Sunday, July 22, 2012

Bitter Fruit#11: "The Shadow Battles... the Brute!"

Welcome back to the penultimate entry in "Bitter Fruit," my story-by-story exploration of Archie Comics' 1960s Shadow comic book series wherein they transformed our hero into a spandex-clad super hero. Let's get right into it with the cover of the Shadow#7:

Note the top left corner no longer contains an "Archie Comics" label, instead placing an image of the Shadow within a triangle. This presumably helped customers thumbing through a spinner rack locate the title, but also meant the comic received no extra promotion from the Archie label. Next, check out our presumed villain the Brute: he wears a set of sunglasses with white frames and a red shirt with with a laced front. Who does he remind you of?

Woozy Winks, right?

I'm also entranced by the Brute's headphones. He won't even hear the Shadow's attack over the Sinatra blaring in his ears! Finally, I wonder how high the ceiling in this laboratory is; evidently it's high enough for the Shadow to crouch atop a desk and swing a giant lamp over the head of someone who's about 8 feet tall.

The opening splash page is very similar to the cover, only now the Brute's glasses and headphones are brown and clearly connected together. The Shadow indicates his hypnotism doesn't work on the Brute; perhaps the sunglasses are the issue? The blurb at the bottom right has some terrific garbled language: "See what astonishingly happens?"

The story opens in New York at a charity banquet, when waiters suddenly draw guns on the wealthy patrons to rob them. However, the Shadow steps out from behind a curtain and, via hypnosis, tricks the crooks into thinking he's backed up by an army of policemen. The gunmen surrender, enabling the Shadow to contain them until the police arrive. When the crooks are gone, the Shadow resumes his identity as Lamont Cranston and rejoins the dinner.

Elsewhere, we turn to... *sigh* ...Shiwan Khan's island. For the love of mercy, can't we have just one issue go by without Shiwan Khan? Amazingly, the series continues its newfound love of continuity as Shiwan reflects on how he and Attila the Hunter survived the destruction of his submarine by boarding a "shock-resistant survival bubble craft!" Well, that explains everything. I don't think we're going to see Attila this issue, though - he's restricted to a mere silhouette in the flashback. Having run short of funds, Shiwan needs to raise more money and begins by ordering his men to attack each other until only one stands; the last man standing is declared the greatest, so Shiwan gives him a special costume then subjects him the "Growth Ray" (where did this come from?).

The strongman is doubled in size and strength and tests out his power by smashing some of Shiwan's statues of the Shadow. Shiwan dubs him the Brute and supplies him with earphones to provide his instructions as Shiwan will send the Brute to rob locations. The Brute agrees, but being "brutally frank," demands one quarter of the final take (I rather like the "brutally frank" gag, it's like something Stan Lee's early Hulk would say). Shiwan sends the Brute aboard his (new) submarine and tells him to steal trillions; the Brute returns, "And to think my high school annual predicted I'd become a pharmacist!" Okay, now I'm just about convinced the spirit of Stan Lee has infected these proceedings. Days later, the Brute phones up a bank in New York and informs them they're about to be robbed. Five minutes later he bursts in, rips open the bank vault and steals all he can carry.

Next up, the Brute breaks into a beauty parlor and smashes up the Triple-Cross Gang, who run their operations in the back of the shop (who on Earth would trust the Triple-Cross Gang?); the gang surrender their money. Back on Shiwan's island, we see he not only speaks to the Brute via the headphones, but can see through the Brute's sunglasses. However, he's a little annoyed to see the Brute save the life of a child and chides his minion to "stick to infamous skullduggery." The Brute asserts himself, noting he's doing Shiwan's work; he sends the first shipment of Shiwan's loot aboard a rocket aimed at Shiwan's island (where did the rocket come from?).

"Later, at you-know-where..." all right, now we're past the point of Stan Lee-style playfulness and I begin to fear the scripter is just throwing up his hands and refusing to put in his best effort. The Brute smashes into a laboratory, but the Shadow is present! The Shadow orders the Brute to stop and the Brute obeys, but only as a feint; he's immune to the Shadow's mental powers and seizes an opportunity to slap the Shadow in the face. "Why don't you go shadowbox without yourself," the Brute notes, ever the joker. The Brute explains his goggles render him immune to the Shadow's hypnosis. The Shadow tries to smash him over the head with a lamp (as seen on the cover & splash), but the Brute's head is "stronger than even a third helping of garlic bread." The Brute is "ashamed" of the Shadow for ruining a "nice-looking" lamp and kicks our hero unconscious. Later, at Lamont's townhouse, Margo sees Lamont worrying about the Brute, not realizing he's the Shadow. Lamont realizes he'll have to invent some new way of defeating his foe. And thus ends the first chapter.

