So began my initial forray into the world of Agent 007. After seeing the film, I wanted more, but as this was years before VCRs became as common as televisions in the home, I'd either have to content myself until the next film appeared at some nearby theater, or check out other outlets. Fortunately, there was the source material, the original novels, and I was soon exposed to the literary side of my favorite secret agent.
Since the book had the same cover as the movie poster, I started with the novel DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER, never dreaming it was part of an overall series at the time. As many others had discovered before me, the book was different in many ways - in tone, the action, the characters, the villains, and especially Bond himself. The book didn't open with Bond beating people up, but rather a sequence that appeared later in the film, and in not quite the same context. There wasn't any laser satellite or mysterious billionaires either. Despite the differences, the book had a sweep to it that surpassed other adventures that held my attention. (As I was later to learn, this was one of the weaker novels of the series, no less.)
Soon thereafter, while at the library looking for other Bond novels, I came across an interesting paperback written by O.F. Snelling entitled "007 James Bond: A Report". It was this book that got me up to speed on the history of Bond, his literary ancestors, and the sequence of his adventures. Obviously a fan, Snelling went on to point out the stylistic ideosyncrasies of Bond creator and author Ian Fleming's writing in regards to the Bond novels, pointing out how the adventure was set-up, the girl introduced, the extravagances of the villains and how Fleming's likes and dislikes set the tone for each.
Before long, I was collecting anything having to do with James Bond, whether it was novels, comics, magazines, posters, lobby cards, or (as in years later) videos. In fact, a great deal of the appeal of the character and the series was the visceral effect it had on me. The art of the theatrical posters and book covers, the cinematography and pacing of the films had a profound influence on how I approached my art, especially from a storytelling point of view in regards to my comic book work.
There may be many different types of action heroes, but there is only one Agent 007, and it'll be a long time before someone comes up with a character that does it better.
It's hard to say with any certainty whether my first exposure to the character was in his premiere adventure on TV with Adam West and Burt Ward playing the Dynamic Duo, or in the issues of BATMAN and DETECTIVE COMICS being published at the time. I do recall BATMAN #173 as the first issue I came across, with the cover depicting Batman and Robin watching through the skylight, as Mr Incognito projected a photo of them onto a mirror, which revealed their identities beneath the mask, the gimmick being some sort of photo process which went beyond the surface layers.
Another cover that grabbed my attention at the time was DETECTIVE COMICS #334, which had Batman opening a door to a darkened room upon hearing the sound of Robin's voice. In the foreground is a tape recorder playing the sounds Batman hears, while off to either side are hands armed with Colt .45s, ready to blow away the Caped Crusader as soon as he enters. The story "THE MAN WHO STOLE FROM BATMAN" was every bit as gripping as that cover. And in the end, we would discover that Batman was facing his most dangerous and mysterious new foe, the Outsider, whose identity readers wouldn't learn until almost two years later.
Unlike most creations who seem to lose something in the translation when the creator leaves and someone else steps in, Batman seemed to thrive on the various interpretions as presented by some of the top writers and artists in the industry. While Neal Adams is credited with restoring Batman to his original Dark Knight image as opposed to his campy television persona, artists Carmine Infantino and Irv Novick were already contributing covers and stories as dark and gritty before or since. The cover of Batman writing his Last Will and Testament is a gothic masterpiece to say the least, as is the cover where Batman comes across a battered and bruised Robin. Strong stuff, especially considering these issues came out when the series was still on TV.
Created in 1939 by Bill Finger and Bob Kane, Batman has endured through the decades for a multitude of reasons, chief among them he is the light in a dark and cruel world. He represents hope and justice where there isn't any. He also perseveres where others would give up. He is the cynic who hasn't given up his idealism, a contradiction if ever there was one, but it's his complexity that fascinates us and keeps us coming back for more.
While the case could be may that THE SHADOW was the forerunner to BATMAN, the case could equally be made that DOC SAVAGE was the forerunner to not only SUPERMAN, but to the super-hero genre in comics, and various other characters such as JAMES BOND, THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN and many others.
Doc is the ultimate adventurer. Raised by scientists who helped him develop his mental and physical abilities way beyond that of normal men, he was an expert in medicine, chemistry, biology, engineering and many other sciences. Doc was also swifter, stronger, more agile than any man alive. His senses of sight, hearing, smell, touch and taste were also developed to a point way beyond normal.
Possessing limitless wealth and resources, Doc chose to use his abilities for the good of mankind, most often in as anonymous a fashion as possible. Society would benefit from the latest inventions, medicines, surgical techniques and other end products that were the results of Doc's research.
Unlike most characters, Doc believed in the team concept and strength in numbers. He was aided by five of the most colorful characters: William Harper "Johnny" Littlejohn - the foremost expert in geology and archeology, Colonel John Renwick - although renowned for his massive fists capable of pounding through thick doors, "Renny" was also the top engineer in his field, Major Thomas J. "Long Tom" Roberts - although he looked like a physical weakling, he was more than capable in a fight, and a genius at electricity to boot, Brigadier General Theodore Marley Brooks - dapper and debonair with his ominous, black sword cane, "Ham" was a legal eagle second to none, and last but most certainly not least, Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Blodgett Mayfair - whose nickname "Monk" was certainly well deserved with his simian-like appearance that seemed more at home on the New York docks as opposed to the chemistry labs where only Doc was as capable as he.
Although the creation of the characters and concepts are a bit hazy, the series as a whole benefitted from the talents of one man, Lester Dent, who wrote the stories under the byline "Kenneth Robeson". Dent wrote all but 16 of the 181 pulp adventures that appeared from 1933 through 1949, including the first and last adventures. When the series ended, Dent moved on to writing other stories for the then-burgeoning paperback market. He died in 1959.
In 1964, Doc was resurrected in a series of paperback novels which were essentially reprints of old stories in a new format. The cover art was usually the work of James Bama, who more often than not adopted a monochromatic look that was so striking, that most early sales can be attributed to his work alone.
Indeed, it was the covers on the books that got me to try a copy. Book #46, THE MIDAS MAN, pictured Doc ready for action, adorned in his trademark torn shirt and rippling muscles, and behind him was the potrait of a man so old wearing a metal helmet with all sorts of electrical tubes. The image just leaped out at me, that I decided I had to read that story. The action was gripping and fast paced, the characters colorful and intriguing. So much so, that before long, I was reading more adventures, eventually accumulating the entire series as it was released.
Bantam Books has since released all 181 stories, plus a never-before published manuscript that had been intended for publication back in 1948, as well as a series of all-new novels. The new novels consisted of a prequel to the series ESCAPE FROM LOKI, written by Philip Jose Farmer, and several adventures set in the '30's which were written by Will Murray, who decided to stick with tradition and wrote under the byline Kenneth Robeson. Currently, the character is in limbo. But somewhere, somehow, he will return.
(More characters are scheduled for later addition to this page. Check back over the summer for improvements to this page and others on this site.)
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