SPY SMASHERMedium: Comic books
Published by: Fawcett Publications
First Appeared: 1940
Creators: Bill Parker (writer) and C.C. Beck (artist)
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During the early 1940s, spies and saboteurs (the two words seem to have been used almost interchangeably at the time) occupied a position in the pantheon of evil approximately equivalent to
that of terrorists today. They were the enemy agents who walked among us, causing mayhem and destruction, then fading into the background. As the U.S. slid inexorably toward World War II, it's not surprising one of the first wave of superheroes was a guy who specialized in smashing spies.
Spy Smasher debuted in the first issue of Whiz Comics (February, 1940), which also introduced Ibis the Invincible, Golden Arrow and other soon-to-be popular characters — including Captain Marvel, who would become one of the most popular of all. He was created by the same team as many of the other early Whiz characters, writer Bill Parker (who was also the editor) and artist C.C. Beck. Later, Otto Binder (Adam Link, Space Cabby) did a lot of the writing and it was illustrated by several different artists.
He started out as Alan Armstrong, one of those wealthy fops who form such a large sub-group within the masked hero community (cf. Firebrand, Green Arrow). Alan was engaged to Eve Corby, whose father was an admiral in the intelligence division of the U.S. Navy. One day, Admiral Corby confided to his prospective son-in-law that he was convinced a recent string of apparent accidents was actually the work of spies. Alan decided to go after them on his own. His wealth and knowledge of aviation made it possible for him to construct the Gyrosub, a vehicle that combined the abilities of an autogyro (a cross between a small airplane and a helicopter, and very up-to-date back then) and a submarine. With a red cape, snappy set of quasi-military khakis, and goggles to conceal his identity, he was able to carry on his operations with only Eve aware that Alan Armstrong and Spy Smasher were the same man.
During the early part of 1942, he traded in the dull brown outfit for a flashier green number. That was shortly after getting his own comic (which ran 11 issues, Fall, 1941, to February, 1943), and shortly before Republic Pictures starred him in a 12-part serial (the first chapter of which was released April 12, 1942). The serial — only the second made about a comic book character, by the way (the first being Captain Marvel) — starred Kane Richmond, Marguerite Chapman and Sam Flint as Alan, Eve and the Admiral, respectively. In 1966, the serial was edited into a single feature-length movie, and shown on TV under the title Spy Smasher Returns.
In the movie version, Spy Smasher's arch-enemy was The Mask (no relation). In the comics, however, a more frequently-seen foe was Germany's America Smasher, an ugly dwarf who wore armor gloves and was always hitting things with them and carrying on about what he was going to do with his mailed fist. These and other villains, both German and Japanese (most a bit less flamboyant) kept Spy Smasher busy for years.
But in 1945, the world moved on. With World War II over, German and Japanese bad guys began to look out of date. Spy Smasher continued slugging it out with a few Japanese holdouts in remote areas like Tibet, but story premises like that soon grew less convincing. In Whiz Comics #76 (July, 1946), he changed his name to Crime Smasher (no relation), and began fighting less passé enemies of society. Under that name, he managed to hang on a few more months, but his last appearance in Whiz was in #83 (March, 1947). He did manage to squeeze out one more issue of his own title under the Crime Smasher name in '48.
Nowadays, all of Fawcett's old superheroes are owned by DC Comics. DC hasn't made much use of Bulletman, Mr. Scarlet & Pinky, Minute Man and the rest of that crowd. But if they do, chances are Spy Smasher — or Terrorist Smasher, if that would make a more salable name for the 21st century — is likely to be part of it.