Garth – Story 27 – The 13th Man

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The 13th Man
Story Number: 27
Writer: Peter O’Donnell
Artist: Steve Dowling/ John Allard
Published: 5th December 1954 – 2nd July 1955 (N290 – O153)
Number of Episodes: 174

Some six weeks after their return from Kazahn, Lumiere and Garth are playing chess in a London Club, unaware of being observed and discussed by two men: Colonel Starke, and Tallon. The next day, a meeting chaired by Starke is held behind closed doors. The twelve men present agree that Garth is a suitable candidate for some unstated purpose – undoubtedly sinister, as they go on to discuss killing someone.

Garth - The 13th Man - N290

That night, Garth is leaving his friend Jimmy Trent’s gymnasium. He hails a taxi that has been stationed outside at the instigation of Tallon and Marley, another of the twelve conspirators.

The driver presses a plunger with his foot, and in the back of the taxi Garth is enveloped by a gas, and rendered unconscious. He is driven to the waiting Tallon and Marley. Tallon gives Garth a hypodermic injection to prolong his unconsciousness, and Marley phones Starke to tell him that they have secured Garth, and are taking him in a covered van to Cornwall.

The next morning, a worried Lumiere phones Jimmy Trent and learns that Garth had left him the previous night. Meanwhile, in a remote part of the Cornish coast, Tallon and Marley have lowered the unconscious Garth a hundred feet down a disused mineshaft. They carry him along a tunnel before setting him down. They then affix a metal bucket-shaped helmet over Garth’s head, securing it on his shoulders with bolts. The only opening in the helmet is a letter-box slit at mouth level, enabling Garth to breathe. On regaining consciousness in a few hours’ time, he will have no idea what has happened, or be able to see anything.

In a big house near the mine, Starke has assembled his associates. One of them, Dr. Graile, is sent to join Garth and observe him, without revealing his presence. Graile is equipped with a radio transmitter with a throat microphone, to report Garth’s reactions to Starke.

Starke’s scheme is now clear: to test Garth’s reactions under supreme stress. When Garth comes round, he explores his surroundings and deduces that he is underground, probably in an old mine. He slips on a discarded pick handle and gathers it up, together with a piece of metal from the broken pick-head. Garth remains calm, feeling his way through the tunnels, using the pick handle to check his head room, and testing the ground ahead to avoid falling down a hole.

Starke and his associates are pleased to think that they may have found a new recruit. Garth finally reaches the walls of the entrance shaft, and by using the metal pick-head he chips hand-holds in the rock face, and slowly claims up to the surface – an astonishing feat of strength and endurance.

The cover of the Australian reprint of "Garth - The 13th Man"
The cover of the Australian reprint of “Garth – The 13th Man”

Tallon arrives and lowers a rope ladder for Dr. Graile, and they watch as Garth moves unerringly inland by keeping the salty wind from the sea at his back. On reaching a road, Garth waves down an approaching van, calling out for help. Tallon and Graile are in the van, and tell Garth that they will take him somewhere where he can be freed from his helmet. Garth is suspicious at their lack of curiosity at his predicament, but has no choice but to go along with them as they take him to Starke’s country house.

Here, his helmet is removed and he is introduced to Starke, who admits that he was behind his abduction. He explains that he had been testing Garth to see if he is worthy to become the 13th Man to complete their Secret Society, and join them in their work. Garth demands to know exactly what this work is.

Starke tells Garth that he has formed a group of twelve men who seek power by working secretly to remove the most influential men in high positions, replacing them with puppets whom they control. Sometimes “a little judicious killing is necessary to remove people” and Tallon is presently organising the death of Sir Holbrook Tyson on the following Thursday, as part of their plan to seize the reins of power in the country.

Garth bluntly informs them that they are deluded, cold-blooded killers and that he hates everything they stand for. He intends to smash their organisation. As Tallon draws a gun on him, Garth snatches up a bottle from a nearby drinks table and hurls it at the chandelier, plunging the room into darkness. Garth drops to his knees as Tallon fires blindly over his head. Starke orders two men to guard the windows and the door. Garth throws a cushion at one of the men guarding the window, causing him to cry out and move. Tallon shoots at him, mistaking him for Garth. The man’s companion calls out to Tallon to cease firing, and in the confusion Garth grabs the small drinks table and holding it in front of his face charges across the room, crashing clean through the window. Scrambling to his feet, he runs for the self-starting van parked outside and makes his escape. Starke orders two of his men to take their fastest car and pursue and kill Garth before he can warn the authorities.

