John Olsen Reviews the Stories in The Shadow #13
Review written and copyrighted by John Olsen; used with
"Six Men of Evil" was originally published in the February 15, 1933 issue of The Shadow Magazine.
Six men with a bizarre secret, exploit that secret in order to begin a crime
wave that covers the entire United States. The Shadow will travel from New York
to Mexico to San Francisco's Chinatown before he will be able to conquer the
evil of those six men.
The early years of The Shadow Magazine are universally recognized to contain the
best of The Shadow's pulp adventures. And this story is definitely one of the
best. Plenty of action. Plenty of mystery. Visits to far-flung places. And the
exciting power of The Shadow at its most concentrated. It all goes to make this
story a must-read.
As our story opens, six men are on horseback, crossing the border from Mexico
into Texas. They discuss their unique situation before they plan to split up and
go their own separate ways. They have only recently been released by ancestors
of the ancient Aztecs, where they had been held captive as punishment for crimes
against the lost tribe.
It seems that these six men originally had been enlisted in the US Army, trying
to hide from their previous criminal lives. When they heard of a treasure in
northern Mexico, they deserted and headed south. In deep in one of the hidden
gorges of a high mountain range, they discovered the lost city of Zeltapec with
its descendants of the ancient Aztecs. And in an inner shrine of the secret
temple at Zeltapec, a huge emerald lay upon a pedestal. A jewel of unmatched
beauty known to the natives at "Chicquatil." It was this sacred stone that they
attempted to steal.
The six men were caught by the Aztecs, during their attempted robbery. And they
were sentenced to a most strange and unusual punishment. Since the exact nature
of that punishment isn't spelled out until later in the pulp novel, explaining
it here will be a bit of a spoiler. But since the secret is pasted clearly on
the cover of the pulp magazine, it's not much of a spoiler. So read the next
four paragraphs at your own risk...
The punishment was that each man was forced to wear a metal mask strapped
tightly to his face. This was the mask of Colpoc, the god of evil. For eight
long months, these six men wore the metal masks, kept there under pressure. And
at the end of that time period, when the masks were removed, each man's features
had taken on those of Colpoc himself. Each man was an exact duplicate of the
other. All had immobile features; broad nose; thick, heavy lips; cheeks, chin
and forehead that slope away uniformly. Only their mouths and eyes could move.
The Aztecs released their prisoners and banned them from the valley. They would
be doomed to go through the rest of their lives bearing the visage of evil. The
identical faces that would mark them, wherever they went, as criminals. The
Aztecs let them keep the gold they stole; they were only interested in
maintaining custody of their sacred emerald.
But the six men, now that they sit on horseback anticipating going their own
ways, decide to take advantage of the fact that they all look alike. They will
spread over the country and make preparations for a crime spree unheard of in
the annals of crime.
Each man will adopt a new name and enter a new community as a respectable
citizen. They will plan crime. After six months to a year, when they are a
trusted member of their own communities, they will execute their long-planned
crimes. Regardless of whether they murder or steal, they will do it openly and
allow witnesses to see them. Because, they will have an iron-clad alibi. One of
their duplicates will actually commit the crime, while each man, himself, spends
the entire time of the crime with a sheriff, mayor or some other local notable
whose word can't be questioned. The perfect crime!
Their plans made, the six men split up and ride off in different directions.
After a planning period of at least six months, the crimes will begin. And so
they do. The first is in Tilson, Illinois. A quarter million stolen from a bank.
But the man accused of the crime had an iron-clad alibi - he had been with the
chief of police the whole time. The next crime is in Barmouth, Maryland.
Followed by Daltona, Georgia - murder and two million dollars. This is a job for
But before The Shadow can begin to combat this crime, he must take a trip to
Mexico and find the lost city of Zeltapec. And this is where the story, which is
already a corker, gets even better. The Shadow lands in the lost city in his
autogyro. He's taken to be a messenger of the sun god. He receives the giant
emerald - the green Chicquatil - as a gift. He tries to refuse, but the natives
press it upon him.
And then, as if a trip to a lost civilization isn't enough, we get a rousing
climax when The Shadow visits San Francisco and it's famed Chinatown. There, he
makes his way through death traps to reach the inner recesses of Tam Sook's
domain. There we learn another secret about The Shadow's girasol ring.
In various Shadow stories, the origin of his famous girasol ring is occasionally
mentioned. One story has it belonging to a czar of Russia and the other story
has it as coming from South American Xinca Indians. You may be familiar with the
history of the stone, but what of the metal ring itself? The silver setting that
the stone is set into? This story sheds some light on that issue, indicating it
came from China. Here's a segment of the story:
As The Shadow spoke, he made a motion with his hand. The iridescent girasol
popped upward, on a hinge. A cavity was revealed beneath the precious stone.
