The Mask of Chang Ku
Story Number: 34
Writer: Peter O’Donnell
Artist: Steve Dowling/ John Allard
Published: 1st August 1958 – 3rd February 1959 (R182 – S29)
Number of Episodes: 158
Lumiere has been spending several months on “hush-hush” work for the Government at Australia’s Woomera rocket range. Awaiting his return at the London country house they share, Garth receives a cable. Lumiere has finished his assignment, and now wishes to spend some time sightseeing on his way home, beginning at Hong Kong. He invites Garth to join him at his hotel on the Kowloon Peninsula, across the harbour from Hong Kong. Garth cables his acceptance, and duly flies out to join him.
On arrival in Hong Kong, Garth is puzzled when Lumiere is not at the airport to greet him. The hotel clerk confirms Lumiere had booked a room for him, but then leaves his desk to furtively converse with a policeman seated in the reception area.
The officer introduces himself to Garth as Inspector O’Dowd of the Hong Kong police. He tells Garth an amazing story. Yesterday, Lumiere had been found washed up on the beach, “in pretty poor shape.” He had been taken to hospital suffering from exhaustion. More astonishing is the fact that Lumiere now speaks only Chinese, and does not understand a word of English!
When Garth queries if the police are certain that the man in the hospital is Lumiere, O’Dowd tells him there is no mistake. When Lumiere has arrived in Hong Kong, his Chief of Security had called him in, and warned him not to stray outside of British controlled areas. As an eminent scientist, the Chinese might try to snatch him.
At the hospital Garth and O’Dowd visit Lumiere. The doctor attending tells them that Lumiere is claiming to be “Chang Ku…a refugee from China!” As Garth bends over him, Lumiere cowers in terror, babbling in uneducated Chinese, such as a peasant would talk. The doctor adds that he also keeps mumbling to himself about a “Devil Woman”, of whom he seems very much afraid.
When O’Dowd steps out to take a telephone call, Garth asks the nurse if her patient has seen himself in a mirror. When she says no, Garth holds a mirror before his face. He gives a shriek of terror and slumps back in a dead faint. Evidently he had expected to see a different face in the mirror…the face of the man he believed himself to be…Chang Ku.
O’Dowd returns to report that his Chief, Colonel Muir, has asked him to bring Garth to see him right away. In Muir’s office, the Colonel asks Garth if the name of Dr. Emma Voss means anything to him. It does: Garth remembers that a few years ago Lumiere had returned from a scientific convention, greatly agitated. He had told Garth that he had crossed swords with a Dr. Emma Voss, “a terrible woman.” After hearing her present a thesis from the rostrum, “I tore her thesis to ribbons…” adding that “when I had finished…Sacre Bleu! If a look could kill, I would be a dead man by now!” Garth tells Muir that Lumiere had never referred to Dr. Voss again.
Garth learns that Dr. Voss has been living in Hong Kong for the past four years, after being prosecuted in England for illegal experiments on animals. She has become extremely rich, and widely feared, especially in the underworld. She is suspected of running a criminal gang, but nothing has been proven against her. More significantly, the police know that Lumiere had visited Dr. Voss the evening before he was found washed up on the beach. The police had questioned Emma Voss but she had told them that Lumiere had left her house “in good order.”
Clearly there is an implication of Dr. Voss having been somehow involved in Lumiere’s mysterious affliction, and Garth demands to be told her address. However, Muir cautions him against precipitate action, and insists that he first has an “unofficial” talk with Garth at his club. As they leave, Muir’s Chinese secretary, Cathy, tries to have a word with him, but Muir tells her it will have to await his return.
At Muir’s club, the Colonel and O’Dowd explain that they have no grounds for searching Dr. Voss’ house, but offer their full “unofficial” support if Garth should want to play a lone hand. Garth snaps that this is what he intends to do anyway, with or without anyone’s sanction. They drive Garth to look over the isolated house and its laboratory from a distant hill-top, using binoculars.