As Garth drives along the winding cliff-top road fronting the sea, his headlights pick out a warning sign: NO ROAD. LANDSLIP AHEAD – NO VEHICLES BEYOND THIS POINT.

Garth removes the sign by swerving into it, and then jumps from his moving van before it plunges over the cliff edge. The unsuspecting pursuing car follows the van into the sea far below. Having destroyed his pursuers, Garth strikes out on foot across country to find a railway line where he can jump a goods train.

It is early dawn when the train reaches the outskirts of London, and Garth drops off to find a phone box. He contacts Lumiere at his London flat, unaware that Lumiere is at the point of a kidnapper’s gun, instructed to answer the phone in such a manner as to prevent the caller becoming suspicious. Lumiere listens as Garth tells him that he had been kidnapped and shot at. He adroitly pretends that his caller is a doctor seeking his advice, telling Garth that his diagnosis is correct, because he himself has suffered from the same symptoms. Garthrealises that Lumiere is being kidnapped on Starke’s orders, to bargain his life as the price of Garth surrendering to save him. Garth tells Lumiere to delay as much as he can, then rings his friend Jimmy Trent at his home near Lumiere’s flat. He quickly explains the situation and instructs Trent to effect a rescue and bring Lumiere – unobserved – back to his home, and await Garth’s arrival by taxi.

Lumiere gains precious minutes by taking his time getting dressed, and Trent reaches his flat just as he is about to be taken out. After gaining entrance, as a professional boxer Trent is well able to knock out the small-time crook, and escape with Lumiere via the back entrance.

At length they are joined by Garth, who explains the full story. When he refers to the names of Tallon and Graile, Lumiere remarks that he knows of a Dr. Graile as a scientist who is as brilliant as a diamond – and just as hard.

Meanwhile, Starke has learned of Lumiere’s escape. He instructs Graile to exact the usual penalty for failure. Graile agrees, remarking that the petty crook will be useful as a guinea pig in his current scientific experiment which, if successful, may kill him.

At Trent’s home, Garth and his friends discuss their next move. Raising the alarm through normal police channels would be useless as Starke has friends in high places. Accordingly Lumiere makes discreet enquiries through a colleague who was once in the security branch.  Arrangements are made for Garth to meet a ‘Mr. Johnson’, the head of a secret government security organisation.

But on arrival at his office, Garth is disconcerted to discover that ‘Johnson’ is actually Starke! He gives Garth a last chance to join him or face the consequences. Allowing him to leave, Starke offers him 24 hours to think it over. But he has already got two men in a lorry stationed in the street outside, with instructions to run over Garth and kill him.

Garth, however, is alert to his danger. As the lorry heads towards him he wrenches a heavy stone ball from the top of a gatepost, and hurls it through the windscreen before diving to one side. The improvised missile crushes the skull of one of Starke’s men, and the lorry crashes. Garth hurries away before a crowd can gather.

That evening Starke calls a full meeting of his organisation – now reduced to only eight. They realize that Garth is a formidable threat who must be eliminated, but in the meantime they need to go ahead with the planned execution of Sir Holbrook Tyson.

Meanwhile, Jimmy Trent has learned from a newspaper reporter friend that Sir Holbrook Tyson, the oil magnate, has returned from a mission abroad, and in two days’ time has planned to relax in his usual manner – deer-hunting on a Scottish moor. To prevent his assassination, Garth travels to Scotland, and keeps watch from tree cover in the area Tyson is known to frequent.

Tallon is similarly there undercover, and on spotting Tyson stalking a stag, reveals himself to confront him. He informs the startled magnate that he is going to stage his murder as an accident – when his body is found it will be assumed that he has been gored by the antlers of a stag he was hunting. He strikes Tyson unconscious, and he is about stab him with the set of antlers he has ready, when Garth spots them. As he is some distance away, he puts his shoulder to a large boulder, and sends it rolling down the slope towards Tallon. It strikes Tallon’s arm holding his gun, disarming him. Seeing Garth racing towards him, Tallon runs away, leaving Tyson unconscious but alive.

Garth pursues Tallon across the wild countryside, eventually cornering him on the bank of a river which is in torrent. Garth closes with him and they fall into the raging river. Garth is able to swim against the strong current to safety, but Tallant is swept over a cataract and drowned.

