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The question of whether Vance was dead or not became more than academic when he found himself in a bathtub up to his chin in ice water like some forgotten cocktail garnish, a demonic woman standing over him, and no memory of how he got there.
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Read free chapters of Dispensing Justice here (or get it here).
Read free chapters of The Red Rook here (or get it here). -- Fritz Freiheit

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Richard Benson

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Richard Benson

    The Avenger's real name is Richard Henry Benson, a globe-trotting adventurer who "had made his millions by professional adventuring": discovering rubber in South America, leading "native armies in Java", making "aerial maps in the Congo", mining "amethysts in Australia and emeralds in Brazil" and finding gold in Alaska and diamonds in the Transvaal. Following the pulp archetype of a wealthy hero, despite an internal chronology making them (and Benson in particular) "children of the Great Depression", the Avenger's backstory gave him the funding to ultimately "support [his] crime-fighting appurtenances."

Deciding to settle down and raise a family, the first Avenger adventure ("Justice, Inc."), Benson's plans for a peaceful life as a "world-renowned industrial engineer" are shattered when his wife (Alicia) and young daughter (Alice) are killed during an airplane journey. The shock of this loss has a bizarre effect on Benson. His face becomes paralyzed while both his skin and his hair turn white, his facial flesh becoming malleable, like clay. His face was thereafter (for the first dozen stories) regularly described (as in "The Smiling Dogs") as:

...dead, like something dug out of a cemetery. The muscles were paralyzed so that never, under any circumstances, could they move in an expression. This dead, weird face was as white as snow – as white, in a word, as you'd expect any dead flesh to be! In the glacial expanse of the face were set eyes so light-gray as to seem completely colorless.[1]

As a result of this tragedy, Benson vows to avenge himself on the villains, and to fight for all those who have suffered at the hands of criminals.

Don Hutchison suggests that "Benson's extreme personal misfortune was probably the strongest motivation accorded any of the great pulp heroes," stemming as it did from the death of his family and his own "death in life". The stories, by veteran pulp/magazine writer Paul Ernst "were well-plotted mysteries with mild science-fictional extrapolations", albeit often appearing somewhat subdued when compared to rival publications such as The Spider and Operator #5. Benson was "the master of the last-minute escape", cool and intellectual, mentally "the equal of Doc Savage" but otherwise "an average-sized man". The plastic, malleable state of his otherwize unexpressive features allowed the character to reshape his facial features into a likeness of any person, his features remaining in sculpted form "until they were carefully put back into place." This ability, coupled with hair dyes and colored contact lenses, earned him the sobriquet "The Man of a Thousand Faces".

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