The Knight of Darkness battles foreign threats to America in two classic pulp thrillers by Walter B. Gibson writing as "Maxwell Grant." First, with his alter ego compromised, The Shadow rises from the deep Pacific to confront Japanese agents and retrieve the U.S. Navy's prototype Z-boat, a submersible "Death Ship" that could tip the balance in the future war. Then, at the height of World War II, The Shadow and distaff aide Myra Reldon combat the treacherous plots of "The Black Dragon" and his sinister secret society. BONUS: "The Man with The Shadow's Face!" This instant collector's item reprints Graves Gladney's and Modest Stein's first Shadow covers in color plus the original interior illustrations by Edd Cartier and Paul Orban, with commentary by Will Murray.
John Olsen Reviews the Stories in The Shadow #76
Review written and copyrighted by John Olsen; used with permission
“Death Ship” was originally published in the April 1, 1939 issue of The Shadow Magazine. The Z-boat! The United States government wanted it; other world powers were looking for it. The Shadow rises from the deep Pacific, to smash down an international pirate! Intrigue, murder and mysterious events baffled everyone. Everyone, that is, except The Shadow!
This story takes on a bit of a broader scope than most Shadow mysteries. The story opens in San Francisco and takes place in the surrounding vicinity until three quarters of the way through the story, then it switches to the Pacific Ocean, aboard the ship Shinwi Maru. Instead of dealing with a small handful of people in a limited locale, this time around The Shadow is involved in matters of international importance. It broadens the scope of the story and makes it a most interesting one to read. For me, it was a true pleasure to read.
The story begins on the northern edge of San Francisco Bay. The Shadow is searching for the hidden submarine base where Commander Rodney Prew, formerly an officer in the United States Navy, has been completing work on his new submersible, the “Z-boat.” This is the death ship mentioned in the title of the story. The death ship is a newly designed undersea boat that could help America in the upcoming war. (This story was written before the U.S. entered World War II.)
You’ve heard of U-boats... The Z-boat is a new type of war craft; shaped like a speedboat, it’s a speed submersible able to make unheard-of speeds both above and below the water!
Commander Prew is about to hand the prototype ship, the Barracuda, over to the U.S. government when it is stolen from it’s San Francisco Bay pier. Stolen by Felix Sergon, who calls himself an adventurer and soldier of fortune. In reality, Sergon is actually an international spy and master of modern piracy. Soon he’s using the Barracuda to prey upon ocean liners upon the Pacific. Seemingly, nothing can stop him!
Destroyers steam out from San Francisco Bay, seeking to capture or destroy the Barracuda. Airplanes zoom seaward from all along the coast, hoping to aid the sea search. Yet all fail to find any trace of the valuable invention manned by a crew of pirates. Luckily, The Shadow was present at the time the craft was stolen, and is already on the job of trying to thwart the forces of evil.
Can he thwart Sergon’s evil plans? Is Sergon in the employ of the Japanese? Will he turn the prototype over to Japan? Is Claudette Marchand, Commander Prew’s confidential secretary, still on board? Is she a prisoner or an accomplice? Is Commander Prew involved, as well? Questions, questions, questions! Whew!
In this story, The Shadow’s disguise of Lamont Cranston is casually revealed to just about everyone! In most of the pulp novels, the fact that The Shadow goes around disguised as Lamont Cranston is a deep secret. In this story, however, just about everybody gets to peer beneath the slouch hat and see the face of Lamont Cranston. The Japanese official Ishi Soyoto discovers The Shadow’s secret identity, and The Shadow makes no effort to deny or mask it. He removes his hat, cloak and gloves in Soyoto’s presence while they conference.
Commander Prew is next to see beneath the slouch hat. The Shadow has boarded the Z-boat and captured Prew; he’s under the power of The Shadow. There seems no reason for The Shadow to reveal his face, but he does so anyway. With casual disregard for his carefully built-up disguise, he reveals himself to the Commander.
Claudette Marchand is approached by Cranston, but she also knows he is really The Shadow. Prew has advised her of his identity. In her presence, he behaves as The Shadow while looking like Cranston. The Shadow’s sinister laugh even issues from Cranston’s visage.
Eventually, it seems that an army of Japanese agents aboard the ocean liner Shinwi Maru are all aware of The Shadow’s alter-ego, and are on the lookout for him. To that end, The Shadow remains on board the ship by using one of his other disguises: Henry Arnaud.
That presents us with an interesting description of The Shadow’s expertise with disguise. While aboard ship, The Shadow wears two disguises at once, one on top of the other. To switch identities, he removes one false layer from his face: that of Henry Arnaud. Beneath is a second disguise: that of Lamont Cranston. Pretty clever, that Shadow!
Speaking of disguises, The Shadow uses a third one in this story. In addition to Cranston and Arnaud, he spends the day on the San Francisco waterfront, loitering in the rough attire of a stevedore.
