Saturday, July 7, 2012

Bitter Fruit #10: "The Incredible Alliance of Shiwan Khan and Attila the Hunter!"

We resume my journey into Archie Comics' 1960s Shadow comic book with 1965's Shadow#6. I sincerely hope the cover says it all:

So yes, per the title we're yet again being treated to a Shadow versus Shiwan Khan tale (seriously, he doesn't have to be in every issue!), but with a difference: Khan has allied himself with Attila the Hunter! Wait, Hunter? Not "Hun?" Perhaps a thoughtful copy editor "fixed" Hun to Hunter before it went out the door.

Ah, but as I switch to the title page, the opening caption reveals Attila the Hunter is a descendant of Attila the Hun, just as Shiwan Khan is descended from Genghis Khan! Why, it's a match made for the ages! Perhaps they can join forces with Alexander the Greater and Timor the Lamer! But seeing as Shiwan uses modern technology (like the machine gun, above), why is Attila stuck in the dark ages?

We open near the "New England rock-bound coast" as a storm rages at sea while a lighthouse refuses to shine its light. The spandex-clad Shadow is on the scene, having determined Shiwan Khan is responsible for taking over the lighthouse in the hopes of wrecking a ship with valuable cargo. The Shadow boards the lighthouse using a rifle which fires a grappling hook, but as he climbs up the side of the lighthouse, Shiwan appears above and slices the rope with a knife; the Shadow falls to his death!

On Shiwan Khan's island base, Shiwan wakes up to realize the story of the Shadow dying was all a dream; for those keeping track, this is the second time in Archie's Shadow that a dream sequence has tried to fool the readers (the previous was "Margo Lane's Honeymoon!"). In the room next door to Shiwan Khan, we find our old friend Yukal Torrg dressed as the Shadow. You'll recall Yukal from last month's story, where he impersonated the Shadow in a practice attempt on Shiwan's life, but then made a real attempt at killing his master, so Shiwan sentenced him to death. It's rare to find real issue-to-issue continuity in this series; well done writer (who I assume is Jerry Siegel yet again).

As Yukal nears Shiwan's bed, garotte in hand, he recalls how Shiwan had him before a firing squad when he convinced Shiwan to let him live because by trying to kill him, he'd help prepare Shiwan to eventually destroy the Shadow. Shiwan liked the sound of this. Just as Yukal is near the bed, an alarm goes off because Shiwan placed a protective circle around his bed. Yukal leaps at Shiwan to kill him, but Shiwan handily outfights him, then dismisses him as a message sounds on Shiwan's monitor-alarm.

Over a television monitor, one of Shiwan's men informs his master of intruders on the island. Shiwan assumes it's the Shadow, but as he joins his men in confronting the intruders, he discovers it's the animal skin-wearing Attila the Hunter (all of Attila's men wear normal clothes, it's interesting to note). Attila claims his ancestor was more powerful than Genghis Khan and will destroy Shiwan to prove his superiority. Shiwan begs to differ, declaring "Attila the Hun was a lily-livered weakling! His men did the fighting! Attila took the credit!" Attila retorts, "Genghis Khan fought women and children! His followers did the real fighting!" Perhaps Deadliest Warrior could settle this grudge match?

Shiwan Khan & Attila the Hunter line up on opposite sides with their mobs, ready to battle, when suddenly the aged Lu Kwan walks out of Shiwan's ranks and sounds a trumpet, halting the battle because he's "the wise counsellor to whom even Shiwan Khan pays heed." Great, but why does Attila pay him heed? Lu Kwan points out the Shadow is too powerful for either of them to defeat alone, so why not declare a truce to destroy him? You may recall this brilliant notion as the same idea behind every Shiwan Khan matchmaking effort thus far. Shiwan and Attila agree to join forces to kill the Shadow, then go back to killing each other. They gather their forces together in a dining hall and drink a toast to the Shadow's death, but Shiwan & Attila each secretly anticipate killing each other.

We turn now to Lamont Cranston's Manhattan townhouse as Al Falco, "common thief" breaks into the premises ("you can never have too many antagonists" is the Siegel motto). Finding a steel door with a combination lock, Falco decides to crack it open, certain something valuble must lie within. Amazingly, he succeeds in cracking a lock he hadn't prepared for. This sets off an alarm which Lamont sees in his office, informing him someone's entered the "Survival-Course Room," another feature from last issue! Changing to the Shadow identity, Lamont races the room and can hear screams coming from inside. Is it Lamont's pet lion?

We now begin the second chapter, "the Captive of Terror Island!" The Shadow enters the Survival-Course Room just as Falco is nearly flattened by a giant metal block falling from the ceiling. Automatic machine guns open up from the walls, but the Shadow pushes Falco out of their path; when the lion enters the room, Falco faints; the Shadow scares the lion by creating the illusion of himself as a lion, chasing the lion back into his cage. The Shadow fears Falco may now know Lamont's secret identity, so he carries him outside to the curb then fills Falco's mind with hallucinations, including a giant snake and a Native warrior attacking him. Falco decides for himself that he imagined everything about Lamont's house and departs, although the Shadow could've simply hypnotized him into forgetting all about the Danger Room.

Back on Shiwan Khan's island, Shiwan & Attila have made their plan: knowing the Shadow is friends with Lamont Cranston and secretary Margo Lane, Attila will kill Lamont and Shiwan will kidnap Margo. Uh, "killing Lamont" is quite an undertaking in itself - laying aside these two don't know Lamont is the Shadow, he's an agent of C.H.I.E.F. and has all manner of super-spy resources. Regardless, they depart in Shiwan's submarine for Manhattan. Late next evening, Margo receives a phone call informing her someone covered with bruises has stumbled into the Purple Fox saloon, calling her name. Thinking it's Lamont, Margo speeds to the scene, only to be kidnapped by Shiwan Khan and his men.

