John Olsen Reviews the Stories in The Shadow #39
Review written and copyrighted by John Olsen; used with permission
"Face of Doom" was originally published in the March 15, 1938 issue of The Shadow Magazine. And it's a strange face that shines with a weird, greenish light. It appears in the gloom, a gloom that seems designed to make that face impressive. The forehead is a broad expanse of glow; cheeks made straight, downward lines to a chin that cut square across. Eyes form deep sockets, but from them shine beady points of light. The nose looks sharp; the lips straight, all due to well-gauged applications of a luminous dye. This is the criminal mastermind known as "The Face."
No one knows who The Face is, but he rules the criminal underworld. Criminals who follow his rule enjoy unusual success in their criminal endeavors. He receives a percentage of their spoils, but they are assured success. Those who accept his rule are never troubled. But those who refuse allegiance to The Face are sure to fail. Any crook who tries to go it on his own usually finds himself facing the law... or The Shadow!
The Face is a special kind of racketeer - one without an equal; for his victims are crooks and racketeers themselves. They either follow him and succeed or reject him and fail. Since The Face entered the picture, those who are with him never run afoul of The Shadow. It seems, though, that crooks who ignore The Face are always running into trouble from their black-cloaked adversary.
When The Shadow becomes aware of this sinister foe, he is faced with a decision fraught with conflict. If he ignores The Face, he will continue to receive tips to upcoming crime. Crime not sanctioned by The Face. If he fights and defeats him, then all the criminal masterminds under the control of The Face will be freed to begin an avalanche of evil such as New York has never known. The only thing holding them in check is The Face. If he's removed by The Shadow, all the pent-up crime that he's restrained will break forth in an orgy of crime.
But fight The Face he must. For The Shadow cannot condone crime in Manhattan. So begins a battle against a ghostly sinister foe that is unmatched in the annals of The Shadow's many years of fighting crime. A battle that includes some of the most strange and convoluted death traps that The Shadow has ever encountered.
The Shadow appears in this story briefly as Lamont Cranston, but is mainly seen in his black garb. Also making brief appearances are Commissioner Weston, Joe Cardona, Clyde Burke, Harry Vincent and Burbank. Moe Shrevnitz isn't mentioned by name, but there is a cab driven by an unnamed agent which is most likely him. This is mostly a tale of The Shadow, master of the night, and his battle against the glowing green Face.
As a point of interest, I've never seen reference in any Shadow novel to "other" crime fighters who have their own disguises. But in this story, it's mentioned that The Shadow's disguise is better than the other guys' disguises, because he has a double disguise. To correctly identify The Shadow as Kent Allard, persons would first have to solve the riddle of Cranston, and then begin all over again. "Thus, The Shadow was more secure than any other disguised personage who had ever championed justice." I suspect this was a veiled reference to The Spider who was being published by a rival pulp publisher. Or am I reading more into this than I should?
Oh yes, and let's not forget The Shadow's strange clock that sits in his sanctum. That array of circles that shows twenty-four hours on a scale of double twelve, with a circle for seconds that is accurate to the dot. It's not often that this unusual clock is seen in a story, and so deserves special mention here.
This is another fun romp through dark Manhattan with The Shadow, fighting criminals, master criminals, and death traps.
"The Crime Ray" was originally published in the September 1, 1939 issue of The Shadow Magazine. A ray gun that can dissolve steel. With a power like that, crime will run rampant in New York. Bank vaults are no longer invulnerable. Police cars can no longer give chase. And prison gates can no longer hold the hoards of cutthroats anxious to wreak havoc on an innocent metropolis. Between total chaos and a vulnerable public stands but one man - a specter of the night cloaked in black - The Shadow!
The year was 1939 and during that year, The Shadow magazine was destined to publish some of the top Shadow adventures of all time. The first two Shiwan Khan novels, "The Golden Master" and "Shiwan Khan Returns" were but a start. The year also brought us "Silver Skull" in which aviator Kent Allard engages in aerial battle with a super villain. The final two novels in "The Hand" series appeared in 1939. And two of my favorites, "River of Death" and "The Lone Tiger." And then there is the story being reviewed here, "The Crime Ray."
As our story opens, a gang of thugs break into the Midtown National Bank's vault from underground. They enter the subway and use a mysterious machine to bore through to the bank above. The Shadow appears. Joe Cardona and a squad of hand-picked police are on the scene, as well. But they are no match for this strange criminal gang. Using their mysterious machine that can melt steel as if it were butter, the gang makes off with a half million dollars and then disappears!
Crime strikes again and again. Each time, there is an advance warning. Each time, crime succeeds against all odds. Each time the mysterious crime ray makes pulling off the job a cinch. And each time the criminal mastermind and his minions disappear after crime has been completed.
Letters are received by wholesale jewelers, promising them protection against burglaries if they pay the sum of one hundred thousand dollars. If they refuse, the crime ray will be used and they will lose much more than the amount demanded. They can't afford to refuse.
