The Shadow #116 – Intimidation, Inc.

shadow_magazine_vol_1_116For anyone else, this would be a mid-tier gangster story. The Continental Op  could comfortably swagger up and start either throwing hands or throwing insults at any point in time and fit right in. But, since this is Walter B. Gibson (nee Maxwell Grant…or maybe vice versa), what results is quite a superior little novella that includes disguises, gun battles, corrupt politicians, disgruntled inventors, martial law, capeswishing, and ends with the requisite distant, triumphant, sinister laugh.

So The Shadow dealt with quite a wide range of crime and criminals, from common murderers and bankrobbers, to  racketeers, jewelry thieves and organized gangsters; he also investigated and resolved quite a lot of white-collar crime, too. As you can imagine, the intersection between these genres also provided a lot of fun, too. This isn’t even the only “crime has its own HR department” story in The Shadow’s oeuvre: there’s Wizard of Crime (the 1943 one, there are actually two novels with this title, one of which can’t be found for love or money); Crime, InsuredChain of Death; and probably others I haven’t gotten to, yet, or have forgotten. Of course, we are disregarding in this count any organization which does not include standard business attire for its meetings. 


We start a bang. Actually several bangs, as disgraced business magnate Ludwig Meldon attempts to relate his exculpatory story to a notary public. Meldon has been financially ruined by a disastrous business trade, with another company, purchasing solid stock at way below the market value, wins hugely. Except that the supposed benefactor of this scenario also soon undertakes an insane loss, transferring the funds still further, into the eventual control of the cunning criminal we–and The Shadow–soon come to know as Intimidation, Incorporated.

The Shadow arrives too late to prevent the murder, but soon enough to study the evidence that the cover-up crew (who helpfully identify themselves as minions of local mob boss Sack Balban) shortly after manage to disguise with a firebomb. So it’s off to round two, as globe-trotting multimillionaire and investor of random large cash payouts to worthy causes, Lamont Cranston, saunters into town. The Shadow isn’t able to prevent the previous payout from reaching Intimidation, Incorporated, but he is able to study the criminal’s methods in real time. Cranston is privy to the scene when the four men who hold the key to the wealth of the city of Dorchester receive a threat from Intimidation, Incorporated. DA-elect and….rather spineless lawyer Elwood Clewis, radio announcer Ray Bursard, manufacturer Newell Radbourne, and “bewhiskered” Mayor Jonathan Wrightley all fold like wet rags when instructed to accept an inflated bid for an important contract. Intimidation, Incorporated is thorough in his work, carefully threatening all parties involved–the high bidder, who was instructed how much to bid for and will be forced to pay over the excess funds; the low bidder, who was (wait for it) intimidated into dropping out of the race; and the city bigwigs, who are threatened with death by bomb if they don’t accept and pay out city funds to the contractor with the higher bid–and promptly announce the fact publically.

With people like this in charge of the city, you kind of realize how come it’s in the state it is, and why Intimidation, Incorporated has been so successful.

SHAKILY, the committee men arose. Bursard was the first to reach the door. He tried the knob, looked startled when he found that it still failed to turn.
The Shadow, strolling up as a spectator, took hold of the knob and gave it a firm twist.
“It wasn’t locked at all!” ejaculated Radbourne, who saw the action. “The inside knob was merely tightened, so that it would stick.”
“It fooled me,” expressed Clewiss, angrily; then he added to Bursard: “But you fell for it, too.”
“I did,” gritted Bursard, “but I’ll be a fool no longer!”
Striding across the room, Bursard grabbed up the microphone that stood on the corner table. The other committee members gaped when they saw a loose cord follow the instrument.
The microphone was not attached to any circuit!
Clewiss, not to be outdone, made a dive for the rug beneath the table. He yanked it away. Instead of a bomb-filled hole, the viewers saw solid floor. Like the door and the microphone, the bomb threat was a bluff!
Four angry men went into a huddle.

The calm Mr. Cranston is also there when they decide that a) even if the threat wasn’t real, b) the embarrassment would be if we admitted it, so, c) let’s all keep our mouths shut about this. Again the obvious suspect is Sack Balban.

The Shadow therefore pays a visit that evening to Sack Balban–in the disguise of famed gunman and racketeer Link Delvo. Since Sack runs his joint with a veneer of respectability, he has quite the fancy office, with a solid door dividing him from the boys in the back room. Link Delvo is jawing with second-fiddle Nobby (heh) Kilgan until the boss finishes meeting with a front-door visitor–one of the four big-shots of Dorchester–the one who shifted the blame on the Intimidation, Incorporated business to Sack Balban, and is currently demanding a 50-50 split of the racketeers’ gains in the city, and therefore the one who is actually behind it all. Unfortunately, by the time Sack susses this out, he’s been cleverly murdered by Intimidation, Incorporated, who escapes without any of the others knowing his name or identity.


Does The Shadow know?

Either way, as Intimidation, Incorporated maneuvers to steal $200,000 from Newell Radbourne via threatening both the elderly but stalwart Judge Noy and the plaintiff’s as-previously-mentioned spineless lawyer Elwood Clewiss, The Shadow adroitly steps in and freaking steals the money right back. The rest of the book is a cat-and-mouse game as The Shadow sets up, step by step, to trap the audacious and greedy criminal red-handed. Oh, and to also expose all petty crime, graft, and racketeering in the town as well and get that scum off the streets, too. And it’s kind of delightful as the author gleefully points out how Intimidation, Incorporated, must be fuming to have his own tactics used against him, while highlighting the entirely deadpan style in which The Shadow proceeds to issue (and ignore) typewritten threats.

WHEN he reached the hotel room, The Shadow opened his portable typewriter and wrote himself a note, addressed in simple, direct style to Lamont Cranston.
The note specified that he should take the plane that left Dorchester at noon, without the two hundred thousand dollars that he had received from Newell Radbourne.
The instructions added that he was to leave the money in a suitcase in the hotel room, with his other luggage; therefore, he was not to check out of the Dorchester House. He was to leave the door  unlocked, so that whoever wished could enter.
The letter threatened death if instructions were not followed. It added that the recipient was to destroy the note. When he had finished the letter, The Shadow signed it in capitals with the name “INTIMIDATION INCORPORATED.”
The Shadow then proceeded to disobey his own instructions.

Awesome, heh.

Today’s tropes and general feeling towards rich bankers, financiers, or factory owners being what they are, I feel the need to point out the interesting fact that quite often The Shadow is protecting wealthy businessmen–generally from other wealthy businessmen, but sometimes from thuggish lowlifes, overeager shareholders, or overeager relatives who are shareholders–without any of today’s nice ideas about redistributionism. Legitimately acquired wealth–up to and including the ornate jewels owned by vacuous dowagers and ditzy socialites–is seen as the legitimate property of its owners, who deserve to keep and quietly enjoy it. (Or display it conspicuously whilst walking down dark alleys, but hey. Free country.) A quaint notion that absolutely would not survive in the current day, where property is for me but not for thee.

Of course, another quaint notion is the noblesse oblige shown by good-coded characters. Honorable business magnates pay their servants well and contribute to charities; they deal honestly and honorably with each other; they avoid underhanded tactics. Newell Radbourne was taken to court by a disgruntled inventor, but having seen proof of the man’s case, he’s willing to settle for a more reasonable sum–entirely voluntarily. Especially notable is the globe-trotting multimillionaire Lamont Cranston, who quietly funds many a philanthropic endeavor, such as personally paying for retired crooks to go to an exclusive Caribbean island…

So is bravery, responsibility, and trust in civic institutions, even while examining how weak men can create (wait for it) bad times. Judge Noy, although shaken by a death threat, steels himself and is prepared to render an entirely fair judgement for the inventor–if only Elwood Clewiss hadn’t absolutely thrown the case. Judge Noy is also instrumental in authorizing the city-wide cleanup that destroys the low-level rackets and petty crime that plagued Dorchester.

