Week three of my teaching in Johns Hopkins summer program is beginning, so here is another installment courtesy of my official unofficial researcher, John Wells?
I was just reading my reprint of WHIZ COMICS #2, and there’s one thing that bothers me. What was the secret identity of the Spy Smasher?
— Michael Deeley (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Despite the fact that weren’t exactly a wealth of suspects who could be behind Spy Smasher’s hood and goggles, the mystery played out for more than a year until he was unmasked by his greatest enemy. And then things got worse. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
To recap WHIZ #1 (which was numbered “2”), the Navy was being sabotaged by a spy ring led by the Mask, a mystery-man who hid his face with a simple white veil. The attacks were the subject of conversation in the Washington, D.C. home of Naval Intelligence’s Admiral Corby, “his daughter Eve and her fianc?, Alan Armstrong, wealthy young Virginia sportsman” as Filipino servant Zambo looked on. In short order, the Mask’s forces launched a personal attack on the Corby home only to be chased off by a stranger in a tan aviator’s uniform and red cape whom the villains already knew as Spy Smasher. The hero pursued them in a compact yellow and red “Gyrosub,” a combination aircraft-motorboat-submarine, and managed to recover the Navy’s stolen dirigible. The Mask, however, escaped.
Though it would have been an unconventional twist for the time period, one couldn’t initially rule out Eve Corby as a suspect. The staging of the story, which depicted Spy Smasher from the back and never showed his face, could have been a ploy to disguise a female physique. And, hmmm? Eve seemed quite confident that her father was going to recover his stolen plans. Issue # 2 quickly put the skids to THAT line of questioning when Eve was abducted by the Mask and rescued by the cloaked aviator. Rushing to Eve’s side, Spy Smasher (with his back to the reader) raised his goggles to her. “So!” she gasped, “It’s you!”
“Yes, I’m afraid it is.” Fade to black.
One episode later, Eve had survived a plane crash and another abduction by the Mask. By the end of issue # 3, the Admiral and Alan both knew that the young woman had a big secret but refused to reveal Spy Smasher’s true identity to either of them. The war between Spy Smasher and his nemesis continued to escalate in every issue of WHIZ and, by issue # 13, the Mask was audacious enough to plant a bomb at the White House. Ominously, he was also aware that Eve had seen his enemy’s true face.
In that issue, a woman connected with the underworld tried to impress the Mask by revealing Spy Smasher’s true identity and she fingered Alan Armstrong at random. Arriving at the Corby household, the Mask found Armstrong and THREE Spy Smashers. Afterwards, they turned out to be Admiral Corby (wearing a football helmet and sunglasses), cowboy movie star Tom Trix (garbed in a flying helmet) and Eve Corby (dressed in the Spy Smasher outfit that she’d planned to wear to a costume ball).
With that comedy of errors completed, issue #14 returned to deadly serious matters and opened with a Secret Service agent entering his room, pointing a gun at his head and firing. The suicide had been orchestrated by the Mask, who’d used his hypno-chair to brainwash the G-man. Spy Smasher managed to prevent the villain from using the device on him AND convinced the Mask’s brainwashed giant underling to turn on his master. Fearing for his life, the Mask ended up plunging from a skyscraper window. End of story ? Not on your life!
Now a crippled shell of his former self, the Mask used his very weakness to take Spy Smasher by surprise and finally unmasked his hated foe in #15 (April, 1941). Yep, it was Alan Armstrong. This time there would be no reprieve from the brainwashing machine and Spy Smasher was programmed for evil. The Mask learned firsthand just how successful he’d been when Spy Smasher completely snapped, lurching forward and chanting, “Kill! Kill! Kill!” Discovering the Mask’s body, a policeman noted that “whoever did him in certainly did a [good] job. He’s VERY dead.”
Any satisfaction Admiral Corby might have taken in the Mask’s death was put on hold when a quake knocked him to the ground. Spy Smasher had blown up a U.S. armory, the first in a succession of raids on war industries. “He’s a more dangerous enemy to our country than the Mask ever was,” Corby gravely intoned. “The question is ? who can stop Spy Smasher ?”
That would be Captain Marvel, who entered the fray in WHIZ #16. The epic battle spilled into both Cap’s and Spy Smasher’s strips in that issue and the next two, recalling the ground-breaking war between the Human Torch and Sub-Mariner in 1940. In #18, using heretofore unknown powers of mind control, Captain Marvel restored Spy Smasher to normal by summoning all of his will power to mentally break the spell. After joining forces to smash a spy ring, the two guys shook hands and parted company. “What a guy,” Alan told Eve. “The greatest man in the world!”
Building on the momentum of the colossal slugfest, Fawcett Comics spun off Spy Smasher into his own comic book, dutifully advertised on the inside back cover of WHIZ #18 as going on sale on June 13, 1941. If there were repercussions over Spy Smasher’s four-issue reign of terror, the reader never saw them.
Nor did they ever see the Mask, whose true face remained a mystery even in death. WHIZ #15 had represented a turning point for both Spy Smasher AND Captain Marvel, each of whom seemed to have fought their final battle with their greatest enemy. For Cap, however, the beaten Sivana whom he’d left on the planet Venus would soon return for countless rematches. Spy Smasher, on the other hand, would encounter a succession of new adversaries, from the sultry Dark Angel (SPY SMASHER #1), Tigress (SPY SMASHER #2) and Death (SPY SMASHER #5) to bad guys like the Red Death (SPY SMASHER #2), the Eye (SPY SMASHER #2), the Golden Wasp (SPY SMASHER #7), Doctor Blizzard (SPY SMASHER #9), the Beetle (SPY SMASHER #10) and the Faker (SPY SMASHER #10).
