November 15, 1953:
Ken Wyman looked at his stalled car as it sat by the side of the road, and he considered it to be a metaphor for the way his life was going. “I’m broken down on the side of the road of life!” he said, never one to shirk a colorful phrase.
The florid expression referred to the fact that he hated his job at the bank. He also felt somewhat estranged from his wife Sandra. He loved her, but he felt as if it was due to pressure from her that he had given up the things that had made life worthwhile for him in his younger days.
Before the war, he had worked for the Carterville Daily Blade, and he had loved every moment of it. He enjoyed being out and about, seeing people and questioning them about what mattered to them or why they did the things they did. He felt alive when he worked for the paper. Now, in his thirties, he felt as though life had passed him by.
“Yeah, that’s it. Life has passed me by. Life is moving, while I’m standing still. Carterville isn’t big enough for my ambitions anymore. I want to do something meaningful with my life, and that kind of meaning couldn’t be found in a boring bank.”
After sweating and working furiously with the engine, he managed to start his car, and he drove to his destination, only to a scene quite unlike the one he had imagined.
“The ceremony to honor the Marvel Family was going to be my first story in years since I went into the service and gave up the job at the Daily Blade,” he muttered to himself as he began to piece things together. “I know that Benson only asked me to do it because he knew I’d get a kick out of it! I thought I’d missed it because of my car trouble, but it seems like I’ve arrived in time for a much bigger story!”
He saw a large crowd of people milling about in agitation. Police officers were working to calm the crowd and collect their statements. Some people were openly weeping. Ken stopped an onlooker and asked him what had happened. Clearly something was very wrong.
“A spaceship abducted everyone at the ceremony!” he said. “We don’t know no more. My daughter was there! I’ve got to find her! Surely the Marvels will rescue them all! They’re trying to put together some kind of list of exactly who was here, but it’s almost impossible. People came from all over the world to pay honor to the Marvels!”
Ken stood in his tracks, stunned. He was so full of conflicting emotions that he didn’t know what to feel first. They’ll break free, he thought. They always do. I sure wish I could help them, but then what good would a masked fighter like the Devil’s Dagger be against a force that could capture a whole crowd like that?
As a younger man, Ken had briefly fought crime in Carterville during from the summer of 1940 to the summer of 1941 as a masked hero known as the Devil’s Dagger. He had been helped by his driver Pat Gleason, an ex-prize fighter, but he had given up the role after freeing the town from the control of a gang leader called Mr. H.
“Nothing I experienced in the service was as thrilling as my time as the Dagger,” he said. “If the Marvels could possibly lose their lives unexpectedly like this, then any of us could perish at any minute! I can’t waste my life a moment longer. I’m walking out of that bank, and I’m getting back in the news game!”
As he thought of his days as the dashing masked vigilante the Devil’s Dagger, he also began to wonder if just possibly he could also revive his other beloved role as a masked hero.
At that moment, a very tall blonde woman approached him. She was stunningly lovely, and her eyes seemed to almost shine with personality and charisma. He noticed that she was wearing a long coat, but her feet were bare. That’s odd for November in the city, he thought. But when he glanced down at her feet a second time, he realized that she was wearing shoes after all. I guess I’m seeing things! he thought.
The woman came closer and stopped in front of the former hero. “Please, sir, could you help me?” she said in a husky voice. “I came here to find the Marvel Family, but I missed them. I can’t help but believe that you might be able to assist me in their place!”
Ken nodded slowly. Something about the woman confused him. He felt dazed and a bit tongue-tied. He loved his wife in spite of their differences, but he had to admit that something about this mysterious blonde was oddly compelling.
Looking up at her, he said, “I’m Ken Wyman. I’ll help if I can, but what could a bank — I mean a reporter do that the Marvels could have done?”
She smiled winningly and said, “Come now, Mr. Wyman. You are much more than you appear to be. I have certain skills and talents of my own. I am empathic, and I know a champion when I meet one!”
Shrugging, he said, “Thanks. I admit that I have had some experience with dangerous situations and bizarre problems. What’s your name? How may I help you?”
“My name would mean little to you,” she said. “However, my father’s name is well known around the globe. He is Lee Granger the scientist and adventurer, and for many years he has been known in the popular press as the Jungle King!”
Ken whistled softly. “Dr. Granger is a genius! I mean, he’s up there with Edgewise and Kilowatt!”
