Thursday, December 18, 2014

How to Make Money Out of World War II

The December 15, 1942 issue of The Shadow Magazine features a novel in which our hero faces one of the nastier villains of his career. Which is saying a lot, because the Shadow has run across some pretty nasty bad guys.

But Eric Zorva--aka "the Money Master"--manages to slip ahead of some of the others in the Official Nasty Index because of just how epic his evil scheme is in terms of sheer audacity.

Zorva is sort of an investor. He invests money by converting the currency of one nation into the currency of another. For instance, he'll take a million dollars, turn it into French francs, then later into German marks, and so on--increasing the value of the cash by taking advantage of fluctuating exchange rates.

Actually, just writing it out like that doesn't make Zorva sound all that insidious, does it? But remember that this is 1942. Zorva is making millions by essentially betting on who is going to win the Second World War. At the very least, he's exchanging currency based on who is winning at the moment. He has no particular political motive. He just wants to make money.

Aside from the fact that this often means he's making investments that help the Axis, by the time the Shadow picks up his trail he's dealing in such vast sums that his actions can be directly responsible for the rise and fall of governments and industries.

Also, he's okay with the idea of killing people to get his way and he's personally trained his minions to be knife-throwing experts. This is rarely if ever considered an ethical business tactic. So Zorva is indeed one nasty person.

But he's not the only bad guy around.  A dishonest private eye and a gangster have teamed up and are trying to horn in on Zorva's racket. A group of European vigilantes are also after Zorva. These guys look like they might be the Shadow's allies, but Zorva has a knife-throwing mole in the group.

And on top of all THAT, several European refugees who seem to be in danger just might have agendas of their own.

All this makes for a complex and satisfying Shadow story, with plot twists zipping by at a fast and furious pace.

But my favorite part of the novel does not at first involve the Shadow. At one point, four of his agents have been captured by the gangster. They're getting worked over by some thugs when the door to the room in which they are held is smashed open.

As the novel describes it: What knocked the door loose was [the] lookout... He came through catapulted by some unseen force, that he had tried to stem without success.

Enter Jericho Druke, the big African-American agent of the Shadow who had a habit of coming to the rescue of his fellow agents with true style. For instance, in a 1939 story, he helped the others in a brawl with some thugs by ripping a stove out of a wall and throwing it.

Jericho Druke is awesome.

He proves this again because in The Money Master, he's faced with a room full of thugs, all of whom are aiming pistols at him. There's too many. Unless he can miraculously take them all out simultaneously, he is going to be gunned down. He clearly doesn't have a chance.

Jericho Druke wins the fight. Using a rather unexpected but brutally efficient tactic (which I will not presume to spoil for you), he clears the room of villains in one move. Because Jericho Druke is indeed awesome.

Of course, it's a Shadow novel, so the Shadow takes the lead for most of the novel. But writer Walter Gibson always makes good use of the Shadow's agents, making them viable co-heroes. Jericho appears relatively infrequently, but he's one of my favorites.

It's interesting to compare Jericho with Josh and Rosabel Newton, assistants to the Avenger, whose adventures (like the Shadow) were also published by Street and Smith.  Josh and Rosebel were also black, but in a departure from most of the  popular fiction of the day, they were capable, intelligent agents who were treated as equals by the Avenger and the other members of Justice, Inc.

The Shadow's agents were also portrayed as capable and intelligent. But when Jericho Druke shows up, he was normally there just to beat the snot out of the bad guys. It's the other agents that actively assisted the Shadow in actual investigation. But, on the other hand, Jericho is regularly portrayed as beating the snot out of white people, which is in itself unusual for the time period. Besides, he's just so darn cool when he beats the snot out of bad guys--regardless of their color. And there's no denying that the tactics he uses to win fights demonstrate that he thinks a little faster than his opponents.

So is Jericho regulated to his specific role because of his skin color? Or is he placed in that role simply because that's where his skills are put to best use? I really don't know. But what I do know is that Jericho Druke will clear a room of armed men in the space of a few heartbeats if by doing so he saves the lives of his friends. I'm okay with that.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...