I have thus far been highly and remarkably unimpressed with Shiwan Khan. In each of three outings so far, he’s had a predictable pattern: 1) arrive in New York, purpose: World Domination! 2) hypnotize white American girl into thinking she’s Chinese and serving as his messenger, 3) attempt to bribe, steal, or inveigle goods or services that, WITH YOUR LIMITLESS ORIENTAL WEALTH OF MYSTERIOUS ORIGINS YOU COULD VERY WELL HAVE LEGITIMATELY PURCHASED, HELLO, 4) get caught by The Shadow, 5) run away like a little bitch.
The pattern gets set in The Golden Master, Shiwan Khan’s first appearance, and I mentioned how underwhelming an antagonist he was there. It’s reinforced in Shiwan Khan Returns, the ending of which features the Kha Khan completely failing to accomplish anything except the manufacture and theft of a piecemeal helicopter, which he uses to, as previously indicated, run away with his tail between his legs. The pattern continues in The Invincible Shiwan Khan, although it does get switched up somewhat with the addition of Dr. Roy Tam and the likes of Vic Marquette. Shiwan Khan also switches tactics yet again from using flashing lights or even distinctive sounds as a method of mental resonance for contacting his victims. Now he uses…smells. Yeah, smells. Seriously.
Yes, Shiwan Khan–with his ability to telepathically overwhelm weak or unprepared minds–is personally dangerous. But when what he’s up against is The Shadow he’s also just….so damn outclassed. He’s rather pathetic and I’m not sure how this guy ended up as “The Shadow’s greatest archenemy.” I mean, aside from Walter B. Gibson hyping it up on purpose. It really doesn’t come across nearly so well when an author deliberately writes a character to be The Archenemy, honest-to-whiskers it’s gonna be so awesome when they meet next time!!!….as when it happens naturally. One feels that Doctor Moquino was a bit more of a natural case, because each time when he died, it was with an appropriate sense of “I shot him and he fell into a river, off an exploding barge,” or, “I shot him a bunch and left him inside an inescapable death maze of a house, which exploded.” And finally, “I shot him a bunch AND saw him fall down a bottomless fissure into a cavern that has no exits or way back up.” At least those deaths weren’t punctuated with breathlessly smug narrator informing us that Shiwan Khan would meet his fate! One of these days. Next volume. Somewhere along the road. Also, Doctor Moquino didn’t ever cut and run: he stayed to fight it out each time, which, y’know, I can respect.
All that being said, Shiwan Khan actually does manage to escape with his life, though this is not particularly impressive (see: “like a little bitch”); and he does take a bunch of unwitting victims along with him. Part of this is lies with the fact that The Shadow of the 1940s is no longer the invincible, unknowable, alien figure of dread, bravura, and the night itself. Apparently, the editorial decision was made to tone him down and make him more….unimpressive. He still wields .45s, but now he largely “clips” thugs (Thuggees?) rather than dropping them; and that’s when he’s not just pistol-whipping them instead. His laugh tends to be more of a narrative device, not to mention a long-range communication method (no, seriously), than a genuine expression of challenging, or ironic, blood-thirsty, or ghoulish mirth. Almost all of the clever/mastermind-level crooks have identified Lamont Cranston with The Shadow, even if they don’t really know the whole secret of that particular dual identity. And it takes him two whole minutes to wrestle a naljorpa into submission.
While The Shadow does outwit and outmaneuver Shiwan Khan at every step of the way (except the steps that involve not sending Harry Vincent to uncover vital information), he also misses his shot by a fraction of an inch due to (I am not making this up) the oriental fiend’s cunning construction of his new Throne Room as a slant-floored funfair-type crazy room. (That being said, an inferior Shadow is still superior to basically any other hero out there, because he still retains the essence of his character: knowing at least as much as the audience does, and pure, raw, undiluted will.)
