Saturday, May 26, 2012

Bitter Fruit#7: "The Diabolical Dr. Demon!"

...And we're back. Not only has my time spent in Africa disrupted many of my usual routines, my growing discontent with the comic book industry in general has kept me from thinking about comics on this blog.

Nonetheless, I promised to cover all eight issues of Archie's 1964 the Shadow and so I shall! Let's pick it up with issue #4:

The cover promises us "a new menace... the Diabolical Dr. Demon!" That sounds promising, since Shiwan Khan has figured in almost every story so far. However, Khan is on the cover too, being shot at by Dr. Demon's men. Hm.

The splash page of "the Diabolical Dr. Demon!" uses the same art as the cover, with the addition of dialogue for Dr. Demon. As you can see, he's not just dressed like a Nazi, he talks like a comic book-Nazi too.

Somewhere in Central Europe, a plane alights and out steps Dr. Demon, who declares "nossing has changed in der past 19 years! Nossing, except Hitler dead und I am alive!" Yes indeed, Dr. Demon is a card-carrying Nazi who went into "secret exile" before the end of World War II. But where was he hiding all these years? And why is the location simply "somewhere in Central Europe?"

Dr. Demon thinks he and Hitler would have eventually become rivals as masters of the world, but with Hitler gone, now no one is in his way; which is why it's taken 19 years for him to make his next move? Dr. Demon's men remind him there's another would-be master of the world, Shiwan Khan, but Dr. Demon believes his "scientific genius" is superior. He's set up a laboratory to deal with Shiwan Khan and "der Shadow" and declares "Today der laboratory... tomorrow der Earth!" it probably sounded more impressive in his head.

A month passes and we resume in West Germany at the Berlin Wall, where the Shadow awaits three agents of Shiwan Khan who are delivering information to their master from East Germany. This is the first Shadow adventure in the series in which our hero enters the story already in costume, which hopefully means we can sidestep some of the nonsense about Lamont Cranston being a secret agent who's secretly a super hero. The Shadow roughs up Khan's agents and hypnotizes one of them, ordering him to lead the way to Khan's West Berlin headquarters.

And then, the Shadow decides he should switch identities back to Lamont Cranston. Oh, bother. While the hypnotized flunky stands by, Lamont telephones Weston, telling him where to find the other two agents. After this, the hypnotized agent leads Lamont to Khan's base and even warns him about an electric fence; after the agent shows Lamont how to get past the defenses, Lamont knocks him out. He explains it thusly: "I need him around like a hole in the head when I change into the Shadow!" But wasn't he around when the Shadow changed into Lamont Cranston?

In the next panel, Lamont has become the Shadow again; so he switched to his civilian guise just to make a telephone call? Anyway, the Shadow sees a helicopter landing on Khan's estate and Dr. Demon disembarks with his men; the Shadow recognizes Dr. Demon as "Hitler's leading scientist." He utters this in present tense, as though Hitler were still alive. Dr. Demon was supposedly killed by the Russians in 1945, but the Shadow believes this is the same man because "there's no mistaking that sardonic face, that metallic arm, that crippled leg!" It's only now I realize Dr. Demon has a brace on his left leg and although his left hand seemed to be wearing a black glove, upon closer inspection I see it's supposed to be a metallic hand. I'm ashamed to admit it, but I thought the mismatched colours on Dr. Demon's feet and hands were colouring errors, although Dr. Demon's two-page introduction did nothing to establish his identifying marks within the text itself (also, note the image above where his arm & leg are described but not seen).

The Shadow thinks Dr. Demon is "even worse than Shiwan Khan" and "If Hitler had listened to Dr. Demon, Germany might have won the war!" Dr. Demon's men wield cumbersome ray machines which seem to be flamethrowers, except they're able to carve through the solid wall of Khan's estate. Thusly, Dr. Demon blasts into Khan's base and confronts him; Khan recognizes Dr. Demon as the Nazi declares he's "Returned from der dead... to replace you as der Shadow's chief rival!" Boys, boys... I'm sure you two could be equally ineffectual as the Shadow's rival.

But! The Shadow comes up behind Dr. Demon and plants a gun in his back! But! Shiwan Khan throws a switch and drops the Shadow, Dr. Demon & Dr. Demon's men through a trap door ("Bless Buddha!" Shiwan Khan cries, in case the audience has forgotten his ethnicity)! The men find themselves in a pit before a giant open flame; Shiwan Khan claims he can kill them all with the flip of a switch. The depth of this pit is not clear - at first they seem to be about 10 feet below Shiwan Khan, but in the following panel they're at least 15 feet.

Dr. Demon uses one of his men's weapons (finally identified as "atomizers") to blast an escape from the furnace, but the Shadow uses the blast as a means to disappear in the smoke. Concealed within the smoke (why doesn't he use his power to become invisible?), the Shadow knocks out each of Dr. Demon's men, then grabs an atomizer and holds Dr. Demon hostage. When Shiwan Khan (catch-phrase: "By Buddha!") comes downstairs with a handful of his men to see if the Shadow & Dr. Demon are dead... wait, there are stairs now? What happened to the trap door, which was open until now? The length of the staircase also suggests the pit is deeper than 15 feet...