This book (#116) falls in the middle of what I originally registered as a decided slump, a joltingly poor run in an until-then triumphant five years’ worth of increasingly good pulp novels. I’m slowly revisiting most of these books and finding them to be pretty damn good (although Washington Crime is just straight-up embarrassing.) This is the point where The Shadow shifted from a terrifying, faceless agent of merciless justice, to a more human, humane, conventionally-understandable superhero. The Shadow is more directly identified as “wealthy globe-trotter Lamont Cranston” and spends more time with his face on-screen and less often seen through the eyes of awed or just plain clueless (i.e., Harry Vincent) agents or proxy heroes. As time wore on, he became ever more humanized and less powerful; here, though, he’s still impassive, keen-eyed and inscrutable, evading mooks with ease, vanishing from death traps with nothing more than a trailing whispered laugh, and materializing out of the darkness to thwart maddened murderers like the specter of Vengeance itself. And highly entertaining it is to read, too.

Rated: Yours very truly,
Skaith, Incorporated

The Shadow # 105 – The Yellow Door

shadow_magazine_vol_1_105TLDR: it’s Harry Vincent’s finest hour.

Since the 1942-batch of novels was heavy going, I zigged back to this one. It was published in 1936 and showcases The Shadow and his agents at the top of their game. Cliff Marsland, Rutledge Mann, Hawkeye, and Jericho Druke get some pagetime. Even Burbank gets a chance to get some fresh air, taking up a field operations post in New Jersey and running mission control for Vic Marquette and the G-men.

So I’ve reported at length about the taut pacing and easy to follow, fast-moving plots Walter B. Gibson had pretty much perfected. I’ve also mentioned that his characterization skills benefited, rather than suffered, from brevity. With less leeway for self-indulgence, only the most relevant, vivid, and memorable traits of each character are showcased, and these are shown only in service of moving the plot forward. So Hawkeye is the best trailer and spotter in the business: he finds his man and trails him without anybody any the wiser, uncovering vital clues. Cliff Marsland is a gunman who walks his own trail in the badlands, and is cool as a cat while the bullets are flying. Burbank is a technological wizard with nerves of absolute tungsten and an unflappably methodical manner. Unlike some other pulp novels (by which I mean: Doc Savage), The Shadow isn’t a huge gadgeteer even though he does stay on the cutting edge of aeronautic developments. The most complicated device he or his agents carry normally is a flashlight. This is one of the exceptions, as Harry Vincent is sent off undercover equipped with a miniature radio transmitter which The Shadow and Burbank use their own send/receiving stations to triangulate in on and discover the secret Citadel of the hidden Yellow Door. It’s smart, but feels entirely grounded.

Oh yeah, and then there’s Harry Vincent (sigh). Actually, though, as remarked above, Harry Vincent actually lives up to his moniker as The Shadow’s “most competent agent” in this book, hardly at all making a misstep until the 94% marker, and that barely through any fault of his own, and then also taking on his direct antagonist, and contributing to the big shot villain’s demise by lead injection. Not bad for our boy who usually is the resident punching bag. (There is also another Shadow story wherein Harry Vincent makes a triumphal exit from an underground lair shirtless, waving a gun, with a disheveled damsel clinging to him…but he’s done like 2% of the work in that particular instance, and also I just can’t take that mental image seriously. I mean, it’s Harry Vincent. Come on.) Still! He does good in this book. Let us not forget this.

Okay, so. The other part of why earlier plots feel more grounded and competent is because…they are. Instead of having a so-called detective who be led by the nose from obvious clue to obvious clue (looking at you, Bruce), The Shadow actually investigates. He tails suspects, confirms theories, and, well, he would have interrogated the suspects, too, if they hadn’t ended up eating a bullet in the ensuing gunfight. Ah well. What’s more, since this case is fairly simple and because The Shadow has almost an inside man on the job, the complicating twists are almost entirely supplied by forces which The Shadow cannot reasonably predict: Police Commissioner Weston and his attempts at detectiving.

Our game begins to foot with the entrance of James Dynoth, who has just murdered the wealthy businessman Peter Gildare and returned to his home preparatory to fleeing to the safety of the Citadel. He is given twenty minutes to pack and depart. About fifteen minutes in, he turns around to find an ominous black-clad figure standing behind him. The Shadow was too late to save the dying man, but not too late to hear his dying words. Among these words were “The Yellow Door.” We are about to find out exactly what this means when twenty past eight hits and a) Dynoth’s nerve gives out and he crunches his suicide capsule, b) a machine gun opens up on the house, c) the house explodes. The Shadow escapes with some injury, but does have a lead to follow up on: a man named Ferris Krode, who works in Cleveland and knows about The Yellow Door.

Meanwhile, millionaire businessman Dudley Birklam is confiding in Vic Marquette. Birklam has been approached by a man named Ferris Krode and warned that certain courses of action will lead to trouble for him and his business. He fears that Krode is involved with the prior deaths, of which Gildare’s was typical. Marquette promises government protection to big business, because of course he does.

The Shadow has carried this deduction still further, and has a man on the spot. And it’s Harry Vincent. Now, normally this would result in Harry getting slugged over the head, kidnapped, or shot at, but in this case Harry actually manages not only to bluff Krode into thinking that he’s there for the 11:00 meeting with “Mandon,” he also turns around and manages to convince the real Mandon that he’s Krode, uncovering valuable information the entire time.

The Yellow Door is a secret society of blackmailers, saboteurs, and industrial spies, running a multi-industry racket.  It’s also an actual door, in a place called the Citadel, where the big shot is. Krode is the highest ranking man that The Shadow or Harry Vincent are able to discover, but he isn’t the big shot. And if he isn’t, who is…? The Shadow intends to find out, although he is substantially hindered at critical points by the not-so-cunning plans of Commissioner Weston. Like, seriously, Commissioner, stick to the budget and presiding over official breakfasts.

Another great thing is that having a proactive hero makes it easier to showcase that hero’s competence, as well. The Shadow already has a plan in place for the final battle–position the G-Men and have them rush in guns blazing once he, Burbank, and Harry Vincent have collaborated to locate the Citadel–but when he gets the information that the perimeter fence is electrified and the surrounding hillside is mind, The Shadow instantly adjusts his plans and orders his forces accordingly.

Overall, this story seems as though the author enjoyed writing it. There’s an eagerness to the descriptions and plot, and a relish to the action–and even a few witty flourishes, such as his description of Guzzler’s Joint:

The proprietor was leaning on the bar, his fat arms folded, surveying the customers with a pleasant grin. To Guzzler, the middle line of the room was like the bars of a cage; on one side, the monkeys – on the other, visitors to the zoo. In comparing the boastful thugs and the society habitues, Guzzler had never yet decided which were the apes and which the humans. Guzzler was philosophical as well as imaginative.

Rated: I liked this book and reading it made me happy.