Back in his hotel, as Garth sits waiting for the night to fall, Muir rings to tell him that his trusted Secretary, Cathy, is calling to see him with fresh information. When she arrives the girl passes to Garth a rough sketch of the layout of Dr. Voss’ house to assist his break-in, and tells him that Emma Voss is holding a prisoner in the cellars – a peasant named Chang Ku. The source of her information is her cousin, Fay Yeng, whom she had met yesterday. Fay Yeng had told her that she had recently began working for Dr. Voss as a house servant. Her cousin was very frightened, and was unwilling to speak to the police, for fear of reprisal. She had also spoken fearfully of a ‘Devil Room’ in the house – presumably the laboratory.
Garth is driven out to the house by Cathy, and dropped off in the woods some distance away. He advances cautiously on foot. His means of entry is the transom of a small open window he had spotted that afternoon, which his plan indicates opens into an empty box room. But unknown to Garth, Dr. Voss had anticipated Garth’s attempt, and the open window is a deliberate trap. Garth is under constant observation, and one of her thugs is lying in wait for Garth at the end of a passage leading to the laboratory.
Garth’s hair-trigger instinct enables him to knock out his assailant, and his strength and cunning overcome electrified metal grilles that trap him in the corridor. He battles through to reach the laboratory…where Emma Voss, forewarned of his progress, calmly awaits his arrival. She is ugly, and sixty-years old.
Mention must be made of the fantastic quality of the artwork, which here takes on a dark, brooding atmosphere created by a wealth of cross-hatching and innovative shading, bringing the story to vivid life.
Garth grimly confronts Emma Voss, telling her that it is only the fact that she is a woman that prevents him from grabbing her neck and choking the truth out of her. He demands that she leads him to her prisoner in the cellars. Emma Voss is not intimidated; instead she picks up a bottle and calmly pours and offers him a glass of wine. As Garth angrily refuses and advances on her, she points the sneck of the bottle at Garth’s face, and presses a hidden button. It ejects a cloud of knock-out gas, and Garth collapses. Emma Voss gives him a further injection to keep him unconscious, before phoning for two henchmen to carry Garth down to the cellars. Here he is placed in the same cell as the sleeping Chang Ku.
Several hours pass before Garth recovers. He gently shakes the other awake, telling him not to be afraid. He asks him if he is Chang Ku, and if he speaks English. To his astonishment, the Chinese – whom he has never seen – excitedly calls out his name! It is Lumiere’s mind in Chang Ku’s body, and he proves it to Garth by speaking of things only Garth and he know.
Garth tells him that Lumiere’s body (with Chang Ku’s mind) is safe in hospital—to Lumiere’s great relief, since Emma Voss had tried to dispose of it by flinging his body into the sea. Luckily she had misjudged the man’s tenacity to survive. It is now evident that she has taken a fitting revenge on Lumiere for his ridiculing of her theories in the past.
Dr. Voss sends armed guards to the cell, who then handcuff Garth and the man with Lumiere’s mind before leading them to a room adjoining the laboratory. Through a grilled window space they see Emma Voss holding a hypodermic, and standing over the unconscious body of Fay Yeng lying on a trestle table. A second table lies alongside, and both are in the midst of strange electrical machinery.
Dr. Voss boasts to Lumiere how she “perfected a physico-chemical process of complete transfer of the ego between two human beings.” Lumiere had been her first guinea-pig, together with the peasant, Chang-Ku. Lumiere concedes that he was wrong, and that she has proven her theories, but asserts that there is no justification for the process. Emma Voss points out there is every justification: it is the key to her immortality! She is about to transfer her mind into the young body of Fay Yeng, and thereafter will go on to succession of younger bodies every 20 years or so. However, she has injected poison into her own body, timed so that will take effect after the operation – so Fay Yeng will die. She hints darkly that she has “plans” for Lumiere, and one of their guards, Kheo, reveals to Garth that Dr. Voss has promised him his body in due course.
Dr. Voss lies on the other table, and a time-switch activates the machinery. Twin beams of radiance centre on the heads of those on the tables, and Lumiere watches intently, in horrified fascination, trying to deduce the working of the process.
