John Olsen Reviews the Stories in The Shadow #85
Review written and copyrighted by John Olsen; used with permission
“Masters of Death” was published in the May 15, 1940 issue of The Shadow Magazine. Shiwan Khan, the ultimate nemesis of The Shadow, returns with even grander plans than before. He will expand the criminal empires of America until they completely take over the government, and crime will rule the nation. He knows that only one man can stop him, and that man - The Shadow - must die!
This is the fourth and final entry in the infamous Shiwan Khan series. It began with 1939's "The Golden Master" and finally ends up here nine months later with the ultimate battle between the forces of good, as exemplified by The Shadow, and the forces of evil, as represented by Shiwan Khan. It's a battle that ends in utter defeat for the supervillain. It's not giving anything away to say that this story culminates in Shiwan Khan's gristly, horrible death.
Three times previously, Shiwan Khan, direct descendant of the great Genghis Khan, had come to America. First, he had sought planes and munitions for use in world-wide conquest. The Shadow defeated him. Next, he had tried to acquire important inventions, useful in warfare. Again he was thwarted by The Shadow. A third time he returned. Shiwan Khan influenced persons of genius to return with him to Xanadu, there to form the nucleus of a future race that would dominate the world through sheer intelligence.
But The Shadow now had evidence to prove that Shiwan Khan's great dream of the future had not worked as the Golden Master anticipated. True, Shiwan Khan's followers had received the gold and jewels they were promised. And they were trained in the mystic ways. But the training became more and more difficult, even sadistic, until the once-faithful finally had had enough. As soon as Shiwan Khan left Xanadu for his fourth sojourn to America, they abandoned the city and left Tibet.
In China, they met world-traveler Lamont Cranston - the genuine Lamont Cranston, not The Shadow in disguise - who had been send by The Shadow to seek Shiwan Khan's victims. Cranston gave them aid, and sent them home to America by plane. Meanwhile, Shiwan Khan was returning to America to put into action a new plan. A great plan to include the death of The Shadow!
As our story opens, Shiwan Khan enters the country hidden inside the silver coffin of Temujin, the true name of Genghis Khan, great warlord of the Middle Ages. If that sounds like a scene from the 1994 "Shadow" movie, it is. There are many scenes in this pulp story that made it into the movie; this is one of them.
The silver coffin is smuggled out of China, because of fears that the invading Japanese might capture it. This is in reference to the current world situation and the developing war - the early stages of World War II. The coffin is delivered to The Oriental Museum, and once there, Shiwan Khan takes mental control of the guard and lures him to his death. Death by the enchanted knife known as a phurba. This should also be familiar to viewers of the motion picture.
Isaac Newbold, curator of the museum, decides to call upon Lamont Cranston for help, since he is a world traveler acquainted with the mystic doctrines of Tibet. Cranston - actually The Shadow in disguise, this time - and Inspector Joe Cardona show up to examine the now-empty coffin. Or is it empty? When it's opened, a flashing blade of steel comes from inside. Only The Shadow's fast action saves Cardona. But lying inside the metal casket is the body of Kent, the guard. And the knife? Yes, it's a phurba - an enchanted blade that can supposedly fling itself from any hand - even a dead one!
Shiwan Khan has made good his escape. His plan is to make his visit to American a permanent one. And his first order of business is to telephone Lamont Cranston and give an ultimatum. Shiwan Khan knows the real identity of the person who poses as Lamont Cranston. And with his knowledge of Tibetan ways, The Shadow is a natural obstacle to the plans of Shiwan Khan. The Shadow is told to continue with his original plans to take a trip to Tibet. With his identity exposed and his agents at risk, The Shadow agrees.
But The Shadow's real plan is to disappear as Cranston, and fight on under his true identity. Kent Allard will replace Cranston. And it will now be The Shadow alone, fighting against the most evil man alive. He calls Burbank and orders all agents off duty. There must be no possibility of Shiwan Khan tracking agents of The Shadow to Kent Allard. The Kent Allard personae must be preserved at all costs, for there is no backup identity for The Shadow.
Alone, The Shadow takes on the gangs of New York, as they all fall under the rule of the Golden Master, Shiwan Khan. Shiwan Khan has lined up the notorious men of crime, big shots who had been idle in recent months. These become willing lieutenants for the Golden Master. Not only must The Shadow fight the combined might of New York's gangs, he must fight the sinister minions of Shiwan Khan: the snaky naljorpas with their strange abilities to deliver numbing electrical shocks, the huge Mongol fighters who consider death a privilege and the dubchens: the higher class of skilled wizards who could strike at a distance with hailstorms, floods and even avalanches. But eventually, he must face the tulku - the master - himself: Shiwan Khan!
