The Return of Malveno
Writer: Peter O’Donnell
Artist: Steve Dowling/John Allard
Published: 16/11/53 – 5/5/54 (M273 – N106)
Number of Episodes: 144
With this third story, O’Donnell began to hit his stride. A decision appears to have been made to return Garth to a solid science fictional basis. Although O’Donnell’s stories were now self-contained ‘stand-alone’ stories they were still following directly on from the previous adventure.
On returning to his hotel in Los Angeles, Garth finds that Lumiere has checked out without leaving him a message. When he talks to Dr. Jones, the leader of the archaeological dig who invited Lumiere to America, he is surprised to find him decidedly frosty. Jones informs him that Lumiere had abruptly left his expedition several weeks ago, without any explanation. Jones has no idea where he went.
Garth makes enquiries at the airline office, and learns that Lumiere had flown to England a month ago. Garth takes the next flight to London himself. He finds that not only is Lumiere not at his London flat or his country residence, but none of his scientific friends have seen him in weeks. In desperation, Garth decides to try Lumiere’s favourite local French restaurant. The Manager informs Garth that Lumiere had not been there for a long time
This conversation is overheard by a shifty-looking stranger at a nearby table. He joins Garth and introduces himself as Jules Farenne, and claims Lumiere as a friend. He had been asked by Lumiere to frequent the restaurant, as Garth was likely to seek him there. His orders were to take Garth to join him in France, where he is engaged on a highly secret experiment. He has no idea as to the nature of the experiment, but is being well paid for obeying Lumiere’s orders without question. Garth is suspicious, but consents to accompany Farenne to France, in order to find Lumiere. But he warns him not to attempt to put anything over on him.
At length they arrive at a castle in a remote part of Gascony, the Chateau du Tonnere. Farenne tells Garth that the ancient castle had been inherited by him some time ago – “the black sheep of the family inherits the white elephant!” They are admitted through the gates of the castle by his servant, the hulking Hugo – “completely without brains he makes an ideal henchman – obedient but not curious!” Lumiere had sought Farenne out, and hired the castle for his experiment.
Garth demands to be taken to Lumiere at once, and they descend steps to a lower level. On noticing that Hugo has a gun in his belt, Garth overpowers and upends him, holding him by his ankles and shaking loose his gun – and a knife. Appropriating the weapons, he follows as Farenne halts at a door. Opening it, he calls out to Lumiere that he has returned – with Garth.
Garth is surprised and relieved to find that Lumiere is indeed present – wearing his laboratory smock and working amidst an array of strange electrical-looking machinery. Dismissing Farenne and Hugo, Garth demands explanations from Lumiere. Lumiere informs him that he is a vital part of his experiment – there needs to be a human factor to complete a circuit between two electrodes, conducting a flow of hitherto unknown forces. Only a man with Garth’s strength and stamina can withstand this power. Lumiere appears to be under a great mental strain, and refuses to be questioned as to the purpose of his experiment. He asks to be left alone as he completes his preparations. Assuming that overwork has made his friend touchy, Garth agrees to leave him to it, and talk later.
He finds Farenne and Hugo drinking together, and questions Farenne, who again professes to know nothing about the experiment. Garth retires to a bedroom, which is next to Lumiere’s.
Lying awake far into the night pondering the mystery, Garth is alerted by Lumiere’s shouts. He appears to be arguing with someone in his room. Garth hears snatches: “He must not return…It must not go on…Malveno…no…no!”
Garth is joined in the corridor by Farenne and Hugo. Farenne calmly informs him that he just having one of his usual nightmares, but Garth smashes down the door with his shoulder. He finds Lumiere lying unconscious, having fallen out of bed.
Garth lifts him back, and Lumiere comes round. When Garth asks what he meant by exclaiming that “Malveno must not return,” Lumiere professes dismissively that he has never heard the name before, and that he has just been working too hard. But preparations are now completed, and they must make the experiment tomorrow.
