Saturday, June 2, 2012

Bitter Fruit#8: "The Human Bomb!"

Let's resume our journey through the pages of Archie's 1964 Shadow comic books with the second story from the Shadow#4: "the Human Bomb!"

This man is dedicated to blowing himself up, you can't doubt that. Look at how much dynamite he's wearing! I'm not sure which he reminds of the most:

  1. 1940s Quality Comics super hero the Human Bomb?
  2. A Klansman wearing firecrackers?
  3. One of the suicide bombers from Wrong is Right?

Probably the Human Bomb, which may not be an accident. We open in Lamont Cranston's library as he overhears a conversation between Margo and Shrevy on the office intercom. Because there's no way we could be made to understand such a complicated idea through art alone, Lamont provides exposition about this: "Margo's voice! The intercom switch is open and I can hear everything she says in her office downstairs!" I hope later he approaches the library door thinking, "The door! By turning the doorknob I can obtain access to the adjacent room!"

Margo is telling Shrevy about a letter from "some homicidal maniac" threatening Lamont's life. As you can see above, even though the letter is presented in full on the page, we're treated to Margo reading it aloud. I do believe our scripter was being paid by the word! Margo wants Shrevy's help dealing with this problem so they can show Lamont "we're more than just a secretary and a chauffeur!" Of course, Lamont can hear all of this. I do believe the joke will be on Margo and Shrevy! Let's watch!

Margo & Shrevy wait inside the office, hiding behind the door with pistols drawn. Lamont notes "Shrevy and Margo have no idea what the menace is... yet they think they can cope with it!" Not that Lamont knows any more about the menace, but I suppose as a secret agent/super hero the odds are in his favour. Lamont dons his Shadow costume and rides up to the office through a secret passage, climbing up a rope (up? I thought the office was "downstairs?"). I do believe this is the second secret passage we've seen in Lamont's townhouse!

When Margo & Shrevy see the Shadow they assume he's the one come to kill Lamont, so he hypnotizes them so they'll forget he was there. Mr. TNT breaks through the door (so either Lamont buys cheap doors or he's the Kool-Aid Man?), asking "Cranston! Where are you?" The Shadow answers "Right here!" evidently forgetting which identity he's using at the moment; he quickly hypnotizes Mr. TNT, so I suppose it's a moot point. Now the Shadow manipulates Shrevy, Margo and Mr. TNT all at once, "Like puppets dangling from my mental strings!" So, Superman wasn't the only dickish hero in the Silver Age; we've seen Lamont use his power on allies before (Bitter Fruit#3), but meddling with Margo and Shrevy's minds just to teach them a lesson? Not cool.

The Shadow has done such a great job of mesmerizing everyone that he switches back to being Lamont between panels. I'll never understand this series' whims when it comes to which moments have the hero in costume and which have him in civilian garb. Margo & Shrevy draw their guns on Mr. TNT, but the villain notes if they fire, he'll explode. "I never dreamed a Human Bomb would show up!" Margo declares, providing further evidence that someone at Archie caught the connection to the Quality hero. But what exactly did Margo expect from a man named "Mr. TNT?" Lamont simly gloats to himself, "Margo's beginning to learn her lesson!" Yeah, that'll teach her to try and save your life! Oy! I suppose at Christmas Lamont cries "What folly, to think Margo and Shrevy could buy me a Christmas present!" then hypnotizes them into buying him his favourite hair dye.

Mr. TNT lights his fuse, saying he hates millionaires and would gladly give his life to destroy Cranston. However, the fuse hasn't actually been lit: Lamont has hypnotized Mr. TNT, Shrevy & Margo (and evidently we readers) into thinking the fuse is lit. Lamont creates an illusion of the fuse sputtering out, giving Shrevy the confidence he needs to deck Mr. TNT in the face, while Lamont sneaks back to his library via the rope in his secret passage. Why he snuck out... I have no idea.

"Minutes later, as Shrevy and Margo summon Lamont Cranston..." Seriously? They both knew he was in the office when Mr. TNT attacked, why did he leave just to be called back by them? Shrevy & Margo explain how the fuse sputtered out and Lamont gloats to himself about how they'll never know who saved them. Yeah, you're a real hero.

The Grand Comics Database credits this story to Jerry Siegel & Paul Reinman. This issue also features chapter four of the text story "the Adventures of the Shadow," and resumes just after Lamont had saved a man from some assailants. Even though it ended off with Lamont seemingly giving his name as the Shadow, he actually comes up with it here when the man asks a second time what his name is. In Athens, Lamont has a tailor manufacture his first Shadow costume from black silk. Back in the USA, he saves Weston from some gunment, not realizing Weston is chief of the American Secret Service.

Next: We continue into the pages of the Shadow#5!

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