“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” –Psalm 23:4
Legendary Comics’ Shadow Walk is based on a dead-simple idea: what if the “valley of the shadow of death” mentioned in the bible wasn’t a metaphor, but an actual place? Expanding on that, if the proverbial valley was real, how would it potentially be used—or exploited—by the modern world?
The setup is easy to digest: an environmental anomaly exists in Iraq that has been witnessed over the centuries, but its depths haven’t been truly plumbed until the N.S.A. sends in a team of hard-bitten army rangers, scientists, and a priest to investigate it, as well as its possible applications as a source of energy for the United States (ironic that our “energy independence” still falls square in the Middle East). Once inside the anomaly, the squad finds a hellish dimension that could be the root of all superstition and monstrous mythology as the local wildlife slowly chip away at their numbers.
I’m oversimplifying things, really, because the work that writer Mark Waid (Kingdom Come) has done here (with no small contribution from Legendary Comics founder Thomas Tull and World War Z scribe Max Brooks) deftly balances between 90s-style gore-soaked action and deep theological introspection. Waid’s work in horror has been minimal, as his dialogue and ideas tend to not be so heavy-handed, but he handles the fear of his characters in Shadow Walk with murderous glee. Sure, the more visceral aspect of the action falls squarely into the realm of Aliens-style bug hunt, but the psychological breakdown of these characters is even more gruesome as they determine the nature of the valley and just what it means to them and humanity as a whole. If there’s one complaint, it’s that the book just seems to end with little fanfare, its journey into hell simply stops cold just as it’s getting into some really deep ideas.
The artwork by Shane Davis (Superman: Earth One) fits the aforementioned 90s vibe very well, with the squad clad in skintight armor (complete with superstitious crucifixes stitched into them) and wielding massive weapons that seem plucked right out of Rob Liefeld’s arsenal. Mercifully, his sense of anatomy and proportion thumb their nose at the artists of that decade, and his creature design is deliciously gruesome.
While it’s not the perfect read (I would have loved to see some of the story decompressed and this made into a longer miniseries), Shadow Walk is brisk, nasty fun. On the surface, it’ll scratch the visceral itch but its deeper theological ideas will stick with you long after you’ve closed the book.