King Features

Secret Agent Corrigan, The Mystery Sub (June-August 1969)

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And now it’s perfectly clear Goodwin’s seen You Only Live Twice. This story recasts Phil as James Bond—with Goodwin borrowing not just the big volcanic secret headquarters ending from You Only Live Twice, but details from various other Bond movies like Thunderball.

Williamson clearly had a great time illustrating the story—he’s got secret bases, naval fleets, sharks—but the story is painfully mediocre. Goodwin’s starting to reuse character traits too. Here, the seemingly villainous woman comes around, convinced by Phil’s goodness. I think she’s maybe the third since their run started.

And the villain? Good grief, he’s a craggy sea captain. Surrounded by Bond-like guys in jumpsuits. If anything Goodwin and Williamson created G.I. Joe on this story, given all the goofiness of costumes.

It’s not terrible, it’s not as bad as their worst stories, but it’s so absurd… it feels like Goodwin’s disinterested in writing well.

CREDITS

Writer, Archie Goodwin; artist, Al Williamson; publisher, King Features.

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Secret Agent Corrigan, The Black Sheep (March-June 1969)

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Well… all the gains Goodwin’s made on Corrigan’s writing get flushed this story. Some of it may be Williamson’s fault, but not exactly. He does a great job; it’s just too bad he’s illustrating the dumbest content on the strip since he and Goodwin started.

Mrs. Murkley—not a character who needed to return—is back and she’s beating in heads with her cane as she breaks out of prison. She actually stops to think about how all she needs is her cane and she’d be able to knock sense into her accomplices. It reminds me of the “Batman” TV show. This evil old lady, who looks like Dame Edna—right down to the glasses—is the villain.

Except the masked Leader, whose secret identity is so secret, the reader doesn’t even need to discover it.

It’s terrible storytelling. Great art though. Lots of claustrophobic action.

But dreadful.

CREDITS

Writer, Archie Goodwin; artist, Al Williamson; publisher, King Features.

Secret Agent Corrigan, The Hands of Madame Lei (January-March 1969)

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Now, I imagine Goodwin knew the FBI was nothing like he portrays it in Corrigan. This story is more like any film noir detective story with the cop being hunted by an unknown villain and having to deal with it.

Of course, it’s not an unknown villain… it’s those wily Chinese again. Goodwin likes the Chinese as villains here. Anyway, it’s not just the Chinese… there’s a Bond villain. He wears sunglasses and a black turtleneck and can break men’s spines with his karate chop. His name is Joe Ice and that name alone makes most of this story cringe-worthy.

He’s not a bad villain though. He’s just got an idiotic name. And it’s unclear how Phil, who constantly gets himself into trouble and lucks out of it, can beat up this member of the killer elite.

Some great Williamson art, as usual, but it’s a forgettable story.

CREDITS

Writer, Archie Goodwin; artist, Al Williamson; publisher, King Features.

Secret Agent Corrigan, The Future Queen of Alpsberg (October 1968-January 1969)

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It’s like whatever great advances Goodwin makes with Corrigan’s writing he almost immediately sets back. Well, not completely, but still noticeably. This story features Phil heading off to a fictional European country—with fairy tale castles—to sort out a prime minister’s plot against the future queen.

The setting gives Williamson a lot of great opportunity and it’s cool to see an action scene in the castle, but there’s something missing. A lot of the Corrigan plots seem engineered to give Williamson an interesting landscape to draw. While the art’s great, it doesn’t do much for the narrative.

Though Goodwin does introduce a couple good bad guys—Williamson has a great time with them (they look like they’re Prussian royalty)—and one almost wonders how Phil’s going to make it through.

I’ve realized Goodwin keeps Phil bland so he can fit into whatever exotic setting they choose.

CREDITS

Writer, Archie Goodwin; artist, Al Williamson; publisher, King Features.

Secret Agent Corrigan, The Amateur (July-October 1968)

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There’s no globe-trotting this story, just Phil hanging out in New York and investigating a spy ring. There’s so little back story we never even find out what foreign power is buying government secrets; we don’t even find out why the federal employee selling the documents is risking execution for treason.

But none of that brevity matters because it’s not just Williamson illustrating New York, it’s Williamson illustrating a packed New York. There are veritable street scenes in the strip, with Phil walking through groups of people and landmarks in the background. Even when it’s not landmarks, Williamson’s city scenes are magnificent.

