April 1963; published by Gold Key Comics.
The cover, painted like most Gold Key covers, depicts a man in a red jacket punching out a uniformed soldier, in a laboratory containing gigantic caged animals including a rooster, a rabbit and (I think) a mole.
I came across this oddity while going through my box of Dell/Gold Key comics and decided to review it.... As best I can figure, this was Gold Key's attempt to jump on the bandwagon of the James Bond books and movies which were starting to become a national craze in 1963. Of course, given Gold Key's strict self-censorship code, Freedom Agent John Steele couldn't very well get involved in the kind of womanizing and fast living that helped make James Bond an idol. Steele was all business as he saved the Free World from the threat of giant chickens and rabbits in "The Giant-Makers!" I have no idea of the writer and am not sure of the artist, though it might be Alberto Giolitti who worked on TUROK and later on the Gold Key STAR TREK comic. Anyway, it's not bad art. On the splash page, "at a secret NATO briefing high ranking officers watch a fantastic film," in which a hugely oversized rabbit fights off a pack of dogs. The briefing officer explains that the film was smuggled out of the Iron Curtain "at the cost of a courier's life" along with an appeal for rescue from "heredity and growth" expert Professor Garbek. To reach Garbek, someone will have to parachute onto the approximate location of Garbek's laboratory. "It's a mission for our FREEDOM AGENT-- John Steele! He speaks the language!" But the officer warns the handsome, dark-haired Steele that "Of course you know, John, that if you're caught, we'll say we NEVER HEARD OF YOU!" (This was a few years before MISSION IMPOSSIBLE on TV with its ritual statement in each opening that "if you are caught the Secretary will disavow all knowledge of your mission".) "And you probably never would again!" Steele thinks. Not one to dillydally when he has a mission, on the next page Steele jumps out of a bomber flying low over a spot somewhere in the Balkans. His chute gets tangled in trees leaving him hanging, causing him to mutter "Of all the rotten luck!" but he realizes his luck is not so bad when a squad of uniformed guards pass by under him, fortunately not looking up to spot him. After they pass on, Steele extricates himself and reaches the ground and "buries his chute, gun and secret radio!" Discovering a previously unknown railroad track through the woods, he follows it to a hidden laboratory which may be Garbek's.... a surmise which seems increasingly likely when he sees "a cat four times normal size" knock itself out against the electric fence. (Heck, *I* have a cat that's four times normal size, but it's just because she's fat and spoiled.....) Even the guard dogs that accompany the human guards are giants.
Steele manages to gain entry through the electric fence by sneaking under an incoming train and hanging onto its undercarriage as it passes through the gate. Getting inside one of the buildings, he finds a row of cages with oversized occupants; "I scoffed when I saw the film, but these GIANT animals are real!" Spotting a passing lab technician, Steele knocks him out and appropriates his lab smock and ID badge. Playing the role of one "Dr. Listur," Steele thinks he's been caught when some guards stop him, but they only want him to follow procedure by signing in on a log. Steele is able to reach Professor Garbek, and, exchanging written notes to avoid hidden microphones, ask the professor if he wants to escape. "Yes, but it will be difficult!" Garbek replies. Especially since one of the guards notices that "Listur's" signature on the log doesn't match the one on file, and the guards confront "Listur". Steele knocks one of them out but is himself subdued by a rifle butt. Shortly Steele finds himself tied to a chair as a guard declares, "He's coming to! Now to learn WHO he really is and WHY he's here! Inject the TRUTH SERUM!" Steele seems to struggle pointlessly against his bonds, but actually he is biting off and swallowing a gimmicked button on his shirt, which his superiors have assured him will counteract the effects of truth serum. It apparently works, and one of the guards suggests, "There are OTHER ways to persuade him to talk!" (Ve have vays....) But another guard suggests "a better use for him! Professor Garbek said he was ready to experiment on HUMANS! Here is his VOLUNTEER!"
Garbek balks at using the serum on a human, especially the one who tried to rescue him, but his Communist jailers warn him, "Do we use the bullet or do you use the needle?", and Steele urges Garbek to save himself by complying. Garbek explains to Steele that his growth serum "could produce a race of powerful SUPER GIANTS! Men twice as tall and twice as strong as normal men!" However, it doesn't act as fast as the similar serum Henry Pym would develop over at Marvel Comics.... it will take two weeks to have its full effect. Two weeks later, Steele is twelve feet tall and tastefully clad in a blanket wrapped around his middle. Garbek bemoans his fate, but Steele suggests that the success of his experiment may be their salvation, and has Garbek summon the guards. When the pair of guards arrive, the giant Steele knocks their heads together and makes a break with Garbek. (Seems pretty dense of the Commies not to imagine that their human guinea pig might use his newly enhanced size and strength against them, and take precautions....) The camp's electric fence blocks their escape, but Steele is big and powerful enough to resist the electric charge and tear the fence apart. Reaching his secret radio, Steele makes arrangements for a submarine to pick him and Garbek up. When a helicopter attacks, Steele fells it with rifle fire, but the chopper falls on the fleeing Garbek and fatally injures him. "N-no use... but you have kept....secret of giantism from them! Only I know formula!" (Again, not very smart of the Reds not to require their captive scientist to keep detailed notes on his project....or did he provide them with faked notes?) Handing Steele a hypodermic needle, the dying Garbek says, "Use this....it's the antidote!" Steele injects himself with the antidote, but like the original serum it doesn't work instantly, and Steele makes his way to the coast still a giant, startling primitive villagers, though the pursuing guards apparently aren't alert enough to spot something as noticeable as a 12-foot man. Steele makes his way to the sub (having apparently shrunk enough to fit into it) and back at home "weeks later", reports to his superiors that both sides in the Cold War have now lost the secret of giant-making. But since the Communists don't know Garbek is dead (Steele must have buried him well), Steele's uniformed superior comes up with a scheme to at least "worry our opposite numbers across the Iron Curtain", as a newspaper headline proclaims, "TOP SCIENTIST FLEES TO WEST WITH GROWTH SERUM SECRET!" Ah, the good old days of the Cold War, when the government lying to the press was a good thing if it helped beat the Commies.... and, apparently, nobody ever noticed that our side never actually demonstrated the "growth serum secret". (Except, of course, for Henry Pym.)