The next day everyone assembles in the underground laboratory, and Garth is asked to take his position, standing between two electrodes which he grips in each hand. Lumiere throws a switch, and brilliant rays focus on what appears to be a glass coffin on a turntable, which begins to spin. Garth experiences a great deal of pain, and just as he call out to Lumiere that he cannot hold out much longer, the experiment is over, and Lumiere switches everything off.
Garth, Farenne and Hugo are astonished to discover that someone has materialised in the glass case. The figure of a man, wearing a skin-tight metallic costume, climbs out, remarking: “So…I am here.” The sinister figure announces that he is Malveno! Having recovered his memory, Lumiere rushes forward, asking Garth to aid him in crushing Malveno as he would a viper. Garth blocks Lumiere’s attack and demands an explanation. Lumiere explains that he has been under hypnotic mental control by Malveno, who is utterly evil. Malveno then reasserts his mental control, ordering Lumiere to shut up.
Malveno informs Garth that by manipulating Lumiere’s mind to prepare the necessary apparatus, he has crossed time from five thousand years in the future. He had first projected his mind back in time, seeking a scientist brilliant enough to construct the necessary machinery. He had made contact with Lumiere, learning also of his friend Garth’s great strength, which is necessary for his transit.
This exciting science fiction trope would appear to have been inspired by John Russell Fearn’s short story The Unbroken Chain in a 1946 issue of Startling Stories, in which Fearn had first used the identical plot, albeit developed differently. (In later scripts, O’Donnell would in fact plunder other science fiction magazine stories, as well as Hollywood films, to find plot ideas. He would then “twist” and develop them in an ingenious manner as vehicles for both Lumiere and Garth to have some of their greatest adventures.)
Garth advances upon Malveno, intending to render him unconscious and free Lumiere from his mental control. But Malveno activates a ring on his finger which blasts a “mind-ray” at Garth, felling him instantly. Farenne imagines that he has been killed, and instantly fawns upon Malveno, offering to serve him in order to save his own skin and be on the winning side. Malveno sardonically informs him that Garth is merely paralysed – he needs him for his eventual return to the future.
He orders Farenne and Hugo to carry Garth to a vault. Here he affixes a chemically-impregnated cloth over Garth’s face, which will keep him in suspended animation until such time as Malveno needs him again.
As they turn to go, Malveno is startled and alarmed as he catches sight of Hugo’s pet cat, which has wandered into the room. He instinctively blasts it with the mind-ray, which has no effect. When Farenne remarks on this, Malveno explains that his weapon only operates on the higher mental processes of a human brain. It has no effect on animals, which are extinct and unknown in his own era.
The frightened cat has ran into a corner of the vault, and Farenne instructs Hugo to leave it as they exit the room… “our friend from the future has no liking for our dumb friends of the present.”
On returning to the laboratory to resume his work with Lumiere, Malveno intructs Farenne and Hugo that if they attend on him and obey his orders without question, they will eventually be well rewarded. At night Lumiere must be guarded, and locked in his room, whilst he himself sleeps, thereby relaxing his mental control. Several days pass, the enslaved Lumiere assisting Malveno on another mysterious construction. Malveno is pleased with their progress.
One night in the vault, the frightened and starving cat paws at Garth’s sleeping figure – and eventually dislodges the impregnated cloth covering his face. At length he wakes up, easily breaking his bonds on the trestle on which he is lying. Fortunately it had not been considered necessary to lock the door to the vault, and Garth prowls through corridors of the castle, seeking Lumiere. He comes upon the seated figure of Hugo, on guard outside Lumiere’s cell, nursing a bottle of wine. Garth renders him unconscious with a tremendous blow to the back of the neck, before he can raise an alarm.
As Garth calls to Lumiere through a grille in the door and moves to try and force it open, Lumiere cries out to him not to touch it. To do so would activate an alarm to waken Malveno. Malveno is protected from assault by scientific devices, and Lumiere insists that Garth’s only course is to try and escape the castle and alert the authorities to Malveno’s plans. Now that Malveno is sleeping, Lumiere’s mind is free and he can tell Garth what his intentions are.
