Review: The Shadow Magazine – The Python

Shadow_Magazine_Vol_1_90TLDR: Wow, this one starts off with a bang and then it just keeps going. I mean, I rushed over to come write a specific review of it for you guys, it’s really good.

So what, exactly, is a supervillain? I’ve come to the conclusion it’s a gang leader who has come up with what he thinks is a cool name for himself. The actual size of his organization, their competence, his intellect, and their modus operandi are all completely up to chance. Problem is, the names tend to be pretty damn goofy and when they try to follow through and theme-name their lieutenants, it just gets worse. When The Cobra’s mooks start signing off as “Fang 2,” “Fang 3,” etc, it’s really kind of hard to take seriously. And The Python is even worse, because he has five Coilmasters and they all have Coils, and it’s…kind of adorably not nearly as cool as they think it is. I mean, about the most you can go for if you want to name your henchmen, is “Hands,” and that’s because things such as “my right hand,” are already established parts of language. Start talking about “Fingers,” and you’ve lost it.

Overall, honestly, The Shadow’s supervillain antagonists are hard for me to take seriously, even when they really are genuine threats. I mean, even though The Death Giver had a tortured man entombed in the floor of his supervillain lair as decor….said lair was also literally a converted apartment building and The Death Giver was just unhinged, almost as pitiable as he was malevolent. Needing to be squidged out like a bug, of course, but not hateful. Mostly, this is because of the mystery-focused setup of the plots: we rarely see the ultimate villains in their true guise until the denouement when the mask is jerked off and they invariably start frothing at the mouth and waving a gun and/or death ray around–so without getting actual development, they stay cartoonish.

But on the other hand, when there is a mastercrook who is smart enough to a) recognize that The Shadow is likely to become involved, b) plan appropriately by having an overwhelming firepower advantage, things can and do get pretty hot for our hero. The Plot Master was such a one, with brilliant ideas as, “make sure there’s enough sharpshooters holding the lines of retreat open,” and “detail enough men to keep the police busy elsewhere.”

And needless to say, such is also the case with The Python.

So! Remember how Gibson knew how to shake things up with his plot? This one starts off where most stories would put the mid-book crisis: with The Shadow an unconscious, helpless prisoner, directly identified to his enemies and in their grip, with a chunk of his plans revealed to them and no hope of outside rescue. (Not that The Shadow ever gets rescued, and the author takes pains to point this out: at the most, he gets “aid,” or reinforcements. Damsels get rescued. Damsels, and Harry Vincent, but never mind….)

See, there’s this guy who is trying to broker a deal to sell some jewels, a guy who has the actual jewels, a guy they’re trying to sell the jewels for, a guy they’re trying to sell the jewels to, and that guy’s lawyer. And then there’s The Python, who is after those jewels, and then all of his Coilmasters (lol) and their Coils (lolol). Said gems are, at the onset, on a ship heading up the coastline towards New York, and their keeper (Louis Breevort), is being clandestinely guarded by Harry Vincent and Cliff Marsland. No, he doesn’t actually die! And the jewels don’t actually get stolen! It’s amazing! Harry Vincent does get a mild concussion, though. I mean, that’s to be expected. But he does throw Breevort a life preserver first, and that works.

In fact, the only ones who do get murdered are the people who don’t have The Shadow or his agents protecting them, and who make the mistake of coming out of hiding and publically blurting their identities and addresses–complete with room number, seriously guys?–out for everyone to hear. Some people just can’t be helped.

Anyhow, it turns out that The Python is a master of disguise almost as good as The Shadow. He has a communications array that is not quite as good as The Shadow’s (because it’s way more noticeable than a weekly radio broadcast….???) and run by a Burbank-counterpart who is…a hunchbacked mute who answers the telephone only via weird croaks. (There is a marvellous scene, when The Shadow and Burbank do overrun The Python’s comms room, of Burbank practicing his croaks while the actual operator, tied up on the floor, glares on.) The Python is also smart enough to respond to the threat The Shadow poses with the appropriate measures–overwhelming force. And this leads to a scene where The Shadow is faced with escape from ambush in a metal-walled room where he’s locked in, covered from two sides, and also considering the idea that there might be a machine gun trained on him as well. (How he escapes is also worth the epic treatment.)

And so it goes, with improbable but hair-raising escapes, massive but allowable coincidences that enable the plot to continue, sheer efforts of iron will, cleverness, sneakiness, dastardliness, mystery, and also some daring rescues–and it’s all the more satisfying when The Shadow finally does unleash his laugh and his .45s.

Rated: This one. I really like this one.

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