There was a time in this country when heroes were needed. In the pages of the pulp magazines, some stepped up.
Ace pilot G-8 protected America in the skies both over our nation and abroad. Secret Agent X was a master of disguise, stopping foreign agents on America’s shores. Doc Savage traveled the world with his crew, ending the schemes of madmen bent on domination. The Spider patrolled his city like a homicidal Batman, leaving his imprint burned into the bodies of his criminal victims.
Then there was The Shadow. He had adventures on blimps and airplanes, undermined foreign spies, stopped insane schemes of mad scientists and broke up crime rings. On top of everything else – his wealth, his cadre of agents, his ability to effectively become invisible – he had a radio show where he was voiced by none other than Orson Welles.
Lamont Cranston had it made, and was arguably the defining action hero. Except that he wasn’t. Maybe.
In the radio show, and in most of the pulp stories, Lamont Cranston was the Shadow, pure and simple. A wealthy man who grew disgusted with the crime and violence delivered to the people in his city, he traveled to the Far East and studied mysticism, martial arts and skills like disguise, then returned to New York to work for good.
In some of the stories, however, more background was provided. The Shadow’s real name was Kent Allard, an ace war pilot who decided to fight crime and violence by traveling to the Far East and… well, you know the rest. It seems he blackmailed Cranston into allowing him to use Cranston’s identity while Cranston does the globetrotting toward which wealthy men are inclined.
Cranston bears no ill will about being blackmailed and threatened with bankruptcy and/or violence, however. He’s a good sport about the whole thing, and occasionally he and Allard use their uncanny resemblance to foil attempts to expose The Shadow’s identity.
So, who is The Shadow? Lamont Cranston, of the movies and radio shows? Or Kent Allard, of the pulps and comics and books? Well, it’s impossible to say for certain, because it all depends on one’s perspective. But… The Shadow Knows.
Question of the night: Who is one of your heroes?