In the world of 5000 years hence, violence and war have been ended. But Malveno is part of a group of malcontents who prefer power to peace. For centuries, these misfits have been weeded out and exiled to another planet. Earth itself is protected by any attack from space by a system of European power-stations which maintain a protective force-field.
Malveno, the current leader of the exiles, is planning an interplanetary invasion, and in order to knock out the protective shield, has projected himself to Earth’s past. Here he has been forcing Lumiere to help him construct an atomic super-bomb. This will be buried a hundred feet below ground in a dry well inside the castle grounds, where it will lie undisturbed and unknown for fifty centuries. On returning to his own time, Malveno will remotely activate the bomb, which will destroy most of Europe and knock out the power stations, collapsing the force shield. Malveno will then launch a space armada to conquer the Earth.
Elsewhere in the castle the mewling of the starving cat outside his bedroom awakens the sleeping Farenne. He realises that the cat’s escape means that Garth is also free, and that his first thought will be to find Lumiere. He quickly rouses Malveno. With Farenne holding a gun and leading the way, the pair hurry down to Lumiere’s cell, just as he is finishing explaining to Garth that Malveno’s plan can only succeed if the existence of the bomb remains unknown – that is why Garth must escape and reveal the plot.
Malveno orders Farenne to stand out of his way so he can use his mind-ray on Garth. But Garth kicks Hugo’s chair outside the door, so that it crashes into Farenne, and sends him sprawling on top of Malveno. Then Garth is on his way, fleeing down the corridor, seeking to get out of the castle.
Garth manages to keep out of range of Malveno’s weapon by hurling axes at him, snatched from the full suits of ancient armour which line the corridors, but is eventually cornered in a room. As Malveno hovers warily in the doorway, Garth smashes a large window, and dives outside. It is on the first floor, but Garth manages to execute a somersault and land safely. Looking down on Garth from the window, and momentarily baulked, Malveno calls down to Garth that he cannot escape because the outer walls are charged with a deadly force that will strike him dead if her touches them.
Hugo has come round, and joins Malveno and Farenne in the search for Garth, who is hiding in the courtyard, aided by the darkness of the night. Moving around, Garth comes across the dry well that Lumiere had told him about. A length of scaffolding pole to be used in lowering the bomb when completed down the well, is lying nearby. Breaking cover, Garth snatches it up and sprints for the wall. As Malveno’s mind-ray flashes out, Garth essays a tremendous pole vault, and clears the top of the power-charged wall. He gains vital minutes in his escape, because Malveno has to go to his power room to de-activate the castle gates.
Malveno studies a map of the area. There is nothing for miles around except for thick woodland and a few scattered farms. In an hour’s time it will be dawn, and Garth cannot progress too far on foot in the dark. Malveno instructs his minions to take Farenne’s car to search for Garth in the morning, making discreet enquiries about Garth at each of the farms.
Garth meanwhile has been keeping to the woods, heading towards the railway line he knows to lie to the north. As dawn is breaking, he comes across a farm, but knowing his pursuers will be checking there, he decides to hide in a pile of hay, and snatch some much-needed sleep.
Hidden in the hay, Garth sleeps through the morning until he is suddenly awoken by a crashing noise, followed by a scream, and the voice of a girl calling to her father. He emerges to find that a heavily laden horse-drawn haywain has splintered and collapsed on its side, trapping an old man. Garth rushes forward to help, telling the girl to free the struggling horse so it does not upset its load upon the trapped man. Then he edges down under the wagon, and exerting his great strength, lifts the wagon up using his back and shoulders. The girl is able to drag her father out, and Garth wriggles clear. As Garth stands recovering his breath, the rapidly-recovering old man (who is only bruised) notices the lacerations and bruising on Garth’s back.