The Shadow #229 – Gems of Jeopardy

shadow_magazine_vol_1_229So, as the well-informed know, there are around three hundred and eighty-odd Shadow stories, written over a period of eighteen years. The vast majority were written by The Shadow’s original creator, Walter B. Gibson, under the penname Maxwell Grant, but there were several other authors who were pinch-hitters as well. Lester Dent (the Doc Savage guy) wrote a handful, and some hack named Bruce Elliott wrote the last twentyish novels after Gibson was fired. I haven’t reached those yet, but I’m assured they’re dreadful. Anyhow, after Gibson, the best of The Shadow’s authors was Theodore Tinsley, a pulp novelist.

I use the term deliberately. Gibson wrote his stories with ceaseless crossings between genres–sometimes straight-up mystery, sometimes proto-superheroic, sometimes gothic melodrama, sometimes hardboiled gangster noir–to the point where The Shadow is almost its own genre in itself. Tinsley, on the other hand, wrote pulp fiction and was proud of it. Although he approximates Gibson’s handling of the characters remarkably well, Tinsley is cruder than Gibson–in plot, in execution…and in taste. Stay tuned, we’ll get there when we get there.

A little more discussion before we get into the plot. The Shadow had been around over ten years (and two hundred twenty-eight previous volumes) at this point, and had run a huge gamut of foes, from corrupt board members to evil aviators, corrupt politicians in distant cities, backwoods intrigues, underwater mad scientists, desert mad scientists, swamp mad scientists, isolated ancestral castle mad scientists, evil psychologists, more evil-overlord-wannabes complete with secret societies than you can shake a stick at, several would-be world emperors, and…thugs trying to hijack armored cars. The audience has seen quite a lot, to the point where it would be difficult to top–and futile to try. It’s hard to take the narrator’s breathless assertion that this car chase through Manhattan, or this jewel robbery, or this attempt to hostilely take over a company is the most daring, dangerous, and brilliant of The Shadow’s career when…it’s really not, come on. We’ve seen him take on Doctor Moquino, Zemba, and Zanigew…some dude wearing a mask of his own face really kind of doesn’t compare.

But, if that sounds like “The Shadow is now boring,” please continue reading, because that is definitely not the case. Gibson and his editorial cohort seemed to recognize this, and, I think deliberately, made them simple again. Throughout the later part of 1941 (or at least, the last handful of books I’ve read, which I’m plugging through in numerical order), the high-concept dramatics have been backed down a notch in favor of simpler, lower-key–but no less interesting, and no less intense–stakes. 

Okay, so that being said, what’s the plot?

Well, first there are a couple of murders, a burned-down house, and a map which has had the Atlantic coastline ripped away. That’s for starters. Then there’s Jerome Linton, a business acquaintance of Lamont Cranston’s, whom he and Margo Lane witness dumping an already-dead body to fake a hit-and-run accident…

Twelve boxes of jewels have been smuggled into America by the brutal, treacherous ex-Balkan Colonel and his beautiful, but absolutely no less brutal and treacherous wife, Princess Zena. They have no sooner disposed of anyone else who could identify them, when they are confronted by the sinister Mr. X, who, somehow forewarned of their (money’s) arrival, has laid an ambush. Zena sacrifices her husband and escapes, but with a burning hatred of Mr. X and a no less burning desire to get her jewels back. So she murders a woman and steals her clothes and car and drives off…

Meanwhile, The Shadow is looking into Jerome Linton and the links between him and the previous murders. He’s aided (surprisingly competently) by a roster of his agents: Harry Vincent, Hawkeye, Moe Shrevnitz, Clyde Burke, and Margo Lane. And when I say “surprisingly competently,” I mean Harry Vincent doesn’t even get captured and tortured through any fault of his own! I mean, yes, that is him on the cover, sure, but it wasn’t actually his fault! Margo Lane and Moe Shrevnitz make an actual competent team in following their suspects! They do need rescuing, uh, twice…but they’re under cover and shooting back gamely when The Shadow arrives! Clyde Burke…actually doesn’t do anything himself, but he supposedly lends his face for The Shadow to press an interrogation. (I have a dubious here, because Clyde has been described as small and wiry; The Shadow, master of disguise that he is, is very tall. And it isn’t a phone interview. Anyhow.) Soon enough, a $50,000.00 satchel of jewels and a notorious fence make their appearance.

And so it goes.

So, yes, Margo Lane has finally turned up in-novels, and her presence is not a negative. Mostly because having an actual damsel on the team makes Harry Vincent automatically 83% less likely to end up in the “distressed damsel” role of the novel. But, barring a few false starts, she’s shaping up to be a competent agent in her own right, cool under pressure, good with a gun, and surprisingly resourceful.

The other standout character from this novel is its principal antagonist, Princess Zena. She’s a brunette with shapely (we are often reminded) legs….on one of which, tucked into her garter in a flat leather sheath, is a razor-sharp knife that she has great expertise and zero hesitation in using. She’s managed to survive the war-torn disruption of her native (carefully unnamed) country; she’s survived the exile from it (by shoving her husband into an assassin’s bullet and then faking her own death in quicksand); and she’s utterly determined to find revenge and her twelve boxes of stolen crown jewels. She’s utterly ruthless, but she’s also intelligent, charismatic, and enormously proactive throughout the story….by which I mean she has a body count almost as high as Mr. X’s by the time they finally meet, and there’s an actual villain-versus-villain duel which is kind of just awesome.

And that’s about all I have to say, because that really should be enough. This book is kind of just awesome: it’s correctly paced, and the stakes are just high enough; it’s well-characterized, with almost all The Shadow’s agents getting a chance to shine (or bleed) (….sigh); the action scenes, while definitely gorier than the norm, could still pass muster by the Hayes’ Code and are fast and satisfying. There’s a number of good villains, an underground lair (this one includes bonus waterfall), and The Shadow scaring the crap out of some henchmen when, in that hidden and secure base, eerie laughter begins to echo

Rated: I forgot to to mention, while in that lair he uses their phone to call Burbank, too. Awesome.

The Shadow # 35 – The Black Hush

shadow_magazine_vol_1_35So this one was published in August of 1933, written by Walter B. Gibson alias Maxwell Grant, cover art by George Rozen.

This is just a really superior Shadow story. It’s just really good and perfectly pleasing, and it made me feel happy.

It’s kind of hard to say more than that, so instead, I’ll talk about how Maxwell Grant (nee Walter B. Gibson) made his hero effective by focusing on the villains.

Think about standard plot structure: the hero wins, the villain loses. Most authors begin with this premise and work outwards from there. They craft from the top down to create situations where the villains lose. This is why the Death Star had a conveniently-placed ventilation shaft, why the hive swarm goes immobile instead of berserk when the queen is deactivated, why Sauron poured so much of his own being and power into the One Ring that destroying it destroys him utterly. At the more tactical level, it’s why the gangsters playing poker in the front room keep their backs strategically to the window, or a sentry decides not to investigate the rustling and muffled cursing noises from that bramble patch–but does go chase a pebble down the dark hallway. Most authors position their villains for failure. Then they allow the hero to win (sometimes after a stiff struggle getting through the trench run, sure, but still.)

However, Gibson reversed this. He planned how his villains should win, and then engineered a way to prevent them. For instance: mobsters under command of a ruthless mob leader and supported with a dark ray that will suppress alarms and opposition (so no witnesses, no police, no watchmen), and equipped with explosives, guns, and getaway cars are at one point preparing to take on the New City Bank. They’re a tough, picked crew and they know their stuff. Fifteen minutes are all they need. What can The Shadow possibly do to stop them? Well, he could get there first, so they don’t ever even get their fifteen minutes, and then he could have backup arrive to provide cross-fire.

