In the 1930s, when the secret agent was still a fresh concept in genre
fiction and words such as patriotism and sacrifice were not cynically derided,
Jimmy Christopher, Secret Service Operator 5, covertly defended American
shores from all sorts of foreign and domestic threats that plotted the subjugation
of the U.S. through the most outlandish methods (The Green Death Mists,
Rockets from Hell, the Flaming Death, etc.).
"He was in his early twenties; his face was clean-cut and strong. His
bright blue eyes flashed with the alertness of youth; his forehead was high,
his chin firmly determined. He possessed a poise that added stature to his
years and obviously he was American through and through. ...On the back
of [his right] hand shone a peculiar scar--a black and white marking shaped
strangely like a spreadwinged American eagle. Its wings seemed to flex,
as though straining to take flight, as the young man's fingers moved."
Jimmy's chief weapon is a rapier concealed in his belt. Another is the famous
death's head ring which bore the numeral 5 and contained a powerful explosive
in the hollow top. There was also a small gold ornament, a reproduction
of a skull with ruby eyes, which Jimmy usually had clipped to his watch
chain; inside the skull there was a silver ball containing Diphenolchlorasine,
a death-dealing liquid which would change into gas upon contact with air.
(Much of this and the text that follows has been condensed from Don Hutchinson's
Operator #5 article from Captain George's Whiz Bang no.14, an infectiously
wry piece that spurred my initial interest in this character!)
With such scourges as The Melting Death, Master of Broken Men and TheWar
Dogs of the Green Destroyer, a fellow needed all the friends he could get.
Jimmy was blessed with a number of close aides:
Diane Elliot was a special writer for the Amalgamated Press
news service but became a full-fledged intelligence agent during the Purple
Invasion crisis. As Jimmy's girl she led a life of harrowing adventures.
Many of the Operator 5 cover paintings bear likenesses of Diane: strapped
to the muzzle of a cannon; about to be hurled from a giant catapult; facing
firing squads; tied to dynamite kegs, and once- - shades of Pearl White-bound
to railroad tracks, the thundering locomotive mere yards away.
Young Tim Donovan was Operator 5's unofficial assistant.
They had met one drenching night on the lower East Side, when Tim, a bootblack
huddling in a dark doorway, had saved Operator 5 from death by a bullet
from a criminal's gun. Jimmy virtually adopted the plucky youngster, accepting
him into his family circle and into his numerous adventures. Tim is allowed
to grow up in the course of the novels and eventually enters the Intelligence
A leading character in the series was the man who was commander-in-chief
of the United States Intelligence Service, a man known even to his most
trusted agents only as Z-7. Dressed entirely in gray with
black hair and black, glittering eyes, he is described as an older man of
stocky build and grim visage. There is a bond of affection between Z-7 and
Operator 5, a bond which is sorely tested in the course of the novels. Later
in the series, Jimmy replaces Z-7 as head of intelligence.
Jimmy's twin sister, Nan Christopher, was an important
flgure in the novels as was his father, ex-Secret Service Operator Q-6.
In spite of a bullet lodged near his heart which constantly threatened his
life, John Christopher managed to assist his son on a number
In his guise as Carleton Victor, Operator 5 employed a man servant named
of Crowe. The estimable Crowe, gentleman's gentleman extraordinary,
did not dream that Carleton Victor, photo- portraitist of world-wide reputation,
was a convenient cover for Jimmy Christopher. Crowe's colossal cool was
a runnlng gag which consciously or unconsciously satirized the sensational
nature of the pulp series. The four walls of Victor's penthouse were the
boundaries of his entire world. Outside, the nation reeled; havoc and ruin
sullied the streets; dead men marched; Mongol hordes raided; America's proudest
cities were reduced to ashes or frozen with giant neutron projectors. But
Crowe was oblivous to it all. He was the one "normal" person in
a universe overtaken by madness.
Crowe was dropped from later issues, as were other characters and schticks
from the early numbers--such as Jimmy clumsily stopping the frenzied action
to explain a pointless magic trick to Tim Donovan. In fact, unlike most
other pulp hero novels, the Operator 5 books can be divided into two distinct
series. The first, running for some two dozen issues, was in the mold of
prevailing bizarre fantasy pulps.
The second, beginning in early 1936, concentrated more heavily on militaristic
explolts, starting with...
The Purple Invasion
In a series of cataclysrnic cliffhangers, the Purple Invasion chronicled
an assault upon America by the hordes of dictator Rudolph I of "Balkaria,"
the Purple Emperor. The complete saga ran well over three-quarters of a
million words. Each novel detailed immense battles in America's second War
of Independence. Numerous major characters were introduced, fought for several
issues, then were summarily disposed of. At the end, America was left in
ruins, Canada and Mexico were under the subjugation of vandal rule. Small
wonder that the Purple Invasion has been called the War and Peace of the
pulp magazines. By pulp magazine standards the Purple Invasion was daringly
innovative. In the past, other paper heroes had grappled with avaricious
dictators but never before with such horrendous consequences. Check your
well-stocked magazine seller for Adventure
House's bimonthly digest High Adventure, which is reprinting the Purple
Invasion Sage (starting with issue #18).
A listing of Operator #5 adventures!
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