Our story resumes in "the Shadow's Amazing New Weapons!" The Brute has just sent another rocket of loot back to Shiwan Khan when Shiwan directs him to meet up with two of his men, who have just been ferried to shore from Shiwan's submarine. The two new henchmen, the Titan and Colosso, offer to help the Brute ransack New York. However, the Brute doesn't want their help and starts drowning Titan until Titan agrees to swim back to the submarine; the Brute grabs Colosso and catapults him to the submarine using a tree. Back at his island, Shiwan fumes over Brute's disobedience, but still wants him to collect money.

We turn now to the estate of Cyrus Galloway, a wealthy explorer who's collected many valuable treasures. A television crew visit Cyrus' home and ask if he's worried about the Brute robbing him, but Cyrus claims he has plenty of defenses and will donate $100,000 to charity if the Shadow foils any robberies. Lamont sees this on television and realizes the Brute is now certain to strike at Cyrus' estate, but since their first encounter he's been working on something to use against the Brute. The Brute sees the broadcast on the television set of some locals by peering in their window.

That evening, the Brute invades the estate. Cyrus sends his guard dogs to attack him, but the Brute contains them within a cage he found around the base of a tree. However, the Shadow appears, uttering his mocking laughter (hurrah! I've missed the laugh!). Before the Shadow can land a blow, the Brute steps into a trap set by Cyrus, falling into a pit. The Shadow's "Shadow-Gun" unleashes a spray of "weakness gas," a pink mist which causes the Brute to stop resisting; however, the Brute releases a green mist from his belt to counter the gas. How on Earth could the Brute have prepared for this? What is "Weakness Gas" anyway? This is exactly the type of comic book science which would be mocked a year later on television's Batman program.

The Brute grabs the Shadow and hurls him into Cyrus' crocodile pen, but the Shadow chases the crocs away by hypnotizing them to believe he's a giant crocodile. To get out of the pen, the Shadow uses springs concealed in the heels of his boots to launch him over the fence. Perhaps he bought them from Ant-Man? The Shadow asks Cyrus where the Brute is, but evidently during all of this, the Brute stole Cyrus' treasures and escaped. Cyrus mocks the Shadow's trademark phrase: "This is the Shadow! Ha-haaa-haaaa! Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? Only the Shadow knows! Phooie! Off my property!" He's either channeling the feelings of every Shadow fan writing to Archie to complain about the series, or transforming into J. Jonah Jameson. The Shadow melts back into the darkness, hoping he'll do better the next time he fights the Brute.

On Shiwan's island, Shiwan receives a rocket from the Brute containing Cyrus' treasures. Back in New York, the Shadow's belt-buzzer sends him a signal. Since when has he had a "belt-buzzer?" the Shadow's agent 29-F (since when does the Shadow have agents? he did in the original pulps but hasn't in these comics) has spotted the Brute heading toward the government's "super-secret Futuro-Lab." The Shadow is aware Futuro-Lab is the home of "Project Z," a device which can transmute objects into diamond or gold. If the Brute had simply gone there first, he could've given Shiwan a lifetime of riches!

Just as the Brute reaches the room where Project Z is found, he discovers the Shadow waiting behind the door. The Shadow activates another device from his belt, the "power-beam," which knocks the Brute to the floor. Next, the Shadow draws his Shadow-Gun (boy, where does the author dream up these names?) and it fires electro blasts (not gas?) at the Brute. However, the Brute activates a paralysis ray he finds in the Futuro-Lab and uses it to paralyze the Shadow. Seeing this, Shiwan orders the Brute to unmask the Shadow. However, the Brute refuses; he's not interested in knowing who the Shadow is and challenges Shiwan to solve the problem on his own.

The Brute leaves the Futuro-Lab, offering yet another brilliant jab at the Shadow as he departs. However, from overhearing the Brute's conversation with Shiwan, the Shadow realizes where the Brute's orders are coming from. Rigging up his "hound-mike" (what?), the Shadow transmits a perfectly faked copy of Shiwan's voice to the Brute and orders him to the "Jewel Museum" (again, the author has no imagination). When the Brute arrives at the Jewel Museum, the Shadow pulls out a special whistle whose "supersonic" note shatters the Brute's goggles (so why didn't the Shadow lead with this weapon back at Futuro-Lab?). Now the Shadow is able to hypnotize the Brute and starts to work on him, but the Brute is, once again, faking; he kicks the Shadow over a ledge into the river (the museum is on the river, apparently). The Brute was also wearing contact lenses to shield his eyes from the Shadow, plus has a spare set of goggles. Hey, if the Shadow can just keep inventing new gadgets as the story goes along, I suppose it's only fair.

