THE Proto-Superhero. A physically powerful but diminutive master sleuth, Nick Carter made his debut in 1886 (Predating Doc Savage by about 40 years). He is kind of a Victorian-era version of Doc Savage (trained by his father to be a superman, dedicated opponent of evil, etc). Phenomenally long-lived, the character has shifted with the times, going from Dime Novel detective and adventurer, to Pulp Magazine detective, to paperback secret agent (Nick Carter, Killmaster, agent for AXE!). This article is about the Dime Novel version of the character.
The Dime Novel Nick Carter was short (5'4) but exceptionally powerful. He is handsome (bronze-skinned, grey-eyed, square-jawed, dark haired).He operates out of Victorian-Edwardian New York (cf. The Gilded Age), but his war against evil takes him to many distant locales. Although he frequently operates alone, Nick does have an assortment of helpers, a kind of precursor to Doc Savage's aides. Some of the most notable are:
- Ida Jones: A schoolgirl who frequently aids Nick.
- "Chick" Carter (formerly Chickering Valentine): Nick's adopted son, who frequently assists his adopted father.
- Nellie and Warwick Carter: Two of Nick's cousins.
- Patsy Murphy: A bootblack/newsboy who helps Nick.
- Adelina de Mendoza: A skilled actress and mistress of disguise. She marries Patsy.
- Ten-Ichi: A native of Japan, Ten-Ichi (an alias; we never learn his real name) is the son of the Mikado. He is highly skilled at Jiu-Jitsu, speaks perfect English, is skilled at disguise and mimicry, etc.
- Ethel Dalton Carter: Nick's wife. She was a semi-recurring character in the series until she was killed by Dazaar.
Tropes found in the Nick Carter series include:
- Action Girl: Well, Action Girl in a late Victorian sense. Quite a few. Ida Jones, a schoolgirl who assists Nick is particularly notable.
- Arch-Enemy: Nick's was the fiendish Dr Jack Quartz, a hypnotist and vivisectionist. Nick gives a good description of the good doctor in NEW NICK CARTER WEEKLY #692, "Doctor Quartz Again; or, Nick Carter's Shrewdest Opponent":"Intellectually, he is the most remarkable man I have ever known. His intelligence is quite the most profound of any person I have ever known. In education, he is thoroughly versed in every branch of science. I believe that he speaks, fluently, every language that is worth speaking at all—many more of them that I do, myself, and I have mastered twelve. Physically, he is a stronger man than Sandow, or I. His manners are perfect. He is at home amid any surroundings, in any costume, under all circumstances. He has always seemed to know everything, and to be ready to make use of anything whenever the occasion should arrive. He is handsome of feature, and has the most wonderful eyes that ever looked out of a human head.
If Doctor Quartz had lived on this earth a thousand years, and had taken post-graduate courses, and had secured diplomas in every branch of learning that is studied in the universities today he would not be more superbly equipped in professional and scientific knowledge than I, personally, know him to be. That, Chick, is Doctor Quartz. And now, when you add to all that—or, rather, subtract from it—the fact that he is totally without two qualities possessed by other humans, you will understand better what the man is."
"What are those qualities?"
"Morality and conscience. The man recognizes no moral responsibility, and he has no conscience at all. Compassion, in any form, is a meaningless term to him. Consideration for another, or for the sufferings of others, he does not know. The only law he recognizes at all is the law of power, of might, of attainment, of succeeding in whatever he undertakes to do. He worships beauty, as beauty alone, but destroys it with the same lack of compunction that he would manifest in plucking a blade of grass from the ground. He loves women, but only just so far as they can serve him, and that done, he destroys them just as he would do with that same blade of grass I have mentioned."
- Big Applesauce: Nick operates out of Victorian New York.
- Charles Atlas Superpower: Nick was trained practically since birth by his father to be a mental and physical marvel.
- One early novel neatly summarizes Nick's training and abilities:"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."
- Cultured Badass: Nick was always depicted as the epitome of the Victorian gentleman and sportsman.
- Dr Quartz also fits this trope.
- Daddy's Little Villain: Zanoni was Dr Quartz's ward.
- Dark Action Girl: Nick had quite a few of these. Perhaps the most dangerous was Dazaar the Arch Fiend. Her specialty was knife throwing; she could throw a knife hundreds of yards with extreme accuracy.
- Another of Nick's female enemies was Zanoni the Woman Wizard, a skilled hypnotist and chemist (poisons were her specialty). She was a truly nasty piece of work. Once, after being captured by Nick, he warns her not to try to "make love" to him as a way to get out. Her reply conveys her fiendishness: "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."
- Follow the Leader: Nick was this to many of the action heroes who followed him: Jimmie Dale (aka the Gray Seal, Doc Savage, The Shadow, etc. Doc Savage, in particular, shows the influence of Nick (master of disguise, trained since early childhood to be a superman, dedicated enemy of evil, leader of a team of assistants, etc).
- Genius Bruiser: Adept at all the arts and sciences, Nick is also a highly trained fighter; when that isn't enough, he also carries two spring-loaded revolvers concealed up his sleeves.
- The Gilded Age: This was the era of most of the Nick Carter dime novels.
- Great Detective: Needless to say, Nick is a master sleuth.
- Lost World: Nick runs into his fair share of lost civilizations.
- Love Redeems: This happened to Zanoni the Woman Wizard. Dr Quartz once kidnapped Nick and made him believe that he was another person, a wealthy invalid whose wife was Zanoni. Nick's kindness to Zanoni made her fall in love with him and reform.
- Mad Scientist: Arch-foe Dr Jack Quartz definitely qualifies.
- Master of Disguise: Nick can disguise himself to an incredible degree.
- Omniglot: Nick is conversant with a wide variety of languages, including Old Norse (Which comes in handy when he runs into a Lost World filled with people who speak Old Norse).
- Pint Sized Power House: Although only 5'4, Nick is incredibly powerful, 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."
- Rogues Gallery: Nick had quite an assortment of enemies: Dr Jack Quartz, his Arch-Enemy; Dazaar the Arch Fiend, mistress of disguise and master knife thrower; Scylla the Sea Robber, a female pirate with an all female crew; Baroness Latour; Zanoni the Woman Wizard; Praxatel of the Iron Arm, one of the first cyborgs; the gambler Dan Derrington; Burton Quintard, Nick's first recurring foe; Gaston Dupont, gentleman thief and a student of Dr Quartz's; the six Dalney Brothers, each one stronger than even Nick himself, etc.
- Yellow Peril: Nick had a few of these: Sang Tu and The Yellow Tong, The Hip Ling Secret Society, the Yellow Spider (A Chinese crime boss in San Francisco), etc.
- Of course, the Japanese detective Ten-Ichi works against the Yellow Peril trope, as he was one of Nick's closest allies. In a further subversion of the trope, Ten-Ichi marries June Lamartaine, a Frenchwoman, in Nick Carter Weekly #460 (21 October 1905); that kind of intermarriage was quite rare in 1905, both in fiction and in real life.