At length an automatic switch cuts off the power, and the body of Fay Yeng stirs and rises. The aged Dr. Voss now has another lifetime before her. As Garth and Lumiere are herded back to their cell, she reveals that she intends leaving Hong Kong soon, and they will be going with her.
Meanwhile, Colonel Muir and Cathy have been fretting at Garth’s failure to return, and accompanied by a couple of officers, they drive to Dr. Voss’ house, and ask to speak with her. They are admitted by Kheo, who lies to them that Dr. Voss has retired to bed with a migraine, but if they care to wait he will tell her they are here to see her. Voss has assumed the role of her deceased servant girl, and serves them with coffee whilst they wait. Cathy believes her to be her cousin, and asks her what has happened to Garth. However, the girl denies that he ever came to the house, and also retracts as a mistake her earlier testimony that Chang Ku was being held here as a prisoner. Kheo returns to report that Dr. Voss is unable to see them because she has taken pain-killing drugs to relieve her migraine, and is too groggy. Colonel Muir is baulked, and has to leave.
Back in his cell, Garth exerts his super strength, and succeeds in breaking the chain on his manacle, and to snap the chain holding Lumiere. As Emma Voss orders her men to carefully dismantle and pack her scientific equipment preparatory to evacuating the house, Garth is devising a means of escape. He has noticed a large water pipe in the cell, the main feed to a storage tank. First, he rips free the bedding sheets and stuffs them all around the door, sealing all the crevices water-tight. Then he breaks open the water pipe; water gushes into the cell. Given that food and water is only delivered to the cell late at night, they should be left alone for several hours. Lumiere estimates that when the water reaches a depth of five feet, there should be at least fifteen tons of water pressing against the door.
Later that night Kheo and a gunman arrive with a food tray, and when they open the door, fifteen tons of water bursts from the cell with irresistible force and engulfs Kheo; the door smashes into the gunman, whose weapon is swept away. When the flow subsides, Garth and Lumiere escape the cell. Garth kayos the bedraggled Kheo, but they are soon spotted by another man who reports to Dr. Voss. She quickly organises armed parties to split up and surround and close in on the fugitives. Unarmed, and having lost the element of surprise Garth decides to settle for merely escaping. He smashes a window in a side room and he and Lumiere scramble out, and escape into the woods. Gunmen open fire on them from the house, but cannot see them in the dark.
Garth knows they cannot risk using the road or risk hitching a lift to the distant town. Meanwhile, as well as covering the road, Dr. Voss sends men to watch Colonel Muir’s office. However, Garth has anticipated and outsmarted her, because he and Lumiere have headed for the hospital instead. Muir is reached by telephone, and he asks O’Dowd to contact Cathy to join him at the hospital. On arrival, Muir hears their story, and eventually accepts the fantastic truth of the mind transfer. Lumiere explains that his life had been spared because Emma Voss has hopes to persuade him to join her in immortality and add his scientific knowledge to hers. An offer Lumiere has rejected as repellent and evil.
Colonel Muir is appalled as he realises the international dangers of Emma Voss’ invention if it falls into the hands of another Hitler or Stalin. Reports are received that Dr. Voss has abandoned her house and escaped on an ocean-going junk, almost certainly with her equipment. She is evidently headed for the Chinese mainland to sell her secret. Muir contacts London but his story is not believed, although British Intelligence is to send an official “to appraise the situation”. By then it will be too late, so they will have to try and stop Dr. Voss themselves.
Garth shrewdly points out that she cannot risk going to China in her present persona as Fay Yeng, a known refugee. She will not be believed and stands to be arrested. She needs to first demonstrate her mind-transfer process to some high official who can persuade the Peking government. This meeting would take place in some neutral area. Muir consults a map and determines that this is likely to be on the island of Macao, some 40 miles away. The island is still Portuguese territory, although China has claimed it…safe ground for Dr. Voss.
Their dossier reveals that Dr. Voss has already had contacts with a General Ko Lan, who manages an area adjoining Macao. As they cannot go openly by ferry, Muir arranges for them to be given a small fishing junk so they can pose as fishermen. Since they cannot speak Cantonese, Cathy insists on going with them as translator – and she wants to help avenge the murder of her cousin.