Goodwin moves things real fast–getting in one or two more plot points than usual. It seems like the pair are hitting their stride on Corrigan. This story is the best so far and twice as good as the last “best so far.”

It’s darned good.

CREDITS

Writer, Archie Goodwin; artist, Al Williamson; publisher, King Features.

Secret Agent Corrigan, Welcome to Eagle Bend (May-July 1968)

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While it’s nice to know Goodwin’s seen Bad Day at Black Rock and maybe Man in the Shadow (or some variation of crime boss running small town with townspeople’s de facto permission), it sort of makes this Corrigan storyline boring.

The only interesting thing about it—once it becomes clear we aren’t going to find out about a former FBI agent turned rural newspaperman—is how the crime boss’s estranged girlfriend all of a sudden decides she wants to be a good guy. Her character has a clear arc. She starts the story trying to get back at him for neglecting her and ends it wanting to make the world a better place.

Unfortunately, the strip’s not about her. It’s about some lengthy fights, lots of scenes lifted from the aforementioned movies and Phil Corrigan getting out of trouble–once again by luck alone.

It’s inoffensive, but dreadfully unoriginal.

CREDITS

Writer, Archie Goodwin; artist, Al Williamson; publisher, King Features.

Secret Agent Corrigan, The Stone Expedition (February-May 1968)

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Phil’s off to the Arabian desert this story, which does give Williamson a chance to draw some fantastic scenery and action scenes. Goodwin plots a lot of action into the same relatively short period, but it works out since Phil’s character development has taken another break.

Goodwin gets in an opening action scene with Phil in the States, discovering the arms smuggling going on in the fictional Middle Eastern country (they have oil, of course). Then he fends off some assassins once he gets there, has a chase sequence, a fist fight, a gun fight and then another gun fight. Goodwin also gets in some backstory on the villains. It’s a lot of stuff.

The great art helps the story pass smoothly, even when Goodwin gets a little too goofy with the bad guys. He never makes them believable (though his take on Arab politics is more thoughtful than not).

CREDITS

Writer, Archie Goodwin; artist, Al Williamson; publisher, King Features.

Secret Agent Corrigan, Far Orient Import-Export (December 1967-February 1968)

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Thank goodness China went communist because what Asians would Americans have had to demonize once World War II was over….

The villain this issue is a Chinese spy (he looks like a fat Fu Manchu), but also appears to employ a Japanese karate expert. Goodwin never struck me as a dumb writer; he must have known he was being completely inaccurate.

Details aside, Goodwin has a strong (if melodramatic) plot going.

The story’s simple—a woman’s husband is held prisoner until she betrays the U.S. government, Phil finds out about it and helps her. There’s not much action until the finale. It’s mostly these taut scenes with the wife miserable and hesitant to ask Phil for help. Williamson’s better at these “people in crisis” panels than he is at action panels and Williamson’s very good at action panels. Regardless of cultural insensitivity and casual racism, it’s a beautifully drawn story.

CREDITS

Writer, Archie Goodwin; artist, Al Williamson; publisher, King Features.

Secret Agent Corrigan, Mother Murkley and Sons (September-December 1967)

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I think this story has to be my favorite Corrigan so far. Not only does it have a good length (Goodwin usually cuts out just when the second part of a longer story could start), but it also features Phil’s wife, Wilda.

Okay, I’m not a fan of her name—in fact, when she’s taken hostage, I couldn’t believe anyone with such a silly name hadn’t ended up in the strip because she was a former spy and could handle herself. She cannot. So Phil has to save her.

In saving her, Goodwin establishes Phil as a real character. He’s got Phil off being to secret agent and knowing his wife’s in probable danger. That move hits a depth Corrigan has hit before, at least not since Goodwin and Williamson started.

And Williamson? Doing city scenes and a desert resort… it’s his best art so far. Phenomenal stuff.

CREDITS

Writer, Archie Goodwin; artist, Al Williamson; publisher, King Features.

Secret Agent Corrigan, Bum Ticker (July-September 1967)

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Phil Corrigan finally gets some personality this story. Not a lot of it, but some. Goodwin and Williamson are far more concerned with making Corrigan thrilling than they are developing the protagonist. Of course, since Phil’s just a good egg, I suppose they can’t develop him too much.