Garth - The 13th Man

Back in London, Lumiere has managed to find Dr. Graile’s home address, because they are both registered members of the same scientific association. Lumiere is worried as to what scientific devilment Graile might be involved in, so he and Trent drive to his country house at night to investigate. Observing a light in a large annexe attached to the house, they climb up to its roof to look through a skylight.

They see Colonel Starke (whom Lumiere recognises from Garth’s description) with Dr. Graile at work in his laboratory on his human guinea pig, who is strapped to a chair, his head covered by electrical apparatus. Trent recognises him as the failed kidnapper. Graile is outlining his experiment to Starke: the apparatus on the man’s head is recording his electrical brain waves. His chair is fixed so that it faces a brilliant light which is connected to flicker in exact rhythm with the man’s brainwaves. Graile explains that this will cause his victim to have fantastic hallucinations, followed by convulsions. At that point, he breaks off because Jimmy Trent, craning forward, has put his weight on the skylight glass and it breaks and gives way. Trent crashes down and lands heavily on the laboratory floor.

Starke orders Graile to stop the experiment whilst they deal with the intruder. Watching undetected from above, Lumiere is horrified at Trent’s plight, but being unarmed he can do nothing

Trent tries a desperate bluff as Starke and Graile draw guns on him: he pretends he is a petty sneak-thief burglar, and begs them not to call the police. He also conveys a coded message to the wavering Lumiere to get away and leave him. His strategy is successful, and Starke decides to lock him up, as he may be useful later for Graile’s experiments.

The next morning, Garth returns to Lumiere’s flat, and they exchange stories. Lumiere recalls having read of experiments similar to Graile’s, in which the subjects suffered a complete mental breakdown. Garth correctly guesses that Starke must be planning to use the technique on key government officials and remove them from office, but neither he nor Lumiere can deduce just how the intended victims could be made to sit and have their individual brain patterns recorded, and then stare into the flickering light. Whilst Lumiere is trying to puzzle this matter out, Garth decides to rescue Jimmy Trent, taking advantage of a thick fog which is forming to cover his approach to Graile’s house.

Meanwhile, in Graile’s house where Trent is imprisoned, Graile is taking a reading of his brain pattern with an apparatus similar in appearance to a cine-camera. He tells Starke that he is perfecting a special transmitter that can project the flicker-feedback effect at any selected person – and over a considerable distance. Trent becomes uneasy, demanding to be released and handed over to the police. Starke tells him to stop the pretence – they now know he is a confederate of Garth’s. The man in the chair had remembered Trent as the man who had knocked him out in Lumiere’s flat, and had informed Graile in the futile hope that this information would buy his life.

Starke is quite pleased at this development, knowing Garth will attempt to rescue his friend. He and Graile make their preparations by charging the iron gates and the wire-strand fence surrounding the house with a high voltage electric current. They settle down confidently to await Garth’s arrival. The thick fog outside means that they cannot see the fence or the gates, but at length they hear the piercing death scream of someone who has touched them!

Garth - The 13th Man

Dashing out to find Garth’s body, they discover instead the bodies of two of their own men who had tried to push open the gates. Also outside the gates is an agitated third man, Kranz, who had been driving their car. They had come to discuss newspaper revelations that Tallon had been killed, and that Tyson was still alive. Garth, unseen in the fog, is listening nearby and realises the defences had been placed because they had been expecting him. He watches as Graile leaves, then returns. He announces that he has cut the power, so that they can get the bodies and car through the gates. It will be switched on again to catch Garth when he arrives.

Before the power is restored, Garth seizes his chance to climb over the fence, and makes for the annexe roof. Looking down through the broken skylight, he sees that the laboratory is packed with transformers and the equipment that Graile has used for the electrification. He jumps down cleanly through the broken skylight, and proceeds to wrench out the electrical cables. This extinguishes all the lights in the house.

Starke and his companions are alerted that Garth has broken in. They split up to look for him, guns at the ready. But they are hampered because the inside of the house is in complete darkness. Garth has reached the main house along a connecting passage to the annexe, and is searching for the room where Trent is imprisoned. Starke hears him and opens fire, but his blind shot goes wide. Garth dodges back and finds a door which leads him outside. Meanwhile, Trent is now aware that Garth must be looking for him, so he smashes out his window. Garth is below, and quickly climbs up a drainpipe, and into Trent’s room on the upper floor.

