May 15, 2004

From the December 1940 issue of DOUBLE DETECTIVE, the Green Lama gets his serenity tested as he sees his enigmatic partner Magga shot down right in front of him. Time to see if our heroic Buddhist priest can walk the walk as well as he talks the talk, when his enlightenment gets a jolt of grief on a personal level.

(As an aside, I loved the introductory illustration, with the Lama throttling a German goon, while another one takes aim with an automatic. A beautiful gal flees, about to trip over the legs of a dazed Nazi on the floor, while above it all floats a grinning skull in a helmet with a swastika. You can’t go wrong with a Nazi skull on the first page!)

The Green Lama stories by Kendell Foster Crossen (as Richard Foster) all seem to be good, solid pulp entertainment but none of them have that extra gruesome incident or goofy business that would make them really memorable. The fact that Jethro Dumont is a devout Buddhist (he is in fact a genuine lama who studied in Tibet for ten years) gives him an interesting distinction from the usual heroes who charge in with a .45 blasting in each mitt. Appropriate for Dumont’s personality, the stories are told in a sedate, restrained manner. Although the villains are up to murder and pillage and extortion and so forth, the language in which we learn about them is understated. It’s a far cry from, say, Norvell Page sending the Spider raging out into a nightmarish city in flames.

This exploit sends our noble lama up against pretty big game . . . the Fifth Column. An Überbund, sponsored by Hitler itself, has begun its agenda of assassinating candidates who look like they might get a good chance of landing the nomination for the New Whigs party in the presidential election; they intend to keep doing this until the candidate they like gets a shot (sorry) at the White House. This new President will be a man devoted to totalitarian principles, and in a short time, the USA will align itself with Germany, Japan and Italy to (dare I say it?) take over the world!! The plan has a charming directness to it. You just snipe down any candidates that are in your way; sounds simple enough.

As the wheel of karma would have it, though, Jethro Dumont just happens to be present at a New Whig convention when a rifle bullet makes some room in a politician’s skull and he promptly gets on the case. Dumont does most of his investigating in his intermediate secret identity, the Reverend Dr. Charles Pali. It’s hysterical how many people promptly make a connection between this Pali padre and the crimefighting Green Lama. Two men arriving in town at the same time, both Buddhist priests, both dressed entirely in green and speaking Cryptic, both sticking their humble noses in violent affairs. . . . I am not a criminal mastermind, but even I would cast a suspicious look at this Dr Pali guy.

The whole idea of the Pali getup was originally to provide a cover for Dumont, so that crooks hunting the Green Lama would never suspect the actual man behind either identity. Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to be working too well either, and Jethro is also being watched. A third Buddhist lama wandering around Chicago in 1940, well, they weren’t as common as taxi drivers. Dumont is quickly giving lame explanations to the police that the Green Lama was supplying him detailed instructions and information to relay to the authorities. I can just see the shrewd old inspector saying, “Yeah, right, your PAL the Green Lama told you all that, right.” (Wink, grin.)

As the investigation progresses, our hero is helped once again by the woman of mystery, Magga. This time, she’s disguised as a brazen redhead called Maggie. As usual, her role in the great game is to provide the Lama with useful clues when he doesn’t seem to be getting anywhere, trade a few Sanskrit proverbs and then fade into the shadows. This time, however, Magga gets gunned down by Nazi goons right in view of the Green Lama. For the rest of the story, Dumont is troubled by a cold rage and a desire to kill the man who ordered her shooting. It’s kind of unsatisfying the way he waffles, though. He could either rise above the tragedy and carry on, serene in the knowledge that Magga will rise a step in her next incarnation. Or, more likely, he could have thrown the green robe in the corner, bought a gun and gone out for blood. As it is, though, he makes some angry threats and seems unhappy, but that’s it.

The Green Lama could in fact be a terrible opponent if he ever went berserk. He’s a pacifist monk but hey, so were those guys from Shaolin and look what they were capable of. Dumont has trained in martial arts, knows pressure points and obscure fighting secrets and is enormously vigorous (“With the strength of a superman, the Green Lama raised the two men from the floor and threw them from him”). Our boy also shows some remarkable hypnotic powers and twice seems to actually project lifelike illusions. (I was half expecting some sort of trick movie gimmick, but nope.) This time, he doesn’t drink the radioactive salts which charge his body with electric force and maybe it’s just as well . . . he might have been tempted to wreak some instant karma on the Bund boys.

Aside from the perforated Magga (I always wanted her to finally reveal her real name and origins), the supporting cast is okay but nothing special. Aiding the Lama at this point are Jean Farrell, the gun-toting girl from Montana and Ken Clayton, the noted character actor (who evidently studied makeup with Jack Pierce). Loyal servant Tsarong only shows up at the end to crack an exceptionally lame remark.

I like the Green Lama. He’s an intriguing character who is a definite change of pace from the usual pulp avenger. His stories are readable and enjoyable, but something seems to be missing somehow . . . they never quite go over the top far enough.