...Anyway, the Shadow uses the captured atomizer to blast the stairs out from under Khan, dropping him to the floor. However, Dr. Demon suddenly grabs the atomizer and jams it, then bolts out of the room. Shiwan Khan pulls out a gun and orders his men to shoot Dr. Demon and the Shadow to death, but the Shadow attacks Khan's men, then pursues Dr. Demon back to his helicopter. The Shadow determines Dr. Demon will "probably blow up the place with some special bomb he's invented!" If he had such a bomb, why didn't he nuke Khan's estate from above? It's the only way to be sure.

Actually, the bomb has already been planted and Dr. Demon detonates it as he leaves in the helicopter. He claims "I haf left an infernal machine in der house!" Does he mean the atomizer he left behind? It would have made more sense if when Dr. Demon "jammed" the atomizer he'd also set it to overload, creating a "ticking bomb" problem for the Shadow to deal with, rather than these off-panel shenanigans.

The bomb explodes, decimating Khan's stronghold, yet I doubt we've seen the last of him. The Shadow has held on to the helicopter's undercarriage and travels with Dr. Demon back to his castle laboratory in "Central Europe." If it's within flight of Berlin, surely it's Germany? As the Shadow sneaks into Dr. Demon's home base, back at Khan's Berlin estate, he and his men have survived. "A miracle, that's what it was! A miracle I was standing below and behind a bomb-proof wall and ceiling!" Characters in the Shadow seem to operate by children's playtime rules: "I have a bomb now! You're dead!" "Nuh-uh! It turns out I had a bomb-proof vest!"

One of Shiwan Khan's men tries to look on the bright side, noting "The Shadow! He was in the building with you! Did you see him coming out?" Khan didn't see the Shadow exit (catch-phrase: "By Buddha"), so concludes the Shadow died in the blast... even though two pages earlier we saw the Shadow exiting Khan's base while dodging gunfire from Khan and his men. Try to keep up with your own story, comic book makers. Regardless, Shiwan Khan wants revenge on Dr. Demon and sets out to determine where Dr. Demon's base is; a "sonic trail" directs him to his base in "the Black Forest." Why be so coy about "Central Europe" when you're later going to identify the specific locale?

The Shadow peers inside Dr. Demon's base and sees a small collection of dangerous missile weaponry. However, Dr. Demon's men have realized they have an intruder thanks to the base's "protective screen." The Shadow, whose one power is to not be noticed, has yet again failed to meet his own hype; they "electrify" the base walls because stone is such a great conductor and the Shadow is stunned by the voltage, causing him to fall from the outside wall.

Dr. Demon has his men retrieve the unconscious Shadow, bind and gag him, then orders men armed with atomizers to execute the Shadow, leading us to the image seen on the cover and splash page. Before the atomizers can fire, Shiwan Khan invades the base, using a car with a cannon mounted on its hood to blast his way in. Shiwan Khan (catch-phrase: "By Buddha!") is a little annoyed to see the Shadow is still alive and Dr. Demon declares now his atomizers will kill Khan and the Shadow.

Shiwan Khan suggests making a deal with Dr. Demon, but Dr. Demon refuses and his men open fire. Even though they're firing at two men who aren't moving, they fail to hit them. At the Shadow's prompting, Khan removes the Shadow's blindfold, enabling him to hypnotize the men firing the atomizers, preventing them from firing their guns. Afraid of being hypnotized, Dr. Demon leaps from the walls of his base, preferring to "risk death." Shiwan Khan runs away too, leaving the Shadow alone in the base. What became of Shiwan Khan's men, Dr. Demon's army... who knows? This story certainly doesn't care. Did Dr. Demon die? Probably not, we didn't even see how far he jumped (he somehow went from the ground to the top of a rampart wall between panels; the rampart seemed about 10 feet from the ground, but I've already gone into how suspect the art is on distances).

The Grand Comics Database again credits artwork on the cover and story to Paul Reinman, but this time the story is credited to Superman's co-creator, Jerry Siegel! It's hard to believe at this time, Siegel was still turning out acceptable fare for DC's Superman and Legion of Super-Heroes; "the Diabolical Dr. Demon!" is, at best, by-the-numbers, but the leaps in logic around Dr. Demon's bomb and the ever-inconsistent use of the Shadow's powers probably wouldn't have escaped DC's editorial team. I can only hope Siegel teared up a little when he saw this black-haired version of the Shadow wore glasses in his civilian garb.

When I set out to examine Archie's the Shadow, I had hoped this might be enjoyably terrible, or terrible in an instructive way. I'd even hoped to be entertained, since I have some fondness for the Shadow. So far, the real sin of Archie's the Shadow is it's mediocrity; but I don't have to look to 1964 to find a mediocre super hero comic, 2012 is amply supplied with such fare.

Next: "the Human Bomb!" Sounds tasteful!

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