Encountering Relevant Female Characters And Social Ideas In The Shadow #3

by Hannah Means Shannon

The current arc of The Shadow being published by Dynamite (officially Volume 3 of the saga) is in its third issue at the moment, as written by Simon Spurrier and Dan Watters, illustrated by Daniel HDR, with colors by Natalia Marques and letters by Simon Bowland. I’ve been meaning to get back to reading The Shadow again after a lapse of about a year, and so I jumped in to see how much I could easily follow, even though this is a third issue of an arc.

I’m a big fan of Simon Spurrier’s work as a comic writer (check out his all-ages series Angelic currently being published at Image if you get a chance) and expected some punchy relevance to modern experience to rear its head in the comic, and it turns out I was fully justified in expecting this.

Issue #3 introduced me to two young women in professional roles while the Shadow is in the hospital in the care of one of them. But what it also brings is a flashback to the build-up to World War II in the United States, the rise of pro-Nazi sentiment, and the ways in which the late 1930’s were a heady brew of restless social thought that often pushed people to extremes. Kind of sounds familiar, right?

I mention the two young women in this comic because, as a female reader, I am pretty happy with the way they are presented. Firstly, they both have body types that are pretty far from the over-glamorized female characters you often find in superhero comics. This being a noir series, the creators had a more accepting tradition behind them, but they still went pretty distinctly in a different direction than you often see in comics. Main character Mary Jerez has a very athletic build that is far from supermodel-thin, dresses in a no-nonsense way in hoodies and t-shirts, or in her professional clothing for her career as a nurse, has a short, trendy hairstyle, and a very outspoken and seemingly pugnacious approach to the investigative work she is trying to do.

To comment a little more on Mary, she also ends up in a dangerous part of town in this issue, trying to track down a missing source, and she begins to feel threatened and uneasy due to the denizens of the area. Rather than seeming like a “damsel in distress” in need of rescue, her reactions seem refreshingly non-gendered. Her comments to herself, and her thoughts seem like those any person might voice, finding themselves likely to get mugged or harassed in some way. Big points to both the writers Spurrier and Watters, and to Daniel HDR for creating a female character who reads, sounds, and looks so true to lived experience rather than falling back on unhelpfully archaic tropes in comics.

I mentioned another young woman, and that’s Mary’s sister, Luisa, who we see briefly in this issue, but she, too, defies typical expectations for female characters in comics. Also athletic in build, with an even trendier short haircut, Luisa doesn’t keep normal hours, sports an arm tattoo, is a bit of a slob, and likes her rock music. Isn’t it silly that these few normal traits stand out because they are applied to a female character in comics? While it’s not unheard of to find female characters with traits like these, thankfully increasingly so, it is still unusual enough to remind you that these creators are doing a great job being realistic and progressive in their work.

To comment briefly on the other really relevant topic mentioned above, the creators have brought in the time period witnessing the build to World War II and while they haven’t heaped any particular ideology on the reader, the use of dialog and characters does remind us of the fact that pernicious ideas and social movements start out small, and diffuse, in a fairly confused way, before they become much more pointed and shockingly dangerous. That’s a good reminder for any era of society who might feel that “it can’t happen again” when it comes to fascist ideas, intolerance, or worse.

[Variant cover by CW Wilson]

While I do feel I need to catch up a little on what I missed, particularly in this arc of The Shadow, to fully appreciate the current run of the comic, there was enough in this issue to really interest me, and to prove to me that the creative team are crafting a solid read with a lot of care and attention to our times and experiences as readers.

The Shadow #3 is currently available from Dynamite.