1931 and 1949. Rightly so, as far as I’m concerned since the pulp Shadow is my favorite.

The cover of this new edition is by Joe DeVito, who has done great covers for many of Murray’s books in recent years. I really like this one because it captures The Shadow’s personality quite well and also includes Myra Reldon, one of The Shadow’s agents from the novels who usually isn’t featured in artwork about the character and the pulp. An excellent job all around by DeVito. The book also includes a lot of the interior illustrations by Frank Hamilton from the earlier edition. I always loved Hamilton’s work and am very pleased to see these illustrations again. They really bring back a bygone era of pulp fandom filled with printed fanzines and books like THE DUENDE HISTORY OF THE SHADOW MAGAZINE.

Even if you’re a fan of The Shadow and read the original version, you’re going to want to read the new edition, too. I raced through it, unable to put it down, having the time of my life reliving memories of the Shadow novels I’ve read and being reminded of all the great ones still waiting for me to read. Between the great journal THE SHADOWED CIRCLE and the books devoted to the character by Will Murray, this is the new Golden Age of Shadow Fandom. DARK AVENGER gets my highest recommendation. It’s available in both e-book and trade paperback editions.

1 comment:

teribill said...

Totally agree with your assessment of the book. I wore out 2 copies of THE DUENDE HISTORY OF THE SHADOW MAGAZINE, and it informed my understanding of the character's progression and made me appreciate the stories and Gibson to a much greater degree than I had previously. So nice to have it updated, expanded and in sturdy hardcover format!