#71 (Marvel Comics #11)
by Dan Abnett
Featuring: James, I.Q., Tracy, Phoebe, Baron von Skarin, Ms Fortune, Snuffer.
Synopsis: In Humarabad, southern India, two archaeologists, Ranjit and Jamal, complete an excavation at a ruined temple for their boss, Professor Bhuti. Suddenly a giant cobra emerges from the undergrowth, chasing them away from the site. At Warfield Academy, meanwhile, James, I.Q. and Tracy look forward to a relaxing six weeks' vacation as they depart for the summer break. As they're about to leave, they spy Phoebe looking upset.
She shows them a letter she's received from her pen pal Vishna, whom she was planning to spend the holidays with in India. Apparently, the Curse of Humarabad has taken hold of the village, and she's told Phoebe to stay away. Phoebe is worried, and wants to go and help; James, I.Q. and Tracy decide to go with her. We learn that Vishna is the daughter of Professor Bhuti, and James wonders whether the digs have anything to do with the curse. Reading up, I.Q. learns that the Curse of Humarabad was an ancient magical blight that made ghosts plague the living.
Back in India, Ms Fortune enjoys the hot weather, waited on hand and foot by Snuffer, ruminating on ways to plunder the district's riches. James and the gang arrive at Vishna's house, but the taxi driver warns them not to stay, or else the demon cobra and ghost tiger will get them. Vishna welcomes them, explaining how, since her father has been excavating the ruined temple, the crops have failed, a drought has occurred, and superstition is running amok.
Sceptical about the curse, James leads a visit to the site. Suddenly a chill fills the air, as, in a control room, Ms Fortune turns down a temperature dial. She's about to set the 'demon cobra' on them when Snuffer announces Baron von Skarin's arrival. He reveals he knows that she's after the Star of Kali, the largest diamond in the world, hidden somewhere in the temple ruins, and that he's after it too; it would make sense, he suggests, to collaborate. Back at the ruins, I.Q. finds a secret passage in the wall, and the others follow him down it. They locate the inner sanctum, and the Star of Kali in the centre of the room.
But as James picks up the diamond to take to the authorities, he triggers a huge mechanical trap - a rolling stone cylinder covered in spikes. They narrowly avoid it, but there's more trouble ahead; as von Skarin and Ms Fortune agree to work together, the Baron orders his henchmen to activate 'Project Bengal'. Soon, the gang are being chased by men in tank units atop elephants, firing machine guns at them. They also run into some holographic ghosts, and the giant cobra, in fact a giant robot which I.Q. deactivates with a special sonic frequency from his personal organiser.
The snake collapses, but then von Skarin and Ms Fortune appear with Project Bengal - a huge robotic tiger. However, the two are soon arguing about what to use the diamond for - von Skarin wants it as the lens of a powerful laser, while Ms Fortune wants to turn it into a brooch. As they argue, James uses the organiser to reactivate the cobra, sending it chasing after the villains. The Baron's tiger then attacks the cobra, and they end up mauling each other and tearing down the ruins in the process. The temple collapses, and the gang escape with the diamond, which James tells Vishna to use to buy food to replace the crop failure. As they relax and enjoy the rest of the vacaton, a dishevelled von Skarin, Ms Fortune and Snuffer bicker in the remains of the temple.
Review: Following in the Scooby-Doo 'scare off the natives' tradition of Shifting Sands, City of Gold, The Inhuman Race, Fountain of Terror and Goldie Finger at the End of the Rainbow, this is nevertheless very enjoyable, not least for the dynamic between the lead villains, whose incessant bickering makes the whole unlikely tale more than worthwhile. We've no idea whether the creators of the comic series actually saw a significant number of the TV episodes (though they must have seen scripts to produce the first five comics), but they seem very clued-in to the idiosyncrasies of even the less frequent characters, like Ms Fortune - whose vanity and greed brings her into conflict with a fellow S.C.U.M. mastermind for the second time following the events of Danger Train. There's more than a little of a colonial feel to this story on the crooks' part, with a British aristocrat and her butler exploiting and thieving from India, formerly part of the British Empire (although she's shown drinking a St. Clements rather than a cup of tea). The curse element of the story also shares similarities with the TV episode Shifting Sands, as well as Lamp of Darkness, where picking up the artefact in question also triggers a deadly trap. Like so many of the original comics, this would have worked brilliantly on TV because of the aesthetically-pleasing backdrops and huge potential for action sequences. But it makes for a more than adequate comic story, too.
Highs: The turbulent dynamic between Baron von Skarin and Ms Fortune - with Snuffer lurking obsequiously in the background - is entertaining throughout.
Lows: As with various other stories in the series, the idea that the local people can be fooled easily by S.C.U.M.'s robots and holograms, while it takes minutes for James and his friends to work out there's a far more mundane explanation than an ancient curse, is perhaps a little patronising. And surely all the time they spent installing the nasties could have been better expended actually searching for the diamond - which didn't exactly prove elusive.
Lines to Remember: Von Skarin: 'I have waited so long for a diamond of this size and purity. Soon it will form the focusing lens of my new multi-kilowatt laser...' Ms Fortune: 'This stone isn't going into any laser, Baron! It will be mine, set in the most fantastic brooch in the world, the envy of royalty...' Von Skarin: 'Nonsense, woman. The diamond is mine!' Ms Fortune: 'Philistine!' Von Skarin: 'Hedonist!'
Gadgets & Gizmos: I.Q.'s electronic personal organiser can send out high-pitched bleeps to deactivate robot snakes. Just like any personal organiser, then...
S.C.U.M. on the Surface: We learn that S.C.U.M. has some kind of central information archive (perhaps an Intranet service!) that its chief agents, including von Skarin and Ms Fortune, have access to; this is why they both ended up in Humarabad at the same time.
Notes: For the fourth occasion in the seven original comic stories, Trevor Noseworthy is strikingly absent. Gordo is also missing from this edition.
One of the Warfield students depicted close up (on the second picture of the story's second page) bears an eerie resemblance to creepy robot exchange student Evan Moore from the previous installment, Friends Like These. Presumably this is a coincidental likeness, or a mistake, given that Moore was blown to smithereens and would be recognised by the gang in any case.