He’s a classic pulp character from the ’40s, created by the guys who created Doc Savage and The Shadow, and written mostly by a man named Paul Ernst. The Avenger has a powerfully touching origin story in which his wife and small daughter are passionlessly murdered in an unbelievably horrifying way, simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Unlike, say, Batman, where that tragedy is usually played out in a few panels, the first Avenger story is all about his attempt to uncover what happened, take his revenge, and come to terms with his own role in their deaths. That last part may be mostly in subtext, but it’s heart-wrenching stuff nevertheless.
The Avenger doesn’t actually go by that name in the stories I’ve read. His real name is Richard Benson and that’s pretty much what people call him. He gathers together a small team of like-minded people who’ve also been treated unjustly by criminals and they form an organization called Justice, Inc. They all have their areas of expertise, so it’s kind of like a super team, though only Benson has what you might call super powers.
Due to the shock of losing his family, Benson’s lost all pigment in his skin and hair, and his facial muscles have been paralyzed. He’s able to do this thing where he can move his face around with his fingers and change his appearance. That’s tough to explain scientifically, but before he became the Avenger, Benson was kind of wealthy, globe-trotting, Indiana Jones-like adventurer, so I imagine that something he encountered in those days combined with his shock to give him his ability. I wonder if anyone’s told that story. I still have a lot of Avenger reading to do.
What fascinates me about the character is the theme of emotional vulnerability. He has so much rage and hurt inside him, but he’s physically incapable of expressing it. I’m intrigued by how that affects his team, who have their own heartaches, but seem to follow Benson’s lead in keeping that stuff swallowed up.
My story takes place really early in Justice, Inc.’s career, just after my favorite member of the team has joined. Her name is Nellie Gray and she’s an awesome butt-kicker with a deceptively fragile appearance. She’s also my emotional hook into the team, so I wanted to tell a story from before she’s fully assimilated. If I get the chance to write other Avenger stories, I’d love to follow her some more and explore how Benson’s team affects the way she expresses herself and relates to people.
Not that it’s all character stuff for me. This is a pulp hero after all, so there’s also plenty of action and a string of robberies committed by a murderous, bulletproof scarecrow.
Anyway, the book comes out in March and has stories by lots of cool writers: Matthew Baugh, James Chambers, Greg Cox, Win Scott Eckert, CJ Henderson, Matthew Mayo, Will Murray, Bobby Nash, Mel Odom, Barry Reese, Chris Sequeira, John Small, and David White. It’ll be over 300 pages of Avenger action for only $19 (less than $13 on Amazon). There’s also going to be a limited edition hardcover for $33.
Here’s how Moonstone describes the collection:
The greatest crime-fighter of the 40’s returns in a third thrilling collection of original action-packed tales of adventure, intrigue, and revenge. Life was bliss for millionaire adventurer Richard Henry Benson until that fateful day crime and greed took away his wife and young daughter…and turned him into something more than human.
Driven by loss, compelled by grief, he becomes a chilled impersonal force of justice, more machine than man, dedicated to the destruction of evildoers everywhere. A figure of ice and steel, more pitiless than both, Benson has been forged into an avatar of vengeance, possessed of superhuman genius supernormal power. His frozen face and pale eyes, like a polar dawn, only hint at the terrible force the underworld heedlessly invoked upon itself the day they created…The Avenger!