Trent is manacled with a chain from his wrist, and Garth wrenches the chain free from its wall socket. Alerted by the noise, Kranz arrives and draws back the bolts on the door. As it opens he is rushed by Trent, but his blows are hampered by his chain, and Kranz knocks him down with his gun butt. He is then about to shoot Garth, but Trent lashes his chain and disarms him. Garth steps forward and delivers a terrific haymaker to Kranz’s jaw. He reels backwards, crashing through the rails at the top of the stairs, and plummets to his death.

As Starke and Graile run up the stairs, Garth and Trent run back into the room, and barricade the door with a table. They then escape through the window, but the wily Garth leads Trent upwards, onto the roof, and across to the far side of the house. Whilst Starke batters at the door, he orders Graile downstairs and outside to shoot Garth and Trent as they climb down. Whilst Graile waits for them to appear, they have already escaped down the other side of the house and reached Garth’s car. Garth drives back to Trent’s flat to rejoin Lumiere.

Lumiere hears Trent’s account of the brain-reading machine resembling a cine-camera, and presses him to repeat any of Graile’s actual words. Trent recalls Graile boasting that he had perfected a method of projecting the ‘feedback’ of duplicated brainwaves from a distance. Lumiere promptly deduces his scheme. Starke’s targets will see nothing unusual in facing a battery of cameramen, and once Graile has their individual brain readings, he can project a beam that will render them mentally incapable of retaining their jobs. Starke will then replace them with his stooges.

Meanwhile, Graile has been transferring all his scientific apparatus to an isolated farmhouse owned by Marley, which is now the new HQ of Starke’s organisation.

That evening, Garth, Lumiere and Trent are in a tavern when Trent suddenly collapses with head pains. Graile’s mind-ray transmitter is at work, trying to destroy his mental processes. Garth carries the unconscious Trent back to Lumiere’s laboratory. Working desperately, Lumiere manages to rig up a protective electrical screen over Trent’s head, which heterodynes and blocks the beam, whilst he works on a more practical defence.

At Starke’s new HQ, he instructs Marley to get busy organising men to pose as news photographers and set about recording the brain patterns of their selected targets. Meanwhile, Lumiere has devised a special alloy mesh in the form of a beret that fits snugly on Trent’s head and blocks Graile’s mind-ray. (O’Donnell was here re-using yet another plot device from the SF pulp stories of John Russell Fearn.) Lumiere also constructs a detector for the mind-ray, which records that Graile has now switched off his transmitter, believing that he has incapacitated Trent.

Two weeks later, Garth reads in a newspaper that “a cabinet minister has seizure during an important speech in the house”. Starke and Graile have begun their campaign. Lumiere tells Garth that he has made a second ray-detector, and he can tune them both to pick up Graile’s mind-ray when it is transmitting Garth’s brain pattern. By getting their cross-bearing he can pinpoint the source of Graile’s transmission. Garth agrees that he will circulate to various places where newsreel and press cameras are likely to be focused on important officials, to give Graile’s minions the chance to obtain his brain pattern reading. He gets a break when he learns that Sir Holbrook Tyson is arriving at a London airport after convalescing in France.

As Tyson is being filmed, he recognises Garth as the man who saved him, and the photographer promptly swings his ‘camera’ on Garth. Tyson invites Garth to ride with him in his car, and Garth tells him all about Starke’s League of Twelve. Tyson believes him because of his own experiences, but Garth urges him not to tell his story to anyone, because it will get back to Starke. Garth warns Tyson that they have taken his brain reading, and gives him one of Lumiere’s protective caps.

Garth telephones Lumiere to report that the League have taken the bait. Sure enough, that evening Graile switches on his transmitter to attack Garth. At his country house, Lumiere alerts as his second detector reveals that Graile is transmitting. In Lumiere’s London laboratory, Garth feels the mind-ray, and promptly dons one of the protective caps. He then takes readings on the other detector, as he has been taught to do by Lumiere, and telephones the information to him. This enables Lumiere to pinpoint its source.

Later that evening, Garth and Trent drive into the country to where Lumiere is waiting to join them. He directs Garth to the farmhouse, its roof bristling with antennae. They watch the house from concealment whilst awaiting nightfall. Then Garth puts into action the plan he has agreed with Lumiere.

