Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows! The Knight of Darkness battles strange supercrime in two pulp thrillers by Walter Gibson that foreshadowed classic Batman stories. First, The Shadow goes undercover in Chinatown to battle a legendary oriental demi-god in "The Living Joss". Then, what can prevent "Judge Lawless" from making a mockery of the law? Only The Shadow knows! BONUS: "Djaruti, Goddess of Death", a lost Orson Welles thriller from the Golden Age of Radio! This instant collectors' item features both classic cover paintings by George Rozen, the original interior pulp illustrations by Tom Lovell and Paul Orban, and historical commentary by Anthony Tollin.
John Olsen Reviews the Stories in The Shadow #51
Review written and copyrighted by John Olsen; used with permission
"The Living Joss" was originally published in the July 1, 1933 issue of The Shadow Magazine. Kwa is the living joss. His name is never to be spoken by unbelievers. His sinister power reaches out from the confines of New York's Chinatown, to deal death to his enemies. And promises death to the one man who can stop him... The Shadow!
This is another of the early Chinatown stories that are so beloved by readers of The Shadow. The Shadow's first visit to Chinatown was in the very first pulp magazine story "The Living Shadow." He was to visit there nearly forty more times during the eighteen-year magazine run. This story is the sixth of those visits that readers were privileged to enjoy.
In many of the Chinatown stories, the treatment of the Chinese was even handed. There were good Chinese, and bad Chinese. The Shadow even had a Chinese agent in Dr. Roy Tam. But Dr. Tam does not appear, here. In fact, he wouldn't even be introduced to the series until two years later in "The Fate Joss."
This is not one of the even-handed Chinatown stories. There are no "good" Chinese in it. In a most politically in-correct story, all the Chinese are evil. All are slinky, yellow-skinned creatures that are barely considered human. Most are either dwarfish, spidery beings or ugly, hulking brutes. This is definitely a story that shows it's age, and reflects the unenlightened times in which it was written.
It is also a thrilling, mile-a-minute adventure that whirls the reader along on one of the most exciting Shadow novels written. There's plenty of action and enthusiasm to this story. The Shadow is nearly all-powerful. His gunshots always hit their intended target. He always exits his amazing battles triumphant. And his mind ferrets out clues that the sharpest police minds miss.
The story revolves around Kwa, one of the most powerful foes that The Shadow has ever met. Whispers in Chinatown tell that Kwa has returned! Kwa, known as the Living Joss! An idol of amazing power that has come to life! Who is this strange being; the most insidious plotter who has ever dwelt in New York's Chinatown?
We first meet him seated, a cross-legged form clad in a gold-threaded Oriental jacket in a hidden lair deep in mysterious Chinatown. His venomous face is the most evil visage ever seen. Bulging eyes, a twisted nose, thick, puckered lips, and sharp, jutting teeth; these are the features of Kwa's countenance.
Kwa claims to be a living joss - a living demi-god of the Chinese people - a deity in human form. His followers are a secret body who keep their beliefs to themselves. If his claims are true, he would be a power greater than that of any tong. He would have superhuman power which he could direct against nonbelievers. But, on the contrary, if his claims are false, he could undermine the tongs. If he is a pretender, he can stir up fanatical underlings to a fever pitch and plunge Chinatown into new wars from within. So, either way, Kwa is a serious threat.
Kwa is engaged in a scheme to make millions and extend his power drastically. It involves five men who are involved in a stock swindle. Westley Hartnett is an attorney who blocks the crooked scheme; he must die. At his home, the lawyer is attacked by a strange creature. Like a human spider, it throws its long arms and legs about the attorney's body. Westley Hartnett utters a choking gasp and falls dead, killed by one of Kwa's evil minions.
More deaths are decreed by Kwa. The president of the Huxley Corporation, Blaine Goodall, is next. Doom is due to strike again, this time by a horrible car crash from a tall bridge into the deep ravine. And there will be more!