At night, on Dr. Voss’ motorised junk in Maceo’s harbour, General Ko Lan responds to her message and arrives to keep his appointment. He is observed by Cathy, who has been keeping watch on the vessel. Returning to Garth’s vessel, she reports his arrival. They need to know where Dr. Voss’ scientific apparatus is before they show their hand, and to this end Lumiere rigs up a battery-powered extending microphone, from espionage equipment that Muir has provided. It fits into a small box, and keeping this dry by swimming on his back, Garth heads out in darkness to Dr. Voss’ vessel. She has managed to convince the General that she is Dr. Voss in another body by telling him details of their previous meetings – much as Lumiere had earlier convinced Garth. Ko Lan is excited by the prospect of the elite of the Chinese government creating and maintaining a nucleus of immortal minds – of which he might be one!
Outside, in the shadow of the ship’s hull, Garth eases out the sections of an extending rod with a small microphone. Voices come clearly to Garth through the ear-piece. He learns that Dr. Voss plans to retain the secret herself and operate it on her own terms and conditions. Ko Lan agrees to witness a demonstration in two days’ time in her warehouse in the harbour, after the mind-changing apparatus has been moved there.
Garth returns to Lumiere and Kathy and reports what he has heard. He vows to get into the warehouse and plant explosives that will destroy the apparatus—and Emma Voss with it. Lumiere realises that this mean he would then have to live out his life in the body of Chang Ku, and seeing his distress Garth suddenly has a better idea. If he can contrive to hide Lumiere in the warehouse so that he can carefully examine the apparatus, he might be able to duplicate its operation later. Cathy is detailed to find out the location of the warehouse that Emma Voss must have rented. Using her Intelligence contacts, Cathy quickly locates the warehouse for them.
Later that night, whilst Cathy remains on the boat, Garth and Lumiere break into the warehouse via its skylight. With the tools Garth has brought, they remove the door of a small paint store that can provide a hiding place for Lumiere. A number of empty large packing cases are piled up to hide the paint store, and Garth knocks the bottom out of one, cutting a spy hole at the other end. Lumiere is able to crawl inside the box and view inside the warehouse when Emma Voss is conducting her assembling and operation of her equipment. In the meantime he can come out at night and examine the apparatus closely when no one is present.
Garth returns to the boat, and asks Cathy to hitch a lift to return to Hong Kong and report to Colonel Muir.
Throughout the next day, Lumiere watches through his spy-hole as Emma Voss and her gang set up her apparatus, whilst Garth watches outside. That night, when Cathy reports to Colonel Muir in Hong Kong, she delivers Garth’s request to have Chang Ku in Lumiere’s body brought to Macao. The plan is for Lumiere to switch their minds back to their true bodies.
At dawn the next day Cathy, O’Dowd and another officer, together with Chang Ku – unconscious under a narcotic – set off in a motorised junk for Macao. Meanwhile, on Emma Voss’ junk, she receives a startling report from Kheo. His men guarding the warehouse had spotted Garth, and given chase. In trying to flee, Garth had tripped and struck his head. As he lay dazed, the men has captured and secured him. He is being held in a small shed near the warehouse. Dr. Voss tells Kheo that she will substitute him and Garth for the demonstration, and transfer his mind into Garth’s body. Meanwhile, Garth is to be sedated until the transfer.
The next night, General Ko Lan – who has made his headquarters on a warship anchored off-shore – arrives at Emma Voss’ warehouse to witness the mind transfer. He recognises Garth as someone who has been mentioned in Chinese Intelligence reports: “…a dangerous man.”
Garth is now conscious, and whilst his arms are tightly bound, his legs are free as he is led towards the operating table. Suddenly he essays a tremendous jump, kicking out both feet smack into Kheo’s face. He collapses unconscious, badly concussed. Emma Voss is unfazed: “It won’t affect the process though! I can still transfer his mind to Garth’s brain.” She then gives Garth a hypodermic, “to keep him quiet just long enough for the change over.”
