Blog: Thoughts and comments on the world of the pulp magazines

What if… ‘The Shadow’ were on Netflix?

Posted by at 9:55 am Tuesday, March 28, 2017 in Movies/TV/Radio, Pulps
Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

What if… ‘The Shadow’ were on Netflix?

Marvel’s Iron Fist showed up on Netflix earlier this month, and I’ve been slowly watching through the series.

Danny Rand/Iron Fist (Finn Jones) ventures into Chinatown in the Netflix series 'Iron Fist.'

Danny Rand/Iron Fist (Finn Jones) ventures into Chinatown in the Netflix series Iron Fist.

As with Netflix’s previous Marvel miniseries — Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and Luke CageIron Fist got me thinking, to borrow an old Marvel comic-book title, What If…?

The earlier miniseries were tremendously well done. All were gritty, story-driven series with plenty of action, great characters (and villains), and fine casts. (Iron Fist, so far, hasn’t lived up to the bar set by its predecessors.)

Daredevil’s first season pitted him against Kingpin, Wilson Fisk. The dangers seemed real for Matt Murdock as he struggled to become Daredevil, and for his friends and the other residents in Hell’s Kitchen. The second season was a bit more expansive, but still limited in scope. The same went for Luke Cage. Jessica Jones, on the other hand, was a more personal conflict between Jessica Jones and Kilgrave that other people got pulled into it.

Back to my question: What If… there were a limited-episode, streaming series based on a pulp character?

This really crystalized for me while watching episode four of Iron Fist, “Eight Diagram Dragon Palm,” as Danny Rand ventures into Chinatown. I immediately thought of The Shadow, since Chinatown played a regular role in the novel series.

Imagine a TV adaptation of “The Living Shadow,” the first novel in The Shadow series, that focuses on Harry Vincent learning to become an agent of The Shadow, as the cloaked vigilante confronts Diamond Bert Farwell in a story involving murders, stolen jewels, and secret Chinese identification disks.

Instead of today’s New York City and Hell’s Kitchen, the setting here would be 1930s New York City and its Chinatown.

"The Shadow" (May 1, 1941)

The story would focus on the characters: Vincent, Claude Fellows, Det. Joe Cardona, Wang Foo, Steve Cronin, and Farwell. While keeping The Shadow largely an unknown entity, we could follow the cloaked figure on a few of his missions as he blends into the dark, black night, as his name implies. (If you’ve got to include Lamont Cranston and Margo Lane, at least use the pulp versions of each.)

We would learn The Shadow’s modus operandi, and discover that The Shadow is a man who lacks supernatural or mystical powers. He’s someone who is undoubtedly well-trained in espionage and concealment, as well as illusion, who is observant, methodical, and insightful, and who has an uncanny ability to persuade and a knowledge of hypnosis.

This would be a small-scale story, one of people, crimes, and community. Sure, there could be crowded gun battles, but it wouldn’t be an epic on the scale of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (or even its network TV adaptation, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.).

In fact, showrunner Marco Ramirez recently echoed this thought while discussing his upcoming Netflix series The Defenders during an interview with Entertainment Weekly. The miniseries will pit Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist against Alexandra, a villain played by Sigourney Weaver.

Discussing Weaver’s character, Ramirez said: “We knew it would take something massive to pull these four characters from their individual worlds to work together, but also small enough that it felt like it existed in our world.”

As with The Defenders and the other Marvel series on Netflix, there’s no need to have The Shadow’s villains plotting world domination or destruction. That’s become so cliche in TV and movie adaptations of popular-culture characters that it’s hard to tell one from another. Even adaptations such as the Spider-Man movie series are overly packed with destruction and villains, when the character actually calls out for stories much smaller and lower-key.

We’ll leave the epic-scale adaptations to pulp characters that are more suited to those types of stories, such as Doc Savage, The Spider, Conan, and Tarzan. Clearly, these characters could anchor — or have anchored — tent-pole movies.

Charlie Cox plays "Daredevil" in the Netflix series

Charlie Cox plays Daredevil in the Netflix series

Just think about “The Land of Terror,” the second Doc Savage novel. It’s one of my favorite. It starts off with the murder of a close friend of Doc Savage’s by a mysterious “Smoke of Eternity” weapon, and a dash around New York City before Doc and his five aides tear halfway around the globe as they chase the villain Kar to a forgotten island in the Pacific where dinosaurs still roam.

It’s epic in scale, just as many other Doc Savage novels were. Likewise, The Spider novels, while maybe not as globe-spanning, were certainly epic in scope as cities could be captured or destroyed, and legions of people killed or drugged and turned to murderous armies.

Let’s leave the blockbuster storytelling to select characters. Not everyone needs that treatment.

The Shadow would work well in the streaming medium, as would The Avenger (the original pulp character, not the “biopunk” version once proposed) and other pulp characters.

Maybe the time is right for this What If…? I can only hope that a limited-episode streaming series of The Shadow comes about. And hope that if it does happen, the showrunners keep the characters faithful to the pulps, even if they do have to tweak them somewhat.

6 Comments

  1. Great post! I often wonder how to give period pieces proper justice, especially stories from the pulps. With plans for a Doc Savage movie circulating, I would be interested to see a Shadow Netflix series.

    That being said, I would have to recommend Person of Interest as a modern substitute in the meantime. I don’t know if was intended, but that show has all the elements of the Shadow stories with a cyberpunk rather than eastern mysticism element as the fantastic element.

    • I haven’t seen Person of Interest. I’ll have to check it out.

  2. I wonder how many people are piling on “Iron Fist” because the critical reception hasn’t been the best. I went in expecting little but found it either to better than the other Marvel series or slightly behind “Jessica Jones.” The problem with the other series, to me, is like in “Luke Cage,” where there just isn’t enough story going on to justify the thirteen episodes. We get too much repetition and dead time. The only issue I have with “Iron Fist” is that the acting seems spotty at times. Otherwise I’d say it’s getting an unfair rap. But that’s my two cents.

    As for your Shadow idea–damn. Bring it on, especially if they do it the way Marvel is handling their shows, with almost no special effects budgets. In other words, do the Shadow from the books, as you suggest, and not from the radio shows. Sign me up.

    • I don’t think Iron Fist is terrible. But like you said, the story is a bit thin, and the acting isn’t up to the quality of the other Marvel series. It’s better than a lot of genre TV.

      The Marvel executive producers and showrunners have their hands full, but based on how they have handled their Netflix shows, they would be my first choice.

  3. “The weed of crime bears bitter fruit.”

    The Shadow on Netflix would be perfect.

  4. Maybe if we get a show we’ll get the books in e-book form for someone like me who has no more room on his shelves!

What do you think?