Foreshadowing The Batman Special
Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows! The Knight of Darkness proves that crime does not pay in two pulp classics that inspired Golden Age BATMAN stories and artwork! First, in his true identity of Kent Allard, The Shadow investigates how a dying man's bequest of "The Crystal Buddha" became a legacy of death. Then, the Dark Avenger must invade Vreekill Castle and unmask the enigmatic mastermind called "The Vindicator" before murder claims another victim! This instant collector's item showcases the classic color pulp covers by George Rozen, the original interior illustrations by Edd Cartier and commentary by popular culture historian Will Murray.
John Olsen Reviews the Stories in The Shadow #74
Review written and copyrighted by John Olsen; used with permission
"The Crystal Buddha"was published in the January 1, 1938 issue of The Shadow Magazine. What is the secret behind the crystal Buddha? That what the heirs of old James Plaistead want to find out. It’s part of the estate that they will inherit. But a strange part.
Barbara Brinby, daughter of attorney Robert Brinby, is sent to find out the value of the small five-inch statue. She started in Chinatown, but was told that the small crystal figurine was a Hindu Buddha, not a Chinese one. She was advised to take it to the shop of Bela Singh, dealer in Oriental curios.
Bela Singh wears American clothes, but in keeping with his native custom, he also wears an ornamental turban tastefully decorated with gems. He examines the squatty statuette. It is the image of a seated Buddha, carved from a single piece of flawless crystal. He assesses its value at a thousand dollars.
Although a thousand dollars is a goodly sum, the Plaistead heirs wonder why old James Plaistead put such a seemingly high value upon it. For in his will, he states that any of his three heirs can have the crystal Buddha in exchange for their share of his sixty-thousand-dollar estate. Someone would have to give up twenty-thousand dollars for the crystal Buddha. What would make it worth that much?
The three heirs ponder that question. Eldest of the heirs is Lester Kurnz, a man in his middle forties. He is a bachelor who has done well in business. Second of the heirs is Sidney Brellen, a thirty-five-year-old spend-thrift. He’s a schemer who spends money as fast as he gets it. Youngest is Rex Lancott, a man in his late twenties. Lancott is a traveler just back from South America; he’s not the type to settle down.
Young Rex Lancott agrees to take the crystal Buddha in exchange for his share in the estate. The other two heirs are quite satisfied, since their share in the estate has just increased from twenty-thousand to thirty-thousand dollars. And thus, the state is set for our latest Shadow mystery.
What secret does Bela Singh know about the crystal Buddha? Why does he want it? What hidden information is in the sealed envelope he carries? What was the real reason Rex Lancott traded his inheritance for it? Why are two gangs of crooks out to get it? What makes it worth murder to aquire? And what’s the growing romantic interest between Barbara Brinby and Rex Lancott?
The Shadow enters the picture, rescuing Barbara Brinby in the first of several attempts to steal the crystal Buddha. There’s a gun battle as she’s taking a taxi home, and she’s saved by The Shadow. She accepts him as a friend, one who will be badly needed before the end of this tale.
The Shadow appears in this story in his real personality of Kent Allard. He plays a large part in this tale, being friend to Barbara Brinby. The Shadow’s true identity as Kent Allard had been revealed just four months previously in “The Shadow Unmasks.” This story reminds us that he is a famous aviator who has spent many years in Guatemala. Of course that’s all a blind, because he was really in New York the entire time, fighting crime as The Shadow.
This story makes no mention of Lamont Cranston. Also appearing here are Hawkeye, the wizened little spotter, long-time agent Harry Vincent, cab-driver Moe Shrevnitz and a few mentions of Burbank. Representing the forces of the law is ace inspector of the New York police, Joe Cardona, in small role.
As we know from other tales, The Shadow is a master of languages. In this story, we learn that he speaks fluent Hindustani. I’m starting to lose count of how many tongues he’s mastered. I guess that’s what comes from his World War I spy training.