Kwa's agents are not all Chinese. He enlists the aide of down-on-his-luck playboy Hugo Urvin. Urvin is the son of a wealthy family, but his gambling has led to a need for quick funds. And Urvin isn't too particular about how he gets them. So when he's contacted by Kwa, he quickly agrees to do the bidding of a new master, one who will pay handsomely for his services.
Since Hugo Urvin is a member of the society set, his job is to spy out secrets of New York society and reveal the weaknesses of the five men that Kwa is targeting. Raising a scrawny, long-nailed hand, the hideous monster gesticulates and reminds Urvin, "Never" - the crackling voice became insidious in tone - "repeat the name of Kwa. You are not one who can safely pronounce the title of the Living Joss!"
The tentacles of Kwa reach out from Chinatown through his agents such as Hugo Urvin. The method is devious. The man takes a tour bus to Chinatown and visits a small Buddha temple. There he will receive a secret message from Kwa. He is given little curio with hundred-dollar bills folded about it. There is a double-thick sheet of wrapping paper which peels apart. A message is written therein. Then, in a short period of time, the paper containing the message disappears in a smokeless flare. Some sort of a magician's flash paper, with a chemical timer.
Apparently these bus tours of Chinatown were quite the thing back in the 1930's and 1940's. It gave customers a thrill to see the Orient up close and personal. The 1949 B-movie "Boston Blackie's Chinese Venture" is a good one to watch, if you'd like to see a typical Chinatown tour of that era. Of course, by 1949 things were much tamer. This 1933 story paints a wilder picture of the Chinatown tour.
The Shadow really has his job cut out for him, here. He must battle the Chinese hoards that Kwa sends against him. He must discover the agents such as Hugo Urvin who have insinuated themselves into polite society. He must uncover the hidden lair of the living joss, and penetrate to the heart of the evil mastermind's headquarters. And he must meet the sinister Kwa in mortal combat. And all in a story of less than 44,000 words.
The Shadow does all this with very little assistance. He does call in two of his agents, Harry Vincent and Clyde Burke, for some minor work. And the police, headed up by Detective Joe Cardona, are of some assistance. But most of the story involves The Shadow in his black-cloaked identity.
The Shadow does get to use a lot of different disguises, in this story. He appeared in at least seven different disguises, by my count. He appears as a calm-faced gentleman in a restaurant booth, who overhears two plotters talking. Later, he is a solemn-faced Chinaman standing in Chinatown. And at least four other times, he follows Hugo Urvin at he takes a Chinatown tour, each time he's disguised differently. Unfortunately, the actual act of donning the disguises is never described. I always liked those other stories that described how he created a disguise for his features.
The Shadow also appears in his oft-used disguise as Lamont Cranston. Usually, when The Shadow take on the Cranston disguise, we assume that the real Cranston is out of the country, but we never know the specifics. I always appreciate it when author Walter Gibson tells us what the real Cranston is up to. And in this story, he does. We're told that the real Lamont Cranston is hunting elephants in the wilds of Nigeria! A nice touch.
There are a few familiar characters who show up in this pulp mystery. Lamont Cranston's two servants, Richards the valet and Stanley the chauffeur, both appear. And both are blissfully ignorant that they serve someone other than their true master. Also in this story are two familiar policemen, detective sergeant Markham and Inspector Timothy Klein.
There are a couple interesting things worthy of note in this tale. The Shadow owns a powerful foreign car that has a right-hand drive. Or maybe it's owned by the real Cranston; it's never made clear. But it does exceed a speed of one hundred and ten miles per hour in one exciting chase. That's pretty fast even by today's standards; imagine how fast that would have been to those living in 1933!