Garth is introduced to the grateful Simon Latour and his daughter Annette, who invite him into their farmhouse, where his wounds are treated, and he is given food and clothing (since Lumiere’s experiment he has been wearing only a singlet). Garth is anxious to be on his way, confiding that he is being pursued by evil men who may threaten them. Sure enough, Farenne and Hugo arrive at the farmhouse and bang on the door. Annette hides Garth in a back room whilst Latour answers the door alone. Farenne spins a prepared tale that he is seeking an escaped lunatic patient of a doctor staying at his Chateau. Thinking quickly, Latour tells them that a big, strong man had already passed through the farm, and was travelling east; he had divined that Garth would be heading north, to the railway. He takes a chance by inviting the two men into his home for refreshment, but Farenne eagerly hurries away in the wrong direction, Latour’s invitation to enter having convinced him that Garth is not in the farmhouse.
Garth tells his story to Latour and Annette, concluding that he must get to Paris quickly, and warn the authorities. Latour suggests that Garth consults his brother Paul, a very wise man who lives nearby, but Garth says there is no one man who can help him. In the end Garth is persuaded to wait until nightfall, and take Annette with him: she can guide him through the woods to the only point where he can successfully jump the express train to Paris. She can also bear witness to some of his story when they arrive in Paris.
That evening, Annette leads Garth to a bend in the railway line, where the train to Paris always slows down whilst awaiting a signalman to raise the crossing barriers. They await the train’s arrival, due in half an hour. However, the signalman is more vigilant than usual, and raises the barrier well ahead of the train’s whistle signal. As a result, Garth has to pick up Annette bodily, and essay a daring leap onto the fast-moving train’s guard’s van. They wait in the rear carriage and decide to have a meal from the supplies Annette has brought, before slipping into one of the passenger compartments. Then, unexpectedly, a hand-held gun appears in the doorway – held by a triumphant Farenne. Malveno had anticipated that Garth would board the Paris train, and had ordered Farenne and Hugo drive to the previous station, and board the Paris train and watch out for Garth.
The quick-thinking Annette throws some pepper into Farenne’s eyes, and Garth explodes into action. Overpowering both men, he hurls them in turn through the door and out of the train, where they fall in a soggy ditch, at the side of the track.
On reaching Paris, Garth and Annette make for the National Police Headquarters. Garth finds it a difficult job to convince a senior official of the truth of his fantastic story; he clearly does not believe him. However, he is aware of Garth’s international reputation, so agrees to take his story to a higher authority, and to have men call at the Chateau. He invites Garth to return the following day, when he “will have an answer ready.” Garth and Annette are obliged to put up for the night at a Paris boarding house.
Before returning to report to Malveno his failure to recapture Garth, Farenne had put out a “hit” on Garth to his underworld friends. Malveno makes the decision to replace Garth with Hugo, as the life element necessary for his return through time. But first, it will be necessary to increase Hugo’s strength scientifically. The simple, brutish Hugo is delighted to agree, thereby becoming “the strongest man in the world”. Realising Garth will have told his story to the authorities, Malveno decides on a counter measure to discredit him, by using Lumiere as his puppet.
The next day, the official tells Garth that he has been instructed to take no further action. His men had been met at the Chateau by Lumiere himself, who had assured them that Garth was suffering from delusions. Garth protests in vain that Lumiere is under Malveno’s mental control. He then decides to take his story to the British Embassy.
Leaving Annette to wait in a café nearby, Garth requests an audience with the British Ambassador at the Embassy. This is promptly granted, and Garth is astounded to find Lumiere himself present in his office. Lumiere, acting under Malveno’s control, again discredits Garth story, convincing the Ambassador that Garth is delusional. Garth gives up arguing, promising to cause no more trouble. But on returning to Annette he tells her that he intends to kidnap Lumiere as he leaves the Embassy. It should then be possible to find some way of freeing him from Malveno’s mental control.
When Lumiere leaves he is picked up in a waiting car by Farenne and Hugo, headed for the rail station. Garth and Annette follow them in a taxi, to the goods yard of the Paris rail terminal. Garth is unaware that he himself has been followed by one of the underworld thugs Farenne had recruited, and just as he is about to snatch Lumiere, he is distracted by Annette’s scream from cover behind him. Whist he is overpowering her attacker, Lumiere and his escort board the train and get away, headed back to the Chateau.
