Golden Dragon is, without a doubt, the best serial I have covered so far. In 31 instalments, from New Comics 6, July 1946 – Adventure Comics 36, March 1939, it tells the story of a group of Americans hired to deliver guns deep into the Gobi Desert, who use the mission to hunt for the fabled treasure horde of Genghis Khan. And it even has an ending! An actual, genuine ending!
The story opens with Ian Murray and Ken Cockerill lamenting that their days of training Chinese troops has ended, and their decision to seek out the legendary treasure. They head to Peking, where they run into Doris Willis and her father, and he hires them to bring weaponry to the Ja-Lama, deep in the Gobi Desert. They put together a team of other former soldiers – Red Reilly, Bob Walker, Lefty Murphy and the Campbell brothers, Don and Sandy.
While loading up the train, they are approached by Pan Chi-Lou, an emissary of the Chinese government, who they rough up and force to accompany them, though he really doesn’t seem to have a problem with this, and helps them throughout.
The train gets attacked by Mongolian horsemen, lead by Torgadoff, who is the Head Priest of the Golden Dragon, but the Americans are aided, and then accompanied, by a group of Cossack mercenaries. At this point they also run into Doris again, as she has escaped from Torgadoff, who kidnapped her back in Peking to try to get her father to stop the arms deal. She joins the caravan as they load up onto camels and head across the desert.
Up to this point the story has moved at much the same pace as other serials, but now it slows down, which surprisingly is a good thing. Instead of overloading us with events and cliff-hangers, the story builds slowly, gives meaning to the actions and allows itself time to explore the characters to some degree.
The caravan reaches a ruined monastery, which appears deserted, although they notice the temple lamps have been refilled. A couple of instalments are spent just on making the monastery an eerie location, while allowing the characters to interact with each other, and the start of the romance between Ian and Doris. Pan Chi-Lou goes missing, and then we see Ian and Doris get captured and taken away through a hidden passageway.
They have been captured by the Ja-Lama and his men, who do not want to have to pay for the weapons shipment, and are intending just to steal it, and who send a small army to attack the monastery. Ian, Doris and Pan manage to escape and make it back to the monastery, which has successfully been defended, largely due to the efforts of the Cossacks.
Ken is jealous of the burgeoning relationship between Ian and Doris, and makes his own play for her while Ian and Reilly head off on a scouting mission, but get severely rebuffed by Doris. He is then approached by Torgadoff, who tells him he will give Doris to him if he stands down on guard duty that night, which he does. Torgadoff’s men enter the camp dressed as skeletons (for no apparent reason, but it does look cool), and capture Doris and the rest of the Americans. Ken joins them, but is trussed up with a bag over his head and forcibly brought along.
When Ian and Reilly return to the camp, they discover not only are their comrades missing, but that the Mongols have stampeded the camels as well. The Cossacks still have thier horses, which were taken a distance away from the camp to graze during the night, so they proceed on their quest, though have to leave much of their stuff behind.
They find another monastery deep in the desert, and the only bit of poor continuity occurs. Oh, sure, there have been a few errors. At one point there were two Walker brothers, instead of two Campbell ones. Doris’ last name was Whipple in one chapter, and her hair changed from brown to blonde about halfway through the run, but those are minor. Pan Chou-Li was established as one of those missing from the camp when Ian and Red returned, but as they reach the second monastery, Pan Chou-Li is suddenly with them, acting as an interpreter.
The abbot of the monastery allows them to stay, though Torgadoff finds out they are there. We learn that Torgadoff wants to to take total control of the region, known as the Three Don’t Cares, as its an area not claimed by China, Tibet or “sovietized Mongolia”, but the hub of major trade routes. The Ja-Lama works for him, but wants to overthrow Torgadoff and rule in his place. Ken gets drugged, and Torgadoff, still promising him Doris, has him write a letter to Ian warning that Torgadoff will make Doris become the “bride of the Golden Dragon” unless Ian comes alone to give himself up. Red takes Ian’s place, which infuriates Torgadoff,
The Golden Dragon itself finally appears, a giant gilded python that Doris is going to be fed to. Ian arrives, with the Cossacks, and besieges Torgadoff’s fortress, saves Doris, and throws Torgadoff to serpent, then shoots and kills the monstrous snake.
We learn that Ken has been killed by one of the guards, and discover that Pan Chou-Li is the lineal descendant of Genghis Khan and rightful heir to the treasure, which had been “guarded” by the Golden Dragon. Pan pays for the arms shipment, and also generously rewards the Cossacka and Americans. Ja-Lama is allowed to homourbaly commit suicide (though this is not stated outright, you can understand easily what is being referred to), and the story concludes with Doris and Ian in a warm embrace.
Not only is the story above par, the art is as well. The asians look asian, not like caricatures (ok, the main bad guys do, a bit, but not overly so), the locations are lovely, and I have little doubt that the odd parka-like clothes the Mongolians wear is correct, or at least clearly based on actual clothing.