THE MOTION MENACE entangles a vacationing Pat Savage in danger by the same logic as Red Snow—the villains assume she’s traveling as Doc’s agent and decide to eliminate her as a threat. Fortunately for Pat, the plane that stops mysteriously in mid-air, then falls, isn’t hers, but she gets captured by the Elders, a bunch of old, bearded guys wearing overcoats just the same (she does manage to scam them effectively later in the story)
The threat then moves to New York, a mysterious force that can freeze traffic, crash planes, hold Doc paralyzed and even kills Monk’s pig Habeas (Doc revives him). The gimmick is the one thing Dent kept from the original ghosted story by Johnny Johns, rewriting everything else. As the title suggests, it’s an anti-motion ray, one that intensifies inertia so that the target freezes completely (a scientist explains at one point that while this doesn’t fit Newtonian theories about inertia, those theories are wrong).
The politics of the book are unusual in being, if not pro-Soviet, at least OK with the red menace. When Doc discovers one character is an OGPU (forerunner of the KGB) agent, that’s proof he’s a good guy; Doc has worked with OGPU in the past; and the villains’ scheme involves overthrowing the USSR’s current government. Admittedly it’s not for freedom and democracy—the bad guys plan to take over, tax the people, steal the tax money and then move on to other nations—but having Doc save the Soviet Union is almost as surprising as the hero of Drums of Fu Manchu trying to save Hitler.
A minor oddity is that we never learn why the group calls itself the Elders and dress up in those outfits. Was this Dent working a variation on the Elders of Zion (I can’t but notice one of the villains is that anti-semitic bogeyman, the international banker)?
THE SUBMARINE MYSTERY resembles Devil on the Moon in that 1938’s international tensions are a backdrop to the villains’ scheme rather than the root. It opens with a beautiful woman in medieval armor jumping off a sinking US sub … except the Navy confirms it’s not one of our subs. The villains have actually been building duplicate US submarines (improbably nobody notices they’ve taken over a Brooklyn Navy shipyard to do this) to commit international piracy. If the victim ships go down with all hands, it’ll be written off to one of the European or Asian belligerents (Germany blames Russia, China blames Japan, etc.); if it survives, the US will get the blame. In a nice touch, the villains’ base is an isolated island, but instead of the usual Lost Race, it’s just a place nobody visits very much. Their strange, archaic manner of speech is only the way the lower, more ignorant members of society talk.
Millennium Comics argued that 1938 was the year Doc began pushing back against the inhuman discipline he’d operated under most of his life, and this book makes a good case. Doc loses his temper with the female lead (admittedly he’s done that before, in The Roar Devil) and totally loses control when he catches some of the bad guys whipping a seriously ill boy to punish his father. He also spends at least half of the book as the villains’ prisoner—not continuously as in The Feathered Octopus, but escaping, getting recaptured, escaping, getting recaptured … It works, though. Both books this month work better than I remembered them.
Covers by James Bama, all rights reside with current holder.