Lumiere gives Garth an injection with a narcotic drug, and Garth sets off alone for the farmhouse. As he nears the house, his approach is spotted by Starke’s men. He begins staggering, and a dozen yards from the door, he collapses, unconscious. Starke’s men carry him aside. Here Graile – as Garth had gambled – examines him, and comes to a wrong conclusion. He believes that Garth had somehow discovered their location, waiting until nightfall before making his attack. However, the mind-ray had finally shattered Garth’s mental processes, and he had been struggling towards his objective before finally collapsing. Graile switches off the mind-ray and decides to conduct an examination of its effect on Garth.

Marley protests to Starke that they should kill Garth immediately, but he is overruled. Garth is securely strapped down on a table, and a man is left to guard him and report to Graile immediately he recovers consciousness. At length, Garth revives and finds himself held down. Through slitted eyes he sees that he has only a single guard. He continues to feign unconsciousness, whilst flexing his muscles to test the straps. When he begins to groan and move his head, the guard leans over him to be sure he is waking up. Garth then exerts his superhuman strength and rears up, bursting his straps and punching out the surprised guard before he can call out.

Garth then moves silently through the house where the other three men are sleeping in their bedrooms. It is easy for Garth to awaken and overpower them, one by one. They are trussed and gagged. When the last man has been secured, he dumps them in chairs around their meeting table, then closes the door to the ground floor room, before signalling to Lumiere and Trent to join him.

Garth leads Lumiere upstairs first, to the transmitter room. He leaves Lumiere there, working on the mind-ray transmitter with equipment and materials he has brought in a small case. Garth tells him to work quietly, so that Starke and his men won’t know that Lumiere is in the house. Then he and Trent go and confront the four men trussed around table.

Starke challenges Garth to kill him and get it over with, but Garth demurs, and explains that he doesn’t go in for cold-blooded killing. The eight men he had killed had all been in self-defence. Starke and Graile are surprised and contemptuous at Garth’s apparent squeamishness, and decide to play up to him. Starke admits that they have been beaten by Garth.

Garth asks them to swear that they will never try to revive the League of Twelve in any form. They pretend to agree, whereupon Garth says that if Starke signs a confession of their crimes, he will give them 24 hours to get out of the country before handing the confession to the authorities.

Unknown to Starke and his men, Lumiere has finished making his mysterious adjustments to the ray transmitter, and slips out of the house to await Garth and Trent. Garth releases Starke to sign the confession and then Trent ties him up again. Before leaving them, a grim-faced Garth gives Starke a final warning. If they break their word and try to fight back, then they will die. Their lives are in their own hands!

Starke and his men eventually manage to untie their restraining ropes, and Starke promptly orders Graile to use the mind-ray to attack Garth. Graile checks that his machine is still tuned to Garth’s brain pattern, and then switches it on. Instantly, the farmhouse is destroyed in a blinding explosion. Lumiere had planted a small but powerful bomb inside the mind-ray transmitter, set to explode if the machine was switched on and used to target Garth!

Watching the conflagration from a safe distance, Garth admits that he never really hoped that Starke would accept defeat. “But at least he had his chance!”

Whilst O’Donnell’s scripts were getting more assured, he had yet to master the medium. He was still using four panels for most daily strips, and the word balloons had too many words, crowding out space for artwork.  Characters were made to declaim explanations for the actions and events. He appeared not to have grasped the old adage that a picture is worth a thousand words. Additionally, in this story he had not presented a single female character – a serious error.

Dowling and Allard were now at their peak, and had mastered cinematic and longshot scenes, depicting people full length, head to toe. This was now increasingly difficult, and talking heads began to creep back into the panels because the space was so limited. Long sequences were taking place indoors, with characters simply talking to each other against mundane domestic backgrounds. On the plus side, because O’Donnell was essentially presenting a full-length novel his stories and plots were fully worked out, and increasingly memorable and interesting!  

• Previous: The Golden Sphere | Next: The Stone of Solomon

Synopsis by Philip Harbottle

• Garth: An Introduction

• Garth – Strip Checklist – Part One | Two | Three | Four | Five | Six | Seven | Eight (Garth Reprints)

A Tribute to Garth Artist and Editor John Allard by Philip Harbottle

In a feature encompassing the entire history of the much-loved strip, Garth writer Philip Harbottle pays tribute to artist and editor John Allard, who worked at the Mirror for over 50 years, outlining his huge contribution to Garth‘s enduring success

Strip dates given are those of their original appearance in the British newspaper the Daily Mirror, first compiled by Geoffrey Wren and Ann Holmes and updated by Ant Jones and Philip Harbottle

Garth © REACH/ Daily Mirror