I spent much of this week reading Dashiel Hammett's The Big Book of the Continental Op, a massive collection reprinting the entire Continental Op oeuvre. Having read (and admired) most of Hammett's works over the years, I thought I'd delve into one of his most famous creations for today's comic book post -- Secret Agent X9.
Perhaps creation is not the best word because the concept was created by someone at King Features Syndicate, which wanted to have a comic strip that would compete with such popular strips as Dick Tracy, Red Barry, Dan Dunn, and others. (King Features wavered between having the character doing all sorts of secret agent stuff or just fighting crime, a la Dick Tracy.) They needed someone to write the strip and they needed someone to draw the strip so they hired one of the best hard-boiled writers of the pulps (Hammett) and a talented young artist who was creating Flash Gordon at the same time, Alex Raymond. What a combination!
After writing the first four story arcs, Hammett dropped out, to be replaced by Leslie Charteris, the creator of The Saint, for one story arc. The writing then was written by people using the house name Robert Stone. Raymond left the strip before its second anniversary because of the demands of his Flash Gordon strip; he was replaced by (in order) Charles Flanders, Nicholas Afonsky, Austin Briggs, then by Mel Graff, who soon took over the writing (and/or supervising) of the strip. Graff began working on the strip in 1940 and ended his run in 1960. Al Lubbers (signing himself as "Bob Lewis") replaced Graff and was himself replaced by the team of artist Al Williamson and writer Archie Goodwin from 1967 to 1980. Then George Evans ran the strip until its end.
The strip ran from January 22, 1934, to February 10, 1996. Along the way it underwent a number of changes. As mentioned above, King features was unsure of whether the hero should be a secret agent-type or a detective type. They got around the problem by ignoring it -- X9 worked for an unknown agency and dabbled as both. During Flanders' run with the strip, the mattered was resolved by having X9 working for the FBI. (This went on for years until J. Edgar Hoover fell out of the public favor, then X9's agency was once again unknown and not spoken of.) Graff got rid of the "Secret Agent X9" title, and gave the lead character a name -- Phil Corrigan. In 1950 Graff married Corrigan off to Wilda Dorray, a mystery novelist. Two years later they had a daughter, Philda. Graff sailed in seldom chartered waters when he paired a Native American colleague of Corrigan with a beautiful painter in an interracial romance. A lasting romance was not in the cards for Corrigan, however. After years after Goodwin took over the writing, Corrigan and Wilda divorced, leaving the way for our hero to have a fling with lovely Karla Kopak, the niece of a character from a completely different comic strip, Brick Bradford. During the Evans reign, Corrigan romanced both the niece of his bureau chief and a spy from a rival agency. Somewhere long the way the title was changed to Secret Agent Corrigan.
Corrigan came back briefly in 2000-2001 for a guest appearance in the Flash Gordan Sunday strip.
At the link below is issue 20 (October 1951) of the New Zealand reprint of Secret Agent X9, containing 48 daily strips from November 28 to the following January 21 (year unknown, but most likely 1949 -- if my math is right). This is smack dab in the Graff era, shortly before Corrigan marries Wilda.
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