John Olsen Reviews the Stories in The Shadow #55
Review written and copyrighted by John Olsen; used with permission
"The Green Hoods" was originally published in the August 15, 1938 issue of The Shadow Magazine. The Green Hoods is a secret society of twelve robed and hooded men. No one member knows the identity of the others. No one, that is, but Member Number 1, the founder of the organization. If he were to die, their identities would remain forever hidden. And thus, a sinister plan begins to form...
Kent Allard, the famous aviator who we know to be the true identity of The Shadow, has received a mysterious invitation to join The Green Hoods. He has received an envelope containing a disk of green jade. The thin half-dollar-sized object is blank except for the number 13 carved in the center of one side. That, plus a written invitation in green, is the only contents of the envelope.
The Shadow is intrigued. He knows not from whom it came. This is his first knowledge of an organization known as The Green Hoods. Is this an organization devoted to good or evil? The invitation gives no clue. So he decides to secretly attend the meeting in order to determine their motives. What a great start to a great Shadow mystery! But wait! There's more!
In a windowless, hidden, basement room of a deserted old theater, The Green Hoods meet. The Shadow stealthily enters unannounced, and spies on the meeting. There he sees a group of night riders, clad in green gathered about a circular table in the center of a square-walled room. Each is wearing a green robe with a cowl-like hood. The drawn hoods come below their chins, with almond-shaped eye slits and narrow mouth spaces that give no glimpses of the faces that lay behind them.
Although their identities are unknown, Member 1 is revealed to be an inventor who has perfected the Truth Inducer, a strange combination of mechanism and chemical formulas. This invention, as the name implies, will force anyone to tell the truth, regardless of their intent.
Think what this could mean for law enforcement! No more third-degree. Criminals could be made to tell the truth about their crimes. But also think what this invention could mean for crimedom! Gangsters could use it to easily gain access to the combinations of safes and vaults. They could use it on each other to determine the identity of a suspected snitch. They could even use it to reveal the secret hiding places of fellow-gangsters' stolen millions. Yes, this invention could be used for good... or evil!
Member 1 spreads out the plans for the Truth Inducer on the table. There is a sudden bright flash which blinds everyone, including The Shadow. In their blinded darkness, there is a gunshot. Member 1 is killed, and the invention is stolen by a mysterious hooded member. Someone - some member of the Green Hoods - has stolen both the Truth Inducer and the secret plans!
The Shadow must find the murderer! The Shadow must determine the legitimacy of the secret organization. The Shadow must reclaim the lost invention that could revolutionize the fight against crime. The Shadow must find the identity of Member 1. And The Shadow must unmask the other anonymous members of The Green Hoods.
Whew, it's quite a task for The Shadow. But he's up to it, with the assistance of his faithful agents. Appearing in this story, to assist him, are his contact man Burbank, ace cab driver Moe Shrevnitz, crime reporter Clyde Burke, and the best tracker in the business, Hawkeye. Also aiding The Shadow is his personal physician Doctor Rupert Sayre, in a brief appearance. The forces of the law here are Inspector Joe Cardona and Police Commissioner Ralph Weston. The Shadow appears in his true identity as Kent Allard, although he also appears briefly in disguise as millionaire-clubman Lamont Cranston, and police-station janitor Fritz.
This story quickly recaps the true identity of The Shadow. We're told he's Kent Allard, famous aviator. Following a plane wreck in the Guatemalan jungles, Allard lived there among the members of a lost Xinca tribe, presumably for ten years. These men regarded Allard as the equivalent of an Aztec god, and when he returned to Manhattan ten years later, two Xincas came with him as his faithful servitors. We're told that, in truth, Allard left Guatemala much earlier and returned to New York to fight crime as The Shadow while he, as Allard, was still believed to be missing in the jungles of Central America.
It was three years yet before Walter Gibson would introduce Margo Lane to the pulp stories of The Shadow. But when occasion required it, he would introduce a plucky female protagonist as needed. In this story, it's Evelyn Rayle, who at first traps The Shadow and then assists him after recognizing him to be a friend. She plays a large and important part in the story, which may have helped pave the way for the eventual introduction of Margo Lane.
In this story we see many of the little bits that made The Shadow stories famous. There's the sanctum - the black-walled room where blue light provides the only illumination. There's The Shadow's writing in vivid blue that fades as it is exposed to the air. And there's the ever-changing colors of The Shadow's girasol ring - a ring he uses with Evelyn Rayle as a means of identification.
This is a great story filled with sinister death traps, strange and mysterious inventions, and the unknown secret society known as The Green Hoods.
"Silver Skull" was originally published in the January 1, 1939 issue of The Shadow Magazine. Airplanes are disappearing over the Rockies, along with passengers of wealth. The evil master mind behind these crimes is a sinister figure known as Silver Skull. It will take all the power of The Shadow to defeat this madman.
