Friday, January 24, 2014

Secret Agent #10

Secret Agent #10 (On Sale:August 1967) has an excellent cover featuring Sarge Steel by Dick Giordano.

I was a late comer to the Sarge Steel character, only discovering him in recent years, but what is not to like? We have Steve Skeates (my favorite Aquaman scribe)  writing and Dick Giordano (my favorite Aquaman Editor) drawing the feature. We have an American secret agent, a la Secret Agent Corrigan with a super hero twist of a metal hand. On top of that Steel is a private investigator and a CIA agent, so we get stories from both worlds.

The 18-page "The Case of the Third Hand" opens with Steel returning from a date with the lovely Linda Velvet, a girl Sarge has "fallen hard" for, when suddenly they become the target of a sniper. Steel worries that a guy in his line of work offers nothing but danger to any girl who dates him. Sarge keeps pushing Linda out of the line of fire and finally gets off a good shot at the sniper. He realizes too late that he only winged him as another shot rings out and this one hits Linda.

As the sniper runs away Sarge realized that Linda, not he, was the actual target. After checking Linda into a hospital, Steel heads back to the crime scene, but finds nothing but a bit of blood.  Steel checks with the police, but Linda had no criminal record. He checks his stoolies and roughs up a few gunsels, but gets nowhere. However, when he returns to his office there is a message form Lowell Cade of the CIA to call him about "some trouble" he got into last night. Wondering how the CIA fits into this all, Steel pays Cade a visit.

Lowell informs Sarge that Linda Velvet is a contact for The Third hand,l the biggest independent spy ring in the world. Steel argues that Linda is a highly-paid jazz singer and has no reason to take Third Hand money. Lowell says they don't know why Linda does it, but that they were hoping she would lead them to "the big boys." Lowell thinks someone from the Third Hand saw the two of them together and decided Linda could no longer be trusted. Steel isn't buying it, but just then they get word of trouble at the hospital.

They see gas pouring out of a broken window, the window to Linda's room and then learn the worst. Linda is dead, the victim of a gas grenade. Sarge is stunned by Linda's death, but knows someone wanted to be certain she didn't talk. In search of clues he heads to Linda's apartment, where the landlord informs him that he is the third "police" to show up today, that some of them are still up in her room. Steel confront the "cops" tearing Linda's apartment to pieces looking for something. A fight ensues and Sarge is knocked unconscious by a big thug. When he awakens he finds Sarah Tempest, Linda's neighbor who upon finding Linda's door opened came in to see if everything was alright.

Sarah says she knew Linda pretty well and Steel is about to ask her more when Hobart Jefferies, Sarah's tennis date arrives. As they are about to leave Sarge notices a fallen picture and asks Sarah if she knows the man in it. She says that yes, that is John, Linda's love fiance. Steel recognizes the picture as being  John Vance, a two-bit gunsel and figures it was John that got Linda mixed up with the Third Hand. Steel rushes back to his won apartment only to find it over turned as well. and is too distracted to notice that whoever did it, is still there. The thugs take Steel to a plush home in the suburbs where he meets Johnny Vance who tells Sarge, "You have something of mine and I want it back."

Johnny then sics some of his men on Sarge to make him talk. In the ensuing ruckus, Johnny accidentally shoots the big thug who then attacks Johnny. Johnny finishes the big guy off and Steel knocks out Johnny who Sarge discovers is the they sniper who shot at them the night before when he uncovers Vance's bandaged shoulder. Steel calls the CIA and to pick up Vance and his men then heads off to his apartment. he figures that Vance wasn't smart enough to head up the operation, but he thinks he know who is. Sarge see a light on in his apartment and  finds Sarah Tempest rifling through his desk.

She pulls his his gun out of his desk and they have a stand off. Steel explains everything. Johnny was trying to horn in of Sarah's job, but she had evidence of his criminal dealing, enough to put him away. She gave the evidence to Linda, told her to hide it and if anything happened to Sarah to give it to the CIA. She told Vance of the evidence and that if anything happened to her, he would go down. But Johnny found out that it was Linda who had it and when he saw her and Steel together he panicked and killed her.