Before knocking the thug unconscious, Garth learns from him that Farenne had ordered a hit on him, with a large reward for his successful killer. Garth realises that Malveno must no longer need him for his return to the future. All he can now do is to try and get himself and Annette out of Paris safely and return to the Chateau to continue the fight with Malveno.
The resourceful Annette has learned that the patron of their hotel is driving his lorry out to the country farms to pick up vegetables, and has arranged for them to travel in the back, out of sight. The next day they succeed in escaping Paris safely, into the countryside. One they reach Gascony, Garth intends to leave the truck, and take Annette back to her farm, before heading for the Chateau alone.
Suddenly, the truck breaks violently. Looking out of the back cautiously, Garth sees the cause of the lorry’s violent stoppage. Across the road are the caravans and trucks and animal cages of a travelling circus, and a rampaging elephant! Its trainer is trying ineffectually to stop it from attacking the tiger cage. He tells the circus owner that the tiger, ‘Satan’, had “clawed Rajah through the bars.” The owner reluctantly decides that he will have to shoot the elephant, but before he can do so he is astonished to see Garth leaping onto the elephant’s back!
Once astride the animal, Garth spreads out the heavy tarpaulin he has brought with him from the lorry, enveloping the elephant’s head. Garth then lifts up the trainer, who speaks soothingly to the elephant. Now unable to see the tiger, it quickly calms down.
The circus owner, Quantrillo, introduces himself to Garth, and expresses his gratitude. Garth seizes his chance to ask if he and Annette can travel undercover with the circus, until they reach Gascony. He explains that they are fleeing from pursuers – though not from the police. Quantrillo assures him that he will be glad to help – and that none of the tight-knit circus folk will talk.
Meanwhile, Farenne has brought Lumiere back to the Chateau, and reports to Malveno. He tells him that the authorities had dismissed Garth’s story, believing him delusional…and that the Paris underworld will hunt down and kill Garth. Malveno is pleased, remarking that he just needs another two weeks, with Lumiere’s help, to complete his plan. He adds that even if Garth escapes Paris and tries to attack him, he is ready for him – and will assuredly kill him.
As the circus travels, Garth assists the trainer, Chico, in looking after the animals, and develops a good rapport with Rajah, the elephant. But Chico tells him that Satan, the tiger, has turned savage, and he no longer dares to enter his cage.
When they near the farm where Annette lives with her father, Garth grimly reflects that he will have to fight Malveno alone, but has yet to formulate a plan of attack. Annette urges him to come back with her to visit her Uncle Paul, who lives nearby. He is a recluse, but a very “wise man” who may be able to help.
They leave the circus, but Quantrillo tells Garth that the circus will be stopping in the area for a few days, and he is welcome to return. Annette takes Garth to visit her Uncle Paul’s small farm, and Garth is astonished to find it is a kind of animal sanctuary, including both wild and domesticated animals. They live together in perfect harmony. The elderly Paul hears Garth out, and – having already heard the story from Annette’s father – accepts the veracity of his tale.
As they talk they are interrupted by the sudden appearance of Satan, the tiger, who has apparently escaped from the circus. The animal advances threateningly, and Garth snatches up an axe, ordering Annette and Paul to take cover in his hut. But Paul tells him to stand aside and calmly walks up to confront the tiger himself. The old hermit seems to have an amazing rapport with animals, and Satan allows himself to be fondled, soothed by Paul’s strange wordless murmuring. Annette tells Garth that Paul is able to exert an uncanny influence over animals.
Quantrillo and Chico, both armed, have been pursuing the tiger intending to shoot it, but as they arrive on the scene, Garth tells them to lay aside their weapons. Paul hands over the now completely tame tiger to them, assuring them that he will give no more trouble, provided he is well treated.
Meanwhile, back at the Chateau Malveno has completed working on Hugo’s body with his scientific machines, and restores him to consciousness. He is able to easily bend a thick iron bar, and is now immensely strong, suitable for Malveno’s purposes.
