Come Spy With Me

Over three years ago, I wrote a couple of comic book outings and a prose short story featuring Jimmy Christopher, Operator 5 for Moonstone. Jimmy first entered the public’s imagination in the 1930s in the days of the pulps. There were super hero pulps like the Shadow and Doc Savage, WWI flying aces like G-8, western ones with the Rio Kid, science fiction ones with Captain Future and on and on. There were spies too like Secret Agent X, the Man with a Thousand Faces, there was Spy Stories pulp, and the boldest of them all, Operator 5.

Popular Publication’s Operator 5 title ran as a monthly then bi-monthly for 48 issues from April 1934 to November 1939. Under the house name Curtis Steele, three writers told the adventures of Jimmy Christopher, Operator 5 of the American Intelligence Service. They were Frederick C. Davis (issues 1-20, and he also wrote hardback mystery novels), the enigmatic Emile C. Tepperman (issues 21-39), and Wayne Rogers (born Archibald Bittner, issues 40-48).

Spy stories

Tepperman was responsible for the 13 interconnected novels, starting with #26, that make up The Purple Invasion, a series in which the Purple Empire (a thinly veiled Germany) conquers the United States after conquering the rest of the world. The indomitable Jimmy Christopher leads the bloody insurgency to free the country. This year-long story arc is seen as the War and Peace of the pulps as millions die and heroes rise and fall in the course of the story. Too, before Bond and Our Man Flint, Jimmy Christopher fought strange, deadly villains with his brains and brawn and gadgets.

Then I got the big idea.

In 1934 decorated war hero, retired Major General Smedley Butler (Check out his War is a Racket extended essay) testified to a congressional committee that he’d been approached by some moneyed interests, some of whom were part of an entity called the American Liberty League — mentioned in the recent seven-part Ken Burns documentary The Roosevelts on PBS — to head their efforts at a violent coup d’état of FDR and his administration. The scheme, often referred to as the Business Plot, didn’t come to fruition. Maybe it was just a bunch of fat cats grumbling about “taking back the country.” Or maybe not.

The Plot has been the inspiration, if that’s the right word, for various books including The Plot to Seize the White House by Jules Archer and It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis. It was also the subject of a three-part story arc of the 1976 television show City Of Angels, about L.A. private eye Jake Axminster and his thwarting of “The November Plan.”

I thought this would make for great pulp. That like Operator 5. Purple Wars, this time Jimmy Christopher would fight to save the country from an attack from within. Joe Gentile, the head honcho at Moonstone thought so too and we recruited a crew of talented writers including Paul Bishop (who does the Fight Card series and Jeri Westerson (Cup of Blood), to pen what essentially was a linked anthology of short stories.

The stories were written, edited, tweaked, the cover was done, the book was solicited…then the licensor, the ones who own the Operator 5 character rights, pulled the rug out from under us. For reasons I won’t go into since I don’t want to get sued, the license holder took back the rights Moonstone had had for several years from them. We were heartbroken. All that hard work down the drain. But no, we created our own super spy and comrades, keeping the elements we’d created and thus Jimmie Flint, Secret Agent X-11 was born. Soon his fight takes him to various big cities and rural areas to defeat the Medusa Council’s schemes — from a nuclear-like device exploding in Manhattan to a hypnotic gas that can enthrall thousands being manufactured in the New Mexico desert — backed by the plutocrats who would overthrow FDR and his administration will hit the stands in Day of the Destroyers.

I hope you’ll find it great pulp fun grounded in a bit of reality.

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