John Olsen Reviews the Stories in The Shadow #29
Review written and copyrighted by John Olsen; used with
"The Shadow's Rival"
was originally published in the June 15, 1937 issue of The Shadow
Magazine. Another being emerges who equals The Shadow's hatred of
crime. Can he actually outwit crooks as easily as The Shadow? The
Police suspect he is actually The Shadow himself. Will all of The
Shadow's achievements be credited to The Shadow's rival?
This story has a lot going for it, but ultimately it is disappointing.
It's the premise of the whole story that is at fault. The premise is
that there is a genius criminologist out there who can predict crimes
and can sleuth out the persons who commit them. This person is even
better at the job of fighting crime than is The Shadow! And any
faithful reader knows that just can't be true. So the basic premise is
obviously false, and that makes it pretty predictable from that point
on. This alleged crime-fighter isn't what he seems. He'll turn out to
be a master of crime, himself, in the end. Any reader worth his salt
will have figured that out just by reading the title of the story. So
that makes reading the story an exercise in futility. The reader
anticipates that there will be a surprise twist ending in which The
Shadow's rival will turn out to be (gasp!) a crook himself. And sure
enough, that's exactly what happens to the surprise of no one.
The story opens with the introduction of New York's own Public Enemy,
"Chink" Rethlo. Yes, you read that right. There's a politically
incorrect nickname, if I ever heard one. And if you think that's
offensive, just wait till you see how he's described! But ignoring that
for now, it seems that Rethlo has held up three banks at one-week
intervals, bagging nearly a million dollars. The Shadow has finally
tracked him down. And just as The Shadow is about to break into
Rethlo's hideout and capture him, the police arrive and beat him to the
punch. Usually, The Shadow is way ahead of the police. But this time,
they arrived first.
This isn't the only time such a strange occurrence has happened. "Kid"
Lombroy, head of a budding dope ring, had been arrested in Chinatown
with the goods on him. The Shadow had planned to handle Lombroy as soon
as the dopester received his next shipment, but the police handled him
first. Perry Candreth, blackmailer deluxe, had been cornered while
threatening a wealthy Californian. The Shadow had arranged a special
trap that would later have snared Candreth, if the police hadn't gotten
there first. "Goggles" Barchew, a fake peddler who specialized in
warehouse robberies, had found his whole crowd surrounded by
detectives. The Shadow had also started out to pick up Barchew's trail,
only to find the police in charge.
Something strange was going on. Someone has been tipping off the police
to criminal activity, and that someone is named Gannet Seard. The
police have been keeping him a secret for months, we're told. Seard is
a wealthy chap of great intellect who has taken up criminology as a
hobby. And he's good at it. He's so good that he becomes The Shadow's
That's not the way the police see it, of course. Commissioner Weston
actually believes that Gannet Seard is The Shadow. He can't prove it,
but he figures that who else would have such a keen grasp of the crime
scene around New York. The Shadow - the real one - doesn't want to
reveal Seard as just a bystander, but he also isn't too fond on letting
Seard take credit for his own mastery of crime. So, he tries to get to
the crooks before Seard can put the police on their tracks.
It's a friendly rivalry. In order to demonstrate his deductive skill,
The Shadow determines to find the hiding place of Chink Rethlo's
million dollars in swag. He partly succeeds, in that he recovers part
of the loot... the part that can't be easily disposed of. But there's
still a much larger part that isn't accounted for. Where could it be?
Of course, any astute reader already knows the answer. Gannet Seard,
the secret crime boss that nobody suspects... well, nobody but the
reader... has that loot!
As for Gannet Seard himself, well he's already pretty much figured out
who The Shadow is, in reality. He correctly assumes it's Lamont
Cranston. Luckily, he keeps that knowledge to himself. Why? Well,
that's kept rather vague in the story. But the reader, who had long ago
figured out that Seard is a crime boss himself, knows the real reason
for the secrecy. Seard plans to use that secret knowledge to trap The
Shadow and do away with him.
And that leads to some pretty cool death traps, one of the strong
points of this story. There's one scene when Creep Hoyran, recently
escaped from an asylum and currently in the employ of some unknown
criminal mastermind (gee, we wonder who?) gasses The Shadow and
captures him. Then he imprisons him in an underground cell and whips
away the Shadow's slouch hat, revealing his face. Sorry, no "horror
face" appears beneath the hat; it's Cranston's face. Then Creep fills
the room with inflammable gas, and sets it afire. How The Shadow
escapes in his feeble condition is quite exciting, and makes the story
worthwhile reading, if for no other reason.
I will have to admit I really liked the ending, after Seard is exposed
as the master criminal that he really is. The crime genius has set
things up so that there's no proof against him. He can't be prosecuted.
He has outwitted The Shadow and the police alike. Yet on the last page,
he meets with a just finish that I found very satisfying. It almost
made up for being forced to read the entire story knowing in advance
that Seard would turn out to be on crime's side.