In some stories, vague reference is made to thugs confessing under The Shadow’s unique torture. Here, we get to see a little of how that’s done. A stoical Hindu babbles breathlessly when The Shadow tightens his left hand and exerts a little finger pressure. That’s all we’re told. But it sure must have been effective!
One brief comment that I caught indicated that The Shadow was not above shooting a criminal in the back. It didn’t actually happen, because a second hoodlum accidentally intercepted The Shadow’s shot. But Gibson mentions that the second man receives the bullet that should have reached the first man’s back. Shooting a man in the back! I think I’m starting to see The Shadow in a new light...
Another point of interest. The Shadow commandeers a taxicab, not his own, and smashes it through a brick wall to effect an escape to the men inside. The cab is ruined, but nothing further is said about it. Hopefully, The Shadow made restitution to the owner of the cab. And a word of apology would be nice, as well.
Did you know The Shadow has a blacklist? It’s a list of criminals that he’s keeping an eye on. He leaves it to the law to handle them, but will take matters into his own hands if the law runs into obstacles. The list is mentioned in this story.
What have I left out? The Shadow is drugged with hashish. There’s a hideout filled with death-traps. Harry Vincent gets to dress up as The Shadow. The Shadow visits Spanish Harlem. And on and on it goes.
It’s a whirlwind story from the early years. A real corker!
"The Vindicator" was originally published in the March 15, 1939 issue of The Shadow Magazine. Can The Shadow unmask the extortionist who calls himself The Vindicator before death strikes yet again?
When our story opens, we find ourselves in an isolated section of Westchester County at the large home of wealthy Thomas Grennel. The house is filled with guests, and one of them is an agent for The Vindicator.
The Vindicator is a strange unknown personality who takes from the rich and gives to the poor... or so he claims. He demands money from men who have used underhanded methods to acquire it, then reimburses the innocent victims of those wealthy men.
Tonight, The Vindicator has sent Trigger Kobin to visit Thomas Grennel. Grennel, who is worth more than a million dollars, is being forced to give Kobin a hundred thousand dollars, which The Vindicator intends to reimburse persons who lost money in Grennel’s bank crash.
Grennel doesn’t believe that The Vindicator’s motives are pure. He believes that this extortionist intends to keep the money for himself. He has had the money secretly marked and has sent a list of the numbers of the bills to the New York Police. Once he has received some incriminating documents from The Vindicator in exchange for the cash, he intends to expose the criminal.
Things begin to go awry immediately after the transfer. Trigger Kobin shows up and exchanges an envelope of papers for the metal box containing the hundred thousand dollars. He leaves. Thomas Grennel explains to Ross Bland, a house guest who accidentally witnessed the exchange, that he is being blackmailed. And he knows the secret identity of The Vindicator.
He’s just about to tell Ross Bland. “I recognized his voice. The Vindicator is -” A revolver shot spurts through the barred outside window. Thomas Grennel falls with a bullet in his heart. Murdered from outside the house by The Vindicator just as he was about to reveal his identity. Yes, we’ve seen that kind of thing happen before, and it’s a classic.
No one knows who fired the shot. One of the young people outside on the veranda sees a dark shape at the window, but doesn’t recognize the person. Just then, The Shadow arrives. But he arrives too late. Grennel is already dead. But The Shadow is now involved in the case, and The Shadow will track down the mystery man who calls himself The Vindicator and wreak revenge.
Thomas Grennel was not the first victim of the Vindicator’s blackmail schemes. Over a period of the past few years, the Vindicator has shaken down at least a dozen men of considerable prominence, accumulating close to a quarter million dollars by such methods. Those other men have remained quiet, until now. With the murder of Thomas Grennel, the lid is blown off the blackmail scheme. And with The Shadow on the scene, it won’t be long until The Vindicator feels the full weight of The Shadow’s justice!
