In his dressing room, El Carim thoughtfully served tea to his guests and then sat down in front of an illuminated makeup mirror and looked expectantly at them. “How may I help you?” he asked.
“I come from a rather remote part of Africa,” said Lena. “My people are in jeopardy, and a great hero has lost his confidence because he blames himself for our troubles! I need the help of a hero!”
“Write the name of this hero on my pad!” said El Carim.
“I’m Ken Wyman. She’s Lena Granger,” said her companion. “Her father is Lee Granger, the Jungle King. We can talk openly here. I don’t think we need to use a pad and pen!”
“I have heard of the famous Dr. Granger,” said El Carim, “but please indulge me in my request. You will understand why I make it in a matter of seconds. Write the name, please!”
Lena complied, and El Carim studied the paper. “Your handwriting is rather unusual,” he said. “I suspect you are a remarkable young lady!”
Taking the note, he placed it into a machine that rested within a plush traveling case. Seconds later, he retrieved the paper that looked unaltered to Ken and Lena.
“I call that machine my Spectrograph,” El Carim explained. “By passing such a note through it, I am able to make the person named in the note appear on my magic monocle. It involves a rather complex process that draws upon vibratory frequencies of an obscure nature!”
Adjusting his monocle, he held it up to the light. As the light hit the monocle, it displayed a bizarre scene on the wall.
The magic monocle depicted what appeared to be a typical suburban community in the heart of the African jungle. Rows of tidy modern homes lined neatly landscaped blocks. Almost everything about the scene conjured up images of small-town America, not Sub-Saharan Africa.
I almost expect to see Blondie and Dagwood Bumstead sitting on one of the front porches in a swing! thought Ken.
“You are showing my homeland!” said Lena. “Jungle King designed it all, and our people built it based on his instructions! We were all so happy there, until…!”
Before she could finish her sentence, the door burst open, and three burly figures raced into the room. “We have found her! Your infernal powers could not fool us!” cried the leader. All three of the men wore heavy trenchcoats with fedoras pulled low over their brows.
Ken jumped forward, only to be struck down by one of the surprisingly agile intruders. As he crashed to the floor, he thought, I’m rusty! I never thought such a big man could move that fast!
The leader of the trio brandished a gun and said, “Give us the princess! We will not harm you if you submit!”
Lena hesitated as she glanced back and forth between her friends and her foes. She seemed to be inwardly debating some course of action.
Luckily, El Carim was almost preternaturally alert, and he swiftly cried, “Arresto!”
Instantly, the three intruders stiffened in place like statues. Ken only noticed after glancing at the miracle man of magic that he was carrying a strange object that looked like a simple triangle.
“My arrestor will keep them immobile,” El Carim explained. “We have nothing to fear from them now.”
Lena sighed with relief as she helped Ken to his feet.
Shaking his head in amazement, Ken said, “El Carim, you really are a magician! I mean, this is astounding!” Moving closer to the gunmen, he lifted the battered fedora from the first intruder’s head. “Do you know these big apes?” he asked.
Before anyone could answer, Ken gasped in surprise as he caught a clear look at the frozen thugs. Each one was a gorilla. They were wearing coats and hat, they carried guns, and clearly at least one of them could speak English, but they were gorillas.
“When I said apes, I was using slang!” he sputtered. “I didn’t realize they really were gorillas!”
El Carim looked at Lena with an almost tender expression as he said, “Shall I tell him, or do you wish to do so?”
Lena nodded slowly and said, “They are indeed gorillas. They have pursued me from my home. They belong to the group that has dominated my people!”
“Talking gorillas?” asked Ken. “How is it possible? How can they think and talk like people?”
“In the same way that I do,” said Lena. “You see, when I said I had certain talents, I was being literal. I can create the illusion that I am not what I truly am! When I said that Lee Granger the Jungle King was my father, I was being figurative. I am not his daughter, except in the sense that it was his brilliant mind that made me and my people as we are!”
The tall blonde shimmered for a moment, and then Ken gasped as she transformed into a powerfully built African gorilla with what appeared to be long blonde hair.
Ken sat down abruptly and said, “Am I going crazy?”
El Carim touched his shoulder and said, “Be calm, my friend. I detected the truth about Lena when I gazed at her with my magical monocle. I think we may assume she was sincere in her request for our help and in describing the plight of her people and the Jungle King. She merely made observers see her as a human female, because she knew we would be more accepting of her than if we saw her as a highly evolved gorilla!”
“I am sorry that I deceived you,” said the female gorilla. “I had to use my illusion power in order to attract help and to avoid drawing attention to myself. My illusions don’t work on the gorillas that threaten my land.”
Ken stood up and extended his hand to the gorilla. “Lena, I’m sorry for the way I reacted,” he said. “I guess I’ve lost the reporter’s professional detachment!”
She laughed and said, “I understand. Will you still help me liberate my people and Dr. Granger from the rogue element represented by these killers?”
“I won’t break a promise to a lady!” replied Ken.
El Carim stared at him and then said, “Would this make you more comfortable?” He spoke several words in what seemed to be gibberish, and Ken’s clothing magically changed until he was wearing a dark tuxedo with a top hat and a red cape. The jacket was now lined with several crimson-hilted daggers, and he held a black domino mask in one hand.
“We can’t have the Devil’s Dagger go into battle unarmed!” he said.
