The Shadow is the name of a collection of serialized dramas, originally in 1930’s pulp novels, and then in a wide variety of media. Its title character has been featured on the radio, in a long-running pulp magazine series, in American comic books, comic strips, television, serials, video games, and at least five feature films.
Originally created to be a mysterious radio-show narrator, The Shadow was developed into a distinctive literary character in 1931 by writer Walter B. Gibson.
The Shadow debuted on July 31, 1930, as the mysterious narrator of the radio program Detective Story Hour, which was developed to boost sales of Street & Smith’s monthly pulp Detective Story Magazine. When listeners of the program began asking at newsstands for copies of “that Shadow detective magazine,” Street & Smith decided to create a magazine based on a character called The Shadow and hired Gibson to create a character concept to fit the name and voice and write a story featuring him.
The first issue of The Shadow Magazine went on sale on April 1, 1931, a pulp series.
The character and look of The Shadow gradually evolved over his lengthy fictional existence.
As depicted in the pulps, The Shadow wore a wide-brimmed black hat and a black, crimson-lined cloak with an upturned collar over a standard black business suit. In the 1940s comic books, the later comic book series, and the 1994 film starring Alec Baldwin, he wore either the black hat or a wide-brimmed, black fedora and a crimson scarf just below his nose and across his mouth and chin. Both the cloak and scarf covered either a black double-breasted trench coat or a regular black suit. As seen in some of the later comics series, The Shadow also would wear his hat and scarf with either a black Inverness coat or Inverness cape.
In the radio drama, which debuted in 1937, The Shadow was an invisible avenger who had learned, while “traveling through the Orient,” “the mysterious power to cloud men’s minds, so they could not see him.” This feature of the character was born out of necessity: Time constraints of 1930’s radio made it difficult to explain to listeners where The Shadow was hiding and how he was remaining concealed. Thus, the character was given the power to escape human sight. Voice effects were added to suggest The Shadow’s seeming omnipresence. To explain this power, The Shadow was described as a master of hypnotism, as explicitly stated in several radio episodes.
The Shadow has been adapted for comics several times during his long history; his first comics appearance was on June 17, 1940, as a syndicated daily newspaper comic strip offered through the Ledger Syndicate. The strip’s story continuity was written by Walter B. Gibson, with plot lines adapted from the Shadow pulps, and the strip was illustrated by Vernon Greene.
The comic strip, which ran until June 20, 1942, comprised 14 stories.