1935-04 The Spook Legion

Cover Date: April 1935
Volume 4 # 6
Copyright Date: Friday, March 15, 1935
Author: Lester Dent and H. G. Wells
Editor: John Nanovic
WHMC: The collection contains nine folders for this story, f.262-270
Recurring Characters. The entire Iron Crew are all present in this story.

The Spook Legion by Kenneth  Robeson
The Red Eye of Death by Walter Wayne
Inside the Arctic Circle by Avin H. Johnston
Killer of Blind Valley by Steward Van der Veer

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Lester Dent sometimes took a basic idea from another fictional work and incorporated it into a particular Doc Savage story.  A. Conan Doyle’s “The Lost World,” James Hilton’s “Lost Horizon,” and Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island” are prominent examples of this technique.  In at least one Doc Savage story, Dent reached out and used elements from an H. G. Wells’ science fiction stories.  The first example is The Spook Legion from April 1935.  Well’s premise of making the human body invisible is used in this Doc Savage story by a criminal gang.  Their intention is to commit wholesale robbery using this scientific breakthrough.

The main protagonist in “The Invisible Man” is a young medical student named Griffin.  His idea is based on a formula that alters a person’s refractive index in order to make it invisible.  The key phrase here is “refractive index.”  Early on, in the Doc Savage story, as readers are introduced to the man of bronze, it is revealed that Doc Savage is the author of numerous scientific works.  One of the topics is “the advanced study of the dispersion of doubly refracting and naturally gyrating substance.” Leo Bell, a minor character in the story raises questions about one of the articles.  “What are naturally gyrating and doubly refracting substances?”  Indeed, what are they?  The scientific function of these things is not what is important.  Rather, it is Lester Dent’s way of tipping his hat to H. G. Wells.  Dent had a habit of including literary clues that pointed back to a story’s origins.  That’s exactly what Dent is doing here by talking about refracting substances.  Dent uses this technique several times more in the story. 

The Sun, Saturday, December 18, 1897

Griffin explains the problems of being invisible.  During one incident in particular he is betrayed by muddy footprints. “I looked down and saw the youngsters had stopped and were gaping at the muddy footmarks I had left behind me up the newly whitened steps.”  Doc Savage faces the same exact dilemma during his invisible episode.  His feet become wet and he leaves a procession of wet footprints behind him.  In both novels, the incidents are viewed by uneasy spectators. 

In another instance, Griffin attempts to pass in public by swathing himself in a waddle of clothes while bandaging his head.  Goggles hide the deep pits of his invisible eyes. In “The Spook Legion,” a criminal uses the same technique to appear in public.  He replaces the facial bandages with a thin rubber mask.  But he chooses goggles to hide his eyes. 

In both stories, obtaining invisibility is not without its price.  Extremely painful is how Griffin describes the transformation.  Griffin says he “sobbed and groaned” It is no different for Monk Mayfair, who eventually passes out from the treatment’s painful side effects.  Both times the sensation is described as fiery.  Griffin’s description: I set my teeth, though my skin was presently afire, all my body afire.  Monk Mayfair: All of his body seemed filled with unholy fire.

Each story uses a scene describing the uncanny effect of seeing only the bandages on a wounded invisible man. The result is disturbing to the viewers on both occasions.  Another similarity is the “Reign of Terror” in both novels. Wells’ character Griffin slowly goes insane as a result of his inability to reverse the invisibility process.  In his insanity, he intends to commit a series of robberies and murder throughout the countryside which he predicts will be a Reign of Terror.  Similarly, in The Spook Legion, the criminal gang uses their invisibility to enact their own “Reign of Terror” through a series of vicious robberies and murders.

Wells’ story has a Colonel Ayde who is the Chief of the Port Burdock Police.  Dent introduces a similarly named character, Ada Easeman, as the daughter of an invisible millionaire.  The Invisible Man has Dr. Kemp, an old school mate of Griffin, who now plays a significant part in the story.  Kemp is also the name for the coarse wavy fibers in wool.  Dent makes play on this with his inventor of the invisibility process.  The man is Angus Angelo Marikan who happens to be concerned with fibers of a slightly different sort – he runs a fur farm.  

In 1933, Universal produced a fill version of “The Invisible Man.”  The movie starred Claude Rains as the invisible man in his first acting role.  It was a popular movie and may have inspired Lester Dent to adapt Well’s story into a Doc Savage adventure.   The New York Times praised the film in a review in the November 18, 1933 issue.  Dent’s story wasn’t submitted to his publisher, Street & Smith, until late 1934.  Each incident on its own merit could be dismissed as happenstance but when examined together it is obvious that Lester Dent did in fact use H. G. Well’s story, “The Invisible Man,” as the basis for his own novel.

John Nanovic authored a couple of books on codes and ciphers.  One of these was “Secret Writing – An Introduction to Cryptograms, Ciphers, and Codes.”  One code mentioned is the “School Code” which consists of many physical hand gestures to convey letters of the alphabet.  In “The Spook Legion,” Telegraph Edmunds uses a similar system but much more sophisticated.