The Shadow receives very little assistance in his battle to the death with the Golden Master. Taxi-driver Moe Shrevnitz shows up in several scenes, but is absent for most of the story. Physician Rupert Sayre appears briefly. And contact man Burbank finally gets an active assignment. He gets to leave his stuffy room where he usually sits wearing headphones, keeping agents in contact with their master. Yes, The Shadow has need of his special services, and Burbank finally gets to stretch his legs.
Police Commissioner Ralph Weston and Inspector Joe Cardona appear representing the law. Sergeant Markham assists Cardona as they try to stem the tide of crime created by Shiwan Khan.
The Shadow appears at the beginning of the story as Lamont Cranston. Later he drops that disguise and appears as the celebrated aviator Kent Allard. But by now, few persons remember Kent Allard, much less recognize him as he walks the streets. Now he's a forgotten hero, a gaunt man assisted by his two Xincan servants, leaning heavily on a cane. And The Shadow also appears at the police station in the disguise of Fritz, the dull-witted janitor. But for most of the story, he appears as the master of the night in cloak of black, slouch hat and gloves.
According to this story, several people are beginning to sense a connection between Lamont Cranston and The Shadow. Museum curator Isaac Newbold links them in some fashion. It never occurs to him that Lamont Cranston is a guise adopted by The Shadow, but still somehow he feels the connection. Dr. Rupert Sayre, on the other hand, finally puts two and two together. Although he had worked for The Shadow for a long time before this, he had always suspected The Shadow to be Cranston. Now it dawns upon him that it's just the exact opposite. He doesn't know who The Shadow really is, but he knows it's not Lamont Cranston. Instead, The Shadow just sometimes appears disguised as Lamont Cranston.
Shiwan Khan has some pretty potent powers in this story. He makes mental contact with his minions, talking telepathically over great distances nearly as easily as if using a telephone. He controls the phurba, the knife that "seemingly" has a life of its own. He controls the eel-like electrical powers to numb his victims. He can exercise clairvoyant powers; the ability to see distant scenes. He can create a tulpa, an illusion forced into the minds of is victims so that they see what isn't really there. And most amazing of all, he has the ability to control the dead, albeit in a limited way. He can control a rolang, known as the "corpse that dances," to give a dead man the appearance of life. Yes, Shiwan Khan is definitely powerful. The most powerful foe ever to confront The Shadow!
It's interesting to note the method of Shiwan Khan's mind control in the four stories. In the first one, he used flashing colored lights to synchronize his mind with that of his victim. In the second, he used sounds. Common rhythmic sounds linked his mind to others. The third story used odors to create the mermeric bond. In this story, Shiwan Khan goes back to the old flashing lights to communicate mentally with the bosses of crimedom, who have become his lieutenants. And in one scene, he needs no external assistance at all. When he first appears in the story and emerges from the silver coffin of Temujin, he merely concentrates and sends out a mental order to the guard in the museum basement.
The one disappointment in this story is that The Shadow doesn't demonstrate any mystical abilities of his own. Shiwan Khan gets to do all the cool stuff. It is mentioned, here as well as in the previous stories, that The Shadow knows about the mystic abilities taught by the llamas of Tibet, and supposedly he even possesses those powers. But we never see him use them. Not once does he try telepathy, or use the electric "shugs" of the naljorpas, or create the illusionary tulpa or attempt control over a rolang. Nothing. Which is confusing to me. If The Shadow really has these powers, it would seem that this encounter would be the one in which to use them. If not now, when he is pitted against his most powerful adversary ever, then when?
Luckily, though, The Shadow can fight the mysticism of Shiwan Khan with the aide of Marpa Tulku. Marpa Tulku is a Tibetan mystic who has come from the Orient to assist in the defeat of Shiwan Khan. He wields many of the same powers as does the Golden Master, and he isn't shy about using them. So although The Shadow doesn't get to show off his psychic abilities in this story, he does enlist the mystic aid of Marpa Tulku. In most Shadow stories, our hero fights alone with the assistance of his agents. This story is singular in that The Shadow now has the assistance of someone who is his equal in the secret arts of the Orient.
Marpa Tulku, by the way, is one of the very few people who knows the true identity of The Shadow. He knows that under the black cloak and slouch hat is the man the world knows as Kent Allard. Only Allard's two Xinca servants are privy to this hidden knowledge. That makes Marpa Tulku a very special personage, indeed. Too bad he never appeared in any further Shadow stories. But this was his one and only appearance.
