Avenger (fictional character)

Avenger (fictional character)

:"This article refers to the fictional character. For Swedish band Amon Amarth's album, see The Avenger (album). See also: Avenger."Superherobox|

caption="The Avenger - Justice Inc." (Sep. 1939)
Art by H. W. Scott
character_name=The Avenger
real_name=Richard Henry Benson
publisher=Street and Smith
debut=The Avenger #1 (Sep, 1939)
creators=Paul Ernst
:as "Kenneth Robeson"
alliances=Fergus MacMurdie
Algernon Heathcote Smith
Nellie Gray
Josh and Rosabel Newton
Cole Wilson
aliases="The Man of Steel,"
"The Man of a Thousand Faces"
powers=malleable flesh on face, master of disguise|

The Avenger is a fictional character whose original adventures appeared between September 1939 and September 1942 in the pulp magazine "The Avenger", published by Street and Smith Publications. Five additional short stories were published in "Clues Detective" magazine (1942 - 1943), and a sixth novelette in "The Shadow" magazine in 1943. Newly-written adventures were commissioned and published by Warner Brother's Paperback Library from 1973 to 1974. The Avenger was a pulp hero who combined elements of Doc Savage and The Shadow though he was never as popular as either of these characters.

The authorship of the pulp series was credited by Street and Smith to Kenneth Robeson, the same byline that appeared on the Doc Savage stories. The "Kenneth Robeson" name was a house pseudonym used by a number of different Street & Smith writers. Most of the original Avenger stories were written by Paul Ernst.


Following in the wake of a slew of cancellations ("The Skipper", "Bill Barnes" and "The Whisperer" "had failed to capture the audience loyalty" of Doc Savage and The Shadow), in 1939, readers of Street & Smith's "Doc Savage" pulp magazine "thrilled to a special announcement" that a new periodical - "The Avenger" "was soon to be published," and would feature stories::"written by none other than Kenneth Robeson, 'the familiar creator of Doc Savage.'"Hutchison, Don "The Great Pulp Heroes - 3: The Avenger" in Peter Harris (ed.) "The New Captain George's Whizzbang" #12 (1971), pp. 2-8] (In actual fact, the original 24 stories featuring The Avenger were the work of writer Paul Ernst, Robeson being merely a house name used by a number of authors, including Lester Dent, the true creator of Doc Savage.)

The first issue of "The Avenger" was cover-dated September, 1939, and featured a cover story/'lead novel' entitled "Justice Inc.". Interior art was produced by Paul Orban, well-known to pulp fans for his "similar work on Doc Savage and The Shadow." The character of The Avenger, described by pulp expert Don Hutchison as "clearly an effort to form a hybrid of the company's more successful creations" - echoed his forebears in other ways, also. Whereas Doc Savage was known as "The Man of Bronze," The Avenger was described as "The Man of Steel." The Avenger's "marksman's eyes" echoed the "burning eyes" of The Shadow, who continued to be referred to as 'The "Masked" Avenger.'

Pulp demise

Describing the stories as "well-plotted" with good characterization and "an unusual amount of attention paid to detail," Hutchison notes that as a derivitive character, The Avenger was destined not to be as popular as his original rivals: "Doc Savage, The Spider, G-8, The Shadow, Operator #5 [and] The Phantom," while still the character "can perhaps be considered the last of the great pulp heroes," while his stories ran initially in his own magazine for 24 stories, first monthly and then bi-monthly in four volumes over exactly three years, ceasing in September, 1942. The character was kept alive in "Clues Detective" for a further five short stories, and as a single tale written as a "The Shadow" back-up in 1944 by Emile Tepperman.