Another interesting point is that we see a rare moment of emotion in the usually complacent Lamont Cranston. In one scene, we are told that “real elation showed on the maskish features of Cranston.” That’s most unusual, and certainly worthy of note.
The Shadow works alone in this story. All his agents were left back in New York. None are even mentioned. This is strictly a solo Shadow story.
A couple quick points of interest: The Shadow not only wears black cloak, hat and gloves, but he also sports a black handkerchief. This may be the only time it was mentioned; at least I don’t remember it in any other story. Our hero uses it here to gag the Japanese official Ishi Soyoto, the man who masquerades as a Japanese merchant.
The Shadow also uses a special skeleton key that is hollow and filled with oil. When he scrapes a bit of wax from the end of the key, opening a vent and allowing the oil inside to penetrate the lock he is picking. In that way the mechanism can be opened without any telltale sounds. This has been mentioned in several other stories, but its appearance is relatively rare.
The Japanese are not treated as enemies in this pre-war tale. But there is obviously mistrust between them and our hero. This seems to reflect the mood of the times. America was wary where Japan was concerned, and that shows in The Shadow’s interactions with them in this tale.
A final note. In this story we are taken on a quick visit to San Francisco’s Chinatown. As would be expected, The Shadow is quickly recognized as “Ying Ko.” His reputation precedes him!
This is a lot of fun to read. It’s not particularly long, at just over 40,000 words and the abundance of action keeps the story moving right along. It’s a great pre-war story, with a missing Z-boat, a vanished commander, Japanese plots, Chinatown, piracy on the high seas, and more action than you can shake a stick at! An enjoyable romp with The Shadow that I can recommend.
“The Black Dragon” was published in the March, 1943 issue of The Shadow Magazine. The Black Dragon is the strange head of a secret underground Japanese organization known as The Black Dragon Society. And it will take all the might of The Shadow to tear the mask of secrecy from this sinister group and reveal the identity of its leader.
Note that the date of this story places it right smack dab in the middle of the United State’s involvement in World War II. The war was at it’s most frenzied height as author Walter Gibson wrote this Shadow yarn. Germans and Japanese were hated enemies of the United States and its allies. The Japanese had become an easy target, perfect to paint as the villains in these types of stories. And in this story, they were. So when you read this story, you’ll need to place it in historical perspective.
Politically correct, it’s not! The Japanese in this story are not treated kindly. They are referred to with racial epithets and described as superstitious, sniveling cowards. They are assassins, human scum, slimy Nipponese, like things from beneath a stone. When captured, they fall bowing to their knees, prostrate, babbling creatures. Remember, it was wartime and such descriptions were to be expected when depicting an ultimate enemy. But today, we rightfully cringe.
In this story, Walter Gibson returns to his favorite technique of using a proxy hero to carry the action. As the story opens, our proxy hero Steve Trask is in Chinatown where he spots a familiar figure in a shop window. It’s a small black ornament no more than four inches high. It’s a black dragon with green jade eyes.
The figure is familiar to young Steve because his friend Rufux Miljohn had recently owned an identical one. Miljohn had died, a death the police termed a suicide. But Steve was sure there was something sinister behind the death. After Miljohn’s death, the black dragon figuring had disappeared. Taken, perhaps, by the murderer? This accounts for Steve’s search through Chinatown for a dragon like Miljohn’s.
Steve Trask finds the identical dragon figure in the shop of Sujan the merchant. But the man is distinctly not Chinese. He is Japanese. The shop, which bears no name and appears closed, is a hideaway for Japanese who have infiltrated Chinatown. Chinatown is the one place where they can risk being seen by Americans, because they may be mistaken for Chinese.
Steve buys the dragon figure and quickly leaves, but attempts are made upon his life only minutes later. Has he discovered something which must mean his immediate demise? Are owners of the black dragon figures members of a secret fraternity? Did Miljohn stumble into something that he shouldn’t have? Was his suicide faked to hide some terrible secret?
The attempt on Steve’s life is thwarted by The Shadow. Yes, The Shadow has been following the trail of the mysterious secret organization known as the Black Dragon Society. He had learned much, including the fact that Steve Trask is now one of their intended victims. He saves Steve, and enlists his aid in his battle against one of the most diabolical forces he has ever encountered.
Rufux Miljohn wasn’t the only person of wealth to die at the hands of the Black Dragon. The Shadow recognizes that others have also fallen beneath the hand of the deadly society. Not long ago, Lewis Pendleton owned just such a souvenir as well. He was found with three bullets in his brain, each of a different calibre. And his black figurine had vanished exactly as had the one in Miljohn’s case. Yes, there’s more to all this than meets the eye.
In a secret meeting room deep beneath the streets of Chinatown, the Black Dragon Society meets. There, the hoarded minions of the evil leader assemble to pay homage to their master. He sits on a raised throne, garbed in a Japanese robe upon which is embroidered dragon. The black shape of the dragon is so huge, it coils around the costume several times before terminating in a large embroidered head that makes up the hood of the costume. Hidden inside is the unknown master of this secret society.