Anyhow. Plot. 1) Shiwan Khan arrives back in New York, now styling himself Shiwan Tulku and while still employing what’s left of his Mongol horde, now also assisted by a gaggle of skeletal Tibetan naljorpas, mystics who have seen The Other Side and are now amply content to pass the veil of this life for the next. He intends on 2) stealing, not riches or weapons, but people this time. 3) Shiwan Khan hypnotically recruits Lana Luan (nee: Beatrice Chadbury, and yes, he takes the same frikking girl under control as his pawn again), to serve as a messenger. Which promptly leads to 4), because you do not mess with people whom The Shadow has rescued.
I mean, aside from Harry Vincent: professional rescuee.
Anyhow, 4) continues with The Shadow deftly outmaneuvering Shiwan Khan’s first attempt to eliminate him and also exposes him–and an inkling of his methods–to the New York City police. Commissioner Weston, once convinced, promptly calls in the FBI. The Shadow susses out Shiwan Khan’s new game–luring suitable disciples with the promise of their uttermost desires in Xanadu, a city the likes of which Shangri-La has got nothing on–and, while losing the requisite Random Mad Inventor, gets a bead on Lana Luan and a direct line to whatever Shiwan Khan’s next move is going to be.
Part of the reason Shiwan Khan is just, as mentioned, so damn outclassed is The Shadow’s organization. We’ve seen his agents–Moe, Hawkeye, Burbank, Cliff Marsland, Jericho Druke and (sigh) Harry Vincent–at work so many times before. We’ve seen them respond instantly to a low-toned whisper in the dark, seen them fling themselves into hopeless danger with only the trust in the mighty fighter who is their chief to rescue them, seen them lay down enfilade fire and rally to the mysterious blinks of a tiny, changing light. We know how well the team works, and here, they’re a well-oiled machine, amply aided by Dr. Roy Tam and his modernized Chinese-Americans. (Yat Soon, the Arbiter, one surmises, has been forgotten or perhaps has joined his ancestors.)
There’s also, because wouldn’t it come in useful if there was someone we could use as bait for the guy who likes to hypnotize beautiful women into thinking they’re Chinese and using them as minions, the linguistically-gifted Myra Reldon, an FBI asset. Myra has popped up before, generally with the alias of Ming Dwan and yellow-toned pancake makeup, in various ventures in which The Shadow plays a starring role. The adventures she experienced make her someone who responds instantly when a note arrives, written in fading ink and showing for a crest and signature the fleeting outline of a hawklike profile, topped with a broad slouch hat! (A previous volume shows that The Shadow producing the effect by twisting his hands together in a strange, supple fashion. Which, well. Okay, that is kind of cool. Do Deformed Rabbit now.)
Anyhow. Lana Luan is neutralized and Ming Dwan placed as a mole inside Shiwan Khan’s organization, The Shadow maps out the entire underground lair and the FBI is notified. Vic Marquette, who has worked with (for) The Shadow before, obeys implicitly. Dr. Roy Tam’s organization provides cover (dragons make everything awesome), and the countertrap is faultlessly sprung! However, since we are only at about 70% of the way through the novel, something is bound to go wrong and it promptly does with the aforementioned funhouse trick throne room and then, also, a firebomb.
And so on until we get to 5) which, dude, really….how can you say The Shadow–who had plenty of time to map out the entirety of the evil headquarters–seriously didn’t take thirty seconds more to stick his head inside the throne room itself? But anyhow, there’s also the matter of Harry Vincent still stuck aboard a yacht along with lots of other innocent (dumb) people who stopped to sniff the roses….
So it ends, rather frustratingly, with 6) the rather unenthusiastic promise that Shiwan Khan will return and This Time it’ll be the last one.
One would hope so, anyway.
I don’t really feel like discussing how the 1990s movie pulled its ideas really heavily from the Shiwan Khan arc and this story in particular (there’s a phurba in this one, but it is actually given its deadly ability via a trick mummy case and a really skinny guy hiding in back…)
Rated: Fractions of an inch won’t cut it. Kill him already!