Spy Smasher’s most persistent enemy in the next few years would be his opposite number, a plump little Nazi with a monocle and a spike-knuckled chain-mail glove. America Smasher first fought Spy Smasher in AMERICA’S GREATEST COMICS #1 (on sale at the height of the Captain Marvel battle in WHIZ), alluding to an earlier encounter in which he’d escaped death in a plane crash. He seemed to perish this time, too, but returned to launch a new round of sabotage in Alaska (WHIZ #25). America Smasher made four more appearances (SPY SMASHER #2, #5; WHIZ COMICS #31, #39) before Alan finally put him down for the count.
Spy Smasher had begun to acquire the trappings of a super-hero with his rogues gallery and his costume followed suit. In WHIZ #15, he added a diamond icon to his chest and his previously loose riding pants suddenly became skintight trousers. By issue #25, his shirt has shrunk a bit, too, and effective with that issue, Spy Smasher’s uniform switched from its militaristic tan to the green color that would remain for the rest of his costumed career.
Spy Smasher arguably hit his peak in popularity during 1942, appearing regularly in three comic books and a movie serial starring Kane Richmond. Characteristic of most comics-to-film adaptations, there were some liberties taken, in this case the addition of Spy Smasher’s twin brother Jack, who, in the climactic installment, perished in his sibling’s place. The 12-parter also revived the Mask, played by Hans Schrum, who succumbed once more in the conclusion, this time through drowning.
The serial got enormous play in Fawcett’s comics of the period, starting with an episode in AMERICA’S GREATEST COMICS #2. In Hollywood, Spy Smasher battled sabotage on the set of his new movie, chapters of which were viewed in the Captain Marvel stories in AGC #4 and CMA #13. In AGC #8, Nazi agents released a false version of the film on unsuspecting audiences but Spy Smasher turned the tables and sent a film of his triumph to Berlin’s Propaganda Ministry.
And there would be more crossovers. In WHIZ #33 (August, 1942), Captain Marvel and Spy Smasher appeared together in one big story — 24 pages! More group encounters of all the WHIZ COMICS stars took place in the Cap stories in #43 and #47 and AMERICA’S GREATEST COMICS #4. And then there was the clever lead-in to a team-up in AGC’s Captain Midnight story. As he tried to contact his Secret Squadron, Midnight radioed “Calling S.S.!” In response, he got the assistance of Spy Smasher but not, thank goodness, any of Hitler’s dreaded elite force.
Fame was fleeting for Alan Armstrong and the optimism of the post-war world seemed to have rendered spy smashers obsolete. Effective with WHIZ # 76 (July, 1946), the costumed Spy Smasher gave way to the trenchcoat-clad detective Crime Smasher. In one of Fawcett’s unintentionally ironic titles, “Crime Smasher Goes For a Ride” in WHIZ #83 (March, 1947) and never comes back ? save for the 1948 one-shot CRIME SMASHER comic book. With Alan’s departure for comics limbo, the Marvel Family and the rest of the Fawcett gang were forced to contend with the communist threat in their own titles by the early 1950s. Who knew that they’d need a Spy Smasher again?
Spy Smasher, in his green costume and original name, surfaced briefly in the 1970s when DC acquired the rights to Captain Marvel and family. After a run-in with Ibac in 1976’s JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #135 and cameos in JLA #137 and WORLD’S FINEST #254, it was back to retirement.
Jerry Ordway and company’s POWER OF SHAZAM! revisited the seventy-something Alan Armstrong, who delighted in reminiscing about his adventures during World War Two and beyond. Following flashbacks in POWER OF SHAZAM! #8 and POWER OF SHAZAM! #12, Spy Smasher took center stage in issue POWER OF SHAZAM! #24 (March, 1997), even stealing the cover away from Captain Marvel. Set in the 1950s, the story found a still-relevant Spy Smasher and C.C. Batson taking on the former Baron Blitzkrieg against the back drop of the Cold War.
As you’ve seen, DC reissued the first WHIZ COMICS as a Millennium Edition in 2000 (and previously did so with 1974’s FAMOUS FIRST EDITION # F-4). They’ve also collected the Mask’s last encounter with Spy Smasher and the epic Captain Marvel battle that followed (WHIZ #15-18) in SHAZAM! ARCHIVES #2 (1999). Meanwhile, Bill Black’s AC Comics has put a number of old Spy Smasher stories back into print over the past few years, specifically:
- #9: (“The Hypno-Ray Affair”) — reprinted in MEN OF MYSTERY #35
- #46: “The Upside Down Mystery” — MEN OF MYSTERY #30
- #5: (“America Smasher’s Propaganda Campaign”) — GOLDEN-AGE MEN OF MYSTERY #10
- #10: “Why I Did Not Kill Hitler” — GOLDEN-AGE GREATS #4
- “The Faker” — MEN OF MYSTERY COMICS #21
And that’s the Spy Smasher story ? far more than asked for but I hope you enjoyed the trip.
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