Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Hand is now Fingerless

Read/Watch ‘em in order #10

Realm of Doom, from The Shadow Magazine—February 1, 1939.

There’s still one member of the Hand at large and this guy’s particular brand of villainy once again takes the Shadow out of New York City. This time, the crime-fighter travels to a desolate coal mining region in West Virginia.

The bad guy’s name is Thumb Gaudrey. And, by the way, on a scale of 1 to 10, exactly how embarrassed should I be that I didn’t notice that the various leaders of the Hand were named after specific fingers--Pinky, Ring, Long, Pointer and Thumb--until I got to the last entry in the series?

Don’t answer that. I don’t want to talk about it.

Thumb has set up a kidnapping ring. When the story opens, he’s already snatched a couple of people and collected ransoms, though he hasn’t yet released any of his victims.

He and his gang have pulled the kidnapping jobs in different areas of the country. Between this and a well-hidden underground lair, the police haven’t yet realized that there is a kidnapping ring.

But one of the victims—also one of the most fun one-off characters writer Walter Gibson ever came up with—is Professor Felix Dort. The good professor pretends to be ineffectually eccentric, but he’s actually come up with a very clever method of sneaking messages out of the underground lair.

This puts the Shadow on the trail. He saves a woman from kidnappers—not once, but twice—before discovering that the bad guys are planning on snatching a literal bus load of millionaires.

But even the Shadow can be overconfident—he expects to stop the kidnappers only to end up (in his usual Lamont Cranston disguise) to be among those kidnapped. But with a little help from Felix Dort, he might just turn the table on the scoundrels.

It’s yet another fun, fast-moving novel. Most of the Shadow’s adventures are urban, so those times he’s taken out into the country always make for a nice change-of-pace. Gibson handles the action set-pieces with his usual skill, especially the final combination hand-to-hand/gun battle between the Shadow and the three top bad guys.

The plot unfolds nicely, with the Shadow and his agent Harry Vincent both doing some sharp detective work to find the underground lair. And, as I mentioned before, Felix Dort is a great character—a guy who essentially pretends to be the stereotypical absent-minded professor while all the time running various cons on his captors.

So which of the five Hand novels was the best? All are well-plotted. The rapid plot twists that come so fast and furious at the end of Chicago Crime probably make for the most entertaining moments in the series. But I think I would go with Crime Rides the Sea as my overall favorite, with its truly exciting fight scenes and its great use of so many of the Shadow’s agents, such as Jericho Druke bowling over two thugs by throwing a STOVE at them. Realm of Doom, though, ranks a very close second, giving us the Shadow as (however briefly) a helpless captive and the not-quite-as-eccentric-as-he-seems Professor Dort helping to save the day.

That’s it for these particular Shadow novels. As I mentioned when we discussed the last Invisible Man film, I’m going to be covering Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Pellucidar novels (which will also give us a look at Tarzan of the Apes in a cross-over novel). In addition to that, I think we’ll take a look at the original Flash Gordon serials with Buster Crabbe. So we’ll be traveling both to the Earth’s core and to the planet Mongo. Be sure to bring your cameras and check that your vaccinations are up-to-date.

So, for the time being, we leave the Shadow. But he’ll be back. Whenever villainy is afoot, the Shadow will always be there.

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