Friday, May 28, 2010
Forgotten Books: SECRET AGENT X-9 by Dashiell Hammett & Alex Raymond
Maybe this one's not really forgotten, but since the latest edition was published 20 years ago, it's at least neglected. You've no doubt heard of the strip. Hammett plotted and wrote the dialogue for most of 1934, while Raymond continued the artwork for another year. I don't know who actually named the character, but the concept seems to have come directly from William Randolph Hearst, who wanted "the toughness of a detective like (Dick) Tracy with the the mystery of a secret operative like (Dan) Dunn."
With a team like Hammett and Raymond, you know this is great stuff. The only question is . . . do you buy the green edition (Nostalgia Press 1976), the red edition (International Polygonics Ltd, 1983) or the 1990 book (which I have not seen) published by Kitchen Sink?
The green book skips "The Torch Car Case" and jumps ahead to "The Iron Claw Gang" and "The Egyptian Jewel Case", two stories in which Hammett apparently had no hand.
The red book gives us "The Torch Car Case", then skips "The Iron Claw Gang" and "The Egyptian Jewel Case" to present "The Fixer", a story scripted by Saint creator Leslie Charteris.
And there's more to consider. The introduction to the green book, while not lengthy, is excerpted from a critique by Bill Blackbeard, who certainly knows his comic strip stuff. The red book has a longer and more fact-packed intro by Nolan, who surely knows his Hammett.
Which are you leaning toward, the green or the red? Well, here's one more consideration. The green book does a better job of reproducing the strips, which are uniformly sharp. Taken on its own, the red book looks OK, but side-by-side with the green the artwork looks a bit muddy.
The Kitchen Sink edition is said to be oblong (like the green book), and 206 (30 pages more). So maybe it has an extra story. Anyone know?
These books won't lay flat enough to scan full strips, but I managed to snag a few sample panels from the green book. You may, of course, click to enlarge.
The lowdown on this week's selection of Forgotten Books awaits you at George Kelley's blog.