This is one of the better Shadow pulp mysteries from 1939. It includes a terrific scene where The Shadow travels by his wingless autogiro up the Hudson to an old rundown edifice, Vreekill Castle. There he makes an amazing entrance to the castle by crossing a deep chasm to reach the castle walls. He crosses by means of climbing a tall thin sapling growing on the far edge of the ravine. It bends over as he climbs higher and higher, until it bends across the deep revine and he can reach the upper windows of the castle.
Once inside, he must fight his way down to the caverns beneath, as a series of explosions are set off, causing the crumbling old stone castle to implode within itself. He barely reaches the underground cavern beneath the castle in time to grab a speedboat lying in the cavern’s lagoon and make his escape as rocks and debris are falling around him.
It’s a thrill ride that rivals the best in any Shadow novel. And that’s just one long extended scene that takes three chapters. (No, it’s not padded. I just left out a lot of important stuff that happened.) Whew, it’s a real page turner. But there’s a lot more in this story, as well. There’s the love angle.
Beautiful young Margaret Brye, daughter of a crazy old inventor, is in love with Larry Chandler, secretary to Roger Marquin, who controls rubber plantations in South America. Their young love seems doomed, especially since it looks like Dana Brye, her father, may turn out to be The Vindicator.
Is Dana Brye really The Vindicator? Or is someone else hiding behind that identity? Only The Shadow can survive death time and time again to finally vindicate those victims of The Vindicator.
Strangely, The Shadow’s usual agents are not much in evidence. Moe Shrevnitz, the speediest hackie in New York, appears briefly. Hunchy little spotter Hawkeye also makes a cameo appearance. Stanley, the chauffeur who aids The Shadow without knowing it, appears in this novel. Burbank, the contact man who rarely gets to leave his switchboard, gets out into the field for a nice respite. He helps watch some eavesdropping equipment at an apartment house. And Jericho Druke shows up, disguised as a janitor, to help plant the devices in that apartment. But there’s no sign of Harry Vincent, Rutledge Mann, Clyde Burke or Cliff Marlsand. And that’s OK. It’s nice to see the second team get a chance to shine for a change.
Inspector Joe Cardona and Detective Sergeant Markham appear in their usual roles as officers of the law. As for Commissioner Weston, there’s no sign. But he’s really not needed, and Cardona and Markham get plenty of action, here.
The Shadow appears in his preferred disguise as wealthy Lamont Cranston. He also is disguised as a sleepy man in a cafe. And his major coup is his disguise as one of the major characters in this story. I won’t reveal which one, here. No spoilers, today. But suffice it to say that The Shadow gets to once again prove he is a master of disguise.
A couple random notes about this story. It is mentioned that a minor character had been in the penitentiary nearly twenty years, belonging to an era that dated back before The Shadow’s amazing campaigns had begun. Twenty years earlier would be 1919. Here we are told that The Shadow wasn’t yet in action in that year, which confirms what other stories intimated about The Shadow being a spy in World War One.
It’s always good to see The Shadow’s wingless autogiro in a story, and it shows up here, piloted by The Shadow himself. In some stories, Miles Crofton does pilot duty. But in this one, it’s The Shadow. And note, this is not your typical autogiro that had wings. It’s the “wingless” autogiro, which sounds suspiciously like a helicopter, to me.
The famous Pulaski Skyway is mentioned in this novel. Of course it was featured in the pulp novel “Death Rides The Skyway” three years earlier. It was still a marvel of modern engineering in 1939, and author Walter Gibson rightly included it in this story.
Usually, Shadow stories are not gadget oriented. Those were more in style with Doc Savage pulps. But this one does have a neat eavesdropping device that deserves mention. It’s hidden in a light bulb. There’s a tiny microphone attached, and as long as the lights are on, the microphone is powered via the electrical current. Doc would have been proud.
Yes, this is a classic Shadow novel. Read how The Shadow finally defeats the Vindicator, the pretender whose claims of righting wrong are but a sham to mask his own criminal desires. Trust me, you’ll like it.
John 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.