Presenting... The Case of the Cotton Kimona, a 1954 TV pilot so lame it was never aired. In this radio-like incarnation of the Shadow, Lamont Cranston is a criminal psychologist and Margo Lane appears to be both receptionist and girlfriend. As on the radio - unfortunately - the Shadow is nothing but a disembodied voice. Tsk tsk.
For this week's selection I am indebted to Almanack reader Frank Spremulli. Noting that I was admirer of the Master of Darkness, he kindly took this and three other Shadow mags to the post office and had them delivered to my doorstep. Thanks Frank!
To call "Trail of Vengeance" a forgotten book is cheating a little, because while it's pretty well forgotten, it's not yet a book. To date, over half of The Shadow's 325 pulp adventures have reprinted in one form or another (most of them by the folks at Nostalgia Ventures), but this one, number 257 in the series, is still awaiting its turn.
It's been a good many years since I've read a Shadow novel from this era, and I have to rate it several notches below my favorites - the first six or eight in the series - which I remember as being excellent. In the beginning, the Shadow was a mysterious and fascinating being seen only through the eyes of agents. And his agents knew little more about him than the readers - who knew nothing at all. The concept was fresh and new, and very, very cool. No one was certain if the Shadow was a being of flesh and blood, or more akin to a force of nature.
But by 1942, our hero had lost most of his mystery. Readers knew that he was in reality the former ace aviator Kent Allard, and that his seemingly supernatural qualities were the result of magic tricks or science. And in this story, the Shadow falls victim, time and again, to his own mistakes and miscalculations. He performs so poorly, in fact, that he eventually has to be rescued by two of his agents.
Sadly, it's not only the Shadow who's off his game, but Walter Gibson as well. Though Gibson had long since proven himself a master of the showing-not-telling school of fiction, this story is mostly just told, often from several viewpoints in the same scene, and sometimes from the viewpoint of two people at once. The result is a novel that reads more like a synopsis, detailing what happens and why without ever really engaging the reader.
And Gibson does a bit of pandering to fans of the radio show. At one point, Detective Joe Cardona reflects that he's heard a rumor that the Shadow has the ability to make himself invisible by clouding men's minds, a skill learned in Tibet. And though Margo Lane is absent from this tale, there's a reference to her, calling her Lamont Cranston's "girlfriend." The Shadow with a girlfriend? Yikes.
BUT, despite all my griping, I did enjoy reading this, if only for the experience of seeing the Shadow in his natural habitat. I've read Shadow novels in mass paperbacks old and new, in hardcover, in facsimile trade paperback, on Palm Pilot, in PDF format, on Kindle and in Nostalgia Ventures volumes, but until now never directly from a pulp magazine. And for that I have to say thank you, once again, to Mr. Frank Spremulli.
Robert Leslie Bellem's Dan Turner, the undisputed King of Spicy Detectives, has been reprinted by so many different publishers - and in so many different formats - that I've lost track of them. And outfits like Girasol and Adventure House have produced facsimile editions of single issues the original magazine. But far as I know, this is 1989 book from Malibu Graphics is the only attempt at a true anthology of tales.
Predictably, this one leads off with a Dan Turner story, then dishes up a selection of six other stories that appeared in Spicy Detective between 1935 and 1937. No one is going to mistake this stuff for great literature, but the stories are all fun and exuberant and peppered with the sort of nudity and canoodling that must have had many a pulse pounding back in the '30s.
Appropriately, Bellem is represented by at least one other story, under his pen name of Jerome Severs Perry. And there's a tale (not listed on the back of the book) by James A. Lawson, author of the fine 2003 Black Dog Books chapbook Hard Guy.
Malibu Graphics (now defunct) was primarily a comic book publisher (Eternity and Aircel were Malibu imprints, and Image was initially connected as well), and this collection seems to have been intended to introduce comic book readers (18 and over) to Spicy Detective. Malibu co-founder Tom Mason also compiled and edited anthologies called Spicy Mystery Stories, Spicy Western Stories and Spicy Horror Stories (there was no pulp entitled Spicy Horror, of course, so those tales were culled from Uncanny Tales and other shudder pulps). Each of the four volumes featured the original interior illos, reset type and new covers.
In what was no doubt an overdose of optimism, each book was labelled "Volume One." I don't believe any of the titles made it to Volume Two, but they were a worthy experiment, and all are worth seeking out. And because demand is low, you can probably find them for considerably less than the original $7.95 cover price. Books that cost less now than when they were new - what a great concept!