Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Christopher Cool, Teen Agent #1: X Marks the Spy



Okay, the Christopher Cool, TEEN Agent series is my all time favorite boys series. I cannot tell you how much kitsch-tastic amazingness is contained in each volume. The series was published in 1967-69 by Grosset and Dunlap and written by Jim Lawrence (who wrote the newspaper strip version of James Bond, appropriately enough) under the pen name Jack Lancer. Chris is the son of Dr. Jonathan Cool, "America's foremost brain in high energy physics," who mysteriously disappeared a couple of years ago. Chris goes to the CIA at 17, hoping to get hired and go after his dad. Instead, he gets funneled into the TEEN (Top-secret Educational Espionage Network). Yes, I'm serious. Yes, it's fabulous.



Anyway, two years later, Chris is at Kingston (an Ivy League type college), rooming with his TEEN partner, Geronimo Johnson. Gerry is Apache, which is one of the fifty million languages that Chris speaks fluently. I won't deny that a lot of the Native American humor in this series is kind of cringe-worthy, but most of it's tongue-in-cheek and mocks the other characters, rather than Gerry. Q is their main contact from Control, dresses in a navy blazer and a yachting hat, smokes an unlit pipe, and takes constant swigs from a bottle of milk. Could I make any of this UP? I LOVE IT. The heroine (supporting character) is Spice Carter, a fiery redhead who can hold her own in intelligence and a fight. The villains alternate between the Reds (obvious Cold War influence in the series) and TOAD, which is a network of supervillains aimed on global domination. SQUEE!



In this first title, Chris and Gerry are off to France, in search of a secret weapon Ciel Assassin/Skykill. It's been developed by an evil genius, Le Glacier/the Chiller. Of course. They meet up with Spice Carter for the first time outside of Paris, and both boys are impressed with her, not just her looks, but mostly her skillz. To give you an example of a typical Chris Cool adventure, there's a fight scene on top of the Eiffel Tower, and Chris gets thrown over, goes into a skydiving roll, turns on the jet packs built into his shoes, then Gerry zips him a rescue line. Also typical: underground labs abound, with venomous attack bats. These books are PERFECTION.



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Other things I like about this series: They're well-written, in spite of the ridiculosity of the plots. They talk a lot about cars and girls, which I think is realistic for a series targeting boys who are maybe 11-15. They're also heavy on gadgets, in the vein of James Bond. Pomeroy is the eccentric little bald man who keeps them suited up with bizarro supplies. Anyway, I HIGHLY recommend this series. It can be difficult to collect--it doesn't seem to have been as widely-printed as many series, and a lot of the titles duplicate other, more commonly available trade titles, which makes it hard to search for some of them. That said, most can be found for $5-10 with a little patience.
  • The story begins with a hot flash from Control via their wristwatches. I tried to keep track of the gadgets for this entry, but it was getting ridiculous. Rough list: chewing gum explosives, UV light rings, jet pack shoes, rescue lines, ties that adapt to gas masks.
  • "The 4.2 liter engine purred like a well-fed pussycat, then broke into a full-throated jungle roar as the black Jag shot down the driveway into Madison Circle." The Jag is their main car.
  • Q calls the CIA "Cloak and Dagger," which I found entertaining.
  • TOAD  sends toads to intended victims, and stamps the foreheads of victims with a bladed, venom-injecting stamp.
  • Sixties fashions abound, including a, "Gaunt horse-faced woman with dangling earrings and a brassy yellow fright wig."
  • When they talk about girls, they pretty flatly say whether or not they're hot. To me, this reads a lot more true to a typical 19 year old guy than most of these books.
  • Chris himself is of course hot, with blond hair, blue eyes, and a tight frame. Gerry is constantly described as having coppery skin and longish black hair. The book mocks those around them who give Gerry the side eye.
  • I apologize for how much squeeing fangirlness is in this post, but I seriously can't recommend these books highly enough. Guaranteed entertainment.

3 comments:

  1. James Duncan Lawrence claimed to have created the series and he wrote the first three books and transferred them to the Syndicate. He was under the impression that if he created a new series like this that hey would receive a better compensation as they sold. However, when this did not work out, Lawrence stopped writing them for them. He also stopped working in the Syndicate offices at that time. He did write more for the Syndicate later on but from his home and occasionally using a pen name to the Syndicate when he worked on Nancy Drew and Bobbsey Twins volumes.

    The first three Chris Cool books are findable. The remaining three, by other ghostwriters, are much harder to locate. However, as an unknown series, you might get lucky and find any one of them cheaply.

    James Keeline

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  2. I actually read "X Marks The Spy" when I was 10, and the series wasn't that old, in 1973. It was quite fun, and very much suited those moon shot 007 Camelot days, if you weren't wrapped up in Nam, Tricky Dick, or Dylan, as most weren't. I actually still own the book. There were a lot of good boy's adventure books then, like Danny Dunn, or The Wonderful Flight To The Mushroom Planet. Doesn't seem to be much like that now.

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  3. I have all 6 and wish wish wish there had been more! I have every tom swift/hardy boys/nancy drew/dana girls but this was by far my favorite series. i am still re-reading these today 40 years later!

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