There are wonderful death traps in this story. There's the movable steel shield mounted on rubber tires, with a machine gun poked through a small hole in the center, that traps The Shadow in a marble hallway with no escape. There's the trapdoor that drops The Shadow to a cement basement four floors below. And wait until you see The Shadow in Shiwan Khan's snake temple, entangled in the coils of a forty-foot-long python! Yes, The Shadow has his hands full in this adventure.
One note of interest. In this story we again see the interesting flashlight belonging to The Shadow. It's tiny but strong, and has several colored lenses with which he sends signals to his agents. He can flash red, green or white light. It's something that appears occasionally in The Shadow's stories, but not often enough. And it deserves mention.
I've always wondered if author Walter Gibson had planned on bring back Shiwan Khan for additional stories. There was a slight loophole left in his death, one that I suspect Gibson put there on purpose. It wouldn't have been the first time Gibson had resurrected a favorite villain. In the 1936 story, "The Voodoo Master" we see the evil Doctor Rodil Mocquino go to a watery death at story's end. Yet Gibson resurrected him two months later in "The City of Doom." And two years later, he returned once again in "Voodoo Trail." And all because of a slight loophole left in the climax of "The Voodoo Master."
It wouldn't surprise me if Walter Gibson intentionally inserted a similar loophole in this story's ending. If you read this story, pay particular attention to the ending. We see Shiwan Khan lock himself inside the silver coffin of Temujin, a piece of his robe still hanging outside. But then The Shadow turns away, to redirect Inspector Cardona and the police. There is a terrific blast of explosive in the basement. When The Shadow turns around again, the silver coffin has been hurled by the blast, outward through a wall. The scrap of golden cloth still shows in the closed lid, but is this a ruse? Did someone else replace Shiwan Khan while The Shadow's back was turned?
The burning floor collapses, and the coffin falls through to the fiery pit below. The Shadow sees the coffin lid flop open and a writhing figure in a gold robe fall from the silver coffin into the conflagration. We all assume this was Shiwan Khan. But what if...? What if there had been a substitution while The Shadow's back was turned? What if the writhing body dressed in gold was someone else, other than Shiwan Khan? What if Shiwan Khan actually escaped?
If you read the last page of the story carefully, you'll see that Gibson left a loophole, here. Was it intentional? Did he plan to bring back Shiwan Khan in another story, someday? Or was it simply an accident? It's my opinion that this was no accident. Walter Gibson was too careful, too meticulous. I believe that he intentionally left a way for him to bring back The Shadow's ultimate nemesis. But, of course as we know, he never did. And that's too bad, because this is one villain of whom I'd like to see more.
In my mind and in the fictional world of The Shadow, I believe that Shiwan Khan still lives. With his amazing power to prolong the life expectancy to several hundred years, Shiwan Khan would still be living today. Somewhere in Tibet, in his underground city of Xanadu, Shiwan Khan still concocts his evil plots. We haven't heard the end of Shiwan Khan!
My recommendation? Read all four of these novels. And save this one until last. Save the best till last. See Shiwan Khan finally receive his just rewards at the hands of The Shadow. See The Shadow enter into the most difficult battle he ever encountered - a mystic battle against the oriental powers of the Golden Master himself!
And when you're done, see if it doesn't leave you wanting more. And believing that maybe... just maybe... Shiwan Khan didn't perish in that burning building.
“Voodoo Death” was published in the June 1944 issue of The Shadow Magazine. Professor MacAbre is his name, and death by voodoo is his trade. All to acquire the famous Tarn Emerald. Famous, but cursed. It will take The Shadow to break the power of this voodoo master.
Everything in this story revolves around the Tarn Emerald. The original owner was a man named Tarn who brought the emerald from Colombia. He was washed overboard from the schooner that was taking him to New York. The curse had begun! Within a few months, the man who inherited it was also dead. And as the emerald was passed down through the years from one Tarn to the next, the curse was passed down as well.
After the death of the current owner of the emerald, Doctor Gregg Henniman, curator of the International Museum, has inherited the stone worth a half-million dollars. There are five potential heirs: Gregg Henniman, curator; Rex Tarn, a once-wealthy playboy; Alexander Tarn, his somewhat unfriendly cousin; Wildred "Big Sugar" Walden, wealthy importer, and artist Lee Selfkirk. Only the eldest will inherit the valuable jewel, and that is Doctor Gregg Henniman.
The fabulous gem is delivered to the museum for Dr. Henniman, but he falls victim to an accident and is killed. Killed literally by a fall; a fall from the top of the marble staircase at the museum. The curse of the Tarn Emerald has stuck again! Or was it a different kind of curse? A voodoo curse?