Ken smiled at the magician and said, “Thanks, but please just call me the Dagger. I’d ask how you knew about me in the first place, but I suppose at this point that would be silly, miracle man!”
Later, the Dagger, El Carim, and Lena the Jungle Princess found themselves soaring over Africa in a small private plane.
El Carim guided the aircraft skillfully as his passengers sat nearby. “I use this plane for touring,” he told them. “By the way, that was a clever idea you had about checking the airports for a private plane that came from Africa. Of course, we know the gorillas that attacked us had to have come here by private plane, since they lacked Lena’s illusion power. They certainly couldn’t have come here on a normal flight, even in their coats and fedoras!”
“I’m glad I still have some detective skills left, but we still didn’t find the plane they used,” said the Dagger. “It all makes me wonder. I guess I’m talking nonsense, though.”
“No matter,” said El Carim. “My plane is a grand old craft!”
The Dagger nodded admiringly. He had always been fascinated with aviation and also possessed a pilot’s license. “She’s a wonderful craft!” he agreed. “It has been a smooth trip so far. I guess the real trouble will start when we reach Lena’s home and face the gorillas who invaded the place!”
Lena nodded, and then the female gorilla began to add details to what she had already told them earlier. “Dr. Granger used his brilliant mind to turn a Bantu village in the remote jungle into a modern community, and he was asked to rule the pygmies as their Jungle King, since he’d made life better for everyone. He also conducted some amazing experiments in the laboratory he built there. He used a process of his own creation to give a lion he named Eric both intelligence and the ability to speak. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Lee Granger, Jungle King, Slam-Bang Comics #1 (March, 1940).]
“The Jungle King also created a gas that stimulated the intellect of all the animals in the vicinity, and my people benefited greatly from it,” she continued. “When I was born with both the enhanced intellect he’d already given to my parents, plus the mutant ability to alter how my appearance registers on human minds, I became a favorite of his. He laughingly called me the Jungle Princess, and I do think of Dr. Granger as a mentor.”
They soared over the model community El Carim had projected an image of on the dressing room wall. It was a strange but impressive sight. Rows of suburban-style homes dotted what had once been dense jungle. Recreational items like barbecues, badminton nets, and croquet equipment could be seen across the lawns as well.
The Dagger whistled softly. “Amazing!” he said. “This could be some American suburb in a place like Westport, Connecticut!”
Lena smiled as she replied, “Dr. Granger’s paradise was indeed a happy community. The human inhabitants and the evolved animals lived in true harmony. That is why we were all shocked and caught by surprise when the gorillas raided our community and swiftly overpowered us all! They were ruthless, and they were well-armed with guns. Dr. Granger fell apart. He was always a hero and a truly marvelous man, but he couldn’t cope with the idea that it was his actions that may have turned animals into killers with minds and hatreds normally found only in humans!
“I fled and used my power to dupe some humans to into taking me to safety on their ships! I made them see me as a tall, beautiful blonde woman. My powers do not work on other evolved animals, so I was pursued as you saw back when the three intruders broke into the theater. I read about the ceremony to honor the Marvel Family, and I figured I could enlist them to help me and my people! When I arrived to find that they had vanished, I was distraught until I empathically sensed that you were also a hero! I am sorry that I manipulated you with the illusion that I was a woman. It was hardly a perfect deception. My trenchcoat was fine, but I had not created the illusion of shoes until I saw that you were looking at my feet.”
“I knew it!” said the Dagger, snapping his finger. “I saw bare feet for a minute, and then, when I looked down again, you were wearing shoes! I thought I was going nutty!” Shaking his head, he said, “Lena, you don’t owe me any apology. I’m sorry for your troubles, but I have to admit that I haven’t felt this alive in years!”
El Carim smiled to himself; he liked Ken Wyman, and he appreciated the other man’s courage. He’s ready to risk all for Lena and her people, and he doesn’t have my magical or scientific advantages. That makes him a real hero! he thought. I’ll need all the courage I can muster when I get back to the theater. I left poor Gladys babysitting the frozen gorillas! She was as mad as a wet hen! She’ll be safe, though. Nothing can release them from the hold my arrestor placed on them until I speak the command.
“Dagger, what is your plan?” asked Lena. “You seemed confident that you could help me. Won’t we be captured upon arrival once they see who we are? My powers have no effect on the other evolved animals!”
“That’s OK!” said the Dagger. “We want them to see you exactly as you are. Let them see that you are big, blonde, and beautiful!”
Lena smiled almost sheepishly, and El Carim guided the plane down to a landing on the community airfield.
The magician said, “We are about to be boarded. Shall I perform the magic you asked about back at the theater?”
“What magic?” asked Lena. “I am afraid I was freshening up when you conferred with one another!”
“Dagger asked if I could make the two of us look like the gorillas who came after you,” said El Carim. “We’re going to pose as them and let your enemies think we captured you, but lost one associate in the effort. They will take us directly to their leader, and we will get the lay of the land!” He cried, “Transformo!”
Instantly, the suave magician with the yellow turban and the dapper Dagger in his mask and black tuxedo transformed into duplicates of two of the gorillas who were now frozen in the theater dressing room.
Gripping Lena by each arm, they led her down to meet a welcoming party of seven burly gorillas who stood at alert and each held a rifle.
This may be dangerous, but I’m having fun for the first time in about ten years! thought the Dagger.