Dynamite Entertainment continues to astound me with the books that come out of their roster. They are not necessarily the best books that I read every week, but I cannot help but admire the quality that they put into their work. In many cases I find that individual issues are sometimes not as great as I would have hoped for but, when put into the context of the entire story arc, I think they really shin as being as integral components of the whole. This is how I found the first issue of The Shadow/Green Hornet: Dark Nights. It seemed to be setting the stage for the remainder of the series as well as the environment in which it takes place which I get is quite important and I can understand, but it doesn’t always make for the best impression for a first issue. (Then again, if it was done in Issue 2 as a flashback sequence I would probably complain then, too, so…)
Michael Uslan is telling us a tale that will bring 2 of the most popular pulp heroes ever – The Shadow and the Green Hornet – at odds with one another. Both are constantly fighting the battle for justice, but the Shadow is always on the side of angels whereas the Green Hornet continually appears to straddle that line. Because of that approach that the Hornet takes to fighting crime, it may leave him vulnerable to manipulation and that is the tone that is set here with a mystic who is sympathetic to the Nazi cause conspiring to obtain a powerful artifact from the Shadow by using the Hornet against him. Although this first chapter is most definitely going to go up from here – as the only meeting between the two so far are in their alternate identities (and they meet in a secret meeting with both President Franklin Roosevelt as well as FBI director J. Edgar Hoover) but we can see some similarities in both men which may become part of the narrative in future issues. Each has an assistant who joins them for dinner and as it turns out the assistants know one another – and not in a good way. Some of the backstory about the Shadow was quite interesting because, although I am familiar with the character, I don’t know all of the details. There was just enough of a detail that it’s obvious it was needed to tell this story, but not so much that it distracted me in any way. What was missing here for me, though, was the Hornet’s partner, Kato. When you consider the Green Hornet, Kato is always there. When Britt Reid travels, Kato is his chauffeur and bodyguard (at least to the public at large). With this taking place in World War II, it was inevitable that there would be a slight reference to Kato’s heritage coming into play (and perhaps that will be a bigger piece of the puzzle as the story progresses) but when starting a story with a hero as well-known as the Hornet, keeping his partner who is part of his mythos out of the story just seemed to take something away from it for me. (Especially since Kato was on the gorgeous cover shown above from Alex Ross.)
Keith Burns really seems to have a great grasp of shadows (no pun intended) as both of these characters work in the dark. We see a number of wartime elements – most notably in flashbacks to the First Great War – but also in some of the scenes with the Shadow confronting the villain of the story. Burns has done an exceptional job with the detail of the era, as it looks like he is quite familiar with the skylines from 1939 New York as well as the detail in the vehicles on the road. (For me, I love seeing that the artist gets the time period done correctly – modern elements in stories that take place in the past detract from the quality level of the story, in my opinion.) Looking at the characters, I am reminded of Phil Hester (Green Arrow) in a number of cases. The way that some of the characters faces are drawn and how they look… It makes me want to dig out that run of his with Kevin Smith on Green Arrow from DC. Sometimes, though, the characters could use some work. Now, they aren’t horrible as Burns can draw hands (** cough cough Liefeld cough cough **) but some of the angles in which they are drawn just seem… impossible. Well, impossible if your hand is still connected to the rest of your arm, that is. This is most notable when the main characters’ assistants are talking over dinner, but it happens more than once and it did stand out for me as I read the book.
The covers are worth noting, as they usually are from Dynamite. The main cover is done by Alex Ross who is one of my favorite artists. His style is very lifelike and each person truly looks unique as a result, and the painted result is just breathtaking. The alternate covers are just as nice – with one from John Cassaday (Uncanny Avengers, Astonishing X-Men) and another fun one from Chris Eliopoulos (from the kid covers to every Marvel NOW! relaunch book as well as a number of Dynamite books, including Battlestar Galactica). All 3 covers are unique in their own right – you can see the Alex Ross cover above and the other two are below.
So… Some things I liked and some things I didn’t. However, I do know that Dynamite has never truly failed me since I started to look at their range of books late last year. When push comes to shove, the entire story arc tends to blow me away even if a single issue was not the best standalone issue. I have high hopes and confidence that the next issue will really pick things up and this issue was merely the stage setter, the first act in what will be an amazing story for these characters.