This is one slam-bang story that takes us to different locales: the deserts, the mountains, the cities. We have adventures on trains, in planes and in the underworld. The Shadow appears as both Lamont Cranston and Kent Allard, all in a herculean effort to defeat the unknown criminal who goes by the name Silver Skull.
In recent weeks, men of vast fortunes have disappeared while flying west. Their planes have disappeared along with the passengers. After exhaustive search, the wreckage of the planes was found, the passengers burned beyond all recognition. And suspiciously, the heirs to the fortunes all seem to have dropped out of sight, as well. This catches the attention of The Shadow.
It began with Carter Gurry, a wealthy Californian who had died in the first crash. His wealth had gone to a cousin in California. A cousin who promptly set out for Australia and couldn't be contacted. Roy Breck was the second crash victim. He had been traveling west to marry a girl in Arizona. His death placed his entire fortune in the hands of a high-living brother. The brother, like Gurry's cousin, promptly dropped out of sight.
And now, there's a new victim. Herbert Wilbin has just been reported as missing along with his plane. He has two heirs, a niece Mildred and a nephew Roger. Roger is to receive the majority of the estate. And this is where The Shadow steps in.
The Shadow sends Mildred to a lodge on a Connecticut lake, to stay under an assumed name. He intends to keep her safe from harm while there incognito. But what The Shadow doesn't know is that powers of evil have stepped in to kidnap Mildred and keep her hidden prisoner in some unknown location.
Taking part in the kidnapping of Mildred Wilbin is one Thelma Royce. She is one bad villainess. Usually author Walter Gibson avoided female villains. Alternate Shadow author Theodore Tinsley made the "bad girls" a common occurrence in his stories, but for Gibson, this was a rare exception to the rule. Thelma Royce is evil, through and through. She drugs her victims with a hypodermic filled with some foul substance. She is the equal of any crook in her abilities as a marksman, and engages The Shadow in a gun duel that comes mighty close to filling him with lead. Yes, she's one tough babe!
So what's really going on with the deaths, disappearances and kidnappings? Well, it all starts with this strange criminal mastermind known as Silver Skull. He has a huge criminal organization behind him. His token is a small figurine of a silver skull, small enough to rest in the palm of your hand. His minions identify themselves to each other by means of a secret password: one says "Silver" and the other replies "Skull."
As we soon learn, Silver Skull is responsible for the crashed airliners. The scheme is clever. First he kidnaps wealthy men, and replaces them with duplicates. Those duplicates board the airliners, with no one the wiser. Silver Skull, being an ace pilot, shoots down the airliners from his attack plane. Since the bodies are burned beyond recognition, everyone believes the wealthy men to be dead. But in reality, Silver Skull is keeping them alive and prisoner in his underground headquarters out in the desert.
Silver Skull makes deals with the shifty relatives of those wealthy men, and receives a large share of their inheritances. If they balk or get out of line, he has the actual men alive that he can use as leverage. He can produce them, if necessary, and strip the unscrupulous heirs of their wealth. They fall into line, and he reaps millions.
Walter Gibson needed several female protagonists in this story. The character of Margo Lane had yet to be introduced into the series, so he created two other proxy-heroines. Mildred Wilbin, niece to the kidnapped Herbert Wilbin, is one of the two. She appears early on and is then kidnapped. Later The Shadow frees her and she joins in the action. The second proxy heroine is Geraldine Murton, stewardess on the airline in which The Shadow flies. She appears half-way through the story, and assists The Shadow in the latter half of the tale.
There is some implied romance between Geraldine Murton and Lamont Cranston. In one scene, they spend the night in a railroad boxcar as it carries them across country. "The girl was asleep, her blonde head resting comfortably on Cranston's shoulder, while his arm, encircling her snuggled body." At story's end, she looks back wistfully at her encounter with Cranston. Walter Gibson tells us that "she hadn't forgotten that day when they had trekked across the mountain slopes; a day, that to her present recollection, had been much too short."
It should also be pointed out that Geraldine learns The Shadow's secret identity as Lamont Cranston. And as out story concludes, she still has that knowledge. She isn't killed off. She makes no promises to keep silent. Apparently, she goes on to live happily ever after with that secret. But she'll keep The Shadow's secret, I'm guessing, because of the hinted romance.
But what about Thelma Royce? She's one nasty villainess who also learns that Lamont Cranston is really The Shadow in disguise. And at the end of the tale, she is in police custody, but alive. She has seen beneath the slouch hat and knows that Cranston is the man beneath the cloak. Yet she goes to jail with that knowledge intact. Seems like The Shadow should be a little worried about who she might tell while in the big house. But apparently, he doesn't.