Appearing in this story are Hawkeye, Burbank, Cliff Marsland, Burbank,
Clyde Burke, Moe Shrevnitz and Harry Vincent. Harry only appears
briefly. The Shadow sends him to Philadelphia to gather some
information, so most of the time he isn't in the story and he doesn't
see much action. Clyde Burke sends in a few reports, but that's the
extent of his participation. Hawkeye and Cliff Marsland similarly see
only brief mention. Moe's exposure in this story is only slightly more
than the other agents.
Strangely, Moe Shrevnitz is described as "one of The Shadow's lesser
agents." What's this? Moe, hackie extrordinaire, a lesser agent? I
always considered Moe one of The Shadow's major agents. A most
indispensable agent! I don't know what Walter Gibson was thinking in
this 1937 tale. Moe had been a trusted agent of The Shadow for over
three years and had appeared in dozens of stories by this time. Gibson
must have been delirious!
And let's not forget Stanley. He's not actually an agent, but as
Cranston's chauffeur, he should count for something. He only appears
once, and doesn't get any lines to speak. But at least he's mentioned.
As for the law, Inspector Joe Cardona, Detective Sergeant Markham and
Police Commissioner Ralph Weston are all on hand. Cardona has just
recently been promoted from detective to inspector, as we are informed
by Chink Rethlo. Actually, author Walter Gibson had given him that
promotion in "The Golden Masks" some nine months earlier. So Rethlo was
a little out of date, but what do you expect from someone recently
escaped from the crazy bin?
A few final notes of interest. The Shadow is not known for his gadgets,
unlike his contemporary Doc Savage, but he does get to use some
wiretapping equipment with which he gets to listen in on a conversation
between Commissioner Weston and Gannet Seard.
And speaking of Commissioner Weston, it will be remembered that during
most of the 1930s, he refused to believe in The Shadow. He wouldn't
acknowledge that any such person existed. He refused to allow Cardona
to mention him in his reports. But in this story, things have changed.
Weston is expecting a public statement from The Shadow, a sure sign
that he now believes in the actuality of our black-cloaked hero.
This is a well written story, and would be fun to read if only the
reader could put out of his mind the knowledge that The Shadow is the
ultimate fighter of crime. If you can accept the suggestion that there
might be someone else on the side of right who is better at
crimefighting than The Shadow, then it would go a long way to helping
you go along with the story.
Unfortunately, that premise is the pulp tale's fatal flaw. We all know
that The Shadow is crimedom's ultimate nemesis, so it's pretty obvious
that Gibson is trying to trick the reader. And the reader will not be
tricked! Too bad... it could have been such a good story.
"The Devil Master" was published in the September 15, 1941 issue of The Shadow Magazine. The Shadow is pitted against not one, but two Oriental masterminds in a breathtaking confrontation. A battle to the death between Professor Su Yeng, Prince Fuji Yeddo and Ying Ko - The Shadow!
This was one of the best stories of the year. Walter Gibson's "Chinese Primrose" was another Chinatown tale, although set in San Francisco's Chinatown, that helped light up 1941. Theodore Tinsley's "The White Column" was another bright spot. And then there was "The Devil Master," the story being reviewed here. The plot has some really cool twists and turns which makes this one a winner.
That's not to say the story is perfect. There's one plot hole that is particularly annoying. But we'll get into that later. Even taking into consideration that one large flaw in logical plotting, this story stands out. For one thing, it's a Chinatown tale, and they are some of the best examples of The Shadow's adventures. Gibson really knew how to draw you into those tales of the ominous orient, the sliding doors, the twisty underground mazes, the sinister death traps. So, although this story isn't perfect, it's still a fun one to read.
A wild-eyed Chinaman crashes his way into the Cobalt Club looking for Lamont Cranston. There's a pitched battle with a second vicious-looking Mongol, and our story is off to a running start. Before you know it, The Shadow is heading to New York City's strange, exotic Chinatown. There, he visits his agent Dr. Roy Tam and learns that there is unrest beneath the placid exterior of Chinatown. Two competing factions have arisen, threatening violence and death.
Professor Su Yeng has recently arrived from China. It is his plan to stir up insurrections in the various Chinese provinces. His goal is to drive the Japanese invaders from Chinese soil and restore the land to China. All that sounds good on the surface, but his plans then include restoring the empire with himself as its imperial head. This would turn China into a world-wide menace, threatening every principle for which the modern Chinese stood. It was something to be dreaded, not commended.
Professor Su Yeng has come to the United States to enlist adventurers to assist his cause. He is also here to collect many thousands of dollars for his cause. Dollars that were meant for war supplies to help China, that will instead go into his own coffers.
