The ability to disguise or impersonate another person has for some reason always fascinated us. One of the coolest things about the old Mission: Impossible TV series was the latex masks they used to mimic others. This talent allowed the hero to learn the villain’s plans, and many times thwart the schemes. Adding to the suspense is the risk of getting caught or making a slip that blows the hero’s cover placing them in jeopardy. The pulp series Secret Agent X capitalized on this concept by introducing a champion known as “the man of a thousand faces.”
Although the series ran for only 41 issues from February 1934 to March 1939, Secret Agent X remains an iconic pulp hero. Penned under the house name Brant House, several writers scribed X’s exploits during the run. It’s unclear sometimes if anyone knows X’s true identity. However, one theme is clear, traditional law enforcement considers him an outlaw. In some cases they label him a vigilante, and in other stories they peg him as a common criminal. Since none of these stories hold to any thread of continuity, heroic events in one story do not transcend to the next. For example, in one tale X might save countless lives, including law enforcement, at the risk of his own, but in the following adventure all is forgotten and the chase for his hide continues.
The Doom Director, published in 1936, pits X against a mysterious gangster whose fear of discovery leads to countless murders. The use of a gas that unleashes the strangling-death is our villain’s modus operandi that puts everyone in danger. Like all great pulp adventures this story opens with action, evil is a foot in the confines of an airplane, and quickly leads to a pitch battle in the baggage compartment with X and the villain. Other elements to the story include efforts to save a man on death-row, the hidden facts behind a Lindbergh style kidnapping gone wrong, carney feathers, and a huge prison riot. Toss in the mix, the efforts of the police to capture X at every turn, and you’ve got one afternoon of adventure at your fingertips.
Secret Agent X’s ability to change identifies is possible thanks to a special compound that he can mold almost instantly with his fingers over his features. Then his skill or talent to mimic anyone’s voice after only hearing that person speak a few words allows for his perfect transformations. Like all pulp heroes, X also carries an assortment of gadgets that he uses in his battles against evil. Of course no pulp story would be complete without a damsel in distress. Agent X’s love interest is newspaper reporter Betty Dale, and she is always in the thick of each adventure.
While most of the villains in Secret Agent X stories act like “gangsters” the sensational tales border more on science fiction. With death rays, gases, and other methods of citywide terror that only “the man of a thousand faces” can stop.
Reprints, ebooks and audiobooks are available for those interested in reading the exploits of Secret Agent X.