In Don Hutchison's estimation, The Avenger was following in big footsteps, and hamstrung by appearing too late in the day. Following the "instant justice" of The Shadow, the global stage of Doc Savage and other pulp heroes, The Avenger was, by 1939, "simply an unnecessary commodity." "Second best [,] he had tried harder... but the timing was all wrong." Ultimately, Hutchison concludes simply that:


Nevertheless, the character was revived in the 1970s by Warner Paperback Library, given a brief lease of life by DC Comics, and was the subject of new short stories in 2008 from Moonstone Books. "(See below)"

Character biography


The Avenger's real name is Richard Henry Benson, a globe-trotting adventurer who "had made his millions be professional adventuring," discovering rubber in South America; leading "native armies in Java," making "aerial maps in the Congo," mining "amethysts in Australia and emeralds in Brazil" and finding gold in Alaska and diamonds in the Transvaal." Following the pulp archetype of a wealthy hero, despite an internal chronology making them (and Benson in particular) "children of the Great Depression," The Avenger's backstory gave him the funding to ultimately "support [his] crime-fighting appurtenances."

Deciding to settle down and raise a family, the first Avenger adventure ("Justice, Inc."), Benson's plans for a peaceful life as a "world-renowned industrial engineer" are shattered when his wife (Alicia) and young daughter (Alice) are killed during an airplane journey . The shock of this loss has a bizarre effect on Benson. His face becomes paralyzed while both his skin and his hair turn white, his facial flesh becoming malleable, like clay. His face was thereafter (for the first dozen stories) regularly described (as in "The Smiling Dogs") as:cquote|"...dead, like something dug out of a cemetery. The muscles were paralyzed so that never, under any circumstances, coudl they move in an expression. This dead, weird face was as white as snow -- as white, in a word, as you'd expect any dead flesh to be! In the flacial expanse of the face were set eyes so light-gray as to seem completely colorless." ["Kenneth Robeson" (Paul Ernst) "The Smiling Dogs" (June, 1940) quoted in Hutchison, Don "The Great Pulp Heroes - 3: The Avenger" in Peter Harris (ed.) "The New Captain George's Whizzbang" #12 (1971), pp. 2-8] As a result of this tragedy, Benson vows to avenge himself on the villains, and to fight for all those who have suffered at the hands of criminals.

Don Hutchison suggests that "Benson's extreme personal misfortune was probably the strongest motivation accorded any of the great pulp heroes," stemming as it did from the death of his family and his own "death in life." The stories, by veteran pulp/magazine writer Paul Ernst "were well-plotted mysteries with mild science-fictional extrapolations" albeit often appearing somewhat subdued when compared to rival publications such as The Spider and Operator #5. Benson was "the master of the last-minute escape," cool and intellectual, mentally "the equal of Doc Savage" but otherwise "an average-sized man." The plastic, malleable state of his otherwize unexpressive features allowed the character to reshape his facial features into a likeness of any person, his features remaining in sculpted form "until they were carefully put back into place." This ability, coupled with hair dyes and colored contact lenses, earned him the sobriquet "The Man of a Thousand Faces."

A new face

After twelve issues, Ernst was directed editorially to eliminate Benson's facial affliction in the hopes that this would bolster the dwindling audience for the magazine. Thus the second "distinct era" of The Avenger began with the first issue of the now-bi-monthly third Volume, just over a year after the magazines debut.

The thirteenth issue, "Murder On Wheels," saw the introduction of the last major recurring character, Cole Wilson. Initially an opponent of The Avenger (before joining Justice, Inc. in the same issue), Wilson trapped The Avenger in a machine which "provided a nerve shock of a different sort," turning Benson's flesh back to normal and his hair black. Although The Avenger still disguised himself after this, he could no longer mold his now normal flesh. Three stories -- "Nevlo" (#17), "House of Death" (#15) and "Death in Slow Motion" (#18) -- had been written by Ernst prior to this radical shift in character, and underwent rewrites before seeing publication. Although the original texts would place these three stories chronologically earlier than #13, the rewrites serve to fit them into the timelines as published (although some slight original traces remain under the heavy-handed later insertions). [See: " [http://www.pjfarmer.com/woldnewton/Avenger_Chron.pdf A Chronology for The Avenger] " by Rick Lai, originally published in "Echoes" #70 (Dec. 1993)] Often dismissed as a late addition to the stories, Cole Wilson was to play a greater part in the last dozen books written by Ron Goulart.