So, he’d need to know where they’re going and when. He needs to have access to Goldy Tancred’s inner circle, and Goldy isn’t accepting visitors. So: Clyde Burke and Burbank bug Goldy’s apartment, and, this not even being enough once Goldy develops an entirely new, healthy respect for operational security measures, The Shadow drops in and goes through the waste-paper basket. So Harry Vincent befriends the unlucky young engineer-inventor who seems to have gotten mixed up in this whole mess and tries to find out what he knows about the Black Hush. So The Shadow knows the target, the time, and their general plan. So, when the (remaining) gangsters flee to their countryside lair to lick their wounds and plot subsequent days’ revenge, The Shadow knows where they are and also (sigh) that Harry Vincent needs rescuing.

Villains are never stupid, although the monomaniacal supervillain-types do tend to be somewhat dense, admittedly. As a whole, they are adaptive, clever, and increasingly well-prepared for the physical threat that The Shadow represents (multiple cars with machine guns, and plenty of hand grenades: standard anti-Shadow ordnance.) Goldy Tancred, for instance, discovers the wiretap almost immediately and begins using it for counter-surveillance, flushing out Clyde Burke as a spy, and from then on putting all orders in writing and then burning the notes.

Pity he didn’t try re-sweeping the whole apartment for bugs after nullifying the first one….

Gibson’s Shadow stories have an enduring fascination, because, instead of making the villains weaker than the hero, he made the hero stronger than them. He lets the struggle play out on a level just slightly higher, and slightly better thought out, than the zero ground most heroes (i.e., BATMAN) operate at.

All that being said, what’s this one about, and is it just another pulp action story, told at breakneck speed so the incongruities of plot don’t register until later?

So we start off in a swanky hotel, where two groups are gathered. One is a group of mobsters, prominently starring one Goldy Tancred–who has requested police presence, just to keep things peaceable–and the other a conference of electrical engineers. The hotel is suddenly hit by a strange, complete, darkness that deactivates electrical and mechanical devices and can only be barely pierced by acetylene torches–such as are being carried by a small hit-squad that brutally assassinates…a random engineer at the banquet. The obvious conclusion is that Goldy Tancred and his ilk, in the west ballroom, were the targets, and the engineer in the east room was killed by mistake. Goldy certainly seems to believe this, as he promptly goes into seclusion, but although New York’s finest ace detective considers the motive clear, The Shadow thinks differently, and moves to investigate.

What is Goldy’s real game? Where is the source of the Black Hush? How is Harry Vincent going to screw up this time?

Read it and find out…

Rated: There’s also a thrilling death-from-above entry via autogiro, it’s kind of awesome.

The Shadow Magazine #22 – The Creeping Death

creeping-death-600x1008-1 So, The Creeping Death is the twenty-second The Shadow story, and was published in 1933. And it’s a bit strange to come back to after the more settled formula of the later Shadow books.

The Lamont Cranston persona is a colder, more impressive figure–less of the languid man-about-town and more of a) a financier chiefly interested in money and new inventions (Cranston would probably have quite a lot of SpaceX stock, one surmises), b) very obviously a disguise used by a dangerous and indomitable figure. But, then to remind us that we are in fact dealing with a master of disguise, there’s also the not-nearly-as-transparent Phineas Twambly, a doddering and nearly-deaf old man who couldn’t possibly be less of a threat to the men staking out the lobby of the Westbrook Falls Inn and eyeing each other like the predators they are.

Then there’s the plot, which–in good form for the earlier books–is carried primarily through the actions of the villains, and seen primarily through either their eyes or the eyes of the proxy hero, in this case Vic Marquette of the Secret Service. The Shadow himself lurks, listens in, silhouettes, menaces, and only just intervenes to tip the scales here and there, mostly just letting the bad guys play out their mummery amongst themselves with hilarious and deadly results. Until–well, you’d have to read the book to see. Heroes react; great heroes act; smart heroes decide when to act and when to stand back and utter a soft, grim, mocking laugh at the follies of others.

The titular creeping death is introduced in the first chapter, when a Mr. Jerry Fitzroy collapses and dies in his hotel room, only barely able to gasp out a few words–words seemingly overheard only by the hotel physician and detective. Some part of the mystery is cleared promptly, when Fitzroy is revealed to be a Secret Service agent, recently returned from a trip to the small town of Westbrook Falls. The gold coin in Fitzroy’s pocket is one of a strange kind that has been recently flooding the market: a strange alloy with the appearance and physical qualities of gold that still is not gold. The partridge feather in his pocket is a little more mysterious….but not to The Shadow.

And not, for very long, to the audience either, with the introduction of elderly inventor/chemist Lucien Partridge and his hidden laboratory in Westbrook Falls. Partridge has a business arrangement with several other American businessmen, who believe they are exploiting him for the synthetic gold which they receive and distribute. The reverse turns out to be the case…and, what’s more, Partridge’s network is worldwide: he has multiple contacts in multiple countries through which he is exchanging fake gold for real, which he has stored on the grounds and with which–and the creeping death–he intends to launch a reign of terror which will ultimately end with him becoming world emperor.

But in the meanwhile and somewhat more pressingly, he going to have to deal with some internal personnel and management problems first. You see, it has occurred to multiple branches of his organization that “fake gold out -> real gold in = somewhere, massive stockpile of real gold.” And the Americans, the French, and the Spaniards, all want a much bigger cut than what they’re getting.–and therein lies the meat of the story, watching them variously blunder, plot, counterplot, form alliances, sneak, backstab, and bluster as they jockey for position and information–all under the glittering eye and grotesque shadow of…The Shadow!

The villain himself, Lucien Partridge, is an interesting mix of megalomania and practicality. Yes, he wants to be the emperor of the world and believes he will be welcomed with open arms at the end of, well, a rain of terror–but he has a fairly chilling plan for enacting said terrorism, and a very practical one for bankrolling it. He’s resourceful and cunning enough to have agents in many countries and be collecting revenue from each of them. And he controls the Creeping Death, an insidious and almost undetectable method of murder which leaves its victims unmarked, able to travel far away from the cause of their death while leaving their murderer unsuspected. (Although he did have to knife Li Tan Chang to get its secrets. What happens in Shanghai stays in Shanghai.)

The Shadow’s usual agents are scarce this time. Harry Vincent gets about half a page of screentime, which might have contributed to why this mission had such smooth sailing. So the primary proxy hero is Vic Marquette, and he’s…okay. For a Fed.

And…the cover art is fantastic.

And that’s about all I have to say. This is a top-notch early Shadow story, and if you know the genre, know the author and his style, you know that means a rippin’ good yarn. You really can’t ask for better than that.

Rated: This your final warning, Jose! Those that disobey my word–die!

The Shadow Magazine #42 – Mox

shadow_magazine_vol_1_42So. One of the ways that The Shadow’s mysterious ways remained mysterious is by not including his point of view. He is shown, in certain stories, either as a gliding, cloaked-and-hatted shape through the, uh, somewhat dispassionate lens of the omniscient narrator–observing and describing his actions but offering little concrete commentary on his motivations.

Some books don’t even have an alter-ego for The Shadow–only spectral laughter and sinister whispers; some books have him assume an entirely new personality for the length of the story, discarding it and revealing himself only to thwart evil at the climax.

