Archive for Secret Agent X-9

The Funny Papers

Posted in Comics, FILM with tags , , , , , , , on January 26, 2009 by dcairns

Been reading Vol.3 of the collected Popeye, which is fantastic stuff. Reputation had it that this is the point where E.C. Segar’s newspaper strip really hit the heights, but I wouldn’t quite agree — for me, the stuff really started to work on me partway through voulme 1, and since then everything I’ve read of Popeye, Olive Oyle, Castor Oyle and Wimpy’s adventures has been simply terrific. I particularly enjoy the evolving portrayal of depression-era slang — the phrases used by the characters go through distinct phases, reflecting either the lingo of the day, or Segar’s exposure to it. Partway through volume 1, the word “punk” took hold: “This is a punk country,” “You punk wife!” etc. The exclamation “Good night!” an expression of alarm or dismay, was popular from day one, but has become less common recently. The dismissive “Ah, be yourself!” just made it’s first appearance in Vol. 3, and looks set to be around awhile.

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Meanwhile, I also picked up The Mammoth Book of Best Crime Comics (unwieldy title!) edited by Paul Gravett, which reproduces a chunk of Secret Agent X-9, a detective yarn illustrated by Alex Raymond (before he created Flash Gordon, I think) and written by Dashiell Hammett. Fun stuff (although the pages are printed out of order in my library edition).

Initially, the shock is how clunkily written it is, considering it’s Hammett. Some of the dialogue is pithy and slangy, but a lot of it is comically bald exposition. The plotting is helter-skelter and action-packed, following the traditional pulp dictum that if you get stuck, have a man come through the door with a gun.

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The second shock is how good it is regardless of the sloppiness. Hammett must have been writing fast, and probably without a game plan. But his convoluted scenario is suspenseful and engaging, some of his characters are very winning (there’s a good vamp, and a verbose fat man somewhat in the Greenstreet vein), and there are occasional bon mots: “This is jolly!” remarks X-9 sourly, while balancing on a plank between two tall buildings, one of which is one fire, supporting two falling persons (the accident-prone heroine and her insane father) and being shot at by an army of gangsters disguised as cops.

Also, it appealed to me that the gang boss X-9 is trailing is known as “the Top”.

I’m thinking of getting the movie serial version of this, in hopes that it might have the same naive charm and frenetic brio.

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Lloyd Bridges again!