Coming off of Justice Inc by Michael Uslan, Dynamite Entertainment is giving each the Shadow, Doc Savage and The Avenger their own special one shot. Mark Rahner is handling Richard Benson and Byron Brewer talked with the writer about the special and the history of the character.
Mark Rahner: He's more obscure, but was always more interesting to me. The Avenger debuted in 1939 – the same year as Batman. In some ways, he's similar. In others, he's even more grim and obsessed, with no soft alter ego.
Here's some Avenger 101:
Richard Benson was a rich industrialist and adventurer whose wife and daughter were killed by criminal scum. The trauma of the loss turned his skin and hair white, leaving the flesh of his face malleable, so that he can mold it to impersonate people. He's not a big guy – 5-foot-8 and 160 pounds – but he's remarkably strong and athletic. His dead, expressionless face and icy eyes, should make for a look that's as unsettling as it is cool.
Benson uses a variety of then-futuristic gadgets, along with his best friends, "Ike" the knife and "Mike" the gun. Ike is hollow-handled for throwing. Mike is a streamlined .22 pistol he uses to "crease" skulls instead of killing. Think of how annoying getting "creased" would be.
He's got a diverse crew of memorable characters – especially for the '30s and '40s – whose lives have all been scarred by crime. They're completely devoted to him.
BB: So how did this special come into being? Was it something you pitched?
Mark Rahner: I had mentioned the character from time to time as a natural fit in Dynamite's roster – if not a glaring omission from it! I chimed in with some background info about him. There've been assorted fits and starts with The Avenger and Justice Inc. in comics over the decades, and I really wanted Dynamite to have the definitive, satisfying one, like they've done with other pulp characters.
Mark Rahner: Totally self-contained, with no other guest-heroes. Benson is The Man here. "The Television Killers" hews closely to the original novels and his origin.
BB: So tell us a little about this special.
Mark Rahner: It's 1939, and a new device called "television" has been introduced to the public at the incredible (retro) futuristic World's Fair in New York! The Avenger and his crew must figure out and stop whatever's turning people into berserk flesh-eaters. At the same time, a new client comes to Justice Inc. for help: singer Billie Holiday. She's scheduled to sing her controversial new song, "Strange Fruit" on an early television broadcast, and a gang of racist killers will do anything to keep her out of America's living rooms. It's a big 48-pager, so Benson needed two cases at once.
Mark Rahner: There's the gang-leader, named Even, who wants to kill Bille – and anyone who helps her. There's another to be discovered as Benson unravels the grisly mystery of the zombified New Yorkers – and one rip-roaring confrontation in a bizarre setting.
BB: Were you a fan of the Avenger, or even familiar with him before this project?
Mark Rahner: Since childhood. I think the 1972 paperback reprints were some of the first books I ever read. Other kids start on the classics. I went for the pulps. Each one of those covers is iconic. Later, I hoarded most of the original pulp magazines. I loved revisiting them as an adult so much that I had to be torn away from them to start writing.
BB: How did you enjoy working with artist Edu Menna?
Mark Rahner: Edu illustrated stories in both of my TWILIGHT ZONE specials. Once you see the knockout work he did on "Cold Calculation" in the new volume called "Lost Tales," you'll be dying to see what he does with The Avenger.
BB: Hey! And famed singer Billie Holiday is in this! Do any research about this great star?
Mark Rahner: I'm a chronic over-researcher, from my years as a reporter. But spending time researching someone you're already into barely counts as work. She had a rough life, her habits with self-medication and men didn't make it any easier, and she died young. She was also tough, living in an era when black people in America had to endure what, to a lot of us now, is an unimaginable amount of disrespect. And here's some smart alec trivia: Dynamite wanted a holiday story – so I gave them Billie Holiday!