Alternatively, sight of The Shadow is filtered through the eyes of a POV character…who is generally far, far from omniscient. This contributes to the overall mystery (since they are generally baffled and/or completely wrong about their deductions,) or to the plot (because Harry Vincent is going to a) get clobbered and kidnapped, b) screw up his mission. Sigh.)

In this case, the narrative viewpoint largely follows Joe Cardona, currently an Acting Inspector and generally regarded as the ace sleuth of New York City’s police force–largely because of assistance from a certain black-clad force of justice and vengeance that he cannot formally admit exists, especially to his skeptic boss. “Mox” is Jarvis Moxton, a wealthy speculator whose name soon becomes of interest to investigators looking into the death of contracting agent, Schuyler Harlew. (How that happens is admittedly via a long, long shot, but for such deductions is The Shadow famed.) It transpires that Mox–Moxton–has been locating inventors of promising but underfunded projects, luring them to his countryside lair with promises of money and support, and there–at the stroke of midnight–destroying them! The Shadow puts the pieces together just a tad too late to save another unlucky victim, but he vows that no others will so die!

He succeeds, too, in a brief-but-awesome battle that a) saves an innocent life, b) decimates Mox’s henchmen, c) reveals Mox’s true nature to local authorities, and d) forces Mox into flight. Local authorities, in the person of the cool and cantankerous Sheriff Junius Tharbel, soon seem to have cracked open the case–much to the displeasure of the visiting Joe Cardona, who begins a bitter and one-sided rivalry as a result–but the question still remains to be solved as to where–or who–of the suspects Mox truly is. Junius Tharbel has jurisdiction; he also has the scoop. And a material witness. And also a dog….and yet who seemingly has more interest in going off huntin’ with his country hick friends (you know: the short fat one and the tall thin one) than in tracking down Mox.

The dog is a Dalmatian by the way, which are not actually great pets. They have a high prey drive and can be very aggressive. Also, they have a congenital tendency to deafness and need special food because they also have a tendency to kidney disease. Anyway, the dog is also a material witness in the case. But how does Junius Tharbel actually plan to crack this case–and, more importantly, does The Shadow?

I’ve also talked at length before about how Walter B. Gibson never cheapens his work by letting The Shadow’s power level vary strategically with circumstances. It’s never conveniently just one notch above his current adversaries: it’s always at eleven. Sometimes The Shadow mows through opponents easily: if, for instance, he’s up against a handful of disunified, poorly-coordinated mooks in a dimly-lit area, or if he gets into a hand-to-hand fight with someone whose only combat experience is brawling with other thugs. Sometimes, he struggles rather more–giant Mongol henchmen are always a toughie; and gangsters prepared with anti-Shadow ordnances such as machine guns and spotlights, definitely make things very hot indeed. And sometimes he does get flat-out beaten to the punch, such as when he attempted to jump a squad of Japanese jiu-jitsu masters, or accidentally triggered a voice-activated murder robot.

But when The Shadow is on the struggling side, Gibson never cheats on his behalf to even things back up. Mongol warriors don’t suddenly lose their fighting skills or their brains; they get outmaneuvered, or they end up fighting Jericho Druke, or they get shot. Murder robots…actually, I forget how that one got solved, that was kind of weird. Spotlights get shot out. Carloads of crooks get sniped from mobile or covered positions; they don’t all die, but they are scattered and forced to retreat. Ninja masters get the snot scared out of them in a darkened room and The Shadow gets his last laugh. There’s a real-world logic to the winning of these conflicts that lends them–no matter how outlandish the situation–a verisimilitude, a weight and tension, that’s absent from other stories of the kind.

Clyde Burke liaises with Cardona and Tharbel, and The Shadow glides about in the background, communicating via phone calls and whispers so sinister his own agent gets the chills. There’s a spidery henchman who kills on the stroke of midnight, a death-pit, hidden rooms, secret identities, and red herrings galore.

And so it goes.

This is really a superb Shadow story, so much so that it received a follow-up, Crime County, several years later, starring Junius Tharbel and a dog named–Mox.

Rated: W-A-D-E-H-O-S-T-H-I-S-T-H-E-S-H-A-D-O-W

The Shadow # 203 – Crime at Seven Oaks

shadow_magazine_vol_1_203See the cover? That’s a dog. This is a great story, hands-down, QED. Any book that has a dog in a prominent role is automatically a winner. This is a rule that crosses genres: any scifi, mystery, fantasy, or western story that has a dog, jumps at least three points. (Westerns that also highlight the importance, not to mention the personalities, of the horses involved, gain five points. Science fiction tends to be more about cats, but that’s hearkening back to the “space-navy” side of the equation, rather than the “pulp Westerns IN SPACE” genre foundations.)

Needless to say, Vulcan the Great Dane is basically the co-hero of this novel, and it’s a story that is perfectly pleasing in almost every way. (It helps that this story follows #202, Prince of Evil, written by Theodore Tinsley and squarely in the with the salaciousness cranked up until the knob falls off but the intelligence turned to “Is this thing on?” A fine read, to be sure, but definitely a lesser effort.)

It’s one of those stories that showcase Walter B. Gibson’s adroitness for keeping The Shadow’s adventures fresh and interesting by varying the setting, genre, and supporting characters’ roles. In this case, rather than New York City, the little town of Northdale is the backdrop and the setting is a lonely estate mansion (Seven Oaks) on whom troubles already hang and disaster portends. The genre is, well, it’s still pulp noir but with added dollops of gothic melodrama; and there is a madwoman, her nearly-equally disturbed husband, their quasi-telepathic twins, a mysterious stranger, a weirdly chipper young doctor–and as mentioned, the main secondary hero (and, frankly, the most successful impromptu agent The Shadow has ever employed) is a dog.

So. It’s a dark and stormy night, (because of course it is) and a man with the initials C. T. is waylaid and robbed at the very gates of Seven Oaks. He’s Carl Thayer and he’s saved by the intervention of The Shadow–who has been trailing Clint Flenn’s mob for a while–and makes it to the house, there to receive sympathetic and medical treatment, mostly at the hands of Janice Melridge. Janice and Bob are the twenty year old twins who have apparently little to do but wait to come of age and worry over their mother’s condition, and when your mother spends most of her time talking about voices and banshees, and your father is getting frustrated to the point of choking her out, who wouldn’t be? So the middle-aged but still handsome Carl Thayer finds a warm welcome and proceeds to make the most of it.

Clint Flenn, meanwhile, finding the spoils from the opening brigandage rather measly, decides on kidnapping the Melridge moll for ransom as the next move. The Shadow himself is listening in on this conference, however, and and so begins a cat-and-mouse game that progresses through the halls of Seven Oaks, the streets of Northdale, and the cavern-fractured countryside beyond. To summarize events would be to spoil, and this is actually one of those stories that, even knowing Gibson’s penchant for twists and reversals, kept me guessing until the end.

There are no other agents in this particular story, which is fine, because once Vulcan gets recruited by The Shadow, he does a lot of heavy lifting, including one nick-of-time rescue during a three-way battle involving a box of incriminating evidence and a safe full of payroll deposits, that leaves Bob Melridge, his rescuee, completely baffled, heh.

We all have witnessed how terrifying The Shadow is to malefactors, evil-doers, thugs, and malcontents; the flip side of this is that he is a calming, reassuring, instantly trustworthy presence to the innocent, even if they’re the kind of innocent who don’t look it, having been thrust into a frame and are panicking and lashing out. Dogs, naturally, are no exception. Previous stories has seen The Shadow square off against hostile guard dogs, and either hiss or glare them into submission. Vulcan gets the hiss treatment and promptly begins play-fighting with The Shadow’s cloak sleeve, but we are also reminded that he’s a dog on whose judgment the family relies to begin with. And with good reason. (Vulcan also has had some police/guard training, which is what makes him a useful ally in the first place.)

