Carter, Nick (I). Nick Carter (I) was created by Ormond G. Smith and John Russell Coryell (Bel, Helen) and appeared in over 4000 stories and over 220 novels from 1886 to 1990, beginning with “The Old Detective’s Pupil; or, The Mysterious Crime of Madison Square” (New York Weekly, Sep 18, 1886); he also appeared in comic strips, comic books, radio shows, pulps, and movies. Hundreds of his dime novel stories were reprinted, and he appeared in unauthorized sequels, across South America, Europe, Asia, and North Africa from 1908 to 1939. Carter’s most popular and prolific author was Frederic Van Rensselaer Dey (Crewe (II), Night Wind, Doctor Quartz). Nick Carter (I) is a Great Detective. He is an all-American detective who was visually modeled on Eugen Sandow (1867-1925), an internationally famous Prussian strongman. One early story described Carter in this way:
Giants were like children in his grasp. He could fell an ox with one blow of his small, compact fist. Old Sim Carter had made the physical development of his son one of the studies of his life. Only one of the studies, however. Young Nick’s mind was stored with knowledge–knowledge of a peculiar sort. His gray eyes had, like an Indian’s, been trained to take in minutest details fresh for use. His rich, full voice could run the gamut of sounds, from an old woman’s broken, querulous squack to the deep, hoarse notes of a burly ruffian. And his handsome face could, in an instant, be distorted into any one of a hundred types of unrecognizable ugliness. He was a master of disguise, and could so transform himself that even old Sim could not recognise him. And his intellect, naturally keen as a razor blade, had been incredibly sharpened by the judicious cultivation of the old man.
Nick’s father “Old Sim Carter” began Nick’s training when the boy was only a child. Old Sim’s goal was to make Nick as great a man as possible, and so put Nick through a wide range of physical and mental tests and brought him up to be a perfect physical and mental specimen. Nick is strong enough to “lift a horse with ease…while a heavy man is seated in the saddle….he can place four packs of playing cards together, and tear them in halves between his thumbs and fingers.” He was schooled in every possible area of knowledge that might conceivably have to do with crime-solving, including the sciences, various languages, art and physiology. He makes use of all the latest technology, including cars, monoplanes, and his own yacht, The Gull. And he uses gadgets, such as his coat of chain mail, a gift of the Mikado of Japan, and the two small pistols held in spring loaded holsters up each sleeve of his coat.
As an adult Nick is the greatest detective in the country. He works for pay but is primarily motivated by a desire to see justice triumph and evil thwarted; his goal is to “aim for the right and for righting wrongs.” He lives on Madison Avenue and works out of New York City, but he travels around the U.S. and the world on cases. Carter is square-jawed, noble and upright, bronze skinned, resolutely honest, and never gives in to temptation. He lives a clean life, with his only vices being the occasional cigar and beer. He never swears. Although he is only 5’4″, he is extremely tough. When just being tough isn’t enough, he has his revolvers, two of which he keeps up his sleeves in spring loaders; one jerk of his arms brings them into his hands fully cocked. He has “little steel tools of the finest temper” concealed about his body, along with blowpipes, pinchers, and any other tools which might assist him. Nick is a master of disguise and has a few preferred identities, such as Thomas “Old Thunderbolt” Bolt, a “shaggy and unkempt” country detective who keeps an office entirely separate from Nick’s.
Carter is assisted by a large cast of supporting characters, including Patsy Murphy, a bootblack who became a full-fledged detective; Chickering Valentine, a teenaged Nevada ranch hand who is a double for Nick and is eventually adopted by Carter and renamed “Chick Carter,” under which name he starred in the radio program Chick Carter, Boy Detective (1943-1945); Chick’s cousin Cora Chickering; the brilliant schoolgirl, Ida Jones; Ah Toon, the private bodyguard and royal detective to the Emperor of China; Demetrius Rackapolo, a Turkish secret service agent; and Ten-Ichi, the son of the Mikado.
Like Blake, Carter’s character evolved to match the changing environment. When Carter debuted he was a standard dime novel detective character, but within a decade, after Sherlock Holmes had become popular in America, Carter changed and became, like Sexton Blake (a character Carter has much in common with) a Holmesian genius, a brilliant consulting gentleman detective. During the 1920s and 1930s Carter became more of a pulp detective, moving away from Holmes and toward Philip Marlowe, though never losing the Carter outlook. Like Blake, Carter changed after World War Two and became a more realistic detective, with less colorful and more drab adventures. In the 1960s Carter was reinvented and became a James Bond-like character. In the 1970s he became a Killer Vigilante, “the Executioner” and “the Killmaster.”
A number of Carter stories verged on the fantastic. Lost Race stories were particularly common: Carter finds a Lost Race in a hidden valley in the Tibetan Himalayas, one in the foothills of the Andes in southern Bolivia, and one in a Sacred Valley in Nepal. The natives of the Himalayan Lost City are blond-haired, white-skinned Aryans who are masters of “vibrational science.” They can communicate with each other by “specific vibrations” and can kill with those vibrations. The natives have such advanced science that they can draw electricity from the air itself and use it to power their transparent aircraft. The Bolivians are Amazons who intend to CONQUER THE WORLD! And the Nepalese are masters of electricity and vibration, control “vitic energy,” the life force, and have flying machines powered by the “gaseous residue” of the super-element currieonium.
As with the Sexton Blake stories, much of the excitement of the Nick Carter stories comes from the villains, rather than the comparatively colorless Carter himself. Carter’s Rogues Gallery is, if anything, even more colorful and impressive than Sexton Blake’s. Foremost among Nick’s arch-enemies is the sociopathic Doctor Quartz. Quartz has students who also plagued Carter, most notably Zanoni the Woman Wizard. Many of Carter’s enemies are beautiful, capable, and homicidal women, characters with names like Scylla the Sea Robber, Zelma the Female Fiend, Princess Olga, tiger chief of the Russian Nihilists, the Bird of Paradise, Diana the Arch Demon, and Inez Navarro, the Beautiful Demon. Two of the most memorable were Zanoni and Dazaar the Arch Fiend. Zanoni murdered her own sister, possessed potent hypnotic power, and was a genius at inventing poisons. When Carter told her not to “make love” to him, she responded:
Have no fear, my pretty man, my cornucopia of driveling goodness. When I make love to you, it will be to your articulated skeleton–to your empty, fleshless skull–to your heart preserved in alcohol and your liver thrown to the dogs.
Finally, like the Sexton Blake stories, the Nick Carter stories featured a number of crossovers with other characters, including Joe Petrosino, Ted Strong, and Old Broadbrim.