Amazon user Wojtek is back with a look at The Adventures of the Dark Gentleman Book 1: The Shadow Court. Here’s what he had to say while giving it 5 stars:
Barry Reese’s Dark Gentleman had existed in the Sovereign City Universe for some time, since his first (To my knowledge) appearance during one of the Lazarus Gray’s stories “Darkness, Spreading It’s Wings of Black”.
He appeared there as an ally of Assistance Unlimited and The Peregrine, helping them with defeating an occultist and serial killer known as Devil Face. After our heroes had put down that mad masked murderer and his army of zombies, it was suggested that Gray would help his younger colleague in the vigilante business, and take him under his wing.
Then, Dark Gentleman promptly disappeared from the spotlight, even though he was often mentioned by other, more popular characters like Gravedigger, Fortune McCall etc, becoming just another one of those minor characters who made Sovereign City more lively, and colorful.
In my opinion, the character we were presented in “Darkness, Spreading It’s Wings of Black” wasn’t bad, but I felt he wasn’t particularly interesting either, mostly because of how unoriginal he felt.
I mean, a sharp-dressed vigilante hiding his face behind a domino mask, and dispensing justice with the help of his fists, and a his trusty gun, who in reality is a son of rich press magnate…
Didn’t Barry Reese already had established character like that?
And, don’t get me wrong, Max Davies / The Peregrine is an awesome character and I am eagerly awaiting for the release of the second omnibus of his adventures even now, but he is still cut from the same mold as The Shadow, The Spider or Batman, even though Mr. Reese managed to make him fresh and interesting despite that.
So, in a nutshell we got a character who is a clone of the other, more successful hero, who in turn borrows heavily from other, even older characters. Could it ever work out?
Nevertheless, after obtaining “The Judgment of the Shadow Court”, the first story focusing exclusively on the character of Dark Gentleman I just had to check it out, and see if Mr. Reese would manage to surprise me yet again, as he did with The Gravedigger.
Well, he did, and after finishing the story I was left not only liking Dark Gentleman, but also wanting to see more stories about him…
But let’s start at the beginning, or in that case with our hero himself.
Our vigilante is actually Michael Groseclose, the only son of the rich publisher Theodore Groseclose, who among other things owns “The Sovereign Gazette”. Seeing the decay, rampaging crime, and corruption of the city, as well as people like his father turning blind eye to it, he decided to drop out of college, and try doing something about it.
Soon enough a mysterious new hero called The Dark Gentleman appears, and earns a reputation amongst Sovereign City’s crooks. Of course he could not match the respect and fear commanded by more experienced vigilantes, like Doc Daye or Lazarus Gray, but the members of criminal community know a dangerous enemy, when they see one.
We meet Michael during one of his cases, when he tries to investigate a mysterious vigilante organization known as The Shadow Court led by an enigmatic man known only as The Judge.
Rumors say, that it’s members capture the criminals who somehow managed to escape justice, either through loopholes in the law, or with the help of crooked judges, and policemen. Then, they are judged, and if The Shadow Court finds them guilty, they are executed, forever removing them from society.
Now, one may think, that The Dark Gentleman, being a vigilante himself, would applaud such an organization, since they fight crime as he does, but it’s not that simple.
While Michael oversteps the boundaries of the law to get the job done, he does not kill, even in self-defense, and despite his nocturnal activities still believes that the judicial system would do it’s job, even if it needs a little help from the men like him from time to time.
Soon enough, he discovers, that The Shadow Court is more sinister than it appears at first glance, and that it’s members intentions are not as pure, as they claim…
As I mentioned before The Dark Gentleman does not look very original, just another clone of The Shadow, but when we get to know him better it becomes apparent, that Barry Reese had played with his reader’s expectations once again.
Firstly, while Michael is by no means a slouch, and always gets his job done, he is also rather inexperienced, which mixed with his youthful cockiness makes him rather different than other Pulp heroes, both classic and new.
I mean, for example when we met The Shadow, Green Lama, The Spider, Doc Savage and Secret Agent X, they were experienced heroes with established reputation, their net of associates/agents, who knew what they were doing, had their own ways of hunting crime, their unique gimmicks etc.
True, we did observe some heroes when they were just starting their crime-fighting careers, but for example, in case of Richard Benson he is already established as a famous adventurer even before he becomes The Avenger, while Tony Quinn / The Black has his superpowers to give him an edge he needs.
A hero like The Dark Gentleman, who is a bit unsure of his limitations, who is still learning how to operate is rather interesting, as it both makes him more human, and more original, than he appears at first glance.