In the Buddhist temple, the living joss Kwa is summoned by striking a gong. But the strange thing is that the gong is soundless. The gong is struck, but no sound emanates. Yes, Kwa appears on his throne in a puff of incense vapors. That's pretty cool! At the end of the story, we are told that the gong is covered by some clear rubbery substance on it's brass face. That explains the soundless part, but it's never explained how Kwa is called from the silenced gong. One of those mysteries of the Orient, I guess.
Another point of interest is the appearance of the devil's whisper. In other stories, it was a strange explosive. The Shadow would smear two separate pastes on his thumb and finger. A finger snap would create a flash of light, a puff of smoke and an explosive clap of thunder. In this story, though, it's a little different. The Shadow has two vials of powder; one grayish, the other black. He mixes the powders and pours a strange liquid on the powders. Within moments, there is a terrific explosion. In this case, it was used to open a sealed door. This seems to be an early version of the devil's whisper, before Gibson came up with a consistent way of describing it.
Even though this is a Chinatown story, there is no mention of the name by which the Chinese know The Shadow. No mention of Ying Ko. That's because in this early story, Walter Gibson had yet to invent that part of The Shadow's background. It would first be mentioned in "The Fate Joss" two years later - the same story that introduced Dr. Roy Tam to pulp readers.
This story gets my strong recommendation. It's easy to get caught up in the story and find your bedtime has long passed. Just wait until you follow The Shadow down the narrow, musty passages under the streets of Chinatown. And witness the evil Kwa release the purplish vapors of death upon all who dare enter his sanctuary. There's no way you can put the story down until you see the resolution to these thrilling events.
The early Shadow stories are undeniably the best. And this is definitely one of them. Plus it's a Chinatown story, which makes it rank even higher among the other Shadow pulp novels. Read this one; you will enjoy it. Trust me!
"Judge Lawless" was originally published in the August 15, 1942 issue of The Shadow Magazine. This judge sits upon a bench of mockery, making ridicule of the court system and the laws of our land. He sits in judgment of a courtroom of evil, and it will take The Shadow's mighty .45's to clear this travesty of justice.
Buried beneath the foundations of an old Manhattan garage, lies a long room with low ceiling and stone walls. This is a mock courtroom where a bowed, crablike figure with powdery gray hair waits on a rough chair at a rickety table. This is Judge Lawless, who sits in justice before benches of outcasts and lawbreakers. He has no respect for the true laws of the land; his is a court of lawbreakers. And Judge Lawless is the greatest lawbreaker in all of New York!
Dave Channey is our proxy hero in this story. Poor innocent Dave has been framed for theft. He's accused of stealing ten thousand dollars from his employer, the wealthy Homer Moyland. Actually, the money was stolen by a man named Delker. Dave knows Delker is the culprit, but can't prove it. And Delker has disappeared.
Dave Channey has joined the band of cutthroats ruled by Judge Lawless. He has followed Delker's trail to this group of thugs, and seeks to ingratiate himself into the gang in order to find Delker and prove his innocence. But once enmeshed within the web of deceit that he himself has spun, he finds it's hard to free himself. Dave is posing as a crook, and must prove himself to Judge Lawless... or else!
This Judge Lawless has appeared seemingly from nowhere to mastermind a recent rash of crimes. Swindles, embezzlements, robberies, even murders. All can be laid at the feet of Judge Lawless. He's the brain behind the crime wave.
The Shadow is on the trail of Judge Lawless, and so it's inevitable that Dave Channey will cross paths with the master of the night. Can young Dave prove to The Shadow that he's not really part of the gang? He wants to, but circumstances seem to conspire against him. And Judge Lawless ups the ante by planning greater and greater crimes, drawing Dave Channey along with him on a crime spree unparalleled in the history of Manhattan.
And let's not forget the romance angle. Homer Moyland has a beautiful young daughter named Elaine. She used to be in love with Dave until he was accused of the theft of her father's ten thousand dollars. Now she'll have nothing to do with him. The Shadow is going to have his hands full setting the romance back on the smooth path, while at the same time thwarting the evil plans of Judge Lawless and exposing him and his gang of crooks.
