The Shadow lives, and he’s more alive than ever in this second meeting between The Man of Bronze and The Master of Darkness.
Shadow creator Walter Gibson occasionally waxed poetic about his man in black, but beyond the aura of mystery, the character, despite his many guises, remained one-dimensional. But our new Kenneth Robeson (alias Will Murray), I’m pleased to say, has performed a great feat: He’s given The Shadow not only a personality, but a sense of humor, while making him more mysterious than ever.
Humor is to be expected in a Doc Savage adventure. But Empire of Doom, like its predecessor The Sinister Shadow (review HERE), is also a Shadow story, and Mr. Murray mixes it up with scenes reminiscent of Gibson at his best, back to back with his usual fine channeling of Lester Dent.
The story opens in fine Maxwell Grant tradition, setting a dark and foreboding mood as Shiwan Khan, The Shadow’s most persistent enemy, steals a battleship and bombards The Hotel Blackwell, home to The Shadow’s sanctum in the heart of Times Square. In the confusion, Shiwan’s men bust in and make off with a number of diabolical weapons confiscated from earlier adventures.
Unfortunately for Shiwan Khan, Doc Savage was at home in the Empire State Building at the time, and couldn’t fail to take notice. So right from the start, the would-be conqueror of the world has two world class heroes on his case, chasing him around the globe until they finally come to grips at his seat of power, the fabled city of Xanadu.
This one has all the action you’d expect from such a monumental tussle, but what makes it special is the relationship between Doc and the Shadow. The wary alliance they began in The Sinister Shadow has reached firmer ground, but they’re forced to deal with opposing viewpoints concerning life and redemption. Doc is the eternal Boy Scout, opposed to killing and believing everyone (even one as patently evil as Shiwan Khan) can be rehabilitated, while The Shadow plays the bad boy, insisting on the curative powers of steal-jacketed lead. Every interaction between the two is amusing, and some make sparks fly.
Part of the fun is trying, along with Doc and his men, who figure out who The Shadow really is, and what guise he’s wearing. When they meet Lamont Cranston, they (and we) have no way of knowing if he’s the real one or not. And the mystery deepens: Is The Shadow really Kent Allard, as Shadowphiles have been led to believe, or is Allard just another mask? As Doc’s aide Renny observes, “The Shadow is like a ball of yarn with no beginning or end.”
As usual, Will Murray uncorks some great descriptive lines that would make both Walter Gibson and Lester Dent smile. When Doc smacks one of Shiwan Khan’s minion in the jaw, “The stunned attacker seemed to fall apart like a bundle of sticks that had been untied.” A victim of one the death machines has a “mangled body that looked like a human sponge soaked in blood.” The stalking Shadow is seen “looking like some fugitive revenant from a midnight graveyard.” And we’re treated to a several words that would have warmed the heart of Clark Ashton Smith, like “cahinnation” and “xanthocroid.”
Empire of Doom gives you all that, plus a bucket of fingers. Yes, there is a bucket of fingers in this book. In fact, there are two. What are they doing there? Read it and find out!