Silver Skull also learns the identity of The Shadow. The "Cranston" identity, not his true identity of Kent Allard. At the story's climax, Silver Skull dies in a hail of bullets, so he can't reveal that secret to anyone else. It seems like a lot of people are learning the connection between The Shadow and Lamont Cranston in this story. But at least this one won't be spilling the beans to anyone.
It's nice to see both Kent Allard and Lamont Cranston in the same story. This isn't the "real" Lamont Cranston, naturally. He's conveniently out of the country. This Cranston is really The Shadow in disguise. When he appears as Kent Allard, of course, it's no disguise. Allard is his true identity. He's the aviator with the singular career that Walter Gibson summarizes thus: "Years ago, he had had a forced landing in Guatemala, where he had become the white god of a tribe of Xinca Indians."
The Shadow receives assistance from various agents in this adventure. Contact man Burbank is present and assists in passing messages between master and agents. Harry Vincent appears near the beginning of the story as he watches over Mildred Wilbin. When Mildred starts on her trip to Connecticut, she's followed by a taxi driven by an agent of The Shadow. Although unnamed, this is undoubtedly Moe Shrevnitz.
Dr. Rupert Sayre isn't exactly an agent, but he is physician to The Shadow and knows that beneath the black cloak and slouch hat often lays the disguised face of Lamont Cranston. The Shadow really gets knocked around in this story, so Dr. Sayre's appearance is necessary.
In one scene, The Shadow is trapped in an underground hideout. The room is filled with explosive gas. Sparks ignite the gas, and the entire building above comes crashing down. Somehow, The Shadow miraculously escapes. But he's bloody and nearly unconscious. This seems like a perfect opportunity to pull out that vial of purplish liquid which can give him a special boost of vitality. But for some reason Walter Gibson ignores that unique fluid.
Later, in rescuing the kidnapped Mildred, The Shadow is shot and looses a considerable amount of blood. He finds himself weakened. Another perfect opportunity for the purplish liquid to revive him. But again, Gibson refrains from introducing it. It seems he was phasing out that strange fluid. Gibson had used it in twenty Shadow novels previously, the most recent having been just a few months earlier in "Death Jewels." But following this story, he would only use the purplish liquid one more time. The Shadow imbibes that reviving potion one final time in 1942's "Trail of Vengeance." Then it would be mentioned no more.
Some of the best scenes in this story are the airplane duels. We see Silver Skull in his silver pursuit plane, bristling with armaments. He wears a silver helmet. On his plane is painted a black triangle and a silver skull. Then we see Kent Allard in his airplane, painted with a black hawk against a golden circle. The two engage in thrilling battle over the desert.
Then let's not forget the exciting climax to the novel in which The Shadow pilots his wingless autogiro and engages Silver Skull in a battle to the death. It all takes place in upstate New York above a strange secret base with a hidden airfield. Trees are mounted on tractor treads, and at night they are drawn back to clear a landing field for Silver Skull. Pretty clever, this Silver Skull guy. But he can't outwit The Shadow. And he can't outfly The Shadow either, as he finds out to his regret.
There were lots of little cool touches in this story. We get a visit to The Shadow's sanctum, hidden somewhere in the heart of New York. Our one clew: it's in a rather dingy neighborhood. And inside the sanctum, The Shadow's strange clock is briefly mentioned. For a fuller description, read "The Red Blot" from 1933.
Also inside the sanctum is a card sorting machine. The Shadow takes a stack of several hundred file cards and drops them into the machine. He adjusts the controls, and the cards sort according to his specification, rejecting all the cards but one. It sounds somewhat familiar, like the punch cards used by computers in the 1960's and 1970's. Yes, The Shadow was a man of technology and gadgets. Not as much as Doc Savage, of course. But still, he had his share.
The only other gadget mentioned in this story is a special radio apparatus that The Shadow hides in the crooks' transport plane. The automatic radio pulses will help him track the plane, later. Although The Shadow wasn't known for using a lot of gadgets, he wasn't adverse to using them when necessary.
It was certainly unusual to see The Shadow's secret identity discovered three times in the same story. And one of those was by a female villain, another Gibson rarity. Thelma Royce lived at the story's end, but The Shadow wouldn't have hesitated to shoot her if the occasion had arisen. That's right, The Shadow would have shot a woman! In one scene, during a heated gunbattle in which Thelma is taking part, we are told that The Shadow fully intended to shoot her as soon as he removed a crook in his path. It didn't happen, because of a shift of thugs, but he was ready and willing to plug her with his .45 automatics. And that's most noteworthy.
This is one of my favorite Shadow stories. I really loved it, with its detailed air battle sequences. The swooping airplanes; the sound of machine guns. And the final climax with The Shadow in his black autogiro, shooting it out with ace pilot Silver Skull. Wow! This is one to read.
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.