He holds them in a fanatic sway. He magically appears in a puff of smoke and makes his exit in a similar manner. His Japanese followers are described as ignorant, superstitious and easily swayed. They are thugs who murder at his command. Who can stop this foreboding menace? Who can unmask the diabolical leader of this ominous secret Japanese society hidden far beneath the back streets of Chinatown? Yes, only The Shadow can defeat the Oriental hoards that make up the Black Dragon Society. Only The Shadow can reveal the true identity of The Black Dragon, himself.
And assisting The Shadow in this World War II adventure are just about all of his agents. Long-time agent Harry Vincent, reporter Clyde Burke, hackie Moe Shrevnitz, alleged-killer Cliff Marsland, trailer and spotter Hawkeye and contact-man Burbank are all present. Moe Shrevnitz is always referred to by his proper name, thankfully, although once he does refer to himself by his nickname “Shrevvy.”
Occasional agent Myra Reldon, in her most famous guise as Ming Dwan, makes her final pulp appearance, here. Myra Reldon appeared in six Shadow pulp novels, first beginning in the 1937 story, Teeth of the Dragon. She is probably best known for her role in helping fight the ultimate Shadow villain, Shiwan Khan, in the 1940 story, The Invincible Shiwan Khan. She has quite a large and important role in this story, and it makes for a great exit to her career.
It should be pointed out that Walter Gibson brought Myra Reldon back in his 1963 paperback Shadow novel, Return of The Shadow. So she did return in one more appearance. But as far as the original 325 pulp novels are concerned, this one marks her final appearance.
And also making his last appearance in the Shadow pulp novels is Doctor Roy Tam. Dr. Tam appeared in ten Shadow mysteries, beginning with the 1935 mystery, The Fate Joss. He continued to make one or two appearances nearly every year until his final bow in this 1943 tale. He was a Chinatown contact that The Shadow could always trust. He was one of the few people to see The Shadow remove his cloak and slouch hat and reveal the face of Lamont Cranston. He knew, of course, that this was just another disguise and that Cranston’s face was not The Shadow’s own.
The one agent of The Shadow conspicuously missing in this story is Margo Lane. Margo had been a part of The Shadow pulps for two years, rarely missing an issue since her introduction in June of 1941. However, there really was no place for her character in this story. Myra Reldon was a very capable female agent and was more suited to this particular plot. Walter Gibson didn’t want to force the Margo Lane character into the story in which she obviously didn’t fit. So he wisely let her sit out this particular adventure.
Other familiar characters present in this pulp mystery are Police Commissioner Ralph Weston and Inspector Joe Cardona, who represent the forces of the New York Police Department. Cardona still has his famous hunches, and still tends to hide them from Commissioner Weston, who disapproves of them.
Being a Chinatown tale, the name “Ying Ko” is used synonymously for The Shadow. It wouldn’t be a Chinatown tale without it! And also we are treated to the underground tunnels, secret rooms and death traps.
There are a couple of death traps that deserve mention here. The figurine of a black dragon comes to life. It turns out that this particular figurine isn’t made of jet, but rather is a poison lizard whose bite means instant death. We also see The Shadow enter an elevator which hurtles downward when the cable is cut. Yes, he really is in it, and really does fall!
Perhaps the best death trap of all is the twelve-foot pit. All four walls are lined with sharp knife-like spikes that protrude a few inches. But those inches begin to grow as the spikes slowly move inward from all four sides, skewering anyone unlucky enough to have fallen into the pit. And, The Shadow does fall into the pit. And the spikes begin their relentless move inward. You’ve just gotta read this story, if just for this one scene alone!
And a couple more quick notes of interest. The story mentions a small alarm gong. It must be something like an alarm clock, but the description is rather vague. It certainly caught my interest, though. Also, we see the Shadow carries a handkerchief. A black one, of course. I can’t remember ever seeing a reference to a black handkerchief before, and it’s certainly worth mentioning.
The character of our proxy hero Steve Trask is never fully explained. He’s obviously fairly young and athletic, but for some unknown reason isn’t in the armed services. He apparently has no job; nothing is mentioned of a career. Nothing is mentioned of friends or family, other than Rufux Miljohn who was recently killed. Steve Trask is a totally unknown quantity who just appears in the story. It would appear to me that he shouldn’t have been in New York at this time, at all! He should have been overseas fighting in the war.
Finally, Walter Gibson mentions in one scene that The Shadow hears whispers in the dark, and immediately knows that these aren’t Chinese. According to Gibson, the Chinese can’t whisper. His explanation is that their language depends on inflections which makes it impossible. It’s is the first I’ve heard this, and makes me wonder if it’s true or just part of Gibson’s fiction. Can anyone enlighten me?
This story is definitely worth reading. It’s the final pulp appearance of Myra Reldon and Doctor Roy Tam. See The Shadow and his organization confront the Japanese underground organization known as The Black Dragon Society at the height of World War II. The blood flows; the enemy bites the dust; and good triumphs over evil. It’s a classic!
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.