Paul asks Garth to tell him everything he can remember about his time with Malveno. He recalls Malveno being terrified of the cat which had helped him revive, and that when he was escaping from the castle, he overheard Farenne saying that Malveno’s powers were useless against animals. Paul seizes on this as being the chink in his armour, and they quickly formulate an ingenious plan for Paul to prepare the circus animals – the big cats and the elephant – which Garth can lead on an assault on the castle.
Quantrillo is initially reluctant to agree, but having seen Paul’s powers for himself and grateful to both Paul and Garth for saving his circus, he finally agrees.
That night, Garth’s strange army assembles on the edge of wood fronting the Chateau. The sleeping Malveno is awakened as he senses Garth is near. Summoning Farenne, he hurries down to Lumiere’s cell, being guarded by Hugo. Whilst Malveno had slept, Lumiere had been trying to persuade Hugo that Malveno meant to kill him, and is still talking to him as Malveno arrives. He coldly informs Lumiere that his work is near enough complete for him to dispense with his help – and so he orders Hugo to kill him with his bare hands, to demonstrate his new-found strength. Lumiere is brought out of the cell, and Hugo advances on him menacingly…
At that moment Garth has arrived at the huge barred door of the castle, sitting astride the huge elephant. He guides Rajah into charging the door down. The lethal-to-humans mental energy with which the door and walls are charged does not affect animals, and the smashing down of the door causes a short circuit in Malveno’s powerhouse. All the lights are suddenly dimmed, and Malveno is alerted that the castle is under attack. Looking from a window he sees Garth, together with Rajah, Satan and a couple of lions, sweeping across the courtyard. He tries to hit Garth with his mind-ray, but Garth dodges the beam and enters the castle, headed for Lumiere’s cell. During this altercation, Farenne had gone back to his room to fetch his revolver and is on his way back when he is suddenly attacked by the mighty tiger before he can fire his weapon. When Garth arrives, Farenne has already been killed, torn apart. Garth picks up his revolver.
Reaching the cell, Garth finds Lumiere struggling ineffectually as he is gripped from behind by the hulking Hugo. Hugo threatens to break Lumiere’s neck unless Garth drops his weapon, boasting that he is now the strongest man in the world.
Garth drops the gun, but uses psychology in challenging Hugo to physical combat. Lumiere is pushed aside, striking his head on the wall as Hugo lunges at Garth. The two titans clash in a struggle to the death. They appear to be evenly matched – thanks to Malveno’s scientific enhancement—but Garth’s greater skill and cunning come to his aid, and he succeeds in hurling Hugo over the banister from the upper level where Lumiere’s cell is located. He plummets to his death on the stone floor below.
Garth decides not to try and revive Lumiere, deeming it best for him to remain unconscious lest Malveno take control of his mind. Searching for Malveno, he finds that he has been cornered in his laboratory by Satan. He is clumsily trying to wield an ancient sword he has snatched from one of the suits of armour in the castle. As the lion also advances towards him, the terrified Malveno pleads with Garth to call them off.
O’Donnell here corrects his previous failing (in the “Warriors of Krull”) of not having his villain come to a deserved sticky end. Here, Malveno engineers his own spectacular destruction. In clumsily flailing with the heavy sword he cuts into an open electrical circuit and the metal conducts a stupendous power charge into his body, which blasts him apart. The explosion also serves to burn down the castle, destroying all Malveno’s apparatus and the bodies of Farenne and Hugo.
As Paul and Annette now hurry towards the burning castle, they are relieved to see Garth and the animals emerging safely, Garth carrying the unconscious Lumiere.
Latour and his daughter provide the care necessary for Lumiere to fully recover. This allows O’Donnell to close the story quietly and logically, as Garth takes his farewell of a saddened Annette. A young, inexperienced country girl, she has had a life-changing experience and maturation through her shared adventure with Garth. He promises to come back to see her one day.
Dowling and Allard’s artwork perfectly complemented O’Donnell’s ambitious storyline. Allard’s backgrounds maintaining the clever and varied shading that was to continue through their long collaboration over the years. Dowling is on record as saying that they were constantly experimenting with different shading effects. The newspaper device of mechanically tinted small-dots shading would at first be augmented, and then completely discarded as the strip progressed.
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