But he couldn't find the papers and now wasn't sure it was Linda who had them. Both She and Johnny were searching for the papers, only she had to do it quietly so Johnny wouldn't catch on. When Sarah saw that Steel had been beaten up, she planted the picture of Johnny in the room, hoping Steel and Johnny would finish each other off. But when Sarge met Johnny he realized the Linda could never love a slob like him and then he figured out the picture was a plant, since it was the only think in Linda's apartment that had not been torn up. That's when Steel figured out that Sarah was the leader he had been looking for.

Steel makes a move and gets his gun away from Sarah, but Hobart Jefferies has snuck up behind Steel and knocks him to the floor. Sarah refers to Hobart as her "right-hand man" and Steel says, "..and I though I had been played for a sap!" Sarge then accuses Hobart of selling out Linda;s identity to Vance. Hobart denies it, but Sarah stares him down and when Hobart goes for his gun Sarah shoots him. This gives Steel the chance to disarm Sarah.

Back at the CIA Steel gives Lowell Cade a stuffed bunny that he had won for Linda at Coney Island that she had recently given back to him. Steel surmises that Linda had gotten scared and gave it to Steel for safe keeping. Inside they find the papers that will make Vance talk. As the story ends, Steel is lost in thought of the beautiful jazz singer and the romance that might have been.

Damn good story. A little heavy on the exposition on page 16 but other than that great work by Skeates and some nice Giordano artwork. But wait! There is more.

The back-up story is the nine-page "Espionage: Muscle Beach Style!" featuring Tiffany Sinn, the CIA Sweetheart by David A. Kaler and Jim Aparo (my favorite Aquaman artist). Dave Kaler also wrote the Steve Ditko-illustrated Captain Atom series. This was the last of only three stories about private eye turned secret agent Tiffany Sinn.

Interestingly, her first two appearances were in Career Girl Romances #38 and #39Tiffany was created by writer Gary Friedrich and artists Charles Nicholas and Vince Alascia, who did both of her previous stories. She was quite a genre change for the romance book and a much better fit here in Secret Agent. where Aparo gave her the nifty logo.

The story starts with a recap of Tiffany's first two cases and then moves on from there when Tiffany is told to take an evening flight to San Francisco and that she will be given additional information from a contact on the plane. The contact ends up being a flight attendant who passes her a dossier. That in turn, sends her to a specific taxi cab where she and we find out even more. Apparently secret fuel formulas and parts information are somehow being leaked from a government defense plant. The last agent assigned to the case was found floating in the bay.

Tiffany is assigned to work undercover as a lab technician to Aldo Bateman, a hunky blonde lab scientist whom the CIA suspect of being the leak. Tiffany falls into her new undercover role and come the weekend Aldo invites her to the beach with him and to dancing later that night. Their day starts at Muscle Beach where Aldo lifts weights while Tiffany watches and wonders how he passes on the information. That night it is dinner with Aldo at Fisherman's Wharf, but Tiffany learns nothing new.

Week after week she learns nothing new though she spends all of her weekends with Aldo. Finally it is decided to bait the trap and Aldo is shown a new rocket formula. That weekend Aldo wears a set of blue trunks that Tiffany has never seen before to Muscle Beach. Tiffany notices that Aldo radically changes his workout, doing new exercises for the first time, changing the order of his routines, doing different numbers of reps. She sees a glint coming from an apartment window and sees that men with binoculars are also watching Aldo's every move.

She calls HQ using a phone in her lipstick, but Aldo has noticed her extra scrutiny of him and catches her in the act. He drags her into the water and tries to drown her, but Tiffany uses Judo to overcome him and push Aldo under the water. After they take Aldo away Tiffany reports that Aldo passed on information using a system of code involving weights and reps. When they ask her to report to HQ to fill them in, Tiffany decides to work on her tan instead.

OK, not the greatest of stories, but Jim Aparo's artwork is top notch and left me wanting more of Tiffany Sinn. Unfortunately, that was not to be.

So Skeates's writing and the artwork of Dick Giordano and Jim Aparo make this book well worth owning. You get to see the Aquaman SAG team (Skeates/Aparo/Giordano) in top form before they even worked at DC.

Edited by Dick Giordano.

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