Thursday, March 13, 2014

Operator #5

Operator #5
aka Secret Service Operator #5
written by Curtis Steele (Frederick C Davis 1-20, Emile C Tepperman 21-39, Wayne Rogers 40-8)
48 issues 1934-1939

Jimmy Christopher is Secret Service Operator #5, America's super spy facing a different foreign menace each issue.  While the Spider was on the run from authorities, Jimmy Christopher had the full cooperation of everyone up to and including the President.

At least the first few issues were very formulaic.  A fictional foreign country, typically a stand in for Germany or Japan, attacks America with a piece of advanced technology (sub-orbital airships, a ray gun that removes the oxygen from air, etc).  With the aid of young bootblack Tim Donovan, Christopher discovers the invader's plans and thwarts them with large scale military action.

After Tepperman took over writing, the series reportedly took a turn away from the more fantastic pulp hero type menaces and were more straight military adventures, starting with the Purple Invasion, a continuing story that went for thirteen issues.

The cover drawings have Jimmy Christopher as a generic fedora-ed G-Man, but I get a different image from the text.  Between him using a rapier as his main weapon and his ability to switch places with his twin sister Nan, I don't see him as the butchest of characters, a welcome change in a genre filled with Lunk Squarejaws.

He has a secret identity as society photographer Carleton Victor, though the only person he seems to interact with as this persona is his humorously clueless butler Crowe.  This leads to convoluted segments were Christopher goes through an elaborate series of hidden passages to get to his apartment, when the only person he's concealing his identity from is completely oblivious to the outside world.

Operator #5, at least under Frederick C. Davis, had some of the most exciting action set pieces set to paper.  The series also had a weird, clean cut, gee willikers vibe that set it apart from the grim worlds of other pulp heroes.  There were even essays in good citizenship after the stories.

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