Justice, Inc. #1 & 2

Summer 1989

Cover art by: Kyle Baker & Dean Motter

Story: Trust (#1) Betrayal (#2)

Writer: Andrew Helfer

Art: Kyle Baker

This is a book that shows us what happens to Richard Benson and his crew after World War II. I have a feeling if you are a pulp traditionalist, you will probably hate this series. I have no attachment to the pulp, having only seen him in DC comic books, so everything is kosher with me. If you know me, you know I initially picked this up because Kyle Baker did the art, and I really liked what he did here.

We begin with Richard and Nellie watching a serial they made of his life. Benson having sold the rights. Richard was shocked at how affected he was seeing his family killed on screen. Back in his office he sees that Justice Inc is only getting surveillance work. In walks Agent Williams from Internal Security. He offers Richard a chance to work for the government, he wants Richard to replace a German scientist who has been selling the secrets of the A-bomb to the Russians. They want Benson to break the ring up. He takes the role of the scientist, and succeeds in breaking up the ring. He hates himself though, because he testified as the scientist in court to get the conviction of the spies. Later, the German hangs himself in his jail cell.

Williams wants him to come work for the government full-time. He refuses. The rest of Justice Inc all take job offers themselves, believing Richard is at fault for the current failure of the company. Also, they believe in the missions they will be taking on: crushing the commies! Of course Richard does eventually take a job as well.

He goes through a year of training learning new languages and other spy type stuff. Next, the ISD wants him to undergo an operation to boost his capabilities. The operation gets under way and they do things like: modify his spine, put in an artificial heart, and give him a card reader in his neck. Each card contains all of the information to transform his face, voice, and even skin pigmentation. They were included in the operation as well.

Well, now he spends the next few years infiltrating Communist friendly countries. Taking the place of their leaders to get them back on or to the U.S.A.'s side. Once they have the successor picked out Benson “dies” in some accident, and moves on to the next country. One on job he is almost killed by two Russian spies who have the same powers that he does. He goes to see Agent Williams to get answers, but he gets none. Then he goes to find his old gang but finds that they are all of on missions of their own out of the country. Except the two non-white members. Rosabel Newton is a secretary for the government (since day one! She never got a promotion) and Josh is working in the records room. Josh pulls the file on the doctor who operated on Richard, and Richard sees that it is the same doctor who performed the first operation after his family died. This guy has since defected to the Russians.

Benson tracks the guy down, and demands some answers. Dr. Diennet and a junior fed named, Grayl are the ones who “created” the Avenger. Benson being at the wrong place at the wrong time, and the pair believing they could perform the operation, and get him to work for the government. Diennet has a device that will detonate any of the Russian spies that he has worked on. Also, that Grayl has a similar device that lets him know whenever Benson is near. Benson kills the doctor, and takes his device, believing it to be a phony.

He then meets with a group of Russian officials (I think it wasn't real clear), and then pushes the button. Finding out that only was Diennet not bluffing, but that whole group were spies.

Now Richard begins infiltrating countries on his own, and doing whatever he can to have them rebel against America. He does this in country after country. The ISD decides it is time to send his old comrades against him. MacMurdie is the first one sent out, and he seems reluctant to kill Benson, but once he realizes that Benson is “lost” for good he does try to kill him. He believes he does, but is killed by some anti-American farmers in the country they are in.

Next, Nellie is sent to do the job. He succeeds in getting Richard to look like his old, pale face. Then pulls a gun on him, she wings him and then follows him out of the bedroom. She is then gunned down by the security of the house.

The government is tired of screwing around now, and decide to forget spy techniques, and diplomacy. They send Smitty in with a bunch of helicopters and troops to kill Richard and whoever else might be there. Unfortunately, for him Richard was tipped off, and was waiting in ambush.

Grayl wants to try one last time. This time with Josh Newton. Josh has more or less left the company, since his his first field assignment was the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Grayl insists that Agent Williams try anyways. Williams gets thrown out on his ass for his trouble. It just so happens that Benson is one of the black militants who is protecting Josh while he waits to testify to Congress on what has been going on. He tells Josh to grab Williams and let him know he has changed his mind.

Josh's mission was to kill Benson in some African nation. He asks Benson why he isn't there. Richard lets him know that despite what ISD claims he isn't responsible for all of the coups going on. “The revolutionary spirit is contagious”.

Believing he is safe Grayl is at the hearing before Congress. He has dirt on everyone including the President. All of a sudden his device that warns him when Richard Benson is near fires off. He freaks out, and whips out a gun. Agent Williams shows up to get him to safety. The device still beeps no matter where they go, but Williams assures him that it has a long range. Williams is of course, The Avenger. Grayl tries to make Benson understand that it was never personal, just business in saving the country. Richard tells him that he does in fact understand. That he no longer feels anger, and after years trying to get revenge for his family he has made peace with it. He still kills Grayl though, and takes his place. He then spends years doing what he thinks is right with the power he now has with Josh Newton as his aide-de-camp.

I really liked these two books, and it spans quite a number of years. 1948-72. A pretty tight story, and fast paced. Still it provides some nice moments to let other characters besides Richard Benson some face time.

The art was unique and good as well. The coloring has an interesting texture to it. Also characters and objects were outlined in black, but unless it was a completely solid piece (like a mustache or hat band for example) there were no black used. The faces had some different things going on as well. They were all very faint in their depiction. It was still easy to tell who everyone was, but they were faded? Maybe that is what I am looking for. Probably an artistic decision when dealing with someone who can change his own face at will. I like to think I am right on that.

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I was thinking more about this series as I was on my evening constitutional. A few things did occur to me.

First, this was the definition of the slippery slope. It took years of doing, but the government eventually had the Avenger to the point of casually killing heads of state and replacing them.

Also, Richard Benson was never in the right. Killing those leaders for the US? Wrong. Killing them to inspire revolution and to get revenge on the US? Wrong. Taking over for Grayl after killing him? Wrong.

After the government appealed to the other members of the group's patriotism for the most part they were unwavering in their dedication to their mission's and the US. Seems to be one of the easiest ways to get people to do what they normally wouldn't and that has been true since the first boundaries were drawn.

This sounds like an interesting book. Really like the cover, too.

IIRC, this series came about after the success of Howard Chaykin's The Shadow, which also gave a "modern" makeover to a pulp hero. A new Doc Savage series followed, featuring Doc's grandson.

I have a feeling if you are a pulp traditionalist, you will probably hate this series.

Based on your description, I'd say you're right.  I'm not even much of an Avenger fan, and my mind is already working overtime to scrub that plot summary out of my memory.

Philip Portelli said:

IIRC, this series came about after the success of Howard Chaykin's The Shadow, which also gave a "modern" makeover to a pulp hero. A new Doc Savage series followed, featuring Doc's grandson.

I read that Chaykin Shadow series and thought it was okay. In this week's Comic Shop News they were talking about the new Shadow book Dynamite is going to put out. Parts of it sound awfully familiar  to the Chaykin series.

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