Threats against banks are next. Another half million dollars is demanded or the gang will strike again, this time at the heart of Manhattan's financial institutions. And always, the demand is that the money be delivered to the Excalibur Building -- a building that doesn't exist!
There seems to be no stopping this strange criminal enterprise. Gangs make their escape on the elevated train. The Shadow is in pursuit. But the ruffians use the crime ray and the elevated station collapses with a mighty din. Nothing The Shadow can do will stop them.
In one particularly impressive scene, the gang of crooks uses the crime ray to collapse the Stuyvesant Bridge, over which the World's Fair Limited carries hundreds from Chicago to the New York fair. The Shadow is in pursuit in his high-speed roadster. He whips out his trusty .45 automatics and begins firing with unerring aim. But the escaping gang turns their cosmic ray machine on The Shadow. His car begins to melt out from under him! His automatics begin to turn to putty in his very hands! How can anyone fight a power that can melt the weapons from your hands? Is there no stopping this sinister force of evil?
Whew! What a story! And before we're done, there's even more. The Shadow, in his guise as Lamont Cranston is arrested for possessing an illegal firearm. He's indicted under the Sullivan Act, tried and convicted, and sent to Graykill Prison. With The Shadow out of action, what can stop the crime wave that is smothering all of New York?
Yes, this is one exciting story. We've got the crazy scientist who has harnesses the power of the cosmic rays to create a strange ray machine that can melt steel. We've got a gang of crooks who steal the invention, destroy all the plans and kidnap the inventor. We've got all of New York crumbling under the power of the ray machine. And we've got extortion demands that are to be delivered to an office building that doesn't exist. We've got The Shadow locked up and the entire populace of Manhattan under the threat of the crime ray.
Luckily, The Shadow isn't working alone, here. He has plenty of help. The regular gang of agents show up to assist in fighting the crime wave. Taxi driver Moe Shrevnitz helps out, as does newspaper man Clyde Burke and contact man Burbank. Underworld contacts Cliff Marsland and Hawkeye show up briefly. Harry Vincent gets to woo the pretty girl. Slade Farrow and Tapper get in on the action, too. And for the police, we see Commissioner Ralph Weston and Inspector Joe Cardona. Quite a gang. But with a crime wave like this, they are all needed.
The Shadow mostly appears in his nighttime garb of black cloak and slouch hat. He also uses his disguise as millionaire Lamont Cranston, and we also see him disguised as Fritz, the slow-witted janitor at police headquarters. Usually Fritz's dialogue is limited to a simple "Yah" in response to others. Here, he doesn't even get that simple word. No dialogue at all. Poor Fritz. Like Rodney Dangerfield, he got no respect.
The Shadow is at full power in this story. When injured, he recuperates and fights on. No need for the strange purplish liquid with the amazing restorative powers that he used in other stories. He just toughs it out.
We get to see The Shadow's amazing ability to read lips, here. From a distance, he watches Police Commissioner Weston's lips, and can easily tell what he is saying. The Shadow's lip-reading abilities have come in handy in other adventures as well, so it was nice to see it used again, here.
There are some really nice touches in this story. We not only get a visit to The Shadow's hidden, blue-lit sanctum, we also get to enter the rarely visited laboratory. It's a black-walled room that adjoins the sanctum. There, he experiments with tube-type cosmic ray detectors.
Later, Burbank gets to leave his cramped switchboard and go out into the field to place the cosmic ray detectors around the city in various locations. Burbank is an acknowledged electrical genius, and was the perfect man for the job. So he finally gets to stretch his legs a bit.
As to the location of The Shadow's sanctum, it is never specified in any story. We are only given vague clues in various tales. This time was are told that it is in an old building, and it's in the heart of the city. No one knew where the sanctum was located. Certainly not the criminal underworld. Not The Shadow's agents. And not even the reader was given its exact location.
My favorite Gibsonism appears here. Author Walter Gibson would occasionally come up with his own words; words that wouldn't be found in the dictionary, but were appropriate for the situation he was describing. These words became known as "Gibsonisms." My favorite is "squatly." It's not a word he overused, but appeared in some dozen novels. It's used here to describe the cosmic ray machine: "it was a squatly, compact device the size of a large radio cabinet."
And what other noteworthy items appear in this story? Radio station WNX pops up again. The Shadow tunes it in to hear the latest news while in Graykill prison. The Shadow's identity is also discovered by two different characters. Of course, we assume they won't survive to tell what they've discovered; and sure enough, both are dead by story's end. And The Shadow's autogiro makes an appearance. It's always good to see that strange craft fly in.
This is one slam bang, rip roaring Shadow adventure. There's action; there's romance; there's a crazy scientist and his cosmic ray gun. Now if that doesn't typify "pulp" I don't know what does! So my recommendation is to read this one, if you get the chance. You'll have as much fun as I did.
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.