The Shadow slows his descent to the raging waters below using "compressed air jets" in his boots' soles. How does he have room in his boots for his feet with all the balderdash and malarkey being used as lining? By the time the Shadow returns to the museum, the Brute has departed. The Brute's next location is Lamont Cranston's own townhouse, where only Shrevy and Margo are present to meet the attack! Shiwan sees this and orders the Brute to kidnap Margo, to which the Brute complies. As the Brute races across New York on the rooftops, attracting a crowd of onlookers, Shiwan orders him to kill Margo Lane for making a fool of him. The Brute refuses this order because Margo is "too pretty!" Instead, the Brute hijacks a yacht and heads to sea, intending to collect his 25% from Shiwan Khan then live with Margo.

Lamont arrives at his townhouse to find a wounded Shrevy, who explains how Margo was kidnapped. Lamont promises to alert his "friend" the Shadow. Soon, the Shadow is following the Brute's yacht from his own speedboat. It seems his earlier power-beam left a radioactive trace on the Brute, enabling him to locate the villain again (then why did he need to create the false Jewelry Museum trap earlier?).

Now for the final act, "the Showdown on Gargoyle Island!" The Brute's yacht pulls up at Gargoyle Island, a poor man's Easter Island where the statues have horns. The Brute, no longer wearing his goggles, is set to meet Shiwan Khan and receive his 25% here. Shiwan arrives via helicopter and presents the Brute with his quarter - only per his exact words, "one quarter!" The Brute is furious, but Shiwan pulls out a shrinking ray which he claims will render the Brute smaller than a flea. Fortunately for the Brute, the Shadow appears and covers Shiwan Khan's face with his cape, causing him to drop the shrinking ray. The Shadow then turns his Shadow-Gun on Shiwan, projecting "blinding total darkness" (because I guess it can do that too) to keep the villain from finding his weapon.

The Brute decides to move in and kill Shiwan, but the villain drops a grenade in the direction of the Brute's voice. This kicks up some debris which knocks out the Shadow, restoring Shiwan's sight and enabling him to flee back to the helicopter. To save himself, Shiwan notes one of the Gargoyle Island statues has been damaged by the grenade and will topple on Margo, crushing her. Margo isn't unconscious, so I'm unclear as to why she can't get out of the falling statue's path. The Brute is torn between his desire for revenge on Khan (plus access to Khan's fortune) and saving Margo's life. The Brute chooses to save Margo, but as he grabs the statue he finds his strength is ebbing away; suddenly, he clutches his chest and collapses.

By now the Shadow has recovered and turns with Margo to examine the Brute. The Brute shrinks in size to normal; it seems the Brute's powers suddenly wore off (why?) and the strain of holding up the statue was too much for his heart. Margo asks the dying Brute what his real name is; he answers Victor Hess. The Shadow promises to bury the Brute in the USA, which is a nice gesture. Then he remarks "it's appropriate that one of the world's most grotesque villains should perish on Gargoyle Island" which is less nice of him. The Shadow steers Margo back to New York in the yacht. Then, the Shadow enters a "pseudo-sewer-lid" on a deserted street, opening some sort of passage to the "Shadow Operation Base" which lies beneath his townhouse (because I guess the townhouse didn't have enough gimmickry? secret passages, training rooms with live lions, crime lab and so forth?). The Shadow notes he has machines his base to record message from his agents, but has come to deposit the shrinking ray weapon in his trophy room. The Shadow muses that the Brute must have removed his contact lenses and goggles to impress Margo Lane because he was able to hypnotize him on Gargoyle Island; it was because he was being hypnotized that the Brute chose Margo over Shiwan! Well, that's just... he claims he was "too weakened" to have saved Margo himself. Whatever you have to tell yourself to sleep at night, Cranston... you sent that man to his death. Also, you failed to capture Shiwan Khan (again) and recover all the treasures, money and devices the Brute stole.

Once again we have a text feature story, "the Adventures of the Shadow." Last time, the Shadow had met Weston and began interrogating criminals by causing them to believe the Shadow was the Devil; the criminals revealed their master was Shiwan Khan. This time out, the Shadow isn't able to continue the interrogation because the men's minds are guarded against brainwashing; he was only able to get Shiwan Khan's name by flattering their egos. Say, then why has the Shadow been able to hypnotize Shiwan Khan's agents since then with reckless abandon? This is before the Shadow and Khan have even met! Weston asks the Shadow to join the ranks of C.H.I.E.F., but the Shadow declines, instead suggesting Weston recruit Lamont Cranston. The next evening, Lamont goes to Weston's cottage only to look "directly into the face of DEATH!"

As expected, this issue written by Jerry Siegel and drawn by Paul Reinman, according to the Grand Comics Database. I have mixed feelings about this issue. On the one hand, Siegel seemed to having a grand old time writing the Brute's dialogue, but in all other respects, he wrote just another bog-standard super hero story with no sense of style. The uninspired place names and sudden introduction of gadgets as needed speaks to an author succumbing to his inner hack. If every issue of Archie's Shadow read like this, then I would understand its reputation.

Next time: the final issue of the Shadow! To be followed by a look back at the entire series!

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