I’ve been whittling away at this collection since I got it, between the daily commute to and from work, an episode here and there while I cook dinner, another while I prepare for bed at night… it’s amazing how fast it goes when you can hit it in bite-size chunks like that. I realized I was so close to the end, I just plowed through the rest of it this morning.
When I first started listening to The Shadow, I was already an old time radio addict. Thank you, Star Wars and Orson Welles. Back then, I had to track these episodes down on cassette, and the best you could hope for was a 4-tape set with 8 episodes each. It was expensive in the extreme, especially for the guy working a minimum wage job, and it was the most cruel of all possible teases because they would only release once such collection every year or two. Beyond that, I was lucky if I found a random episode or two here and there at the gift shop of the local Cracker Barrel restaurant. Seriously, that’s how this scavenger hunt went down, because between the slow release and the three years salary it would have cost me to complete the collection had they decided to drop it all at once, I felt more than a little cheated. The only other way to get my fix was to listen to this AM radio station on weekends where they had a mandatory 3-hour block of The Shadow. Yes, I recorded those too, when the reception was clear enough to do so. When the internet came along, I borrowed my parents’ dialup service for two solid weeks while they were off in Hawaii, pulling off the “complete” series from a random FTP site I discovered by accident. Sometimes a fanboy’s gotta do what a fanboy’s gotta do, and I have no regrets about this. None. Zero. Zip. Zilch. Nada.
Since that time, I’ve listened to these episodes time and again, and to this day I continue to drop money on the monthly reprints of the old pulp novels. So you see, when Audible released this collection for a single credit, I jumped on that like white on rice.
So let’s talk about this particular release.
It says “Ultimate” but is it “complete?” Yes and no. The Shadow ran for 17 years and stopped pretty much only because television killed it in 1954. There were 665 episodes created, and of that, whole seasons are lost. My original download of “complete” episodes featured 212 episodes, some of which were incomplete, and 5 of which were Australian productions, but some of which were also “newly discovered.” This collection boasts “over 190 shows” (despite the 250+ the cover art claims). True, but there’s more to this tale. Whoever put this collection together duplicated some of the shows, back-to-back in most cases, so that drops the number count. On the other hand, I can tell you that there are more episodes to be had, so we’ve recovered some more. Always a nice bonus to hear some I’ve not heard before. That alone makes this worth the credit in my eyes, to say nothing of simply having them on instant download anytime I want them.
Radio enthusiasts and Shadow fans will understand this, but newcomers need to know: some of these episodes aren’t in the best condition. The sound quality varies from “this sounds like it was recorded yesterday” to “I can’t quite make it out through the static” to “this is too garbled to verify as English.” Listen long enough, you develop an ear for this sort of thing, but that’ll only carry you so far in a handful of cases.
The other thing newcomers will need to know is that the radio show is not the same as the pulp character. The radio version is considerably watered down as they were adapting stories from novels to half-hour adventures. This means his network of agents is down to Margo Lane and Moe “Shreevy” Shrevnitz so as to heavily reduce the permanent cast of characters. His secret identities are no longer layers upon layers; here he is simply “Lamont Cranston, wealthy young man about town.” Because this was for general public consumption, even in prime time, his twin Silver Heat .45s are non-existent here, thus reducing the carnage. And yet, most of his foes still meet a convenient ending by slipping out a window or whatever. And most importantly, the radio version has the “ability to cloud men’s minds so they cannot see him,” rendering him invisible, and thus the perfect avenger for radio. If you’ve ever seen the 1994 movie with Alec Baldwin, that version is a near-perfect amalgamation of the pulp and radio versions.
But even with all of this, The Shadow is considered to be one of the best radio programs ever created, the character is the most popular of the pulp adventurers precisely because of this program, and because of this series, we got an entire line of knock-offs ranging from successful to obscure. You might have heard of his most popular knock-off: Batman. Know what? The Shadow’s still better. Yeah, I said it.
Bottom line, this collection is not just a bargain, it’s a steal. Even with the obvious problems and warts, you just won’t find a better offer for this anywhere. Believe me, I’ve looked.