Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Dr. Death Vs. The Secret Twelve, Vol. 2 (Altus Press, 2009)

This second volume of Dr. Death novels is significant because none of them were ever published at the time they were written (in 1935). Although Waves of Madness, the first novel included in this collection, was promised in the third and final issue of Doctor Death magazine, it would be 45 years before it was discovered among the papers of the late writer Harold Ward. The introduction to this collection, by Matthew Moring, describes how pulp collector Jack Irwin ran an ad looking for old pulp magazines and was contacted by Gladys Ward, the widow of writer Harold Ward. After Harold Ward passed away in 1950, she kept his old manuscripts, which have been a godsend for literary research. The other unpublished Doctor Death novel, The Red Mists of Death is also included in Vol 2. The collection is rounded out with a brief interview of Ms. Gladys Ward and some reproductions of artwork used in the Doctor Death magazine.
Waves of Madness has mad scientist Rance Mandrain (AKA Dr. Death) robbing a bank by using a sonic generator which can unleash madness on anyone unlucky enough to be in hearing range. With his undead zombie assistants, it's a cinch for him to drive away with the deposits while people are killing each other. Next we get to see Dr. Death interviewing a rich industrialist who wishes to finance the old horror's latest bid to destroy civilization. Dr. Death wants to unleash world war to restore humanity to a state of nature. The industrialist and his cabal wants the riches war will bring, so it's a good working relationship for them both.
Out to stop Dr. Death is dashing police detective Jimmy Holm. He's helped by his fiance Nina (when she isn't getting nabbed by Death's minions) and hard-boiled Inspector Ricks. Death is aided by the Egyptian princess Charmion and whoever he can rope into service. Of course, Death has the ability to project his will onto ordinary mortals and to move his soul around from one host body to the next.
Once the original deep ecologist is foiled, he returns with The Red Mist of Death. Presenting himself as Yama, the god of death, the old fiend steals a valuable jewel from a Tibetan monastery. He teams up with a "half Russian half Mongolian" mercenary named Kham. Together they invade China from Tibet using the weapon featured in the novel's title: a blister-inducing chemical which condemns anyone coming into contact with it to a slow and agonizing death. But again, Jimmy Holm stops Death before the lunatic's plans can become manifest. And Death escapes in the last few pages, of course, to terrorize the world once more.
The Red Mists of Death is the better of the two novels. Although Ward writes about China in the most stereotypical way imaginable, he does take care to portray individual Chinese in a positive light. He even seems to have done his research on contemporary China. I just wish he'd have been able to do something with Charmion, Death's sidekick. You can only take so much of her "Now we weel keel" dialogue. But you also get some insight into Death's vendetta against civilization: he believes both God and Satan have urged him to bring humanity back to the stone age (making him the original processean).
A good wrap-up to a pulp magazine remembered mostly for it's lurid covers and outlandish plots.

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