Introducing Secret Agent “X”, Man of Mystery and Destiny!
At the end of the Depression year of 1933, tiny Magazine Publishers could see which way the pulp winds were blowing. Street & Smith had broken new ground when they launched The Shadow Magazine in 1931. Doc Savage came two years later. As did The Phantom Detective.
In the Fall of ’33 Popular Publications released both The Spider and G-8 and His Battle Aces. The public was obviously hungry for heroes. And editor Rose Wyn decided that her outfit had to offer one too!
With top writer Paul Chadwick, she brainstormed Secret Agent “X”, uncanny composite of Doc and The Shadow, with a dash of the Phantom thrown in. The first issue appeared at the end of 1933 with a February 1934 cover date. Coincidentally, the popular King Features newspaper strip, Secret Agent X-9, debuted that same month! But for that hyphenated X, lawsuits might have shut down one or the other hero.
A nameless mystery man with a wartime past in the Intelligence service, declared dead by the Department of Justice, and backed by a shadowy group of powerful philanthropists, Secret Agent “X” took on the toughest assignments of the dirty thirties. Operating out of the half-haunted Montgomery Mansion, “X” was also known as the Man of a Thousand Faces. A past master of disguise, he infiltrated the Underworld to crush crime in all of its hideous manifestations.
Every hero needed something to distinguish himself from his rivals. The Shadow could blend into the shadows. Doc Savage was a superman. The Spider shot first and asked no questions later. Every one of them was a consummate quick-change artist. In that respect, “X” would be no different.
For Secret Agent “X”, Rose Wyn decided to pit him against villains who were maestros of unbridled horror. Melodrama was the rule of the day. But Secret Agent “X” plunged into maelstroms of raw bloodlust undreamed of by The Shadow and Doc Savage. His foes were truly depraved. Terrorists. Torturers. Extortionists. Kidnappers. Stranglers. Fiends. Arsonists. These were the types of torn-from-the-tabloids master criminals “X” hunted. It was grim fare.
Before long, The Spider started going up against foes as a maniacal as the ones “X” vanquished every month. But the Man of a Thousand Faces first blazed that terrible trail.
Writer Paul Chadwick communicated the essence of the new series with the lurid title of the first installment—The Torture Trust! This gripping thriller sets the stage for the mayhem that followed. Thirty years after President Theodore Roosevelt became famous as a trust buster, “X” pit all his secretive skill and devious daring against a criminal trust that wielded face-destroying acid as an instrument of blackmail.
In those days, Chadwick specialized in telling melodramatic mystery yarns saturated in an atmosphere of impending doom. The pulp editors called these menace stories. Eventually, these thrillers evolved into sub-genre known as weird menace. In Secret Agent “X”, a cloud of diabolical danger hangs over the heads of every innocent character until X, using his fists, his gas gun, or his loyal operatives, shatters the threat for all time.
No one knew who Secret Agent “X” really was. Not his readers. Not his editors. Not even his writer, conceivably. To this day in the 21st Century, his true identity is still a deep mystery. That’s keeping a secret!