Michael isn’t also a flawless hero we could expect, and actually has his fair share of vices and weaknesses.
For example, while he is a fundamentally good person and has his hearth on the right side, he is also a bit vain, for example admiring how impressive he looks in his costume, or declining to ask Assistance Unlimited for help because he is aware, that in that case Gray would get all the spotlight.
The Dark Gentleman even publishes Pulps about his own adventures (!), and secretly admits to loving reading about his heroic exploits, and dreams about the day, when he could publicly unmask, and get all the glory he deserves.
He is also a bit of adrenaline junkie, all the action and adventure being like a drug for him, and making him take unnecessary risks.
Now, such a character normally wouldn’t be very sympathetic, but Barry Reese gives him a convincing set of virtues and vices, so as a result we get a man that is not perfect, but at the same time quite real with his doubts and flaws, but also charming enough to get the reader to simply like him.
Secondly, young Mr. Groseclose is quite fit, and has at least some training in marksmanship and hand-to-hand combat, but he lacks any special qualities or unusual talents, that would make him anything more than a regular human, in contrast to other defenders of Sovereign City.
Lazarus Gray not only possesses peak-human physical condition and genius-level intellect, but also vast knowledge of every science known to man, not to mention the magic and occult from his years as a member of The Illuminati. Grey also has a sizable personal fortune that he uses to outfit himself, and his companions with cutting-edge weapons and equipment, most of which was created by himself.
The Peregrine had also changed his body into a perfect crime-fighting weapon due to years of Spartan training, making him a master of all forms of combat. And let’s not forget, that Max Davies also possesses supernatural abilities, like his visions of the future and telekinesis, which coupled with his engineering abilities, and several powerful artifacts in his possession makes him a dangerous opponents even to beings with great power.
Charity Grace, the newest Gravedigger not only has a body magically enhanced to superhuman levels, making her a supremely deadly opponent, but also can draw on the shared experience pool of her predecessors, in theory giving her mastery in any skill she may need, from sword fighting to piloting planes. Not to mention, that as far as we know, she is virtually immortal, due to her healing factor, and the nature of her deal with The Voice.
Not to mention that all of them also have companions who also possess significant skills, as well as experience born through surviving the skirmishes with all forms of evil, from gangsters and mad scientists, through Nazis, secret societies, cults, monsters, demons and ancient gods.
Here, we have a man in his early twenties, who openly admits he should exercise more, when he’s slightly out of breath during a chase scene, and has decent, but not master-level skills in combat, who mostly relies on his wits and luck.
He is in essence most down-to-earth of Barry Reese’s heroes, most human of Sovereign City’s defenders. But it is not really a flaw, because that way we avoid Boring Invincible Hero Syndrome, that sometimes pops out in Pulps.
True, it is part of the fun associated with the genre, to observe a character that always wins in the awesome over-the-top ways, but it sometimes robs hero’s enemies of all credibility, since we know there is no way they can win.
Third thing that sets The Dark Gentleman apart from the other heroes created by Barry Reese is a rather original way he wrote this particular story.
“The Judgment of the Shadow Court” has two distinct types of narration mixed with each other, which creates really interesting effect:
Firstly, we have excerpts from one of the Dark Gentleman stories written by Michael’s friend and aide William “Winkie” Smalls. Those parts read just like one would expect from a Pulps with over-the-top style, dynamic narration, and rather flowery language.
Secondly, we have Michael Groseclose’s personal thoughts about the case, written from first-person perspective, much more down-to-earth than “Pulpy” parts written by Winkie Smalls, but laced with our hero’s rather biting sense of humor.
Those two different styles work together surprisingly well, and contrast between them further enhances the overall enjoyment from the story. I do not know if this idea would work for the longer text, but in a short story like that it is perfect.
Actually, when we get to that, my only problem with “The Judgment of the Shadow Court” is it’s length. I know it was supposed to be an one-shot, and Barry Reese manages to put quite a lot into it, but even he is quite limited by the 19-page length of this story.
Because of that some twists are rather predictable, we have characters could be developed further, and some plot hooks are left unresolved, for example the one about our hero’s love interest Pearl Watkins.
I was hooked into the story, but after finishing it I was left longing for a full-length 50-60 pages story based on the ideas used here…
Still, “The Judgment of the Shadow Court” is a really fun read, and shows the potential that the character of The Dark Gentleman has, so maybe in future he will get more chances to truly shine?
Thanks for the in-depth review, my friend! The length is something that’s dictated by the Single Shots format but I promise you’ll see more adventures in the future.