The Avenger far preferred trapping criminals into "destroy [ing] themselves in traps of their own devising" than killing them himself, allowing writer Ernst to create considerably elaborate plots.

Like Doc Savage, Benson relies on a variety of special gadgets to help him overcome criminals. These include knockout gas bombs, miniature two-way radios, a woven, transparent bullet-proof garment and "glass pellets containing a gas... [which] instantly [spread] a black impenetrable pall like instant night," also accessible through a stud on Benson's collar.

His car rivalled those of the later James Bond series, "being a rather dull 1935 model" capable of speeds up to 130mph (unheard of at the time), "bullet-proofed throughout and equipped with devices and special little inventions for offence and defence," including automatic bullet-proofed windows and "miniature torpedoes of potent knock-out gas."

The Avenger also carred a pair of weapons "strapped in slim sheaths on [his] right and left calf," - his specially streamlined and silenced .22 revolver ("Mike") and a needle-pointed throwing knife ("Ike"). Using these customized tools, Benson could shoot someone so that his bullet just touched their heads and knocked them out, or "hit a fly-speck from twenty feet."


Like Doc Savage before him, Benson rarely underwent his adventures alone, gathering a number of assistants to help him. His small band, known as "Justice Inc." was made up of people who had all been "irreparably damaged by crime," and who have specialized skills:

* Fergus "Mac" MacMurdie ("Justice Inc.") is a stereotypically dour Scotsman who is also a gifted pharmacist and chemist. His family was killed by racketeers, leaving Mac embittered, vengeful and "indifferent to the threat of... death."
* Algernon Heathcote "Smitty" Smith ("Justice Inc.") is a gigantic man (6' 9") of incredible strength. Smitty looks slow and stupid but he is actually a genius with electronics. He was framed - and spent a year in jail - for a crime he did not commit, and initially attacked Benson believing The Avenger was out to arrest him.
* Nellie Gray ("The Yellow Hoard"), "the Emma Peel of her day" is a beautiful, delicate-looking young woman who is actually an expert at jujutsu and other martial arts. Her archaeologist father was killed by criminals for the buried Aztec gold he had found. After his murder was solved by Benson's Justice Inc., the treasure "became the equivalent of Doc Savage's hoard of inexhaustible Mayan gold."
* Josh and Rosabel Newton ("The Sky Walker") are an African American couple whose employers were killed by criminals. They often go undercover as domestic servants, making use of the stereotypes of the time to hide their investigative abilities, in "an ironic comment on the image... in the films and fiction of the day." Both are graduates of the Tuskegee Institute (now University), and the couple have children later in the series. "(The Avenger series is notable its presentation of minorities, and while many of the pulp magazines of the time are well known for racist stereotypes, but Josh and Rosabel are always presented as brave, intelligent people of good character.)"
* Cole Wilson joins the group near the middle of the series. He is much less distinctive than Benson's other assistants and has a light hearted manner that contrasts the Avenger's serious tone, described as having "a streak of Robin Hood in him."

Avenger Novels and Short Stories

"The Avenger" (1939-1942)

Novels written by Paul Ernst and published in "The Avenger" magazine. The first thirteen stories are believed to have been published in the order in which they were written. After the considerable changes introduced in "Murder on Wheels" (Nov. 1940), three earlier-written stories were reworked by Street & Smith's editors to realign them to the new status quo. Since they were reworked, the stories nevertheless follow internal chronoloy as well publication order.

The first two Volumes appeared monthly (with the exception of the twelfth issue), and featured covers by H. W. Scott. Volumes III and IV were covered in artwork by "Graves Gladney, Lenosci and Leslie Ross."

