WHEN surfing the Internet, you never know what you may find.
Last year, this writer was startled upon belatedly stumbling on the 'Correspondences' blog of Malaysia-based writer Martin A. Bradley who, in the opening of his 12-paragraph posting on Jan 3, 2009, wrote: "Daniel Chan has written, in 'Cheap Thrills – Darwinism, barbarism, eugenics and swashbuckling' (Off The Edge 48), his usual brilliant article, this time concerning the old pulp magazines (so called because the paper they were printed on, was cheaply made out of wood pulp paper).
"Due to the sheer brilliance of Daniel's piece, and the depth of information he had included on those pulp heroes he had written about, I had read it through before I realised that not one mention was made of the pulps being a precursor to American comicbooks. Neither was there a mention of one of the most famous pulp heroes – The Shadow, whose stories featured in radio shows, films, books, magazines and comicbooks."
Bradley, whose posting was headlined 'Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men', was commenting on my previous Titans of Fiction column published in Off The Edge magazine from March 2008 to December 2009, specifically the instalment in the December 2008 issue in which the subject matter was on fictive characters who first became famous in pulp magazines, with particular focus on Tarzan of the Apes (thus, Darwinism), Conan the Barbarian (barbarism), Doc Savage (eugenics) and Zorro (swashbuckling).
Thanks, Mr Bradley, for the bouquets, and brickbats (ouch!).
Better late than never, so here's my reply: The Shadow was deliberately left out simply because I had intended to reserve him for another article on that rarest breed of fictive titans, those first "heard" over the radio waves before they were "seen". As pictured on this page, besides The Shadow, the only other two major radio heroes that are world-renowned have been The Lone Ranger and The Green Hornet.
The 2011 movie version of The Green Hornet – with Seth Rogen in the title role and Taiwan's Jay Chou as the gangland-busting hero's karate-skilled Asian sidekick Kato – is being screened seven times this month over Astro's HBO Channel 411, with the final screening on Feb 24 at 10pm.
Longtime fans of The Lone Ranger would be happy to know that May 31, 2013 will see the worldwide cinema release of a new big screen version with Armie Hammer in the title role and, most interestingly, Johnny Depp (who's part Cherokee Indian) as the cowboy hero's Native American sidekick Tonto. It will be directed by Gore Verbinski who had helmed the first three Pirates of the Caribbean films starring Johnny Depp and 2011's animated Rango in which Depp voiced the title character, a chameleon who becomes a sheriff in the Wild West.
As for The Shadow, the 1994 movie with Alec Baldwin in the title role failed to engender a franchise but almost two decades later, Hollywood is gearing up for another attempt and the film-maker said to be considering the project is Sam Raimi who ably directed the first three Spider-Man films starring Tobey Maguire. Now that Baldwin is a hot property again, perhaps they should give him a second shot as this masked avenger.
A common denominator of The Shadow, Lone Ranger and Green Hornet was that they operated outside the law, as vigilantes. After originating over radio, all three characters have been featured in various mediums, including movies, TV, comic strips and comicbooks.
The Shadow made his debut on July 31, 1930 as merely a mysterious narrator of the US radio programme Detective Story Hour sponsored by Street and Smith Publications to boost the sales of its pulp title called Detective Story Magazine.
The narrator would kick off each episode with the taunting catchphrase, "Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!", followed by ominous laughter (Ha ha ha ha ha...), and at the end of each episode, The Shadow would preach a cautionary advice, "The weed of crime bears bitter fruit. Crime does not pay... The Shadow knows!"
So compelling was the sinister-sounding narrator – among those who voiced The Shadow was Orson Welles, this, before his radio adaptation of H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds on Oct 30, 1938 which was so real that it caused public panic that Earth was being invaded by aliens from Mars – that eight months later, The Shadow appeared in prose form for the first time in a novel-length story titled The Living Shadow, as the star of a new fortnightly pulp title called The Shadow Magazine that was released on April 1, 1931. There were altogether 325 stories on The Shadow spanning two decades, with 282 of them authored by Walter B. Gibson.
There were several refinements to the design and characterisation of The Shadow, but the version most popularised was his alter ego being Lamont Cranston, a wealthy young man about town who, attired in black slouch hat and crimson-lined black cloak and red scarf around his mouth, becomes a self-appointed vigilante against organised crime.
Cranston uses hypnotism to "cloud men's minds, so they could not see him" (sounds like pukau!), is skilled in martial arts and a crackshot (arming himself with two pistols), also a master of disguise (shades of Sherlock Holmes), and is assisted by a network of about 15 agents of various professions. His eerie costuming and modus operandi of striking fear in criminals during the night influenced a host of nocturnal costumed heroes, including The Phantom (created in 1936) and Batman (1939).