The filler feature in the middle of the book is a true-life spy story, "Behind Enemy Lines: The Heavy Water Raid!" "On 19 November 1942, a British glider on a desperate mission crashed into a mist-hidden Norwegian mountainside".... and the survivors are subsequently caught by the Germans and executed as spies. But the British must find a new way to accomplish the glider troops' mission, for it is to destroy a plant where "heavy water" is being manufactured, and, as they tell Norwegian underground resistance fighter Knut Haukelid, "the Germans hope to use heavy water to make an ATOM BOMB!" (Actually, I doubt if they said anything to Haukelid specifically about an atom bomb, since the possibility of such a thing was supposed to be kept secret from everyone not directly involved in the bomb project. Probably he was just told that the destruction of the plant was important to the war effort for unspecified reasons.) Haukelid leads a band of underground fighters parachuting into snowbound Norway, and they succeed in destroying the heavy water plant, which is guarded by only 15 overconfident Germans. But while his followers escape to Sweden, Haukelid stays behind in Norway and discovers in summer 1943 that the Germans have rebuilt the heavy water plant-- and plan to move it to Germany for better security. After bombing missions against the plant fail, Haukelid comes up with another plan to plant bombs on the ferryboat which will carry the heavy water tanks across Lake Tinnsjo between Norwegian and German territory. This plan succeeds, and the ferry with the tanks aboard is sunk in the deepest part of the lake. "But for the daring of Captain Haukelid and his men behind enemy lines, the Germans might have developed an atom bomb first-- changing the course of the war and history!" (Actually, current historical thinking is that, despite the fears of the Allies, the Germans never got all that close to successfully developing an atomic bomb.)
The second Freedom Agent story in the issue is "Escape From the Top of the World!" A yak train enteres the territory of Tibet, occupied by Communist China (it still is), and is confronted by Communist soldiers, but the yak herders explain that they are "returning traders" and that they are actually returning a defector who tried to escape from the "workers' paradise" the Reds have made of Tibet. Pleased at this sign of Communist zeal, the soldiers leave the punishment of the "defector" up to the "village elders, "which is a good thing, since the "defector" is actually Agent John Steele in Asian disguise; "By pretending I was being brought BACK, I was able to enter Tibet, and start my mission!" His mission is to discover the meaning of a mysterious "fireball" that appeared in Tibetan territory and cannot be linked to any known rocket or missile launch. But Steele's means to report his findings are lost when the yak carrying his secret radio accidentally falls into a ravine... As his superiors worry about him when he fails to report in by radio, Steele moves northwest, deeper into Tibet and towards the reported site of the "fireball" landing. He finds to his surprise that more and more Tibetans are heading the same way "almost as if they were making a RELIGIOUS PILGRIMAGE!" Arriving at the village where the "fireball" landed, Steele discovers that it is in the tent of a would-be "bodhisattva"-- a Buddhist "saintly man who renounced his salvation to save others"-- who claims that he rode the "fireball" back to the world. Even the Chinese guards are reluctant to interfere with the supposed religious figure without orders from higher up.
Donning the mask of a Buddhist ritual dancer, Steele sneaks into the tent and discovers that the so-called "fireball" is a Communist satellite that fell back to Earth. He opens the device -- "These will be great souvenirs of my trip-- their secret guidance and radio systems!"-- but before he can make his escape he is confronted by the "bodhisattva's" outraged followers. He knocks them out with a "gas-pencil" and makes his way for "the quickest way out of Tibet"-- the pass he came in by-- but discovers that the way is blocked, for the Chinese have found his lost radio and deduced that there is a foreign intruder in the area. "There's one chance left-- IF I can make this satellite radio work!" Steele makes radio contact with his superiors and is told to use "Plan B" for escape, which involves evading the Chinese, climbing to a glacier 18,000 feet high, and setting up a kind of harness attachment by which an American airplane can pluck him off the mountain. "There must be an EASIER way to board a plane! But I can't complain about the way they plucked me up from the top of the world!" Back at home, Steele gets credit for enabling Free World technicians to "intercept information from this type of satellite!"
Though his adventures were imaginative enough, John Steele, Freedom Agent,
apparently wasn't a colorful enough character to ride the mid 60's spy craze
to a long run. This was the only issue of FREEDOM AGENT, though Steele made
one more appearance in the retitled JOHN STEELE SECRET AGENT #1 dated December
1964 (which I don't own) Right around this same time, DC had the original James
Bond, rather than an imitation-- but only for a single-issue DR. NO movie adaptation
in SHOWCASE #43. DC also had its own spy character, King Faraday, but he only
lasted two issues of SHOWCASE (#50 and 51), with stories that were reprinted
from the short-run 1950's title DANGER TRAIL. Marvel, of course, had better
luck with the superspy genre with its Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD.... and Gold
Key, after striking out with Freedom Agent, had somewhat better success with
its 22-issue run of the TV-based MAN FROM UNCLE comic.