Friday, June 22, 2012

Bitter Fruit#9: "Menace of Radiation Rogue!"

Our latest story from Archie's 1965 Shadow series seems to be missing an article in its title; "the Radiation Rogue," surely?

As the cover demonstrates, the Shadow#5 features a new villain! Hooray! ...Also, the fifth issue running to feature Shiwan Khan. Bleh. There's no rule stating the Shadow has to fight Shiwan Khan all the time, surely? Glancing at the new villain we see... Moltar? No, he wouldn't be created for another year. Radioactive Man? Possibly - he already existed, although I suspect he wasn't the first radioactive super villain in history.
In this very busy splash page, a lot of information is dumped in our laps. Shiwan Khan has employed the Radiation Rogue, who demonstrates his powers to kill a man-eating plant, while imagining himself doing the same to the Shadow. Radiation Rogue knows he'll die in a few days from radiation poisoning, but on the bright side, Shiwan Khan will be ruler of the world! Boy, he must really like the ol' Khanster.
Our story begins in earnest at Lamont Cranston's townhouse. We follow him around his home as he rises from bed and eats breakfast while Shrevy waits on him (Shrevy is a butler-chauffeur?). Entering his sound-proof Survival-Course Room, Lamont becomes the Shadow and goes on a tour of the survival course, dodging automated machine guns and arrows. A noose drops from the ceiling and tries to strangle him, but he uses the razor-sharp blade on his watch to sever the rope. Wait, since when has he had a razor-sharp blade inside his watch? And since when has the Shadow worn his watch on the outside of his glove? As of page 3, panel 4, I suppose.
The last challenge is a lion, which the Shadow defeats by hypnotizing it. Since the Survival-Course Room is kept secret from all of Lamont's staff and friends (no one knows he's the Shadow for no good reason), one wonders who takes care of the lion when Lamont's out of town. Finished with his morning "danger tonic," Lamont goes to work in his office alongside his secretary, Margo Lane. His work includes sending a check to a cancer fund and a series of checks to the widow of a heroic police officer. It's nice to find Lamont's business being charitable for a change.
"Thousands of miles away, on the island kingdom stronghold of the cruelly cunning tyrant Shiwan Khan..." Since when has Khan had this island? Or a kingdom? Shiwan examines a portrait of his ancestor Genghis Khan and remarks how Genghis' pillaging and looting was a "great inspiration" to him. Suddenly, the Shadow enters the room and attacks Shiwan, but Khan steps on a hidden trigger which causes the floor tile the Shadow is standing on to become a spring, vaulting the Shadow out of the castle. However, it turns out this isn't the Shadow at all, but Yukal Torrg, one of Khan's followers who was ordered to test Shiwan's resources against an attack from the Shadow. Shiwan isn't ready to destroy the Shadow yet, but thinks he'll get started by killing Lamont Cranston. Poor Shiwan! Always in neutral, never in first gear.
Khan orders his hireling Hans Gerling to fire an ICBM at Lamont Cranston's townhouse. Geez, Khan doesn't indulge in such overkill, usually adopting complicated plots to perform his assassinations. Hans is in a hurry to attach the ICBM's atomic warhead and is exposed to a deadly dose of radiation. To save his life, he quickly makes a serum which will keep him alive for a few more days; wow, the things you can when you're motivated! He soon notices his presence causes plants to wilt and die, so he dons a radiation-proof suit.
Just as Shiwan is readying to fire the ICBM, Yukal attacks him from behind with a dagger. Shiwan stuns Yukal with tear gas and demands an explanation; Yukal simply wanted to rule the world in Shiwan's stead. Shiwan orders his loyal men to carry Yukal away for a later punishment, then launches the ICBM.
At Lamont's townhouse, while continuing to work Lamont reminisces about the time he was summoned to "a meeting at the secret hollowed-out mountain sanctum of C.H.I.E.F.... the abbreviation for Command Headquarters, International Espionage Forces..." All of a sudden this series has become a Nick Fury rip-off! In the flashback, Lamont is known as "Zero-11," because he doesn't have enough identities, I suppose.
At this point, the story is really beginning to pile up and... man, this is a chore. Just as the conference begins, suddenly a gang of Shiwan Khan's men "got past our security measures, somehow! We'll be massacred!" one official intones. "How true!" Khan's men declare. Lamont ducks under the table to change his costume, because obviously Khan's men aren't going to pull the triggers on their automatic weapons within the time it takes for him to switch clothing and it's not as though his powers allow him to hypnotize people so they wouldn't be able to tell who he is and whether he's wearing a costume or not. Therefore, the Shadow leaps out from under the table and attacks Khan's men, then hypnotizes them so they think he's a "shadow demon." Khan's men were so terrified they declared they'd serve the Shadow from then on instead. Meanwhile, in the present, the ICBM is still en route to Lamont's townhouse.