Over the past eight decades, The Shadow has appeared as a newspaper comic strip (1940 to 1942), comicbooks and graphic novels (under various publishers, starting with Archie Comics in 1964, followed by DC Comics and Marvel Comics in the 1970s and 1980s, Dark Horse Comics in the 1990s, and now Dynamite Entertainment plans to release a new comicbook series on The Shadow soon), and movies (before Alec Baldwin, The Shadow was portrayed by Rod La Rocque in two films in 1937 and 1938, Victor Jory in a 15-chapter serial in 1940, and Kane Richmond in a 1946 film).
Moving on to The Lone Ranger, he was first heard over WXYZ radio operating from Detroit in Michigan, US on Jan 30, 1933, the co-creation of radio station owner George W. Trendle and the show's writer Fran Striker, and it was so well-received by listeners that it ran for 2,956 radio episodes until Sept 3, 1954...over 21 years!
Of the seven men who voiced The Lone Ranger, the most popular was Brace Beemer from 1941 until the end, and this deep-voiced announcer has become associated with the masked cowboy's parting catchphrase while galloping off on his white horse named Silver, "Hi-yo, Silver! Away!" And as he and his Native American partner Tonto ride away, there will always be somebody asking "Who was that masked man?", and there will be always somebody else to reply, "Why... he's The Lone Ranger!"
On the screen, The Lone Ranger was initially dramatised in multi-part movie serials in 1938 (portrayed by Lee Powell) and 1939 (Robert Livingston) and more recently, in 1981's disappointing film The Legend of The Lone Ranger (Klinton Spilsbury), but the actor who stamped his mark on the role was Clayton Moore in a hugely popular TV series that ran for 221 episodes from 1949 to 1957 (though Moore was replaced by John Hart for two seasons), and throughout Tonto was portrayed by Jay Silverheels, an Apache.
The origins of The Lone Ranger was belatedly revealed in the 1938 serial which detailed how six Texas Rangers, headed by Captain Daniel Reid, were ambushed at a canyon by an outlaw gang led by Butch Cavendish, but unknown to them, Reid's younger brother John, though badly injured, survived, was found by Tonto and nursed back to health.
John, using material from Daniel's vest to fashion a black mask, and with Tonto's help, would hunt down the Cavendish gang and bring them to justice, and thereafter dedicating himself as a vigilante against crime. As the sole surviving Texas Ranger in his group, he chose to become The Lone Ranger.
What made The Lone Ranger special was his equal-footing partnership with Tonto as for much of Hollywood history, Native Americans were rarely portrayed fairly. Tonto, whose name means "wild one", would address John Reid as Kemo Sabe which is Native American for "trusted friend". Tonto was also accorded a trusty horse, a pinto breed (mixed colour) named Scout.
The Lone Ranger is also famous for using silver bullets, and his code of honour was to maim rather than kill. There's also an interesting back story about where the silver came from – a silver mine operated by John's nephew Dan Reid.
Which brings us to The Green Hornet whose alter ego is Britt Reid who's the grand-nephew of John Reid alias The Lone Ranger! Not surprising actually as The Green Hornet, which debuted on Jan 31, 1936 also on WXYZ station (and this series ran until 1952), was also conceived by Trendle and Striker.
By day, Britt is the suave crusading publisher of the Daily Sentinel with a karate-skilled confidante named Kato, and by night, they operate as masked crusaders who target crime syndicates, moving around in their heavily-armed supercar called Black Beauty.
The Green Hornet also carries a stun gas-gun while Kato has darts that also stun. Clearly, Trendle and Striker were proponents of inter-ethnic understanding and were again ahead of their times by having a Caucasian-Asian combination.
While it took The Lone Ranger five years to be adapted on celluloid, The Green Hornet took merely four years, with a 13-part movie serial in 1940 (with Gordon Jones as Green Hornet and Keye Luke as Kato) followed by another 15-part movie serial in 1941 (Luke reprising as Kato and Warren Hull taking over as Green Hornet).
But the version most fondly remembered was the 1966-1967 TV series starring Van Williams as Green Hornet who was somewhat outclassed by Bruce Lee as Kato). Though the 2011 movie starring Seth Rogen and Jay Chou did fairly well at the box-office internationally, there's no word on a sequel yet.
Finally, Mr Bradley, if our paths ever cross, lunch is on me.