The Avenger Turns 75

Jul 22, 2014 by

Avenger 39-09Seventy-five years ago, Astounding Science Fiction published the first science-fiction stories of Robert E. Heinlein, Theodore Sturgeon, and A. E. Van Vogt, as well as Isaac Asimov’s first story for the magazine. The year also witnessed a blossoming of magazine science fiction and fantasy with eight new pulps entering the field. The first World Science Fiction Convention was also held in New York City that year, home to the World’s Fair and its “World of Tomorrow” theme. It was indeed a golden year for fantastic fiction.

1939 was also the year that Street & Smith attempted to duplicate the success of their leading character pulps, The Shadow and Doc Savage. Trying to get all their ducks in order, the company’s business manager Henry Ralston and hero-pulp editor John Nanovic hired journeyman author Paul Ernst to write the lead novels for a new single-character magazine entitled The Avenger.

With the help of Shadow scribe Walter B. Gibson and Lester Dent, the man behind the Doc Savage tales, Ernst was given the task to create what was hoped to be a very profitable magazine. Writing behind the Kenneth Robeson house name, the pseudonym used for the Doc Savage yarns, Ernst put together some excellent stories, particularly in the early going. In the initial entry in the series, “Justice, Inc.,” Ernst’s character, former adventurer Richard Henry Benson, suffers a nervous breakdown following the disappearance of his wife and daughter during an airline flight. Afterward, Benson’s hair is white and his face frozen, but very pliable. This allows him to mold his features into whatever disguise he chooses. He becomes The Avenger and gathers a group of fellow justice-seekers around him.

On Thursday, August 7th, at 9:30 PM, join PulpFest for a salute to “The Avenger’s Diamond Jubilee.” Author and popular culture scholar Rick Lai will offer an illustrated history of the character, exploring The Avenger’s creation and development over time.

Best known for his articles based on the Wold Newton concepts of Philip José Farmer, recently collected by Altus Press as Rick Lai’s Secret Histories: Daring Adventurers, Rick Lai’s Secret Histories: Criminal Masterminds, Chronology of Shadows: A Timeline of The Shadow’s Exploits and The Revised Complete Chronology of Bronze, Rick Lai lives in New York. His short fiction has been collected in Shadows of the Opera (Wild Cat Books, 2011) and two Black Coat Press collections published in 2013–Shadows of the Opera: Retribution in Blood and Sisters of the Shadows: The Cagliostro Curse. He has also appeared regularly in Black Coat’s Tales of the Shadowmen anthologies.

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