Now, Gibson avoids the trap of making Vulcan too intelligent by letting him be governed by The Shadow, and The Shadow’s superb competence. It’s by making him the only agent to actually follow orders successfully, that allows him to be the hugely effective good boy he is. Harry Vincent is really lucky Vulcan didn’t decide to follow The Shadow home at the end.

The other characters are interesting as well, given the gothic melodrama / gangster noir genre blend of the book, briefly but adroitly handled by Gibson. Clint Flenn, the gang leader, is actually an interestingly authoritative figure, with an alluded-to history of success, successful alibis, and a proven record of cool-headedness, daring, and marksmanship. Mind you, if he’d been slightly less cool when that rat Trigg Unger started squealing that he’d cornered The Shadow down in the basement, he could have been on to something, but, well.

In some ways this is a throwback story: The Shadow spends much of his time hidden, in Shadow garb, only revealing himself at the very end of the novel; and the Lamont Cranston identity is used sparingly. There are multiple gunfights which end with a satisfying number of bodies–and there’s even an interestingly gruesome moment where The Shadow, providing cover for another escape, crashes his car into a barricade hiding entrenched crooks, sending bodies flying (and earning another concussion, but never mind.) He also pistol-whips a couple of crooks with his .45. If it’s the same style as the gun he used in Spoils of The Shadow, which has a hair-trigger and no safety catch, is it really safe to be using the butt end of the gun to slug people with, though? One wonders. Usually he just bashes people with the muzzle, but there’s an explicit mention of knocking out a sentry with the butt of the gun. Oh well.

There’s a lot more to say about this novel, in some ways, but in others, not really. It’s got gunfights, car chases, a really good boyo, haunted houses, madwomen, psychic twins, gangsters, double-crosses, inheritances, mysterious paintings overlooking events with a somber eye, alibis, taking the heat for your loved ones, and highway robbery. It’s got The Shadow protecting innocents, terrorizing crooks, and solving crimes with a discerning eye and strategic hand that proves why he is and always will be the master foe of evil.

Rated: I heard The Shadow’s ha-ha and I scrammed, boss.

The Shadow Magazine #80 – The Condor

shadow_magazine_vol_1_80 The Shadow really came into his own during the mid 1930s, volumes #65-99ish. Before that he and the author were still feeling out their niche; after that, well, even primordial heroes start to eventually feel their age and the effects of all those concussions. But that run is really superb. The Shadow is at the peak of his mental and physical prowess; and his organization as well as the scope of his operations expands, while–and this is important–still staying reasonable.

At his core, The Shadow is a hero who avenges crime.  Sometimes those crimes are murder; more often they are gang violence; and even more often, it’s theft, either outright or white-collar variants such as fraud or embezzlement. (One of the great differences between The Shadow and current-day heroes is that theft is a crime seen as a crime and deserving of a harsh punishment no matter who the intended victims are. Even cigar-smoking businessmen in suits are assumed to have a right to their property, to defend it, and to seek its legal, reasonable increase. Nowadays every single one of would be considered a villain by default, unworthy of protection or recompense. Anyhow.)

Now, quite often the thieves and/or murderers have delusions of grandeur (and sometimes they aren’t quite delusions) and Step 4 is “take over the world” / “reign of terror” and these are usually more colorful, and somewhat harder to stop than your ordinary crop of gangsters. At least the gangsters tend to either drop dead or surrender when the cops arrive. The megalomaniacs fight it out to the end, or crawl away aided by their faithful minions, hissing banefully.

This book manages to combine both types, and very satisfactory it is to see.

So. Cliff Marsland–who once did a stint in Sing Sing for a crime he did not commit, who is now known in gangdom as a man-killer, a tough torpedo, and a mortal enemy of The Shadow and whom none suspect is actually an agent of The Shadow–meets up with and receives a mission from his once-pal, Luffer Cadley. Cadley himself received a tip-off from the now deceased Cuckoo Gruzen: that a big payoff awaits one who can present the Blue Pearl to The Condor at Mountview Lodge. Cadley is bringing Cliff into it, because he has enemies still itching to rub him out and needs the help. Cliff accepts, because he and his chief know that by following the small crime, a much larger one can be uncovered and greater damage prevented.

So. There’s the plot: acquire the Blue Pearl, bring to The Condor, and then find out what the heck his deal is. Simple, sure. But the path that leads from A to B to C is filled with perplexities, difficulties, and dynamite. This is one of those stories where to summarize what happens is to simply state the entire plot, and then where’s the fun in that? But there are mysteries involved (that are actually mysterious and have importance, and whose solution proves the solver to be that much more intelligent and observant than other individuals–without making those others out to immediately be idiots); there are thrills (such as, Henry Arnaud deciding that he really doesn’t want a visit from the local police right at that moment, and having to devise a quick escape via a third-story window); there’s plenty of action, strategy, double-crosses, intrigue, secret identities, and also a couple of random Singhalese giants, because no pulp action story is actually complete without giants. No, really. Doc Savage and Tarzan provide their own; Tom Swift has Koko; Barsoom has the Green Martians….

Huh. Giants, and crocodiles. Make a note of it.

Anyhow. Several of The Shadow’s agents are involved in this one, including the usual mention-only of Miles Crofton (poor guy never gets a chance to shine). Most prominently, these are Cliff Marsland and (siiiiiiiigh) Harry Vincent, but Clyde Burke pops up here and there, and there’s mention of Hawkeye and Moe. The Shadow himself gets to use the lesser-known Henry Arnaud persona as well as his favored guise of Lamont Cranston. The latter persona also gets to support and advise his friend Commissioner Barth after the theft of the Blue Pearl by a masked thug, right under their very noses….

Vic Marquette (still of the Secret Service, and therefore a hero to be lauded, rather than the FBI stooge he later becomes), also pops up.

So, villains. The Condor is a cross between the megalomaniac and the professor. He’s an independently wealthy retiree who decided some time ago that crime might be more risky, but it’s also a hell of a lot more fun and rewarding than doing things the slow, steady, legal way. Physically, he is of a birdlike (guess which kind) mould, especially as far as his voice, and his weirdly strong, thin-fingered hands go. He’s intelligent and cunning; but mostly his success lies in the way he has planned for it. Rather than just recruiting thugs off the street–and then having them ruin things directly–he allows them to self-select, ensuring that only those capable enough can reach him in the first place; and then also by including a time element, ensures that he also gets patient, disciplined crooks, too. As a result, his organization is effective, competent, and cohesive–and it’s not a one-man job taking it down.

What’s more, The Condor is more of a nickname, and less of a straightforward gimick, the way The Cobra, or The Gray Fist, or The Python (snigger) was, because as dangerous as those guys admittedly were…they were really frikkin’ goofy, come on. He’s a dude who screeches occasionally and gathers plunder that others have killed/acquired, and he’s very serious about it, and so is the author.