This story concerns a dying mobster, his daughter and his two former associates who want to keep him quiet. The mobster wants to give his daughter a chance to go back to the States, no longer stuck in exile. It’s up to Phil to protect and he does a reasonably good job of it.

Goodwin only has to come up with one or two dumb plot points to get the story full steam. Once in the main body (starting on with a train sequence), the story never slows. It goes so constant, the ending is a shock. Goodwin could’ve easily continued.

CREDITS

Writer, Archie Goodwin; artist, Al Williamson; publisher, King Features.

Secret Agent Corrigan, Slave Labor (April-July 1967)

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Corrigan’s off to the sunny Caribbean this storyline, where he discovers the bad guys aren’t helping fugitives escape the States but rather stealing their money and making them do hard labor.

That situation, the criminals doing harder labor than they’d ever do in a real prison, isn’t one Goodwin explores. Actually, Goodwin doesn’t explore much with Corrigan, but his lack of ambition isn’t a bad thing. It’s a diverting spy slash thriller comic strip. Even when Goodwin’s got overly expositional panels (to bridge), it’s always fast paced.

One problem though… I don’t believe an FBI agent is going to give a bunch of fugitives pistols, even if they are all in a work camp. These guys were just trying to kill Corrigan a few strips earlier.

Williamson’s art is good. He matches Goodwin on the pace. Corrigan reads very fast. So fast plot holes don’t cause any stumbles.

CREDITS

Writer, Archie Goodwin; artist, Al Williamson; publisher, King Features.

Secret Agent Corrigan, Operation: Marina Vladcheck (January-April 1967)

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Archie Goodwin does this fantastic job setting up the story—a defected Soviet scientist is being pursued by the bad guys because they want to ransom her. Meanwhile, she doesn’t like being stuck in protected custody and dreams of getting free for even a night.

It’s a great setup and the character is really compelling. Then Goodwin reveals the bad guys are using a circus as a front and they’re traveling around the country grabbing people up.

A circus.

While Goodwin does keep enough of a pace one doesn’t exactly dwell on the circus detail, but it’s definitely present and definitely absurd.

Even though it does lead to a great finale involving a Ferris wheel.

While Goodwin’s dialogue’s good and his narration is nice and sparse, the draw is Al Williamson. It’s an exceedingly well-drawn comic strip. Williamson brings anxiety to ever panel, which works great for a thriller.

CREDITS

Writer, Archie Goodwin; artist, Al Williamson; publisher, King Features.

Rip Kirby, The Affairs of Crusher Twickham (November 1953-April 1954)

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It’s a genial adventure for Rip and company (well, not so much “and company,” just Desmond—Honey’s barely around again) as Desmond’s old friend tries to become a gentleman to woo a lady. Turns out the lady works in a club and her boss sees dollar signs. It’s a pleasant little mystery, maybe because there’s very little at stake.

A lot of the story follows Desmond and, once again, it shows how much it helps having a protagonist with some history. Rip’s too bland. When he does arrive to help Desmond out, he’s still not the principal focus of the storyline.

Unfortunately, there’s not a lot for Raymond to do. There are no interesting settings, there are no elaborate action scenes. In fact, the one lengthy sequence is so unmemorable I should’ve taken notes .

Still, he does have to draw an attractive woman in her fifties, which is a change.

CREDITS

Writer, Fred Dickenson; artist, Alex Raymond; publisher, King Features.

Rip Kirby, Whom Gods Destroy (September-November 1953)

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What a nice little storyline. It’s Rip’s first adventure saving someone from death row; I didn’t realize until it started he’d never had such a case. It’s a simple mystery where he discovers the truth behind the murder—with some, uncredited, nods to both Sherlock Holmes and Dupin.

Because it’s so short, and so concentrated on the mystery, Honey’s absence isn’t even an issue. And Desmond gets more to do than in much longer stories.

There’s West Indies intrigue (and some odd politics to it… Rip’s sexism doesn’t return, but he does show himself to be culturally sensitive). The tropical flavor doesn’t do much since it’s all in flashback but Raymond still finds some exquisite panels for the suspense parts of the story. It might feature his best foreshadowing on the strip so far, just because the mystery isn’t spoiled early.

It’s a great story. I wish I wasn’t surprised.

CREDITS

Writer, Fred Dickenson; artist, Alex Raymond; publisher, King Features.