Within that cavity was visible a tiny, weird-scrawled figure.
Tam Sook's eyes bulged as he saw the figure. A gasp came from the Chinaman's
"The sign of Chow Lee!" he exclaimed. "The sign of The Great One!"
"Yes," came the weirdly-whispered reply, "the gift of those of Chow Lee - those
who are even more powerful than you! Only one man, other than your own, has this
sacred symbol. I am that man!"
Who is Chow Lee? What is the strange figure engraved beneath the girasol? We can
only guess, since author Walter Gibson doesn't explain further. Perhaps he
intended to expand upon this in future Shadow stories. But, unfortunately, he
never did. Much like The Shadow's "horror face," this aspect of The Shadow
remains a mystery to faithful readers.
Yes, this is a slam bang story. We get to see The Shadow use the explosive paste
known as the "Devil's Whisper" for the second time. (It was previously
introduced in 1931's "The Red Menace.") He uses his special disappearing ink to
write coded messages to his agents. We get to visit the blackened sanctum and
see that row of massive volumes that make up the archives of The Shadow. We
travel around the country with The Shadow: New York City; Tilson, Illinois;
Barmouth, Maryland; Daltona, Georgia; Fargo, North Dakota; Riviere, Louisiana;
San Francisco's Chinatown; the mountains of northern Mexico. What a ride!
We are reminded, in this tale, that wherever there is a city that harbors an
underworld, The Shadow is feared:
[ITALICS]In London, in Berlin, in Madrid, crooks of all nationalities lowered
their voices when they discussed The Shadow. In Paris, skulking crooks still
mumbled tales of The Shadow's prowess - of that eerie night when an unknown
being in black had battled single-handed against a horde of apaches. In Moscow,
there were men who remembered the time when The Shadow had fought himself free
from a regiment of Red troops.[CLOSE ITALICS]
This is definitely an early version of The Shadow. He is nearly all-powerful. He
wields a hypnotic presence; his eyes contain a mesmeric glint that brooks no
refusal. He shoots to kill, not to wound; and he shoots straight the first time.
His mastery of even the esoteric languages of the ancient Zeltapec chief is
The Shadow appears in his guise as millionaire, world-traveler Lamont Cranston
in this story. He is accompanied by his agents Burbank, Harry Vincent,
investment-broker Rutledge Mann and reporter Clyde Burke. There is no mention of
Kent Allard; author Gibson hadn't invented him yet. And no mention of "Ying Ko"
when The Shadow was in Chinatown. That part of The Shadow's back-story wouldn't
be invented for another two years.
Another sure sign that this is an early tale in which Gibson's writing hadn't
fully taken form, yet, would be the murder of a girl. In later stories, Walter
Gibson studiously avoided allowing harm to females. They were never killed.
Alternate author Theodore Tinsley had no such compunctions, as you are probably
aware. He killed off women and men with equal aplomb. But to see one of our six
men of evil shoot a girl straight through the heart was quite disconcerting.
Very unlike the Walter Gibson stories we later came to know.
And what of the Chicquatil, itself? What did The Shadow do with the huge green
stone that the Zeltapec chief presented to him? After The Shadow climbs into his
autogyro and flies away from the lost Aztec city, nothing further is said of the
fabulous emerald. We can only assume that it sat among other treasures in The
This is one of the all-time great classic Shadow pulp adventures. It's a rousing
tale, one that I really enjoyed reading. I know you'll enjoy reading it, too.
Treat yourself to one of the best of the best.
"The Devil Monsters" was published in the February 1, 1943 issue of The Shadow Magazine. This is the
infamous Shadow tale that some call "the worst Shadow novel written by Walter
Gibson." But I can't agree with that. It certainly stretches credulity in a way
that no other Shadow mystery novel ever did. It takes on certain aspects of
fantasy and science fiction. But I have to confess that I actually liked this
It's a story of dinosaurs. Real dinosaurs, not pretended or fantasized. And
that's not giving anything away that wasn't already intended, because the
original cover of the pulp magazine prominently featured an array of dinosaurs.
These amazing creatures could possibly exist in some obscure corner of the
earth, and someone has found them. Someone who plans on world domination.
Someone who has unleashed them upon an unsuspecting public. Someone who is
destined to meet... The Shadow!
