X-9: Secret Agent Corrigan v.1: 1967-1969
Written by Archie Goodwin
Illustrated by Al Williamson
Published by IDW/Library of American Comics
The daily newspaper Secret Agent X-9 debuted in 1934 with an impressive creative pedigree. Dashiell Hammett, following his successes with The Maltese Falcon and Red Harvest, scripted the sleuth’s adventures, and Flash Gordon/Rip Kirby creator (and perhaps the most influential comics illustrator ever) Alex Raymond handled the artwork.
Both men soon abandoned their nameless detective, who travelled with a variety of creators for three decades until 1967 when Al Williamson, a longtime disciple of Raymond’s style, was hired to take over drawing the strip. Williamson recruited colleague and friend Archie Goodwin to write adventures for X-9, which was retitled Secret Agent Corrigan.
This book collects the earliest stories from Goodwin and Williamson’s twelve-year Corrigan run.
Here’s the good: Al Williamson, one of comics’ most acclaimed and beloved illustrators, delineated Corrigan’s cases for twelve years, easily the longest and most substantial block of work on a single feature by the artist. The Library of American Comics, in assembling this volume, had access to Williamson’s personal set of printers’ proofs, ensuring that the artwork is reproduced at the highest level possible; in truth, Williamson’s illustrations have rarely look better. Certainly newspapers never showed off the fine detail of his inkwork this gorgeously. So Secret Agent Corrigan gives fans of Williamson a better opportunity than ever to see a great artist excel, and do so over a lengthy period of time.
Here’s the iffy: Archie Goodwin’s a fine editor and writer, but at least here in the first few years of Corrigan, he does not seem suited to the daily adventure strip format. A rock solid author, Goodwin’s scripts are cogent and passable, but each adventure’s plot resolves too quickly, too easily. Opportunities for surprising twists are passed over to keep the narrative clean and simple – perhaps it was considered preferable for readers who only got three panels per day, but as it stands, Secret Agent Corrigan can’t touch the complex storylines of Milton Caniff’s Terry and the Pirates or Hal Foster’s Prince Valiant (perhaps those standards are too high to ask of anyone, but the bar has been set).
For fans of Al Williamson, X-9: Secret Agent Corrigan is a can’t-miss opportunity to see a master explore his craft on a single feature for a dozen years. And the beautiful production standards of the Library of American Comics ensure that the collections will continue to look gorgeous, showcasing all the details packed into each panel. For readers interested in exploring the history of adventure comics, this strip isn’t the best place to start. Caniff, Foster and Raymond are, rightfully, the masters of the form; Corrigan doesn’t bring the depth of its predecessors, though it’s still often a solid and entertaining strip, and it’s always immaculately illustrated.