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Person of Interest: The Shadow without the Shadow

October 6, 2012

I have read comic books off and on since I was a kid. Because of this, and my interest in history in general, I have always been somewhat obsessed with the history of super hero literature. Some of my favorite characters are the old pulp heroes like Doc Savage and the Shadow. Most people know of the Shadow from the radio series popularized by Orson Wells but, the character actually first appeared in a pulp magazine. Actually, that’s not completely true, he was an MC for a radio mystery theater first but, that’s another story. Regardless, the character as we know him today first appeared in his own self-titled pulp magazine. In The Shadow magazine, especially the early issues, the Shadow wasn’t actually the character with the most “screen time”. The stories instead mostly focused on a character, or characters, who were agents of this mysterious entity. As the magazine series continued more and more agents of the Shadow were introduced. The readers would gradually learn that the Shadow had a network of people working for him in his war on crime. It is this concept that about half way through the first season of Person of Interest, I realized, was probably the basis for the series. The writing is what made me first believe this. Once I started reading the pulp heroes regularly I started to recognize other pulp fans. It’s sort of like the same way that Dexter, being a serial killer, can immediately recognize other serial killers by their behavior. I don’t know if Jonathan Nolan is, in fact, familiar with the Shadow but, I would be willing to bet he is. He did the screenplays for two of the Dark Night films and people who like Batman tend to also like the Shadow since he was one of the inspirations for the original comic book character. Some of the characters in Person of Interest seem to be inspired by some of the Shadow’s agents as well. Mr. Finch serves the same role as Burbank who sits back in a secure building and dispenses the Shadow’s coded messages to the other agents. Mr. Rheese and Detective Carter seem to be modeled on Bruce Marsland (gangster turned agent) and police Detective Cardona. These are only lose connections as the persons in PoI are very much their own distinct characters. Of course, I might be totally off here and maybe Mr. Nolan has no knowledge of the Shadow but, my borther-in-law completely on his own made the same connection to the Shadow that I did. So, until I read or hear otherwise I will congratulate Mr. Nolan with creating a great show using an idea from the pages of the magazine of what many consider to be the first real superhero.

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From → History

5 Comments
  1. Very interesting! I’ve been a fan of The Shadow ever since the late 70s when my mom and dad started buying me the Murray Hill Records every Christmas. I still have the original 17-record set with certificate of authenticity!

  2. Although I humbly disagree with you in regards to the show miming the Shadow, my pulp colleagues and I immediately labeled PERSON OF INTEREST pulp the first season it aired and it remains so to this day. Whereas I’m more inclined to see similarities in the show with the classic pulp hero SECRET AGENT X, who operated outside the regular government channels.

    • That could easily be the case Ron. I only ever read the first issue of Secret Agent X as the character didn’t do a lot for me. I guess I like the more fantastic stuff. In any case, there is definitely a pulp feel to Person of Interest which could easily have come from Secret Agent X, The Shadow, both or maybe even some other character. This would be a good question to put to John Nolan given the oppotunity.

      So, I have to ask, are there any other tv shows that you or your friends label as pulp? Also, I love your publishing company. I just picked up Mystery Men (and Women) number two and am looking forward to getting to that once I finish up Horror in Gold.

  3. Paul M. Ottawa permalink

    I found your site while searching for the same connection. I noticed the similarities by the beginning of the second episode. In the first pulp novel The Shadow rescues a “lost” man who wants to die and turns him into an operative. Very similar story. Thanks for confirming that I’m not the only one who noticed the connection.

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