Talking about the cover: it’s always awesome to see covers and titles that directly reference something, a scene or idea in the story; something that’s intriguing and easy on the eyes just on the surface, but that gains incredible depths of meaning once you’ve read the book. It means a lot more once you read the book, but even just on it’s own, it’s pretty darned intriguing nevertheless. (Also doesn’t add a gigantic proboscis to the silhouette. Those are annoying. CANNONICALLY all you can see of The Shadow in Shadow getup is his blazing eyes, and that’s IF he’s not hiding his face anyway. Artistic license, ugh.)

PS: I am not going to review the final Shiwan Khan story, he dies, THE END, good riddance, YOU BELONG DEAD.

Rated: Youse mugs keep them dukes up! I said up!

The Shadow Magazine #7 – The Silent Seven

shadow_magazine_vol_1_7So, on The Shadow’s seventh outing (published in February of 1932), he confronts and finishes an enemy organization actually revealed in the previous book, The Death Tower.

In The Death Tower, we learn that there is an organization known as the Faithful Fifty, that they are in many places and many positions throughout New York City–one is revealed to be a police detective, who, in the presence of certain symbols or signs, covers up evidence and releases suspects–and that they serve the Silent Seven. Very little more is revealed about them, as The Death Tower deals more with the singular evil of Doctor Palermo and his wicked scheme, whatever it was, something to do with jewels, I think?  He was also kind of a weeb.

Walter Gibson expanded on the idea in this, the following book–although this is not immediately apparent. Aside from the title, I guess.

Anyhow, the story opens with an elderly man returning to his New York home when his servants report of burglary attempts–on one occasion hearing, on the other, actually seeing, an intruder. Nothing seems to be missing, but yet the man (Henry Marchand) seems to be in mortal dread as he returns, a fear that does not lessen as enters his study to check the safety of some secret that is known only to him.

Henry Marchand does not leave that room alive; and while his death by poison needle in the catch of the secret desk drawer is promptly attributed to misadventure (by Inspector Klein, Joe Cardona still being a mere detective and his hunches not having gained their due fame). Marchand’s friend and confidante Dr. Lukens is however convinced that the mysterious scrawled code revealed in that desk drawer has a meaning and a connection. Cardona agrees, but with the cause of death already established, can do little more than have the code analyzed. Meanwhile, Lukens looks after the disposition of his former friend’s estate, helped by his secretary, annoyed by one Rodney Paget, a lounging young clubman who seems to turn up because he has nothing better to do, but then who should surely have better manners than to snoop as obviously as he does; and then startled by the entrance of The Shadow.

The Shadow has deduced that Marchand was murdered, and the death cleverly framed to deflect blame on the absent-minded victim. Further, Marchand was killed for whatever he had hidden in the desk–and the code is not it. In fact, the code is a complete fake, intended to defer suspicion when investigators find an empty drawer. Who the murderer is, The Shadow does not yet know; but he expects Lukens’ help in finding justice. Lukens agrees–with the caveat that he also immediately attempts to sic the police on this eerie visitor–but, before he, or The Shadow can make further discoveries, is abruptly murdered.

Everyone (including The Shadow, who in the obligatory tussle with the flatfoots loses his guns in order that they can be ballistic-tested against the bullet that killed Lukens) has an alibi for this killing, and even the irritating man-about-town Rodney Paget seems to be in the clear, when:

RODNEY PAGET finished breakfast in his usual leisurely fashion. He took a bath and dressed. It was afternoon when he prepared to leave the apartment. Burnham was still sleeping.
Paget handed Kama a ten-dollar bill before he left.
“What time did the clock say when I came in?” he asked.
“Clockee strike halfee past eight,” came the parrotlike reply.
Paget rode along Eighty-first Street in a taxicab. He gazed curiously from the window as he passed the brownstone house where Doctor Lukens had died. He noticed a policeman standing by the front steps.
A faint smile appeared upon Paget’s lips.
Reaching in the watch pocket of his trousers, the clubman drew forth an object and held it in his half-closed hand. It was the scarab ring which Doctor Lukens had worn the night before—the ring which had once belonged to Henry Marchand.
Still smiling, Paget replaced the ring in his pocket. Calmly and leisurely, he opened his cigarette case and removed a cigarette. He put it carefully in the long holder.
Rodney Paget was puffing slowly and contentedly when the cab stopped in front of the Merrimac Club.

A huge part of why any hero is successful is because he has a good villain to play off against; and Paget is the sort of villain who would make a decent hero. He’s intelligent, cool under pressure, cultured and genteel; and he’s an underdog who is playing the game against the big boys, as a newcomer, with missing cards–but who still plays to win. (He doesn’t win.) (But still.)

Another part of why the villainy in this story hits home is because it’s a…surprisingly realistic, shall we say, depiction of a powerful secret society of criminals. It’s not super over the top: there’s fifty-seven people in this conspiracy, rather than hundreds, because….how do you stay secret with hundreds of followers? They’re present enough to be threatening, and they have enough gadgets, secret passages, signs and countersigns, to be all spooky secret society–but none of these run into the “gigantic labyrinth underneath Chinatown that somehow no one knows about even though it’s a tremendous fire hazard,” or, “I thought this place was abandoned, why does it have a massive electric bill?” trap. When they think someone’s spying on one of their assets, they lay a trap for him with a four- or five-man team, not an endless wave of fanatic mooks. The final battle doesn’t include withering fire from massed machine guns, but it’s well-aimed enough that if you step out of cover you get shot. The Seven, revealed, are an equal mix of politicians, gangsters, bankers, and (hah) academics. Their aim is power and money, rather than world domination. They rob banks and blackmail millionaires. Simple, and effective.

But back to Paget: having a demonstrably cool, collected character as an antagonist and showing them at their best–dealing with cops, mooks, and the other villains–is a great way to build up your hero by then turning the page and showing how utterly he freaks people out when they know he’s after them.

“I had a dream that same night—a dream that something was threatening me. I woke up and thought some one was in the room. But I could find no one there. The next night I dreamed again. When I awoke and looked toward the window I could see nothing. It seemed as though some great, black shape was looming in front of me. Then it disappeared and was gone.
“Since then every shadow has worried me -”
Paget’s voice stopped. He stared at the window of the room as though expecting to see some monstrous shape sweep aside the shade.
“If my enemy is real,” said Paget in a tense, hoarse whisper, “I can meet him. But when I have never even seen him -“

As mentioned, the earliest Shadow novels lean into a stage magician-like blend of invisibility (The Shadow either uses very simple disguises and an aura of authority to blend in, or he’s a full-on weird shapeless blot of darkness in the night, etc) that sometimes hits the actually uncanny. One of the inspirations of the character was–believe it or not, Dracula–and there’s a bit near the end of this story that seems to nod to Old Red Eyes’ powers. The Shadow himself plays this up with his dialogue when he speaks to Lukens–or, to the revealed First of the Silent Seven. Interestingly, though, he’s less formal on the phone with Burbank–either because Gibson hadn’t quite developed the communications style (“Report!”), or because he tends to trust and rely more heavily on Burbank than his other agents.

Because much of the novel is told from Pagets’ POV, there’s less of The Shadow’s agents; but (sigh) Harry Vincent and Clyde Burke appear and….are frankly almost totally useless. I mean, it’s not as if either of them had any formal training for this job and if you’re going to have trusted agents shouldn’t they also be highly skilled? Or at least assigned to jobs that they’re suited for, generally? I mean, Rutledge Mann stays in his office the majority of the time, clipping newspapers, and Burbank does his thing with gadgets; what was the idea with just recruiting two random guys off the street and having them tail mobsters–who are used to spotting and dealing with this kind of thing, fatally? Really when you think about it, The Shadow is just setting these guys up for failure.

