Friday, July 24, 2015

Forgotten Books: THE SHADOW UNMASKS (1937, 2008)

Will Murray's new Doc Savage novel The Sinister Shadow (reviewed HERE), put me in such a Shadowy mood that I decided it was time to finally take a look at The Shadow Unmasks.

That story, from the first August, 1937 issue of The Shadow's mag, was finally reprinted in 2008, paired with the tale that followed two weeks later, The Yellow Band.

Figuring this would be a special story, I'd been saving it until I was in just the right mood. But while I was right about being in the mood, I was wrong about the story. It involves a fairly clever jewel theft scheme, but there's very little mystery because the reader (and apparently the Shadow) knows what's happening right from the start. The best that can be said is that our hero is involved in a couple of good shootouts along the way - but isn't he always? And his number one agent Harry Vincent faces a creative torture method. He's trapped in a Chinese laundry and stretched on a rack made of ironing boards and laundry wringers. Aside from that - blah.

The setup for the Shadow revealing his identity is more interesting. As depicted on the cover, The Shadow, in the guise of Lamont Cranston, meets police Commissioner Weston outside his club. Then an incovenient newsboy provides a paper announcing that Cranston (this being the real Cranston) has been injured in a plane crash in Europe. Temporarily denied the use of his favorite false identity, the Shadow makes the peculiar leap of logic that his best course is to revert to his true (and heretofore unnamed) secret identity of Kent Allard, an aviator thought to have crashed in the South America some twelve years earlier.

Smack in the middle of the story, in a scene unrelated to the jewel theft plot, the Shadow reveals himself to a friend, and tells his tale. He was, we learn, an Ace fighter pilot in WWI. Known to the enemy as The Dark Eagle, he worked as a roving secret agent behind the lines, where he presumably honed his shadowy skills. After the war he flew to Guatamala and cultivated a friendship with the Xinca Indians, who believed him to be a god from the sky. He then came secretly to New York, where he adopted the identity of the Shadow.

The Dark Eagle stuff seems well thought out, and is backed up by passages in several earlier adventures. But the Guatamala angle is a bit goofy, and smacks of something Walter Gibson dreamed up on the spot.

That Gibson was on a spot is revealed by Will Murray in the Nostalgia Ventures reprint. With the premiere of the Shadow radio program fast approaching, and presenting the simplified notion that the Shadow and Cranston were one and the same, the Street & Smith Poo-Bahs ordered Gibson to reveal the Shadow's true identity pronto. The logic of this escapes me, but the result was that Gibson was forced to come up with this yarn quickly. My guess is that the jewel robbery stuff was already plotted - if not written  - and he just inserted the Kent Allard story to keep his bosses happy.

As pointed out by Frank Eisburger Jr. in Gangland's Doom (a former Fogotten Book, HERE, and now available in a new edition from Altus Press), the details of Allard's wartime and post-war activities, in addition to the origin of his girasol ring, do not jibe with much of what was said in earlier novels.

Bottom line, the Shadow's unmasking (aside from the great cover) was far less dramatic and satisfying than it promised - and deserved - to be.


JoeK said...

I think everyone agrees that this issue was subpar considering the "big Secret" being revealed. In about five years time, Kent Allard is pretty much forgotten (as are pretty much all of the Shadow's other aliases). When Bruce Elliott begins writing, he even stops being the Shadow and just becomes Lamont Cranston amateur detective.

John Olsen's review talks a bit about the Shadow's rings and has a sound clip of Walter Gibson explaining that there were actually two fire opal rings.

George Kelley said...

You and Bill Crider are into THE SHADOW this week. I may have to go back and read some, too!

Anonymous said...

IIRC, the earlier novels, like "The Eyes of the Shadow" and "The Shadow Laughs," dropped hints that the Shadow was Lamont Cranston. In one, for example, the Shadow was wounded in a gunfight, and then Cranston turned up later with a gunshot wound. By the time the radio series premiered, a lot of fans probably assumed that his real identity was Cranston, although (again, IIRC) the idea that Cranston was just one of the Shadow's disguises was revealed in the pulp series before 1937.

I seem to remember one or two stories where it was implied that Kent Allard's face was horribly mutilated in WWI.

Philip Jose Farmer ("Tarzan Alive," "Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life") speculated that Kent Allard/the Shadow, Richard Wentworth/the Spider, and G-8 were all the same shell-shocked veteran, who had developed multiple personalities. Maybe the Shadow, Doc Savage, and the Avenger all got their gold from the same lost native South American civilization.

"Lamont Cranston, amateur detective" and "Doc Savage, scientific detective" were probably attempts to update the characters and make them more realistic.