Suddenly, the ICBM falls out of the sky and crashes into the ocean. One wonders why it was so important to rush the launch of the ICBM within a few minutes if there was no follow-up plan. The Shadow lives because his enemies are idiots! Shiwan is outraged and runs to Hans to kill him, only to discover Hans wearing his radiation-proof costume. Hans demonstrates his powers by letting a giant carnivorous plant grab him, then removes his glove and kills the plant with his touch. Khan declares with his power, Hans could murder the Shadow and become notorious, attaining fame which will endure ages after his death. Hans likes the idea and Khan dubs him "Radiation Rogue." Soon, Radiation Rogue is being ferried via submarine to the USA with Shiwan; Shiwan will kill Lamont, Radiation Rogue will kill the Shadow.
We move now to part 2: "the Sinister Triumph of Shiwan Khan." Lamont goes sunbathing on the roof of his townhouse, when a carrier pigeon arrives with a message from C.H.I.E.F. (I guess Lamont is an agent of C.H.I.E.F. now instead of the Secret Service?) The message for Zero-11 informs him an attempt will be made on the lives of Lamont and the Shadow but, "That is all we know!" Wow, intelligence gathering is weird. Lamont tries not to let this bother him as he dresses up for a meeting of the board of directors at the Cranston Manhattan Bank (Lamont owns a bank now?). However, when he enters his elevator he finds a man who looks just like him; Lamont's double knocks him out and ties him up, then enters Lamont's Rolls Royce, fooling Shrevy.
Via flashback, we learn this man is "Bugs" Burke, a "small-time hood" who looks like Lamont Cranston. Hey, we've all got a double, right? But does this story really need a third villain? Or another character pretending to be Lamont (after Yukal impersonated the Shadow)? Bugs intends to rob Cranston's bank while posing as its owner. While Bugs attends Lamont's meeting, Lamont gets out of the ropes with the razor blade in his watch. So, now we understand why it was introduced earlier.
At the bank, Bugs draws his gun on the board of directors, but then they unmask themselves as Shiwan Khan and his men. Must there really be so many alternate identities? Bugs recognizes Shiwan Khan and quickly explains who he really is, but Shiwan doubts his story and orders his men to throw Bugs out of the window. However, Lamont sees this drama unfolding from the top of the roof using his "transistorized electronic eavesdropper device." Wow, just like in Iron Man! Lamont becomes the Shadow and fortunately for Bugs, Shiwan Khan's men don't throw him out the window in the time it takes for Lamont to switch clothes then leap into the office.
The Shadow attacks Shiwan's men and creates a terrific hallucination, causing the men to think "A terrible shadow-porcupine-man" is shooting quills at them. Far out! Shiwan bugs out of the bank with Bugs, climbing aboard a helicopter. The Shadow isn't able to hypnotize Shiwan Khan because he isn't looking at him. Leaving Shiwan's men for the police, the Shadow exits and returns to Lamont's townhouse. Meanwhile, Radiation Rogue tests out his powers by destroying some bricks with a blast of radiation.
Shiwan Khan brings Bugs back to his submarine, but when he checks his fingerprints he discovers Bugs' story is true: he isn't Lamont Cranston. Bugs asks to be Shiwan's partner, but Khan refuses and kicks him into the water; Bugs swims to the nearby shore. Shiwan still hopes Radiation Rogue will finish off the Shadow, but intends to steal all the credit for the Shadow's death.
At a gymnasium, Radiation Rogue decides he needs to test his power some more because... I guess we haven't seen him test his powers enough times yet? He picks a fight with three big wrestlers and we see he can jump "like a kangaroo" and weaken his foes with radiation. Then he steals the wrestlers' trophies and throws them in the trash. Oh no you didn't! He leaves a message to the wrestlers to tell the Shadow he wants to meet him at midnight "at a very appropriate spot."
For once, we have an issue of the Shadow which doesn't contain a second feature; instead, we carry into part 3: "Doom Stalks the Shadow!" Radiation Rogue wanders into a construction site and dislodges some girders, then stuns some workers and gives them the same message he gave the wrestlers. He also picks their pockets, but throws their wallets into the sewer. Oh no you didn't!
Lamont Cranston sees the newspaper headlines about Radiation Rogue and believes the "appropriate spot" must be "the new experimental nuclear power plant being built out in the hinterlands." Sure, why not? At midnight, the Shadow enters the plant and calls out for Radiation Rogue to face him. Radiation Rogue suggests they make a deal: he'll sell out Shiwan Khan to the Shadow. The Shadow likes the sound of this so Radiation Rogue offers to shake his hand (removing his glove). Like a fool, the Shadow shakes his hand and is instantly overwhelmed by the villain's radiation; the Shadow collapses to the ground as Radiation Rogue increases his dosage. To save himself, the Shadow causes Radiation Rogue to hallucinate so he sees multiple Shadows; melting into the shadows, the Shadow escapes Radiation Rogue, then hypnotizes the villain. He orders Radiation Rogue to kill Shiwan Khan; Radiation Rogue takes the Shadow with him as they journey to a nearby island where Khan waits at an abandoned prison.
Radiation Rogue attacks Shiwan Khan, but his bolts of radioactivity cause a wall to topple over and crush him. The Shadow hypnotizes Shiwan then goes to check the rubble to see if Radiation Rogue survived, but, hilariously, between panels Shiwan Khan escapes back to his submarine, explaining he painted eyes on his eyelids to trick the Shadow into thinking he hypnotizing him. The Shadow is left to return to the mainland, wondering if Radiation Rogue is still alive. Um, isn't that the reason why you stopped to check the debris? Ah, well. The USA's greatest secret agent, ladies and gentlemen!

