Monday, July 16, 2007

Doc Savage and the Avenger

Banking on the success of the Doc Savage series, in 1939 Street and Smith published another adventure series "The Avenger and Justice Inc." under the house pen name of Kenneth Robeson. The series was well written and entertaining but is lasted only for 24 issues.

The Avenger's name was Richard Henry Benson. He was supposedly in his late twenties or thirties and was a man of average height and weight: 5 foot 8 and 165 pounds. He was obviously named for Richard Henry Savage, the writer and adventurer of the late 19th Century.

The Avenger was similar to Doc Savage in several ways. His headquarters were also in New York down on Bleek Street. He was a genius with competence in multiple fields including medicine, dentistry, engineering, chemistry, physics, business, and electronics. He was a physical marvel with super strength, super agility, super hearing, super reflexes, telescopic vision, microscopic vision, and a mastery of the martial arts. He had a collection of talented assistants who were experts in their own fields. (Two of these aides were a black married couple, Josh and Rosabel Newton who were educated at Tuskegee Institute and treated like full members of the team. This was a real breakthrough in the 1930s.) The Avenger had received a serious shock when his wife and daughter disappeared during an airline flight. It turned his hair white at the roots and caused his face to blanch and loose the ability to make facial expressions. It was impossible to read his facial expressions and gave him a constant stoic air. The skin also became pliable like putty and this helped to make him a master of disguise. (Later on, another shock caused his face and hair to return to normal.) He carried two weapons: Ike and Mike. Ike was a stiletto and Mike was a four-shot .22 caliber pistol that he NEVER used to kill. He was such a great marksman that he could "crease" a bad-guy's skull with a bullet and knock him out. The Avenger, like Doc Savage, would not take human life without a good reason

So we have a well educated young man with superlative abilities who out of nowhere turns into a literal super hero. All of this really pushed the limits of my credibility as a 16 year old when I began reading the reprinted Avenger Sagas in 1969. Doc Savage had super abilities but he had been raised, educated, and trained since childhood for that role. Dick Benson was just a business man who went a little crazy after his family disappeared. Where did he get his education? His super powers? What was his origin?

Rick Lai in his Chronology of the Avenger postulates that there was a competing program for the development of a superhuman to the one that gave us Doc Savage. I must agree with Rick that this is a virtually inescapable conclusion. But Lai thought that it might have been a German program that started in 1902 the alleged year of Benson's birth. For a variety of reasons this is not feasible. The programs of Eugenics and Aryan racial mythology had their origins in the 19th Century but were not taken to their logical conclusion until after World War I and it was the Nazis in the 1930s who really implemented them in Germany. I think we would have to look elsewhere for the origin of Dick Benson's training. Furthermore, it was clear that Benson was an AMERICAN who had first travelled overseas in his teens.

The most likely situation was that Dick Benson was the end product of another selective breeding program similar to that of the Howard Foundation. One reason for suspecting this is that he later met a man named Cole Wilson who was around the same age as Benson and virtually his identical twin. Wilson had similar physical powers to Benson's even though he was not as well educated.

And then in the Doc Savage Super Saga "The Talking Devil", we meet a character named Butch who works for the Montague Ogden. He is a small man pale and soft looking but he is a big game hunter, and gives instructions in Jujutsu, wrestling, and knife-throwing. Towards the end of the story, he and Monk get into a tussle and Monk gets the worst end of it. Butch is not only very strong but quite fast and skilled as a grappler. Under ordinary circumstances, if you have a fight between a small jujutsu expert and a 250 lbs experienced bruiser like Monk Mayfair, put your money on the bruiser. The fact that Butch seemed to come out on top makes me suspect that he was another "Dick Benson" look-alike.

So it seems that someone had been breeding "Dick Benson" look-alikes around the turn of the century. Who was doing so and why?

In his Wold Newton family tree, Philip José Farmer identifies Richard Benson as the nephew of Phileas Fogg through Phileas' sister Isis. As we know from The Other Log of Phileas Fogg, Phileas was allegedly the super-powered human agent of Eridanian extraterrestrials. It may be that the entire Fogg family was bred for this work and that Cole Wilson was another Fogg descendant. But were these supposed "Eridanians" benign or did they have their own nefarious agendas?

Benson's history before he became The Avenger (which Rick Lai documents in detail in his Chronology of the Avenger ) makes it sound like he was always on the run from something. This seems reminiscent of Jarod, The Pretender, who was always on the run from an organization known as "The Centre". Was there an earlier incarnation of "The Centre" or some similar group responsible for breeding "Bensons"? Did he finally marry and settle down after defeating them so that he could come into the open?

The Avenger Sagas seemed to indicate that Benson had spent only 2 years in college, but he was too well versed in science and medicine for that to be true. I submit that he must have had private tutors and took special qualifying exams which earned him his degrees. He had to put in some time on campus and this was what the 2 years were all about. Very likely he spent much of that time as a medical student on clinical rotations. He had escaped from the "breeding program" as a teenager around the same age that Doc had joined the US Army to fight in World War I. He likely pursued private study in a variety of subjects and then later obtained his medical degree. Once he was free from his pursuers, he may have formalized other degrees.

It seems that Benson was raised and trained for a purpose but one that was very low-key at least in that early part of the 20th Century. I have often wondered if the "Eridanians" may not have been the same mysterious unknown aliens (The Aegis?) that sent Gary Seven to Earth in the original Star Trek series. (See the episode "Assignment: Earth".) Or was even this a cover for some group even more secret and sinister?

Since he would have been fighting preternaturally powerful foes, it is possible that Dick Benson sought help from a kindred soul who like him had been prepared from birth to be a superman. Could he have been aided by Doc Savage in his fight for freedom? My sources have been very circumspect about this question. It seems that there is disturbing information here that they think the world is not prepared to hear about even today.


J.D.C. said...

Dear "Doc" Sippo -
I am 38 years old and truly en- joyed your, website. I'm delighted to see the resurgence of interest in the pulp storys I love.
I have no complaint with your site, or that of Mr. Lai,(although he seems to rely heavily on copy- right dates and dubious comic book details).
I have one point: between Doc Savage, Benson and The Shadow, there seemed to be a hell of a lot of super-criminals in the 1930's and 40's.
Just something to think about...
Best wishes to you and yours.

J.D.C. said...

To whom it may concern -
I am an artist of sorts - I'm trying to recreate the 24 original Avenger pulp covers in color for my own amusement. Some are tough to find. If anyone can steer me toward website(s) that may feature these I would be very grateful. (Image size not an issue).

Thanks in advance --- J.D.C.

p.s. - I may have just posted three comments in 40 minutes. (I'm bad at this - better at drawing).

Michael said...

If you want pulp covers on-line, go here:

All the Avengers are there, along with most of the other hero pulps.

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