Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Monster Society of Evil--Parts 1-5

The first and still arguably the best superhero serial was 1941's The Adventures of Captain Marvel, with a fun story, great special effects, and some tense cliffhangers. And it might have been the success of the serial that convinced writer Otto Binder and artist C.C. Beck give the format a try within the pages of Captain Marvel Adventures. What they come up with is one of the classic stories of the Golden Age.

"The Monster Society of Evil" is epic in scale, full of Binder's quirky humor and sense of adventure, all supported by Beck's perfect artwork. It brings all of Captain Marvel's arch enemies into one single plot to help the Axis win World War II--all of whom are being commanded by a new extra-terrestrial villain known as Mr. Mind.

Who is Mr. Mind? Well, most readers interested in my blog almost certainly know already, but imagine how much of a surprise and a delight he must have been to young readers in 1943. I don't think there had ever been a villain quite like him. There probably hasn't been a villain quite like him since.

It all began in Captain Marvel Adventures #22 (March 1943) and would run for two years and 25 chapters before coming to an end. It opens with a princess from India delivering one of two magical black pearls to the Allies. Put the pearls together and you can "pick up scenes and voices from anywhere," making it a valuable espionage tool.

The princess is promptly kidnapped by Captain Nazi and taken to India to recover the other pearl. Captain Marvel pursues. This starts a fast moving series of adventures. Soon, Captain Nazi is captured, but another villain Ibac gets away with the pearls.

Ibac is a great idea for a bad guy. He's normally an elderly and wimpy criminal named Stinky Printwhistle. But after a deal with the devil, he can say the name Ibac and become a super-strong man with the power of flight.

Ibac, by the way, comes from Ivan the Terrrible (terror); Cesare Borgia (cunning); Atilla the Hun (Fierceness); and Caligula (cruelity).

This moves the action to North Africa, where Ibac plans to sabotage the Allied military there. Captain Marvel puts the kibosh on this, but the pearls are aquired by Nippo, a Japanese spy. This brings the action of Hawaii, where Nippo tries to destroy Pearl Harbor by activating a dormant volcano. The spy is soon caught and Captain Marvel recovers the pearls.

But Mr. Mind and the other villains are still out there somewhere. Dr. Sivana pops up next, using a huge machine to alter the Earth's axis and bring on a new Ice Age. Using the pearls to track the mad scientist down, Captain Marvel destroys the machine. In a wonderful plot twist, Marvel belatedly realizes only then that he has to repair the machine and run it backwards to put the Earth back where it belongs.

By now, Captain Marvel knows that the mysterious Mr. Mind is running the show from behind the scenes. He tracks the villain to a dead planet located near the Moon. Marvel flies there and confronts Mr. Mind--who is an alien creature with a goat head.

 Except he's not--that's just a minion into whom Mr. Mind projected his consciousness. The real Mr. Mind is a robot.

Oops. No he's not. That's another minion. He must be this hideous octopus creature. No, perhaps he's this super-strong humanoid (with whom Marvel has an epic fight that destroys Mr. Mind's base).

No, he's not ANY of them! The real Mr. Mind escapes in a space ship to continue his villainous schemes. So Marvel still has no idea who Mr. Mind really is. And, despite having the wisdom of Solomon, he doesn't give a second thought to that tiny worm that dropped down on his shoulder at one point.

This covers the first five chapters (issues #22 through 26), all fun stories which--like all great serials--it fast paced and exciting from start to finish. My favorite of the five is probably from #26, in which C.C. Beck's vivid imagination is unleashed to create a series of magnificently designed minions for Mr. Mind.

But this IS just the first five chapters. As is traditional with all good cliff hangers, I'm going to break off here and wait a few weeks before returning to the story with a look at parts 6 to 10.

In the meantime, the Monster Society of Evil is available to read digital at Comic Book Plus. Start with Captain Marvel Adventures #22 and read on from there.

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