Sunday, April 21, 2024

The Phantom - The Hydra Monster!

The Hydra Monster of the title is actually a secret gang of criminals who use murderous means to keep themselves out of the public eye. The Phantom knows of them because his ancestors had battled the organization several times over the centuries, and it was believed they were wiped out. This is a story written by Ron Goulart under his "Frank Shawn" pseudonym. This novel adapts the story "The Hydra" from the comic strip by Falk and Sy Barry from 1968.  It seems to be set right after the events of the previous novel as far as I can tell since the Phantom is with Diana Palmer at his Eyrie where we left them. 

When the Phantom learns that the Hydra organization might be active again, he heads to San Francisco to investigate a strange murder. He does indeed find evidence of the Hydra outfit and barely escapes a lurid and gothic "Death House" that the worldwide gang had used to eliminate threats. Despite these actions, the police seem skeptical of the existence of Hydra. 

Then the action shifts to a fictional South American country called Santa Florenza which as suffered a deadly series of earthquakes. Word comes that a gang of looters have been traveling across the stricken country and pillaging works of art and other kinds of wealth. These strange characters, all dressed in black call themselves "Vultures" and identify themselves with a tattooed "V" on their heads. With Devil at his side, the Phantom attempts to confront these villains, who he feels are just one arm of the larger Hydra organization. The Phantom is nearly killed a few times. Things get more complex still when the Vultures plot to kidnap Diana Palmer to put pressure on the Phantom to release some prisoners. The action reaches a peak when more earthquakes strike the poor country. 

Now it goes almost without saying that this story has real echoes of the Marvel villainous mob called Hydra from many issues of SHIELD, and there is even a line about cutting off one limb and two replacing it. The Vulture group as just one aspect of the criminal outfit fits in too with a similar structure that Marvel once us with groups like the Advanced Idea Mechanics (A.I.M.). I was also reminded of the "Rat Pack", a mob of scavengers that first show up in the pages of Captain Marvel. 

The use of Hydra name made for a great book title, but really the only aspect of the larger group we encounter to any degree are the Vultures. It seemed a needless complication. It seems the whole mob was wiped out by the novel's end, but that's hardly certain. Maybe Goulart will have the Hydra gang return in future novels.  Also, Devil is not well used in this story as he appears when needed to save the Phantom's bacon, but then utterly disappears from the story as if Goulart forgot about him. 

Next time we visit Killer's Town. That sounds like a ton of fun and was written by Lee Falk himself. 

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