Grand Comics Database again attributes this comic to Jerry Siegel & Paul Reinman, with Reinman drawing the cover. This is seriously beneath Siegel's capabilities, given what he was capable of over at DC Comics of the 1960s. It suggests Siegel's editors at DC had a firm hand to help shape the stories, but Archie doesn't seem to have cared too much about Siegel's efforts on the Shadow. Heck, it's only a children's licensed property, after all! Here, we see Siegel's trying to make the series a little more like the Man From U.N.C.L.E. (via C.H.I.E.F.), which isn't too drastic a step since the series premise is that Lamont is a secret agent. I was surprised to find this actually predates the more popular super hero/secret agent mash-up comics of 1965, Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. and T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents! The Shadow predicted the next big trend! Radiation Rogue also provides a very Marvel-like super villain. Siegel seemed to have the desire to write something worthy of Marvel, but at best this comic is derivative; at worst, it's insultingly dumb. There's no seeming logic or even spectacle behind this story, just an apparent effort to crank out page after page post haste. Reinman did what he could, but this series needed a Kirby or Wood at its helm.

This issue also features the text story "the Adventure of the Shadow" chapter five. This continues the story of how the Shadow saved the life of Weston of the Secret Service, only we learn Weston sometimes aids C.H.I.E.F. and is investigating a threat to that organization. I suspect this is going to lead to the first flashback from this issue, so at least the series is finding a narrative for itself.

Next time: Bitter Fruit brings you the Shadow#6!

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