June 24, 2020


My recent post about the collected Fleetway editions, notably the John Steel Casebooks, by The Book Palace has inspired me to revisit some of the cool designs and characters from Fleetway's Secret Agent Series. Johnny Nero stories were published from 1967-1968 and alternated bi-monthly as the main character with the Lion and Barracuda, for a total of 13 stories. Nero was cut from the bored millionaire template of heroes, who went on missions for Colonel Jason to deal with assassins, saboteurs, criminals, spies and master minds -sometimes with his secretary, Jenny Bird. The dynamic cover images were painted by Paolo Montecchi, who depicted Nero as actor, Marcello Mastroianni. Spy Vibers know that I'm a huge Mastroianni fan. When the Blu-ray edition of The 10th Victim (1965) was being produced, I was psyched to be able to put together the stills and poster gallery for the special features. I love seeing the actor's image on these comics. I can almost imagine they were posters for a lost EuroSpy series! Because Montecchi based his work on exiting stills and posters, we can naturally trace many of his source images. The cover image with the clear sunglasses featured on issue #1: Meet Johnny Nero is reminiscent of a number of scenes in The 10th Victim, as you can see from the movie still. Check out some of the other covers and see if you can spot any familiar expressions or poses. The artist also borrowed from Hollywood for his cover compositions. We actually have a double doppelgänger design in issue #1, as Montecchi based Nero's pose on Humphrey Bogart from the The Enforcer (1951), or perhaps more likely, from the 1966 Eurospy film, Upperseven, which also mined Bogart for inspiration. You can review the evidence below.

The cover design for issue #3: The Devil's Secret should look familiar to fans of Ian Fleming's James Bond novels. This time the artist (Montecchi?) based his femme fatale completely on the early Pan edition of For Your Eyes Only, originally painted by J. Oval. A change of color to the hair and outfit, and who would notice, right?

Here is a small sample of Fleetway's Secret Agent covers that stood out to me. Maybe next time we can look at the character, Barracuda, who alternated with Johnny Nero as the main hero in the comic. Sometimes known as Codename: Barracuda, he was an agent who worked with the United Nations to combat the evil forces of WAM (War Against Mankind). Add that to your list of secret spy organizations! I asked The Book Palace if they might do a collected edition of the Fleetway spy stories and they said they are exploring it, but might need assistance tracking down a full index of artists who worked on the series. Have any Spy Vibers out there compiled such a checklist? Please let me know. I'd also like to see Fleetway's Pulp-Inspired Stupendous Series (starring Steel Claw!) collected. You can learn more about the Fleetway Super Library at Blimey! and Bear Alley. You can see some plot summaries of the spy stories at our our sister site, Spy Guys and Gals. Nice Secret Agent Series cover gallery here. Enjoy! 

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