A buddy of mine had this "TSR Graphic Novel" tucked away among a bunch of antiques and junk he and his dad had been collecting for decades. He didn't describe it very well except that it was a comic, and I expected mediocre art and story benefitting a knock-off product produced in the heinous villainy of the late 1980s. Little did I know what a gem I was about to uncover.
TSR refers to some kind of gaming company, but not the kind you kids know about. This was gaming done with paper and pencils in spiral notebooks, called "role-playing." No, that didn't involve Internet hook-up sites either, because none of that existed. "Dungeons and Dragons" was this company's bread and butter, and their life's blood was your fathers, the DOS geeks years before they managed to actually procreate with a girl.
"D&D" was just the tip of the iceberg. There was all kinds of new games out there, and plenty of people making the rules for them. "Agent 13" is a role-playing game centered around a character who had the ability to disguise himself as anyone (like the Unknown Soldier) of his approximate weight and size using masks and make-up. Once an assassin, the unknown Agent spends his time in a secret war with the cabal who trained him. The cabal, known as the Brotherhood, is an insidious presence in the world manipulating countries, Presidents, and world history itself as far back as the Dark Ages.
Set during pre-World War 2, this "graphic novel" is written by Flint Dille and David Marconi, both Hollywood-type guys, and "The Midnight Avenger" story feels very much like a movie, but a movie way more awesome than it has any right being.
Dille and Marconi waste no time in establishing the Pulp Hero viciousness of the Agent, who not only kills his enemies with brutal efficiency, but brands them with his ring, which burns a red-hot "13" into their foreheads.
This doesn't please "Itsu," the leader of the Brotherhood, who is currently orchestrating a series of "terror attacks" across the U.S. of A, with one of his agents "The Masque" filming demands. During a meeting of the most important National Security personnel in the White House, concerning the Brotherhood who has allied with Hitler and the coming Axis Powers, Brotherhood killers execute them all. This leads to the Agent following leads to a former lover, Asian hottie "China White" (who tries to kill the Agent with a Great White Shark, no less,) kidnapped scientists, more intrigue, culminating in a giant zeppelin warship, an air force dogfight, and the revelation of the Masque's true identity.
There's both a 1940s comic book simplicity to the story, and the modern retro Pulp awareness as the Agent proves himself every bit as dangerous as those he battles.
The Agent is always in disguise, and his true face is never seen or hinted at. His mission is everything. Surprisingly, he had an "able" female assistant named Maggie and a usual system of informants, but Maggie is his aide de camp...which is odd considering the Agent in every other way is seething with the kill-urge, much like the Spider. Because the Brotherhood is as able as the Agent in infiltrating every level of society and government, the Agent suspects everyone. One of his more ruthless lines, said to the Attorney General of the United States who's decided to get out a cigar: "Mr. Walters, remove your hand from your pocket, or I'll be forced to kill you" is the Agent operating under his own moral code, no matter how menacing.
The final selling point, and a huge one, is the art of Dan Spiegle. Most noted for his "Hopalong Cassidy" comic strips, Spiegle worked for DC Comics (BLACKHAWK, "Secret Six") somewhere around this time (1988) and also with Mark Evanier on the CROSSFIRE series. Spiegle is one of the finest artists of his generation, and one of the last so able to tell a story with nothing but visuals, no words. A huge part of the success of this book is due to Spiegle.
Just for ref, here's two pages scanned by Dave Kiersh at http://comicbookstories.blogspot.com/2007_05_01_archive.html showing off Spiegle's brilliance, from another comic altogether, but similarly Pulp-inspired--BLACK HOOD ish 2, 1983:
Hopefully at some point in the future, I'll be able to scan some of the artwork from AGENT 13: "The Midnight Avenger." It is not only rare from the standpoint that barely anyone knows it exists but the men who made it, but it is a hidden gem of story-telling economy and deft visual action. There is a second volume, "Acolytes of Darkness," which I hope to lay hands on quite soon!