Miss Granger nodded as she leaned closer to him. “It is precisely his brilliant mind that has led to his downfall!” she said. “He is in terrible danger! Our whole community is threatened, in fact! My story is complicated. Will you accompany me back to Africa? Will you help me save my father?”
Recalling his earlier resolution to make a change in his life, he said, “You’ve got a deal. However, if your problems are as serious as you suggest, I think we may need some help, and I saw an ad in the theatrical section of the paper that gives me an idea or two about a guy that might be able to help us, too. You might call him a real miracle-worker!”
They rushed away from the scene of confusion. The world had lost some great heroes, but Ken Wyman was about to prove that there were still some great heroes to be found.
After driving for around an hour the two reached an old theater in a neighboring city. The marquee sign was ornate and in good condition compared to the rest of the aging building. The blinking sign proudly proclaimed that El Carim, Master of Magic, would be appearing there for the next few days.
During the drive, Ken Wyman had learned that his companion’s name was Lena Granger, and that she had made her way to America from a remote part of Africa.
“I was able to get here with some help from a few kind strangers. They were sympathetic to a damsel in distress.”
Ken grinned and said, “Sure. I bet you can get anyone to do whatever you ask by batting your eyelashes at them!”
Lena shook her head and said, “You flatter me. In some ways I have led a sheltered life. As you know, Dr. Lee Granger came to Africa in 1940. He befriended a local Bantu tribe of pygmies and became both their leader and their benefactor. In an amazingly short period of time, he turned their humble village into a modern town with electricity, plumbing, a proper school, and even a legislative code. They called him Jungle King, but I can assure you that his rule was a benign one! He is a remarkable man. He combines a brilliant mind, a kind heart, and physical prowess beyond belief! It has been my suspicion that a popular character from the pulps was based upon my father. In fact, if you consider all of his superior qualities and scientific achievements, you could see him as the inspiration for more than one legendary character!”
At that moment, they entered the theater and reached the stage where a rehearsal was in progress.
A beautiful woman in a brief costume covered by feathers and sequins was floating above the stage, while a tall man in a tuxedo and yellow turban was watching her through keen eyes and a gleaming monocle.
“You are doing an excellent job, Gladys, only do try to look more excited,” he said. “A Sleeping Beauty in the air is not what the crowd wants to see!”
Gladys concealed a mock yawn and then replied, “Whatever you say, boss!”
The magician turned as the newcomers drew closer. He seemed so comfortable upon the stage and so clearly at home as a performer that it was easy to believe he had eyes in the back of his head.
“Hello. I am El Carim,” he said with a smile. “Are you looking for tickets for the show? While tonight’s show is sold out, I may be able to help you. After all, I do know the magician rather well!”
“El Carim, may we have a few moments of your time?” asked Ken. “We do need your help, but not with tickets!”
El Carim’s whole countenance seemed to brighten. Apparently, if there was one thing he loved more than being on stage, it was his amazing talents in the cause of justice. “Join me backstage in my dressing room,” he said. “I can prepare some tea, and we may talk in more comfort.”
As the trio made their way to his dressing room, El Carim playfully pretended to forget about his still-hovering assistant. She thrashed helplessly in thin air until he winked at her and cried, “Suspendo non!”
Gladys floated back down to the stage where she watched El Carim vanished with his guests behind the voluminous curtains. That man! she thought. If I wasn’t so crazy about him, I’d give him such a smack!
Having known El Carim since the early forties, Gladys Troy also knew all of his secrets. The man whose stage name was apt — the word miracle backwards — was far more than a gifted stage magician or illusionist. He was also a resourceful inventor, and he initially made good use of his gadgets in his act as well as in his hobby. More importantly, he was a crime-fighter and a hero to those in need. (*) He combined his skill in several scientific fields with real magical powers to defend the helpless and right wrongs of many different kinds. Gladys knew that many of his magical abilities had come from a mysterious being known as Wizzar, the father of all magic. (*) Since meeting the mysterious figure, El Carim had relied far less on his earlier scientific devices.
[(*) Editor’s note: See El Carim, Master of Magic, Master Comics #1 (March, 1940) and El Carim, Master of Magic, Master Comics #15 (June, 1941).]
She smiled to herself as she thought, Something tells me he’s going to cancel the shows for the rest of the week!