As the process gets underway, Emma Voss comments that once it is over, she will have Kheo – in Garth’s body – kill his old body. The process ends, and once released, the figure of Garth rises ecstatically, flexing his powerful arms. In answer to Ko Lan’s question, he confirms that he is Kheo, then turns urgently to Dr. Voss. He tells her that there are “residual thoughts” of Garth in his mind, with one thought predominant: “…that Colonel Muir knows where we are and is moving to act against us!”
Both the General and Dr. Voss are alarmed at this news: they decide that they had better settle their business quickly, before Muir strikes. Dr. Voss decides to go back to the General’s ship, where he has a direct radio link with Peking. The General can get authority to agree her terms. Kheo and his two gang members are instructed to dismantle and crate the mind transfer equipment for loading aboard the General’ ship. Meanwhile O’Dowd and Cathy have arrived in Macao’s harbour, awaiting further instructions from Garth.
Before leaving with the General, Dr. Voss injects a lethal drug into Kheo’s former body. As the two guards move to dispose of the body, the real Garth – in his own body – kayos them by violently banging their heads together, exulting: “Garth is alive!”
Lumiere emerges from his hideout, and in a superb plot twist we learn that Garth had let himself be captured, in the knowledge that Lumiere had earlier sabotaged the mind transfer operation, so that it would only appear to be working, to deceive both Dr. Voss and the General. That was why Garth had battered Kheo unconscious, so he could not reveal who he was. Lumiere had substituted water in the “physio-chemical” phials, except for the lethal one that had killed Kheo.
As Lumiere sets to work restoring the apparatus to working order, Garth hurries to rejoin O’Dowd and Cathy, and they bring the sedated Chang Ku (in Lumiere’s body) to the warehouse. Here Lumiere is able to duplicate the actions (and injections) employed by Emma Voss, which he had watched on two occasions. Garth leaves O’Dowd to watch the transformation, and takes a sampan out to General Ko Lan’s warship, signalling his presence with a lamp. Believing him to be Kheo, and fearing he has run into some problem, Emma Voss asks for him to be allowed aboard. He is brought to Ko Lan’s cabin, where she has just successfully completed her negotiations with the General.
To her amazement and fury, Garth denounces Emma Voss to the General. He plays a master card by revealing that he is not Kheo but Garth, and pretending that her mind-swap process is a hoax. He states that he is working for British Intelligence, who had uncovered her plot to assassinate Chinese leaders in Peking. As a paid stooge he had pretended to go along with her scheme so that she would commit herself. The General is convinced by Garth’s clever performance and a desperate Emma Voss tries to shoot Garth, but he disarms her. The General is equally infuriated, because he realises that he stands to lose face, his reputation in Peking now in tatters. He advances on Emma Voss – believing her to be Fay Yeng – vowing that she will not live to see him humbled. In panic, Emma Voss runs out of the cabin, on to the deck of the ship. The General follows, grabbing a tommy gun from one of his men, and personally blasting Emma Voss to death. He instructs his men to “throw this carrion overboard!”
Unnoticed, Garth slips overboard and swims back to O’Dowd’s junk in the harbour. The officer and Cathy are relieved to see him safely back, having feared for his life when they had heard the fusillade of shots. Garth explains that “Ko Lan went berserk and riddled Emma Voss with bullets…”
Garth is congratulated by a jubilant Lumiere, now fully restored to his own body. Cathy tells him that Chang Ku thinks he has suffered “a nightmare dream in which a demon played tricks with his body,” at which Garth dryly remarks: “he’s not far wrong at that…”
O’Dowd is preparing to load all the equipment from the warehouse to return it Hong Komg, from where it will be flown to England to be examined by experts. But he is soon disabused by a grim-faced Lumiere who tells him that he had already completely destroyed the machinery and chemical injections.
His action is later endorsed by both Colonel Muir and the government official sent to investigate, who are satisfied that Lumiere will never recreate the apparatus. Lumiere thankfully prepares to fly back to England the next day, hoping to forget his horrifying experiences…
Synopsis 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