Meanwhile, at the Cranston Museum of Art (seriously? he has a bank and a museum now? will he have a water park next issue?), Attila sneaks into Lamont's office (one can never have too many offices). In his office, Lamont is talking into a microphone recorder as he views statues for a new display of "some of the worst villains of all history." These include Nero, Genghis Khan, Attila the Hun, Hitler and Herod. As Lamont inspects Attila the Hun's statue, he describes his "ugly face" and "beady, wild-animal eyes." At this, Attila the Hunter breaks into the office, outraged at Lamont badmouthing a statue of his ancestor (it's not as though the statue could hope to be an accurate representation of the real Attila). Wielding an "electro-blast gun" Shiwan loaned him, Attila shoots Lamont in the back, stunning him. Attila daws out his axe to kill Lamont, but at the last moment refuses, unable to kill a defenseless foe because of his honour. Instead, Attila takes Lamont prisoner.

Shiwan is a little put out to find Attila on his island with Lamont Cranston, but Attila believes "two lures are better than one!" Lamont is thrown into a prison cell. In Shiwan's throne room (throne room?), Shiwan and Attila rest side-by-side on matching thrones. When's the wedding? Well, funny I should ask... Margo is brought before the two villains for interrogation, but Attila doesn't want to harm her - he wants her to be his queen! Shiwan reacts badly to this and decides to propose to Margo himself, urging her to "spurn the braggart and marry me!" They aren't even kings yet, but they're already falling out over a woman. Why, it's almost like the Man Who Would be King... except it's not very good. Shiwan and Attila talk of claiming Margo's hand as though it were the key to ruling the world; fun fact: when you're "king of the world," you can have anyone as your queen!

Being no fool, Margo claims if they face each other in combat, she'll marry the winner. Shiwan agrees and even dons a costume to make him resemble Genghis Khan. Each equipped with swords, the two villains face each other in the courtyard, but it transpires Shiwan's sword contains an electrical charge, enabling him to electrocute Attila by touching him! However, the fight is broken up by... the Shadow?

No, it's Yukal again, fulfilling the day's "practice attack on Shiwan Khan." This is actually a pretty hilarious development; Shiwan is knocked cold, but the ever-honourable Attila rejects Yukal's aid and shoves him out of the arena. Shiwan revives, but Attila refuses to resume the swordfight, declaring they'll wield axes instead. As the axe duel commences, Margo slips away and steals a motorboat, unnoticed. When one of Shiwan's men notices the boat departing he informs Shiwan & Attila, who finally realize they've been duped. They resume their alliance and board Shiwan's submarine to blast Margo's boat out of the water! Meanwhile, Lamont is still trapped in his cell!

We begin chapter 3: "The Shadow vs. the Shadow." Awakening in his cell, Lamont switches to the Shadow... wait, you mean he'd have had his secret identity compromised if Shiwan & Attila had simply the presence of mind to order a full body search of his person? Anyway, the Shadow hypnotizes a guard into believing the cell is full of gold, tricking him into opening the door. The Shadow escapes and wanders freely on the island, telling Shiwan's men he's actually Yukal! An excellent plan... but the Shadow's never met Yukal! How does he know about Yukal wearing his costume and practicing on Shiwan? Anyway, the Shadow claims he's going to follow Shiwan in the hydrofoil for another practice session.

However, Yukal sees the Shadow boarding the hydrofoil and realizes what's going on. Drawing out a sniper rifle, he prepares to assassinate the Shadow, but then decides to let him live, since with the Shadow alive, Yukal has a job, with the Shadow dead, Shiwan would certainly put Yukal to death. There is a sense of weird logic to it, although an even better plan would be to kill Shiwan & the Shadow, then swear allegiance to Attila.

The hydrofoil catches up to the motorboat & submarine, so there's just one thing for the Shadow to do: become Lamont Cranston! ...Wait, huh? He steers the hydrofoil into a collision course with the submarine then leaps away. The hydrofoil destroys the submarine and Lamont swims to Margo's boat; and since he wasn't wearing his costume, his secret identity remains concealed from Margo. Margo muses about how terrible it is Attila died in the explosion, considering he was a man or honour. Lamont, however, thinks both Shiwan & Attila could have survived.

Weirdly, I'm beginning to develop an affection for this comic. Perhaps it's because of the issue-to-issue continuity creeping in; perhaps it's because the Shadow has ceased behaving like a jerk to one and all; perhaps it's the Brian Blessed-like antics of Attila the Hunter warming my heart. I'll be doing a wrap-up post on the series when I'm done, but at this stage I don't think my final opinion will compare to those I read in publications about the series. It's a juvenile super hero comic book from the 1960s... is it really such a surprise it should read like a juvenile super hero comic book from the 1960s?

Once again, Grand Comics Database credits this tale to Jerry Siegel and Paul Reinman (Reinman also on cover); I'm going to be very good at identifying Reinman's art when this is done! This issue also features another "Adventures of the Shadow" text story. This continues the tale of how the Shadow met Weston, agent of C.H.I.E.F. (come to think of it, after introducing C.H.I.E.F. last issue, it's only referred to in the text story of this issue). The Shadow helps interrogate the men who attacked Weston and hypnotizes them into thinking he's the Devil so they'll give up the name of their master: Shiwan Khan!

Next time in Bitter Fruit: The Shadow#7, penultimate issue of the series!

No comments: