Monday, August 31, 2020


JANUARY 22ND, 1934 - SEPTEMBER 11TH, 1934
SEPTEMBER 12TH, 1934 - DECEMBER 15TH, 1934
By Dashiell Hammett & Alex Raymond

Secret Agent X-9 begins his newspaper run in grand fashion, with a storyline that runs over nine months and sees him tangling with a local mob as he works to solve the murder of a wealthy magnate.

Strangely, I'm not sure yet exactly what X-9 is supposed to be. I mean, obviously he's a secret agent. He spends this storyline going by the name of "Dexter", but he mentions more than once that it's an alias and says at one point that he's used so many names, he doesn't remember what his real one is. He reports to a mysterious "Chief" and a quick flash of his ID is all it takes for the cops to immediately snap to attention and begin taking orders from him.

It all adds up so far, right? He's clearly some kind of super G-Man with top security clearance. But if that's the case, then why does the soon-to-be-murdered Mister Tarleton Powers ring him up at home and ask him for protection like he's a common private detective? Is that part of his cover? It's never explained. But in any case, it's a good thing this random old guy does call our protagonist, because he's quickly swept up in the murder investigation, which leads him to uncover a plot by local gangsters, led by "The Top", to hijack a shipment of gold bullion coming into the United States.

Friday, August 28, 2020


Reading all those Spider-Man newspaper strips has me in the mood to keep going along those lines, so I've grabbed a small stack of books that has been sitting in my bookcase, unread, for a few years now: the adventures of SECRET AGENT X-9 (a.k.a. SECRET AGENT CORRIGAN).

I'll forgive you if you've never heard of this strip. I hadn't heard of it either, until I began researching Alex Raymond when I reviewed his ten-year run on FLASH GORDON back in 2017. It seems that around the same time he was drawing Flash's Sunday adventures on the planet Mongo, Raymond also illustrated another strip for the King Features Syndicate. This one, a detective serial, ran as a daily strip, and Raymond drew it from its inception in January of 1934 up through October of 1936. (The decade on Flash also started in January of '34.)

Surprisingly, the first X-9 storyline is written by none other than Dashiell Hammett, of THE MALTESE FALCON fame, among much more. According to the foreword in IDW's collection of the vintage X-9 strips, Hammett had repeated disagreements with King Features about the strip, while Raymond often found himself unhappy with Hammett's scripts. So when Hammett finally departed the series, Raymond himself took over as writer for the remainder of his run.

SECRET AGENT X-9 didn't end with Raymond's departure, however. The strip continued until it was cancelled in 1996! I have no idea why I had never heard of it until just a few years ago, but there you have it. It doesn't appear much of the strip is reprinted outside of Raymond's work, though, aside from one very big exception: IDW has also collected thirteen more years of the strip, 1967 through 1980 -- a run written by Archie Goodwin and drawn by Al Williamson.

As a huge fan of the Goodwin/Williamson STAR WARS newspaper strip*, which I read in its rejiggered comic book format and reviewed here way back in 2014, this little tidbit was a revelation to me, and I eagerly grabbed all five of IDW's volumes collecting that run, right around the same time I picked up the Raymond book. Like I said up top, I've had these volumes sitting on my shelf for for about three years now, and I've finally decided to read them.

And to think I never would've known about any of this if it weren't for Flash Gordon! (Indeed, I kind of love weird interconnected coincidences like this. FLASH GORDON was part of George Lucas's inspiration for STAR WARS. The STAR WARS newspaper strip introduced me to the Archie Goodwin/Al Williamson team. I read FLASH GORDON because I knew it inspired STAR WARS. And because of FLASH GORDON, I discovered that Goodwin and Williamson had collaborated on another strip. It's not exactly what you'd call full circle -- more like "full zig-zag" -- but I like it.)

So, for the next several weeks starting Monday, we'll delve into the world of SECRET AGENT X-9 circa 1934-1936, followed by the renamed SECRET AGENT CORRIGAN adventures from 1967 - 1980. (And fret not if this sort of thing isn't your cup of tea -- I'm fully aware that it's sort of a niche thing and most readers come here for super hero stuff. Well, good news -- in just about three or four more weeks, I'll be ready to announce the triumphant return of regular, ongoing Friday posts, which will cover some Marvel material -- though not necessarily in the way you might expect!)

* For the chronologically inclined, Goodwin and Williamson started their team-up on the STAR WARS strip in 1980 -- so they jumped straight from CORRIGAN to STAR WARS without missing a beat, and their newspaper strip partnership therefore lasted for a whopping seventeen years, up to the STAR WARS strip's cancellation in 1984.

Monday, August 24, 2020


DECEMBER 6TH, 1993 - MARCH 3RD, 1994
By Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Paul Ryan, & Joe Sinnott

Surprise! We're not quite done with newspaper Spider-Man after all. As I was making my way through the run of 1980s strips we just covered, it occurred to me that there's one more fully collected Spidey story arc out there from a few years later: "The Mutant Agenda", the storyline conceived by Marvel in 1993 as sort of a "multimedia" project. Marvel published a comic mini-series by the same name, written by Steven Grant and illustrated by Scott Kolins, while the Spider-Man newspaper strip did its own version of the story by Stan Lee and Larry Lieber (with Paul Ryan and Joe Sinnott on Sundays). A year or so later, the story was also adapted into the SPIDER-MAN animated series on Fox.

As it happens, Marvel published a collection a while back of the comic series and the strips, so I figured that since it was out there, I might as well purchase the digital version and check it out. You may recall I've mentioned previously that this was my first exposure to the Spidey newspaper strip in "first run" format. Of course I had the old BEST OF SPIDER-MAN book which I've mentioned many, many times here, and I had read it to pieces when I was seven or eight years old -- but our local paper didn't carry the Spidey strip until "The Mutant Agenda" started. When that happened, I decided to follow along in the papers.

...I didn't last long. I just couldn't get into the strip. I don't know if it was reading only a few little panels per day or if it was Stan's writing or Lieber's artwork or what, but at the age of fifteen, I just couldn't get into the strip. In part, I know it was because it felt simplistic and hokey next to the then-ongoing comics -- but even if you take that out of the equation, it simply didn't seem up to par with even the material in THE BEST OF SPIDER-MAN.

Monday, August 17, 2020


With every volume to date of IDW's Spider-Man newspaper strip collections now in the rear-view mirror, I've read all of the strip's first decade of publication -- January 1st, 1977 - December 31st, 1986 -- and so I thought this would be a good time to sum up my thoughts on the whole thing. The verdict, in case there were any doubts, is that I really like it... for the most part. This version of Spider-Man feels more real to me somehow than most comic book versions. Not realistic, because it’s a far cry from that, but more... natural? Correct? Don’t get me wrong; I have great fondness for most of the late eighties/nineties Spider-Man comics I grew up with. I adore Roger Stern’s run too, more than I can articulate (though I tried some years ago). And I love the original 1960s-era Stan Lee/John Romita run nearly as much.

But this is different from all of those. It’s its own thing, but it feels more true to my own idea of what Spider-Man is meant to be. And I suspect part of the reason for that goes back to the formative years of my childhood, and the book I mentioned several times over the course of these reviews: THE BEST OF SPIDER-MAN, published in 1986. When I announced my first round of Spidey strip reviews in 2017, I said of that book:
"When I was a youngster -- say, maybe seven or eight years old -- I had a book called THE BEST OF SPIDER-MAN, which reprinted a handful of story arcs from the earlier years of the Spidey strip. I very nearly read the cover off that thing, to the point that it became one of the most battered, dog-eared books I owned. In a way, it was more formative of my understanding of Spider-Man than the monthly comics, since I had never really been a regular ongoing reader at that point."
And it's true. Though I was a Spider-Man fan from a very young age -- the first comic I can remember owning was AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #245 -- I dind't start reading with real regularity until the Gerry Conway run on SPECTACULAR and WEB circa 1987 or '88 -- and even then, I was only picking up random issues from spinner racks as I saw them. I didn't become an actual, honest-to-goodness montly reader of Spider-Man until somewhere around AMAZING #360 in 1992.

Monday, August 10, 2020


NOVEMBER 9TH, 1986 - DECEMBER 31ST, 1986
By Stan Lee, Dan Barry, & Floro Dery

After well over a year of uncredited pinch-hitters from the Marvel Bullpen handling the daily strips, Spider-Man finally gets a new regular artist as the final storyline of 1986 begins -- and he's kind of a catch, too. Beginning with the July 28th installment, daily art chores are handled by veteran newspaper strip artist Dan Barry -- best known as the artist of Flash Gordon for many years after originator Alex Raymond departed the series.

Barry's run on Spidey will turn out to be quite short, really only lasting the duration of this single arc, but it's notable nonetheless. As this is the final arc we're looking at for now, Barry is the last artist we'll see on the strip -- but following his departure, Larry Lieber will return and proceed with a remarkable run as artist from 1987 all the way through to the strip's cancellation in 2019!

As this arc begins, Peter and Mary Jane are in a good place. MJ knows Peter's identity, so he no longer needs to hide his exploits from her. They're dating, they're in love -- the only fly in the ointment is that Mary Jane still can't commit to Peter's marriage proposal. But the wall-crawler's concerns quickly turn from his love life when corrupt politician Howard Danton Hayes begins accosting Mary Jane's uncle, Judge Spencer Watson. Hayes wants Watson to go easy on a friend of his, mobster Abner Zilden. And with that setup, we're off into a storyline which provides a surprising and much-needed jolt to the recently boring newspaper strip.

Monday, August 3, 2020


July 20TH, 1986 - NOVEMBER 8th, 1986
By Stan Lee w/Floro Dery & Friends

Seven-month storylines seem to be the norm for the Spider-Man strep by this point. In the early days, they tended to last three or four months, and as a general rule, that carried all the way through the artistic tenures of both John Romita and Larry Lieber. But partway through Fred Kida's run (actually in the middle of his final storyline), they began to get longer. This is now our fifth five-plus-month-long arc in a row, and for the record they've gone seven months, five months, nine months, seven months -- and now seven months again.

Spider-Man's 1986 ends with Stan Lee beginning to plant the seeds for the web-slinger's marriage to Mary Jane Watson in 1987. I'm honestly a bit surprised Stan was thinking about this so far in advance, but I guess maybe he figured such a momentous event should have some build-up. So we have Aunt May worrying over Peter's lack of a wife and steady job, while MJ returns to New York with a promotion at Compton Computers -- she will now be running the company's franchise operations. Peter feels a bit inadequate in the shadow of MJ's success, and sells his motorcycle for some quick cash to take her out. He wants to propose, but when he ducks out on a New Year's Eve date to play Spider-Man, MJ declares that she doesn't want to speak with him again.

This finally prompts Peter to decide that he will reveal his identity to MJ. But first he needs to get past her cold shoulder to do it. His persistence pays off, and he eventually gets her to meet him at his apartment, where he shows her his costume and demonstrates his power, then tells her his origin. But Mary Jane is taken aback by the revelation, and tells him she needs time to think about it. So Spidey sets his mind to another task: a rash of ATM robberies in the city, which has drained Aunt May's savings. Unfortunately, a gung-ho cop is hunting him as well, seeking the glory of unmasking Spider-Man. (Which seems odd, since we're explicitly told more than once that Spider-Man isn't currently wanted for anything -- yet this guy, Detective Kovanson, pulls a gun on Spidey in the street, yelling at him to unmask for no apparent reason, twice -- and even shoots at him once as well!)