As if this weren't challenge enough for The Shadow, there is a second threat in Chinatown. This threat comes in the person of a Japanese - Prince Fuji Yeddo. He is here to defeat Professor Su Yeng, and to garner all of Su Yeng's wealth for himself. His personal goal, you see, is to become Shogun of Japan. In that position, much like a prime minister, he would control the policy of Japan. He would be a powerful enemy to the United States, something that The Shadow cannot allow.
Now, to put all this in historical perspective, Japan had not yet attacked the USA and the country was not yet thrust into World War II. Walter Gibson had written this story in February of 1941, and the magazine story was published in September. At that point in history, World War II was already raging in Europe. And just three short months later American would join the global conflict after the bombing of the naval bases at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. All of America was on edge, as readers were enjoying this story. Most could see the handwriting on the wall, but technically the country had not yet committed to war.
This story presents us with two Oriental threats. There's China, which was gaining sympathy in the US due to being overrun by Japan. But there was still the lingering fear and suspicion regarding the "yellow menace" of just ten years earlier. Then there's Japan, which was a major threat even though we weren't technically at war, yet. So Professor Su Yeng and Prince Fuji Yeddo made two very formidable opponents for The Shadow. Each foe, quite daunting by himself, combined to make for a nearly impossible task for our black-cloaked hero.
Now take all this and toss in a little of the occult. You see, Professor Su Yeng has some amazing magical powers. He can actually shrink human beings down to the size of dolls. Sounds incredible? Don't believe it? Just ask Margo Lane. She's captured by the wily Celestial and before you know it is shrunk down to a foot tall. Now you can see why Su Yeng is also known as "The Devil Master."
And as for Prince Fuji Yeddo, he's no slouch in the villain department, either. With the hoards of assassins under his command, with his slinky jujitsu tactics, he learns the secret of The Shadow. He knows that Lamont Cranston is in reality The Shadow. A secret that could end the career of the world's foremost crime fighter!
Prince Fuji Yeddo has a bizarre little secret, too. He has a mechanical doll of himself. It's a replica of Prince Yeddo, but is actually even more than that. In a sense, you could say it is actually Prince Yeddo himself. For, covering the mechanical apparatus that moves the dummy, Prince Yeddo has placed his own hair, his own fingernails, his own teeth and even his own skin and blood. Shall we all say "yeewww" in unison? That's majorly creepy!
With two Oriental ultra-villains, you can only imagine the racial slurs that fly back and forth. Oh yeah, this one is pretty blatant. There are viscous Mongols, grinning teeth, slippery Celestials, Chinese torture, slanty eyes, jabbering voices, pidgin English, and just about every other insult you can imagine. If all 325 Shadow stories were ranked for political correctness, this one would be at the bottom of the stack. Plenty of racial epithets, slurs, insults and innuendo. Something to offend just about anyone.
But to be fair, this story also paints a positive portrait of Asians. Yes, our villains are Asian. But so is The Shadow's agent, Dr. Roy Tam. He personifies modern China at its best. He is intelligent, well-spoken, and faithful to both his old country, but his new adopted one. And, of course, to The Shadow! To give Walter Gibson his due, and taking into consideration the times in which he lived and wrote, this story is surprisingly even-handed, portraying both the positive and negative aspects of Asians, or as they were referred to back then, Orientals.
The Shadow is referred to as Ying Ko. This is the name given to The Shadow by the Chinese. It was first mentioned in the 1935 story "The Fate Joss." And by the time of this 1941 story, he was called Ying Ko by not only the Chinese but also by the Japanese. And even a Korean assistant to Su Yeng. Yes, The Shadow is known in all these countries. And, as specified here, he also speaks the languages. He does get around!
The Shadow is assisted by various agents in this story. By far, the biggest role goes to Dr. Roy Tam, his agent in Chinatown. But Margo Lane and Myra Reldon also get pretty juicy parts. Plus Moe Shrevnitz shows up briefly, as does Doctor Rupert Sayre. And Police Commissioner Ralph Weston and Inspector Joe Cardona get a few lines as well.
The Shadow only had two female agents, Margo Lane and Myra Reldon. Margo appeared in over sixty of the Shadow stories, beginning in 1941 just six magazine issues before this story. Myra Reldon only appeared in eight of the pulp stories, but she started earlier than Margo, beginning in 1937's "Teeth of the Dragon." She often appeared in disguise as Chinese maiden Ming Dwan, as she does in this story. She also had the honor of helping defeat The Shadow's ultimate nemesis Shiwan Khan in "The Invincible Shiwan Khan."
There was only one single Shadow story, among all 325 of them, in which both Margo Lane and Myra Reldon appeared together. This was that story. And, unfortunately, they never actually appeared together knowing that each other was an agent for The Shadow. In their first scene together, Margo and Myra talk on the telephone. Margo knows that she is talking with an agent of The Shadow, but Myra thinks she is talking to a restaurant employee.
