HAPPY DEATH MEN
The Avenger (aka Richard Henry Benson), visiting the Midas Club under the guise of Juan Dyer, overhears a group of men talking about a series of gruesome murders. According to Burke at the Classic, the victims were all chosen at random. One man says that he would expect this if “that nutcase with the fangs and the fright wig” were still around, but he hasn’t been seen in a couple months. “Dyer” and his companion, Ellen Patrick, join the conversation. The men who were already discussing the killings are Drew, an attorney; Dithers, the construction magnate; and Mann, a financial advisor. Dithers says that the killers have horrible death’s head grins, like the victims of poisoning murders in Gotham a few years ago. They are joined by Dr. Karl Walden and his companion, Lilya Zarov. Drew has instructed his daughter to stay indoors until the killings have stopped. When Zarov leaves, “Dyer” attempts to find her; upon returning, he finds that Ellen and Walden have disappeared, and that none of the others at the table remember them being there in the first place. Stepping into a back alley, the Avenger is attacked by one of the grinning murderers. In a flashback, Benson and his aide Nellie Gray battle one of the so-called “Happy Death Men.” As the monster attempts to crush him to death, Benson uses a technique taught to him by the yoga master Dekka Lan Shan and refined with instruction from another New York crime fighter to slow his heart rate in order to briefly deceive the creature into thinking he is dead. The creature is killed by Ellen Patrick, now in her other identity as the Domino Lady. Benson says that the dead creature’s skin tissue matches a strange polymorphic material similar to the residue at the scene of Justice, Inc.’s battle with a woman known as “The Countess,” who seemingly died at the end of that affair. Benson states that rich men have been disappearing, members of various clubs: the Explorers Club, the Cobalt, the Sphinx, the local branch of the Baltimore Gun Club, and the Discoverers League. Back in the present, Benson regains consciousness, finding himself, the Domino Lady, and three of his aides as captives in the living room of a penthouse apartment. Benson realizes that Lilya Zarov and the Countess are one and the same person, though her appearance has changed. Benson tells Walden that unlike the Nazis, the United States has successfully created a supersoldier. Smitty asks if Walden is part of the Unholy Nine gang; Walden replies that that group stole his organization’s good name, or at least half of it. One of Benson’s aides, Fergus “Mac” MacMurdie, refers to rumors of immortality elixirs such as Royal Jelly and the “Elixir of Life.” Benson suspects that Dr. Walden is far older than he looks, and Mac wonders if he once had a supply of a longevity elixir that ran out. Smitty remarks that the Countess was reportedly disfigured around the time of the Russian Revolution, and that it seems like she spent a long time looking like “a female Phantom of the Opera” despite her current difference in appearance. Benson suggests that Walden is the “Baron” who assisted the Countess in her misdeeds last year, and that she has changeable flesh like him. At the conclusion of the affair, Benson sends the last of the Death Men to a secure rehabilitation clinic in upstate New York that is run by a bronze-skinned doctor friend of his. Benson suggests to his comrades that Walden may have escaped from them using technology similar to that used by a foe of this doctor, which in turn was based upon a “disintegrator” invented by Theodore Nemor. Nellie asks if perhaps Walden believes, as did a man called Rode Boeman whom they encountered a few years ago, that there is more to Benson’s condition than mere muscular paralysis.
Short story by Win Scott Eckert in The Avenger: The Justice, Inc. Files, Joe Gentile and Howard Hopkins, eds., Moonstone Books, 2011. The Midas Club is from the Doc Savage novel The Man Who Shook the Earth. Clyde Burke, a reporter for The New York Classic, is an agent of the Shadow, as is Rutledge Mann. The Shadow is the crime-fighter who helped Benson in refining his heart-stopping technique. The “nutcase with the fangs and the fright wig” is the Spider. Attorney Carson Drew is the father of young amateur sleuth Nancy Drew. J.C. Dithers is Dagwood Bumstead’s boss in Chic Young’s comic strip Blondie. The Domino Lady, created by Lars Anderson, is one of the most famous pulp heroines. The poisoning murders in Gotham are a reference to Batman’s archenemy the Joker. Dr. Karl Walden is meant to be Baron von Hessel from Philip José Farmer’s Doc Savage novel Escape from Loki. Many questions about the Baron/Walden are answered in Eckert’s story “The Wild Huntsman” (The Worlds of Philip José Farmer 3: Portrait of a Trickster, Meteor House, 2012.) The Countess Lilya Zarov is meant to be Lili Bugov, the Countess Idivzhopu, and is also from Escape from Loki. In Farmer’s novel, it is mentioned that the Countess’ family held manhunts; Lili’s use of the name Zarov in this story is meant to imply that she is related to General Zaroff from Richard Connell’s short story “The Most Dangerous Game.” The Countess’ previous encounter with Justice, Inc. was chronicled in Eckert’s story “Death and the Countess” (The Avenger Chronicles, Joe Gentile and Howard Hopkins, eds., Moonstone Books, 2008.) Dekka Lan Shan is also from Escape from Loki, and is the grandfather of the Dekka Lan Shan who appears in “The Sapphire Death,” a Peter the Brazen story by “Loring Brent” (George F. Worts.) The Explorers Club and the Sphinx Club were both real clubs. The Cobalt Club is from the Shadow novels. The Baltimore Gun Club appears in Jules Verne’s novels From the Earth to the Moon, Around the Moon, and The Purchase of the North Pole. The Discoverers League is from the novel Hunt at World’s End by Gabriel Kaufman. The supersoldier created by the United States government is, of course, Captain America. The Unholy Nine appear in Max McCoy’s story “Feast of Fire,” found in the limited hardcover edition of The Avenger Chronicles. The Royal Jelly serum was created by Sherlock Holmes, and has provided him and his family and friends with extended lifespans; its existence was revealed by William S. Baring-Gould in his biography Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street. The Elixir of Life was created by Dr. Fu Manchu. The Phantom of the Opera is from Gaston Leroux’s novel of the same name. The clinic in upstate New York is Doc Savage’s Crime College. Doc’s encounter with a villain using similar teleportation technology to Dr. Walden’s was chronicled in The Vanisher, while Theodore Nemor’s disintegrator appears in Edward Malone and Arthur Conan Doyle’s Professor Challenger story “The Disintegration Machine.” Eckert first proposed that the device from The Vanisher was based on Nemor’s creation in his story “The Vanishing Devil” (Tales of the Shadowmen Volume 1: The Modern Babylon, Jean-Marc and Randy Lofficier, eds., Black Coat Press, 2005.) Rode Boeman is meant to be Red Orc from Philip José Farmer’s The World of Tiers novels; Benson encountered him during the events of Christopher Paul Carey’s story “Devil’s Dark Harvest” (also found in The Avenger: The Justice, Inc. Files.)
So Benson encountered Red Orc. I've been waiting to hear that there had been a crossover between one of the great Pulp Heroes and the World of Tiers. I probably should get the Avenger anthologies. One of the things I've always wondered about the CU is that in World of Tiers it is revealed that our universe is one of the constructed ones and it does not extend past the Solar System. This contradicts other Farmer WNU stories like Stations of Nightmare and The Other Log of Phileas Fogg. Of course, I'm probably over thinking it.ReplyDelete
When you say Karl Walden, I keep thinking of actor Karl Malden.