Someone has visited the high priest of voodoo known as Professor MacAbre, and paid him ten-thousand dollars to craft a voodoo doll in the likeness of Gregg Henniman. A voodoo doll that was then broken in half, just as the broken body of Dr. Henniman was later found at the base of the museum stairway. This mysterious person wanted to kill the heir to the Tarn Emerald, but wasn't trusting to the alleged curse on the gem. If such a curse exists, it would work too slowly. Professor MacAbre's unknown visitor wished to speed things up, and ensure Harriman's death with a voodoo curse. And it has apparently worked.
Next in line to inherit the Tarn Emerald is Big Sugar Walden, the sugar importer. But will he live long enough to enjoy its beauty? Not if the mystery man has anything to say about it. Another trip to Professor MacAbre's little room behind the antique shop is in order. This time, another waxen figure has been fashioned; one that is a likeness of Wildred Walden, the new owner of the emerald. Another ten-thousand dollars exchanges hands, and the hands of the unknown man press a sharp pin through its heart.
Will Wildred "Big Sugar" Walden fall victim to this new voodoo curse? And if so, who will be next? Who is behind the sinister voodoo murders? And is it truly voodoo, or is there a rational explanation for it all? Only The Shadow can answer these perplexing questions. Only The Shadow has the power to overcome the powers of voodoo as he must confront Professor MacAbre and a new waxen figure made to resemble... The Shadow himself!
Assisting The Shadow in this tale of voodoo curses are his two faithful agents Margo Lane and Moe Shrevnitz. Taxi-drive Moe is only referred to as "Shrevvy" in this story, which is unfortunate. But it's a sign of the times; more and more as the years began to pass, he would suffer the indignity of losing his actual identity to his nickname. None of The Shadow's other agents appear or are even mentioned. Not even Burbank, who usually rated at least a passing reference.
Police Commissioner Ralph Weston and Inspector Joe Cardona appear briefly at the end of the story, just to help mop up the entire gang involved with Professor MacAbre. But their role is small and perfunctory. Most of the action is taken up by The Shadow, both in his black-cloaked form and his Lamont Cranston disguise.
This story makes one harken back to the three "Voodoo Master" novels of 1936 and 1938 that featured the master villain Doctor Rodil Mocquino. But those three novels were on a larger scale; this one is much smaller. In those three earlier stories, Doctor Mocquino actually did control some strange powers and had grand schemes to use them to control a large empire. In this later voodoo tale, Professor MacAbre actually controls no special powers; it's all done by trickery. And he seeks not to control an empire, but only wishes to obtain a single, albeit valuable, gemstone. Our villain in this 1944 story has fewer powers and seeks less reward, but it all still makes for an interesting Shadow novel.
Some "Zombie plants" are mentioned in this story. They are said to be related to the "century plants" which bloom once every hundred years. And the aroma they release is said to drug those who inhale it, giving them little power over their own actions. At least according to this story. And in the story, Margo Lane gets a good whiff of them, to her later dismay.
Also, according to this story, the zombie plants help explain the myth of zombies in places such as Haiti. They are not actual walking dead, but rather persons under the influence of the zombie plants. Makes me wonder if there's any truth to this. Even a small shred. Or is it completely a fabrication of Walter Gibson? Any botanists out there care to comment?
Apparently, the evil Professor MacAbre has an interesting sideline. In addition to his voodoo rites, he also specializes in disposing of dead bodies. He dips them in bronze, and then exports the "statues" thus created. Of course, for some strange reason, the shipments never arrive at their far-flung destinations. They all mysteriously are washed overboard before reaching port, thanks to his paid thugs.
In one of the neat death traps in this story, The Shadow slips headlong down a steep slippery slide that leads directly into Professor MacAbre's molten cauldron of bronze. There's no way to stop his rapid descent. He seems doomed for sure. How does he escape? You'll just have to read the story!
The unique "theremin" is mentioned in this story. It's a strange musical instrument invented in the early part of the century that creates music by moving one's hands between two antennae. You'll hear that wavery electronic music in some classic science-fiction films. In this story, it's used as a short-wave control mechanism. Walter Gibson was apparently fascinated by this instrument, because he mentioned it again less than a year later in the 1945 story "Five Keys To Crime."
This story is a bit shorter than the earlier Shadow novels. It's under 33,000 words, which was becoming more and more the norm by 1944. The earlier stories, by comparison were usually in the 45,000 word range.
But it's still an interesting story in the career of The Shadow, and one well worth reading.