In their final scene together, Myra Reldon helps rescue Margo Lane from the clutches of Professor Su Yeng. Margo and Myra meet face to face, but again each doesn't know who the other is. Myra doesn't know that Margo is an agent, just someone to be rescued. And Margo knows the Myra is an agent, but she doesn't know that this is the agent she talked with on the phone earlier, and she doesn't see Myra's real face. At that point, Myra is disguised as Ming Dwan. So, at no point do the two women actually get to meet as peers, both being recognized agents of The Shadow.
As their final scene ends, Margo Lane and Ming Dwan (Myra Reldon) ride off in a taxicab together. Ming Dwan is explaining to Margo that she is really an agent for The Shadow by the name of Myra Reldon, but Margo isn't listening. And that's the last time we see them in the story. I'd like to think that as they rode along together, they had time to talk and compare notes. And to get to know each other. After all, they held unique positions in The Shadow's organization. They were his only two female agents. And, unfortunately, they never again appeared in the same story together.
This story has a lot going for it. There's the secret headquarters of Professor Su Yeng, hidden deep within the bowels of Chinatown. It's accessed through the White Dragon Tea Shop when the proper secret password is given: "It is night upon the Yangtze." I love those old signs and countersigns!
One of the high-points of this story is when Professor Su Yeng shrinks Margo Lane down to the size of his foot-tall dolls. At the end of the story, of course, it's all explained away. Su Yeng didn't really have any such magical powers after all. It was all a trick. But that brings up the one annoying plot flaw that was mentioned at the beginning of this review. An a possible minor spoiler... (you've been warned).
The logical explanation given at the end of the story, is that Margo Lane was rendered unconscious and then moved to a special, very large room where everything was built extra large, and to a scale that would make her seem only a foot tall. OK, that makes sense. There is even some medical jargon bandied about where Dr. Rupert Sayre explains about "micromania," a medical condition where the patient thinks he's small. And that makes sense, somewhat, as well.
The plot flaw is that before Margo is knocked unconscious, she drops a round metal compact from her purse. Later when she revives, and believes herself to be only a foot tall, there is the compact, now as huge as a table. Also present, in much enlarged size, are her wrist watch and her giant shoes. At story's end, when all is being explained, it's just casually explained that Su Yeng had faked those giant sized props. And that's where the logic fails.
Professor Su Yeng didn't have time to fake such specific items. He had no way of knowing the design of her compact, her watch or her shoes. Yet we are to believe that he somehow quickly came up with believable gigantic versions of them, with no advance knowledge of their design. Maybe Margo was under the influence of drugs, and didn't specifically notice in her woozy state that the three personal items didn't really look like hers. But that's a bit of a stretch, for me. This is the one part of the story I find fault with; it could have been handled better.
Other points of interest. This is Margo Lane's first exposure to The Shadow's method of using disappearing ink. She intercepts one of his messages. Apparently, the message she accidentally reads is not encoded, which seems strange. But luckily, she reads it before it fades from sight, which explains how she is able to take Myra Reldon's place and go undercover in Su Yeng's underground lair.
By this magazine issue, Margo had linked Lamont Cranston with The Shadow. She didn't fully understand that link; she didn't know that The Shadow often disguised himself as the real Cranston. She wasn't sure if perhaps Cranston was just another agent of The Shadow. But she knew there was some link. As future magazine issues were published, she would learn more and more, until it reached the point where The Shadow would feel free to switch identities in her presence. But not yet; not in this story.
Female villains were not usual in Walter Gibson's Shadow stories. But this story has one... sort of. We are introduced to Professor Su Yeng's great-great-granddaughter Satsu. She is young and beautiful, and deadly. She assists Su Yeng, fights with Margo and Myra Reldon, and in one scene tries to shoot them with her revolver. Sounds like a villainess to me, right? Well, in the end, we are told that she was under her great-great-grandfather's spell. And once he was dead, at the story's climax, his spell over her was gone. She aides The Shadow in the release of the prisoners, and so she gets set free. Personally, it seems to me that she got off easy. But Gibson didn't like to write about bad girls. So I guess she had to be redeemed in the end. (Now, Theodore Tinsley's propensity for bad girls is well known in his writings of The Shadow, so that's an entirely different matter.)
This is a pretty good Shadow story, especially considering it is from 1941, a year not known for its outstanding Shadow pulp adventures. True, there is that one plot flaw that bugged me, but ignoring that, this is an exciting Chinatown story that resonates with the worrisome times preceding World War II.
There is no hidden villain in this piece. No masked mastermind. No unknown master criminal. We know right up front who The Shadow's adversaries are: Professor Su Yeng, The Devil Master and his nemesis Prince Fuji Yeddo! You'll enjoy reading of their battles in this "Chinatown" story that only Walter Gibson could do so well. I liked it, and I think you will, too!
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.