Saturday, July 14, 2007

OTR: Masked Marvels


Don’t let the title confuse you! It has nothing to do with characters from Marvel Comics, but rather a number of radio programs that featured mysterious heroes. While some were actually masked, all of them went by names other then their own. They also had in common the fact that they were working on the side of ‘law & order’, but not always with the thanks of the police.

As with the other Old Time Radio (OTR) sets from Radio Spirits that I’ve reviewed I’m going to split this up into several sections. I’ll talk about one or two of the programs in each, with what I know about each show and my reactions. As usual feel free to ignore any or all of this, as your mileage may vary.

The Shadow is probably one of the most famous ‘mystery men’ created for radio. He was first introduced as the host of a program that adapted stories from Street & Smith’s Detective Story magazine. He became so popular with listeners that Street & Smith decided to actually begin publishing a magazine that featured The Shadow in his own adventures. In turn the character became even more popular, so eventually the program dropped the anthology format and started doing original stories. The character appeared in several films beginning in 1937 and as well as in comics a year later.

This set has three episodes: The first, Sabotage, featuring Orson Welles in the title role and Agnes Moorehead playing his companion/love interest Margo Lane. The other two shows feature Bill Johnstone as the voice of The Shadow in The Laughing Corpse & The Phantom Voyage. It’s the first of these last two which may be of note to comics’ fans. In it the villain develops a chemical, which causes his victims to laugh themselves to death. As comics historians have discovered Bob Kane & Bill Finger used more then a few elements of The Shadow when creating their BATMAN character. The chemical used here is almost identical to that used later by The Joker in one of his early appearances.

The radio version of the Shadow didn't actually need to be in disguise as he could “cloud men’s minds” making himself invisible. Still it seems to be the hook-nosed man in black, featured on the covers of the pulps, that most folks imagine when they hear the character mentioned.

I believe that The Shadow may have been the first OTR program that I heard as an adult. I remember some local radio stations rebroadcast the show late at night, usually after midnight. It seemed that during the ‘70s every college FM station had a program showcasing OTR. It still brings a chill when you hear that famous line, “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!”

By the way, you can learn lots more about The Shadow by clicking on the headline above which will take you to the Wikipedia entry on the character.
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