*Volume I
**1. Justice, Inc., published September 1, 1939
**2. The Yellow Hoard, published October 1, 1939
**3. The Sky Walker, published November 1, 1939
**4. The Devil's Horns, published December 1, 1939
**5. The Frosted Death, published January 1, 1940
**6. The Glass Mountain, published February 1, 1940
*Volume II
**7. The Blood Ring, published March 1, 1940
**8. Stockholders in Death, published April 1, 1940
**9. Tuned for Murder, published May 1, 1940
**10. The Smiling Dogs, published June 1, 1940
**11. River of Ice, published July 1, 1940
**12. The Flame Breathers, published September 1, 1940
*Volume III
**13. Murder on Wheels, published November 1, 1940
**14. Three Gold Crowns, published January 1, 1941
**15. House of Death, published March 1, 1941
**16. The Hate Master, published May 15, 1941
**17. Nevlo, published July 1, 1941Written before "Murder on Wheels", this story - and others - were reworked by Ernst's editors to erase mention of Benson's facial condition, cured by Cole Wilson in "Murder on Wheels". See: " [http://www.pjfarmer.com/woldnewton/Avenger_Chron.pdf A Chronology for The Avenger] " by Rick Lai, originally published in "Echoes" #70 (Dec. 1993)]
**18. Death in Slow Motion, published September 1, 1941
*Volume IV
**19. Pictures of Death, published November 1, 1941
**20. The Green Killer, published January 1, 1942
**21. The Happy Killers, published March 1, 1942
**22. The Black Death, published May 1, 1942
**23. The Wilder Curse, published July 1, 1942
**24. Midnight Murder, published September 1, 1942

"Clues Detective" (1942-1943)

Short stories written by Emile C. Tepperman and published in "Clues Detective" magazine. Internal dates and references lead most experts to adjust the numbering on Tepperman's short stories, hence the non-sequential numbering. [See: " [http://www.pjfarmer.com/woldnewton/Avenger_Chron.pdf A Chronology for The Avenger] " by Rick Lai, originally published in "Echoes" #70 (Dec. 1993)]

"Note: Numbers in parentheses denote" Street & Smith"'s publication order."
**25. Death to the Avenger, published September 1, 1942
**30. "(26)" A Coffin for the Avenger, published November 1, 1942
**26. "(27)" Vengeance on the Avenger, published January 1, 1943
**29. "(28)" Calling Justice, Inc.!, published March 1, 1943
**27. "(29)" Cargo of Doom, published May 1, 1943

"The Shadow" (1944)

Short story written by Emile C. Tepperman and published in "The Shadow" magazine, 1944.

"Note: Numbers in parentheses denote" Street & Smith"'s publication order."
**28. "(30)" To Find a Dead Man, published August 1, 1944

Warner Paperback Library (1972-1975)

In 1972, Warner Paperback Library reprinted most of the "Avenger" novels in a series of paperback editions, all credited to Kenneth Robeson. After reprinting the 24 original novels (by Ernst), Warner ignored the short stories of Tepperman, and instead commissioned Ron Goulart to produce a further dozen titles. These fit chronologically after the six stories by Tepperman, but are numbered by Warner starting from #25.

"Note: Numbers in parentheses denote" Warner Paperback Library"'s designation."
** 31. "(25)" The Man from Atlantis, published June 1, 1974
** 32. "(26)" Red Moon, published July 1, 1974
** 33. "(27)" The Purple Zombie, published August 1, 1974
** 34. "(28)" Dr. Time, published September 1, 1974
** 35. "(29)" The Nightwitch Devil, published October 1, 1974
** 36. "(30)" Black Chariots, published November 1, 1974
** 37. "(31)" The Cartoon Crimes, published December 1, 1974
** 38. "(32)" The Death Machine, published January 1, 1975
** 39. "(33)" The Blood Countess, published February 1, 1975
** 40. "(34)" The Glass Man, published March 1, 1975
** 41. "(35)" The Iron Skull, published April 1, 1975
** 42. "(36)" Demon Island, published May 1, 1975