Naturally the final chapter involves dragging Harry Vincent out of a death trap.

So, anyhow: is very a good, very solid early Shadow story, despite the accurate yet lackluster cover.

Rated: If Number Five is dead, you cannot be Number Five. If you are the man who took the ring from the thief, you must be–

DALL·E 2022-09-29 17.41.29

The Shadow #97 – The Voodoo Master

shadow_magazine_vol_1_97So having gone on at length as to how Shiwan Khan–who, having a positive gluttony for punishment, just kept coming back to New York to receive his due whalloping for four books in a row–is a decidedly unimpressive supervillain and deserve no such credit as “archrival” or “nemesis,” here is a rundown of the first appearance to a character who does make a worthy rival to The Shadow: Doctor Rodil Mocquino, the Voodoo Master.

In brief, my thesis is: this book is perfectly executed to show that Mocquino is a supremely dangerous, intelligent, ambitious enemy–and that The Shadow is more powerful, insightful, and and deadly than he….while still retaining suspense, interpersonal danger, and plenty of excitement.

The plot begins with the police acquiring a zombi, not that they know what he is exactly or how to spell it. Ace Inspector Cardona, who has something of a clew now and then, calls in Doctor Rupert Sayre–who calls for his sometimes-client, sometimes-superior, Lamont Cranston, whom he believes to be The Shadow. Yes, it’s out of the ordinary for an M.D. to call in a civilian to make a diagnosis, but then Dr. Sayre doesn’t have that much experience with West Indian superstition, crime lords, methods of subtle and unsubtle psychological torture, and fiendish plots.

Our heroes soon learn details of the last item: a voodoo cult in the very heart of New York, figuring highly placed members of society–who have been programmed or lured into observing with fiendish glee the voodoo deaths of their own close relatives, their friends or employers…. deaths in effigy which are soon duplicated mysteriously in the flesh, leaving said cultees in the possession of, often, great wealth. More to the point, the former zombi, Stanton Wallace, fears for the life of his employer, Texan millionaire Dunley Bligh. Bligh’s situation is set up for a pretty seamless murder. He is on board an ocean liner that has already left port, there to receive a consignment of jewels from the ship’s purser; he has heart issues and takes daily medications at a clinical dosage that is just barely below the fatal one.

Observe how there is a greater but currently immobile threat–The Voodoo Master and his ring of minions (currently numbering about twenty. Keep an eye on that number, because it declines over the course of this novel, heh)–and also an innocent in immediate danger, elsewhere. Standard stuff, obvious, sure: but where The Shadow shows his superiority is that he doesn’t rush headlong to the rescue, committing his full strength in one single, less important, direction. (As, for instance, Tarzan, John Carter, Batman, or Feanor would.)

The Shadow has already located the Voodoo Master’s cult headquarters; he leaves it under close observation by his most competent agents (cough, not Harry Vincent, cough.) Mocquino cannot move without this information reaching The Shadow; and via Burbank and a wireless radio, any such move can be traced or countered. While not negated, the greater threat is controlled. This leaves The Shadow clear to move to the rescue of Dunley Bligh. An artificial crisis is not created by having the hero completely withdraw the field and leave the villain free to act.

Needless to say, the other way The Shadow > other heroes is that he also succeeds when he sets out to rescue the innocent bystander. One of the cheesy but utterly endearing parts of the early to mid-stage Shadow novels is the author’s fullhearted intention to make his hero awesome by any means necessary, even if it was offscreen. The Shadow reaches the outbound ocean liner with the cover story of participating in an aeronautic stunt flight to land an autogiro on a moving vessel, and the audience, like Dunley Bligh, learns from the ship’s purser that “The landing was perfect!” Because of course it was. 

Meanwhile, while an artificial crisis has been avoided, a genuine one results: Stanton Wallace sends Cardona and a posse of headquarters detectives into a trap. Doctor Mocquino’s men get the drop on the detectives and hold them at gunpoint just long enough for everyone to evacuate the voodoo cult headquarters.–Just time enough for Hawkeye to put a call into Burbank, and a strange, swift, wingless plane to swing wide of the Newark airport and drop a passenger off on a rooftop (the landing, again, perfect, although we don’t get to see how well Miles Crofton handles the take-off. Honestly, poor Crofton has like the most thankless job of all The Shadow’s agents, considering how he gets shown up almost every time he’s on screen.)

The Shadow manages to save Cardona and the detectives (remember: not like other heroes), and to thin out Mocquino’s minions–but, the Voodoo Master manages to completely vanish.

This section of the novel is where Mocquino begins to show his own quality–by managing his disappearing act in the first place, smoothly enough that the police never do figure it out; by continuing on the offensive and defensive;  and by maintaining enough firepower to continue to be a threat, even to The Shadow and his agents.

Doctor Mocquino traces the source of the leak to his organization backwards–to Stanton Wallace–but also forwards, placing preemptive countermeasures in the house of the next most likely cultist to be spotted and interrogated by either the police or The Shadow. What’s more, those countermeasures are effective. (Mind you, if Dr. Sayre had more experience at the spy game, and Sergeant Markham wasn’t a moron, Mocquino would have had much less success. Alas. Note, however, that Cardona is allowed to show his intelligence by calling Markham out for the blockhead he is.)

Anyhow, the tension remains high, because The Shadow is physically injured while making his escape, and Doctor Sayre’s combination of over-caution and inexperience prevents him from taking the correct measures. Also, (sigh) Harry Vincent has walked directly into a trap along with Stanton Wallace and needs to be rescued, but never mind. You’d think that these are straits dire enough in themselves, but no: Mocquino continues on the offensive, sending minions to capture Doctor Sayre (they escape with their lives only because The Shadow is too physically weak to pursue them, and are terrified by the notion that an actual sorcerer ghost is after them.)

“The Shadow is not human!” he gasped. “He is what I say—a ghost! Bullets pass through him like a vapor! We do not doubt your power, master. But The Shadow, too, has power—”
Manuel was nodding. Arilla kept on: “At the old house!” he panted. “I have talked with those who fought there. No bullets could harm The Shadow! He advanced in the face of guns! At Rathcourt’s—I have talked with Manuel—let him speak—”
“I saw The Shadow at Rathcourt’s,” put in Manuel, promptly. “I saw guns pointed toward his heart. I saw those weapons fired. One would have thought that the cartridges were blank—”
“And to-day,” added Arilla, “I fired point-blank. My aim was perfect! My bullet did not even stop The Shadow’s laugh!”
Mocquino was glowering. Sayre, turning, saw the fearful expressions on the faces of the Voodoo Master’s minions. Harry and Stanton were looking on, elated. Sayre saw a chance for a conclusive statement.
“They are right, Mocquino,” expressed the physician. “Scientifically and from a medical standpoint, The Shadow is superhuman.”

And while this doesn’t fool Mocquino for more than a few minutes, there’s a wonderful moment where he’s definitely worried.

Anyhow: the plot therefore continues to a satisfactory climax, with another voodoo ritual upcoming and Harry Vincent and Stanton Wallace making guest appearances therein; with the police still officially and unofficially at a complete loss; and with The Shadow’s remaining agents also definitely worried about their chief’s physical ability to participate in the upcoming fight. 

(Mind you, Doctor Mocquino has now lost so many minions he can’t afford to post an outside guard. Heh.)

And so it goes.

I’m all out of things to say, but it’s one of the best. Even if the guy on the cover does look like he got stung by a bee.