Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Avenger: The Gray Nemesis by Howard Hopkins


(Outstanding George Gross painting for one of the 70's Avenger reissues.)
Richard Henery Benson, AKA The Avenger, was a character hero of the pulp era who battled all kinds of criminals through the years 1939 and 1942. A world class adventurer, he'd made his fortune in the rough parts of the globe. At the start of the series, he suffers a tragedy which turns his hair white and makes his skin plasticine. Later in the series, his skin and hair return to their normal state.To avenge himself and others who have suffered at the hands of criminals, he uses his vast fortune to create "Justice, Inc.", an organization dedicated to fighting crime. Most of the novels were written by Paul Ernst under the house name Kenneth Robeson.
I first read The Grey Nemesis, Howard Hopkin's study of The Avenger series in 1992 when it was originally released. It has since been updated in 2008 by the author and is available as an electronic download. Its an excellent study and I highly recommend the book. Nemesis is not very long, just a little over a hundred pages, and can be read in a single sitting.
In the first few chapters, Hopkins breaks the book down by characters: Benson and his sidekicks. Each of the Avenger's assistants get a profile, from Irish Chemist Fergus McMurdy to Cole Wilson, the final member of the team. He examines possible inspirations for them and how each character resembled what was accepted at the time. For instance, Hopkins applauds the series' principle writer Paul Ernst for creating two black American heroes, but points out the accepted stereotypes of the era.
The series was reissued in the 1970's action paperback boom. Although the original pulp series was discontinued at episode 24, the reissue company paid write to continue it. Hopkins feels the "new" adventures, although still set in the proper time frame, are inferior. There were also a number of Avenger short stories written as filler in the pulp magazines after the original series discontinued.
One area I totally agree with him was the appeal of the paperback covers in the 70's. He writes of the monthly trip to the mall to grab a new one. And those covers sold the book: excellent examples of graphic art which featured Richard Benson in some of the most eye-grabbing action shots imaginable. They were magnetic and sold those novels.

The book is an excellent study of one of the lessor-known heroes of the pulp era and how it was revived in the 1970's.

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