Moonstone Books (2008 - )

Beginning in the early 2000s, Moonstone Books (under editor/publisher Joe Gentile) have produced a number of prose and comic books based on licenced pulp, detective and other characters, beginning with The Phantom. In 2008, a prose anthology (available in paperback and limited edition hardback) was released containing new stories featuring The Avenger, with covers by Dave Dorman and 1970s paperback cover artist Peter Caras. The anthology was edited by Joe Gentile and featured numerous stories by authors including Gentile, Ron Goulart, Will Murray, Win Scott Eckert, Richard Dean Starr, Tom DeFalco, Paul Kupperberg, Mel Odom, and others. [ [http://www.moonstonebooks.com/avenger.asp Moonstone Books: Avenger] . Accessed August 6, 2008]

** nn. "The Avenger Chronicles", published June, 2008



Following the original 24 novel-length stories by Paul Ernst, and the half-dozen continuations by Emile C. Tepperman (all under the "Kenneth Robeson" pseudonym) in the 1940s, thirty years later, Warner Paperback Library reprinted the first twenty-four stories in paperback form to compliment their successful Doc Savage library.

Continuing on from the 24 Ernst-written stories, Warner commissioned writer Ron Goulart to write an additional 12 tales for this format, eschewing the short-stories in favor of new book-length tales. The covers for the paperback reprints were produced by Peter Caras.

Continations, extrapolations

The Avenger is mentioned by author Philip José Farmer as a part of his Wold Newton family, and in an essay published in "Myths for the Modern Age: Philip José Farmer's Wold Newton Universe" (MonkeyBrain Books, 2005), Chuck Loridans contributes an article entitled "The Daughters of Greystoke" wherein he constructs a family tree linking Nellie Gray to Tarzan and Jane Porter.

In 2008, Moonstone Books produced the first "The Avenger" anthology, featuring stories written by a number of pulp fans and writers - including Goulart and "Myths for the Modern Age" editor Win Scott Eckert.


title = Justice Inc.

caption = Cover to Justice Inc. #1, May 1975. Art by Joe Kubert.
schedule = bi-monthly
format =
publisher = DC Comics
date = May 1975-November 1975
issues = 4
main_char_team =
writers = Dennis O'Neill
artists =
pencillers = Al McWilliams, Jack Kirby
inkers = Al McWilliams, Mike Royer
colorists =
creative_team_month =
creative_team_year =
creators =
There have also been a couple of attempts to revive the Avenger as a comic book character, beginning in the 1940s in Street & Smith's own "Shadow Comics", but none (to date) have proved particularly successful.

In 1975, DC Comics published a comic called "Justice, Inc." which starred the Avenger. This was during the time they were also publishing "The Shadow". The Avenger also appeared in issues #11 of the Shadow. The first two issues were based on stories from the pulp magazine. Issues #2-4 were drawn by Jack Kirby (as were the covers to issues #2 and #3). The comic only lasted 4 issues.

In the 1980s, when DC Comics was again doing the "The Shadow", an 'updated' version of the Avenger showed up briefly. In 1989, DC released a two-issue miniseries, in 52-page prestige format, written by Andy Helfer and penciled and inked by Kyle Baker, titled "Justice, Inc.". The mini-series revealed the 'truth' behind the Avenger's origin.


Similarly short-lived was "an Avenger radio serial carried by Station WHN in New York City and syndicated in other parts of the country."


External links

* [http://www.pjfarmer.com/woldnewton/Avenger_Chron.pdf A Chronology For The Avenger]
* [http://community-2.webtv.net/KeiraHermes/DRHERMESREVIEWSIV/ Dr. Hermes's Reviews for The Avenger]
* [http://www.internationalhero.co.uk/a/avenger2.htm Avenger page at International Catalog of Superheroes]

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