The Shadow doesn't get to use a variety of disguises in this story. Even though he's a master of disguise, the only one he uses is the old familiar one of Lamont Cranston. Apparently, the real Cranston is out of the country again, and so The Shadow dons the disguise that he's used so often before.
There's quite a roster of secret agents assisting The Shadow, here. There are the usual agents Cliff Marsland, Hawkeye, Moe Shrevnitz, Margo Lane, Burbank, Clyde Burke and Harry Vincent. Plus he brings in a couple lesser-used agents in the persons of Miles Crofton and Jericho Druke.
Yes, Margo Lane's here. She was introduced to the pulp magazine series a year previously, and is a quite capable agent. The Shadow assigns her the task of befriending Elaine Moyland in order to keep an eye on the Moyland estate from the inside. She performs her duties well, as any other agent, and isn't forced into a "damsel in distress" role.
Taxicab drive Moe Shrevnitz is occasionally referred to as Shrevvy, now. This nickname, which I personally prefer to ignore, was introduced at the same time Margo Lane entered the stories. Both were concessions to the radio-listening audience, who had been hearing The Shadow's adventures with Margo and Shrevvy for four years.
Representing the law in this tale are Inspector Joe Cardona and New York Police Commissioner Ralph Weston. At the beginning of our story, Commissioner Weston repeats his long-held belief that The Shadow is just a myth. Of course, he doesn't believe Judge Lawless exists, either. But by story's end, he must admit both are real, when he is saved from Judge Lawless by The Shadow himself. But in future stories, he'll conveniently forget that he personally saw The Shadow and was rescued by him, and he'll again proclaim he doesn't really exist. Such was the nature of the pulps.
When The Shadow visits his sanctum, author Walter Gibson reminds us that this is just one of several sanctums that have existed over time:
"The Shadow's sanctum was a goal that criminals galore had sought to find, and failed. Once they had stormed the older sanctum practically at its owner's invitation, but that was another sanctum and another story.
This sanctum was not only where they couldn't find it, but in a place where they wouldn't dream of looking for it, though it was within a reasonable radius from Manhattan's teeming center, Times Square."
The story that retells how The Shadow's sanctum was invaded was "Crime, Insured" from 1937. The current location of the sanctum is never specified, but is usually believed to be underground.
Vague reference to the war is made. Crooks are scheming to bootleg vital supplies to industries that lack priorities. Because of wartime material shortages, industries received priorities. Those with the highest priorities got the supplies first. Those with lower priorities did without; or the unscrupulous could deal with the black market.
The Devil's Whisper makes an appearance in this story. The Shadow has a secret concoction that he smears on his thumb and second finger. When he snaps his fingers, there is an explosion of heat, light, sound and smoke. I always thought this was really cool, and look forward to stories featuring it. And, remember, it really does exist! But it's very dangerous to use. Magicians have used it for years, but must be exceedingly careful in using just the right amounts. It would be very easy to lose fingers, using this explosive paste.
This story reminds us of a rarely used feature of The Shadow's secret messages to his agents. We all know that the messages are written in a vivid blue ink that disappears shortly after exposure to the air. And we know the messages are written in a code that only the agents can read. But, it is rare that we are told about the special numbering system that The Shadow uses.
In this story, Harry receives a message from The Shadow. He decodes it as he reads it, and then it fades away as usual. Then Harry opens his watch charm and rubs his thumb across a tiny sponge therein. The presses his moistened thumb to a corner of the now-blank paper, and a special code appears briefly and then also disappears.
This is the method that The Shadow uses to keep track of messages to his agents. If, for example, Harry were to receive messages "DC 1," DC 2," and DC 4," he would know that one message was missing, and had likely been intercepted by some enemy.
So, fight along with The Shadow as he confronts the most amazing master mind who has ever written himself into the annals of modern crime: The Dishonorable Judge Lawless!
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.