CCI: Comic Character Investigation #121 août 2011
[ENGLISH] This month: Spy Smasher. Since the inception of The Golden Age of comics in 1938, many heroes, and many villains, have splashed their battles across artistic pages, have endured their struggles in those same pages and have intrigued a readership which has loved their adventures for 72 years. This column celebrates such characters by taking a look each month at one of them. Some you will know and some are more obscure, but all hold a significant place in comics, for the world of stories in any medium is about the characters who populate it. The spectacular citizens of the universe who inhabit the comic book nation might be brave or sinister, bold or fearful, but all are characters who we can never forget. So, The Golden Age becomes the Silver Age, The Silver becomes The Bronze and so on, until today and until tomorrow. . . in The Endless Age of comics, and the beings who live inside them.
Special Message For My Readers
Well a year has past since I have been writing CCI. It seems like yesterday I was penning the Poison Ivy article (do you remember issue one?) and here I am on issue twelve. It has been a fun ride exploring the heroic characters from different companies and maybe more fun still taking a look at those shadowy figures that give the heroes a day job.
I wanted to do something special for the anniversary issue so I went all the way back to the Golden Age. I have done that before of course but this particular character I think is a great reflection of that time. He is not showy or as immortal as those GA heroes everyone knows but the simplicity that surrounds him is what perhaps best marks the flavor of the Golden Age.
I hope you have enjoyed reading this past year of the column as I have enjoyed writing it and I thank you for your readership, interest and fandom which fuels our industry every day of the year.
Anniversary Special: Spy Smasher!
One of the characters that has come across the comic pages of those glorious 1940’s stories was called, simply enough, Spy Smasher. And that’s exactly what he did, broke up spy rings which threatened the allied forces during World War II. A kind of predecessor to ‘ol Cap America who came much later but with costuming a little less colorful and no real fancy weapon marked with American colors. He wore a bland brown outfit with black boots and white goggles although later colors had him running around after spies in blue (including the goggles, the boots were still black) and he always bore an emblem, the superhero must, which was in the shape of a diamond. It was black in the middle with a red border. Throughout his career he did sport a red cape, hardly necessary or appropriate for his work (he didn’t even fly) but perhaps it was just one of those things the publisher Fawcett thought would well, fly for the readers. Maybe, maybe not but it certainly looked good on SS framing his silhouette in the shadows of panels or running after the criminal leaders who had perhaps stolen secret plans from his future father-in-law Admiral Corby of naval intelligence.
The admirals’ daughter was Eve Corby, a classy, striking brown-haired woman loyal to the alter ego of Spy Smasher, Alan Armstrong, a Virginian who spoke with all the charm and twang of a southerner. He was a self-proclaimed horse grower in Virginia in that other life and sometimes perceived as lazy and useless which of course kept his identity more secure. Such an attempt is a throwback to another caped figure of legend, Zorro, known for his alter ego’s uselessness and cowardice before donning the black and riding his horse Tornado into the fray of concerns in old California.
Spy Smasher did not have a horse for his fights against villains oddly enough since he hid his pick but an odd vehicle which fit the early years of comics called a gyrosub. The gyrosub was a “supercraft combining the functions of an airplane, auto gyro, speedboat, and submarine.” It did everything but act as a can opener but that odd-looking mostly submarine shaped craft with wings got the job done and could move fast. The speed has not been clocked but it was said to move at “blinding speed.”
When Spy Smasher first appeared in 1940 the creator, story and art were all unknown. It had appeared in WHIZ Comics #2 along with other filler characters with names like Scoop Smith, Dan Dare and the very well-known legend called Captain Marvel sporting the cover and tossing a car into a wall (Superman just lifted one over his head a couple years earlier…maybe CM was trying to make a point).
Modern times have given us the granddaughter of the original Spy Smasher. All well and good, but a character like this was destined for a certain time. His simplicity of appearance, the second world war, his basic name and costume, his southerner alter ego, none fit into what we would consider a modern comic character and he doesn’t have to fit there. Spy Smasher did what he did best in his own time. While immortality is desirable for characters by creators, publishers and fans, sometimes it is not the best thing. The characters of the Golden Age, every single one of them deserve our own immortal respect even if they have not survived the test of time the way some key figures have dominated the artistic page.
Spy Smasher was just one of that league of heroes who helped to launch an industry that has seen generations of fans experience one adventure after another, while growing up and even well into adult life. Yes, he smashed spy rings but that was just his job. His legacy is being part of it all, being a superhero among superheroes and regular heroes. He is mostly a shadow of the past but a character that someone might come across in an old book or reprint and say, “who’s that?” Moments later they will know. It’s one of the early ones who fought the bad guys when heroes were a new fascination for readers. Spy Smasher.[James Parducci]
James Parducci is the creator of the comic series Nighthunter. He has been published in multiple periodicals and runs his own freelance writing business in San Diego.