Yes, the "devil monsters" of the title are in reality dinosaurs. Dinosaurs and
other strange creatures long thought to be myths, but in reality still in
existence. It is these creatures that have been seen in and around the small
community of Glendale several hours out of New York. And it is to Glendale that
The Shadow has come to investigate.
There have been several strange deaths in Glendale attributed to the devil
monsters. The Shadow, guised as Lamont Cranston, has driven to Glendale in the
company of Margo Lane. He intends to pay a visit to his friend from the Cobalt
Club, James Farman. Farman has a large estate in Glendale, and is right in the
center of the hotbed of controversy surrounding the mysterious deaths.
Lamont Cranston and Margo Lane arrive at the Farman estate in the middle of a
raging storm. A flare of strange greenish light appears above the Farman mansion
in the pouring rain. In the night, a strange giant creature of darkness appears
seemingly from nowhere. It rips away the top of the roadster, grabs Margo Lane
in its talons, and carries her off into the air. The Shadow jabs gunshots at the
vague flying shape, but to no avail! And that's how our story opens. What a
great start to a story!
Calm your mind. Margo is safe. She's found in the top branches of a downed tree,
where the mystery monster apparently dropped her. She and Lamont join the
extended house party at James Farman's, telling a convincing story of an
uprooted tree demolishing their car. They are welcomed as house guests, and
proceed to settle in and begin their investigation.
The following day, they attend the coroner's inquest on the death of the two
mangled men found several days previously. From the inquest, they acquire a
variety of leads. Clues that may help them track down the source of the mystery.
Who is behind it all? Could it be old Dariel Grebb, the retired banker who owns
the estate to the east? Or Roscoe Althrop the big shipping man, whose estate
lies to the west? Perhaps sinister Leonard Thrull who rents the mansion on the
far hill? Perhaps Jed Guphrey, the village half-wit? Maybe Paracelsus Chandos,
who lives in the strange old castle in the valley? Or could it be James Farman,
their genial host at Glenwood?
And what is behind the mystery? Could the dinosaurs possibly be real? From
whence did they come? Where do they currently hide? Why have they been collected
and brought here? Is someone faking the "devil monster" attacks? Is someone
creating more monsters? What's it all about?
The Shadow is aided in this story by his lovely friend and companion Margo Lane,
and his long-time agent Harry Vincent, who poses as a student of mineralogy.
Clyde Burke of the New York Classic briefly appears as well. But that's all of
the familiar characters in this story. No other agents appear, nor do any
familiar faces from the law show up. It's this small band of crime fighters who
must pierce the mystery and solve the strange case.
A few final points of interest. This story acknowledges the legend that The
Shadow has the power of invisibility. It doesn't say he really can become
invisible, but that there is a legend that claims it is so. This, in an obvious
nod to the radio characterization of The Shadow. It's also mentioned that The
Shadow has been long versed in the study of hypnotism. But no connection is
claimed between the two.
In several previous Shadow novels, it was acknowledged that The Shadow has
mastery over dogs, notably in "Crime At Seven Oaks." He has apparently lost the
power in this story. There are two mammoth mastiffs in this story, and they
neither fear nor obey The Shadow. Quite the opposite. They attack him upon
several occasions, when it's most inopportune. The only way he can control them
is to shoot them!
In this story, The Shadow takes to changing from Lamont Cranston into The Shadow
in Margo Lane's presence. In full view, he draws on the cape and slouch hat,
something that he never did in earlier years.
The Shadow's autogiro appears in this story. It's described as a new model, a
"wingless" autogiro. Since all the pictures I've seen of an autogiro have had
wings, I can only assume the wingless model must have been much like a
helicopter. But unfortunately, the autogiro meets an untimely end in a battle
with a pterodactyl. The autogiro is destroyed in the crash. It reappeared
briefly in the following month's pulp story, "Wizard of Crime," and then never
appeared in the magazine stories again.
It has been claimed that this is the worst Shadow story that Walter Gibson ever
wrote. But I must disagree. Yes, it's more fantastic that the other "standard"
Shadow mysteries, but I found it wonderfully moody and exciting. I liked it.
Olsen was first introduced to The Shadow in the early 1960's, tuning in to
rebroadcasts of his adventures on KEX radio in Portland, Oregon. Several years
later, John was drawn to a hardback book entitled "The Weird Adventures of The
Shadow," containing three Shadow novels reprinted from the old pulp magazines.
The pulp Shadow was a far different character from the beloved radio version, but
the stories drew him in and opened his eyes to a richer version of the hero.
Today, John is retired in Sherwood, Oregon. He has read all 325 of
the old Shadow pulp mysteries and enjoys them so much that, as of this writing,
he is well over half way through reading them all again for a second time.