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Secret Agent X-9

April 19, 2009

He was developed as an answer to the popularity of Dick Tracy; as a direct response to the nation's fascination with the dark world of underground crime and the men who helped fight it. But today, over 70 years later, Secret Agent X-9 is still in the comic strip scene. Granted, he's had a name change and some significant personality alterations over the years, and he's passed through more than his fair share of artists and writers. Nevertheless, his goal of stopping crime and bringing wrong-doers to justice has remained constant.

It all began when novelist Dashiell Hammett and artist Alex Raymond were approached by King Features Syndicate to begin work on a new, hard-boiled detective type of character. They created an edgy loner who, by seamlessly infiltrating into the worlds of both criminal masterminds and the upper crust of society could choose and fight his battle with an insider's perspective. He was cynical, handsome, gritty, and shrouded in secrecy - so much secrecy, in fact, that some critics believe his ultra-mysterious persona kept him from ever becoming as popular as he could've been.

Regardless, Secret Agent X-9 debuted as a daily strip in 1934, after heavy promotional campaigns. Over the years, he would touch the realms of comic books, radio, and even movies, but it was in the strips that he made his greatest impact. Never one to shy away from the action, Hammett and Raymond's unnamed agent was a quintessential character of the hard-chiseled underworld of crooks, spies, gangsters, dames swells and dolls of the 1930s.

Not long after the strip began, however, Hammett and Raymond left, respectively, in February and November of 1935. The strip was far from doomed, however, and thus began a string of other writers and artists who would give their two cents to Agent X-9. Writers over the next several years included Leslie Charteris and Max Trell, while artists included Charles Flanders, Nicholas Afonsky, Austin Briggs and Mel Graff...who eventually took over as a writer as well.

It was Graff who gave the swift secret agent a name - Phil Corrigan - and a bit of a makeover in the personality department. No longer the loner who treated people with cool, almost icy, indifference, Phil was a romancer who eventually married and had a child before Graff left the strip in 1960.

Then, the reins were handed over to Bob Lubbers (who signed his work on Secret Agent X-9 "Bob Lewis"), who drew until 1967.

Then, along came the team of artist Al Williamson and writer Archie Goodwin. They renamed the strip Secret Agent Corrigan, and injected it with a distinctly James Bond-esque feel, complete with far-off lands, beautiful women and plenty of action (the well-known team also had worked on the Star Wars strip together).

In 1980, Goodwin and Williamson decided to bid the strip farewell, and it was taken over by EC Comics veteran George Evans, who continued the series until his retirement in 1996, when the strip ended.

Secret Agent X-9 was the subject of two film serials in 1937 and 1945. In the first Agent X-9 movie, Scott Kolk played Agent Dexter (not Phil Corrigan) aka Agent X-9, it was based on the "X-9" character who replied in the fifth day of the daily strip in January, 1934, "Call me Dexter. It's not my name but it'll do." The classic 1930's serial follows the adventures of Secret Agent X-9. One of his top assignment is to recover the crown jewels of Belgravia and to capture master thief, Blackstone. Along with his side kick, Shara Graustark (Jean Rogers), Agent Dexter/X-9 investigates.

Secret Agent X-9 (1945) movie posterThe film Secret Agent X-9 (1945) starred a young Lloyd Bridges as Phil Corrigan/X-9. The serial progress through 13 chapters, this time American, Australian and Chinese agents join forces against the Nazis and the Japanese to access an aviation fuel code named "722". In this serial, the alliance of the America, Australia and China is referred as the "United Nations". It pre-dates the actual United Nations by only a few months.

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