The Shadow is an amazing character. Inspiration for DC's Wesley Dodds, The Sandman, as well as The Shade as interpreted by James Robinson; and, even The Batman as well. It seems from reading The Shadow Annual #1, that he is inspiration for The Spectre, Dr. Fate and The Phantom Stranger. If any of those characters are must-reads, part of a regular pull list at the local comic book store, The Shadow should be as well.
The Shadow is a very cautious, delicate character. A good story featuring The Shadow needs to be simple, basic one, but not simplistic.
Tom Sniegoski's script here is basic, sparse on description and light on dialogue. But it gives more room to soak up Dennis Calero's artwork.
Alex Ross has made Dynamite Entertainment his home providing outstanding covers for each of the titles including an amazing cover for The Shadow Annual #1. The Sniegoski-Calero story begins in Lamont Cranston's dreams, where he is haunted by unclear visions of what is to come. This is reminiscent of James Robinson's take on The Sandman, Wesley Dodds, and his sidekick, Sand Hawkins in his early revival of the Justice Society of America following his run on Starman.
The Shadow story is very similar to the storyling of the 1998 film Fallen, with Denzel Washington and John Goodman. The evil that The Shadow faces here is ancient evil, since the beginning of the world. Brother Pritchard, fallen from grace due to gambling, flees New York for the Li-Lung village of Tibet. Pritchard doesn't find comfort or redemption from his sins, He finds three children that welcome him into their evil embrace.
The story is enjoyable because Sniegoski's script, sparse on description and dialogue drives Calero's dark artwork. Calero's art is moody like Tony Harris, but not as sharp or blocky; it's smoother, like Mike Bair's.
Brother Pritchard brings the children back to New York, and sets about starting an orphanage. Cranston and Lane are not the only ones that take notice of his fundraising efforts to support the new project. Mob boss Vincent Ruzzo becomes aware that Pritchard is back in town and pays a visit to the orphanage to collect old debts. He too succumbs to the children's will.
The final act is incredibly thrilling. The Shadow sends Margo into the lion's den to investigate Brother Pritchard, while he takes on the gathered mob bosses. It's not just a race against time for The Shadow to rescue Margo before she is turned into a minion, but he has to fight off their control of him, too. It doesn't feel as if there needs to be much effort or strain on The Shadow's part to fight off The Children of the Dragon. His mental powers are superior enough to cloud ordinary men's minds. Here at the story's conclusion it takes a second to realize that he really is fighting a power greater than his own. And shaking it off handily. This is the evil that The Shadow knows that lurks in the hearts of men.
The Shadow Annual #1 is a combination of a number of things fitting perfectly together. A great character, well written and drawn, in an exciting and thrilling adventure. Mystery, combined with pulp, gothic suspense. And, that haunting laugh at the end of every dark alley.