The Secret Lives of Villains #256

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Golden Age Showcase: Spy Smasher

Sigh, so we can all agree that these last couple of months have been pretty crappy right?

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I’m not going to go into any great detail on this matter, you can watch the news for that, but I will say that if the heroes that I write about in this blog were alive and around today…I’d think they would be very disappointed.

I thought this would be a good place to put the picture of Captain America punching Hitler, but I thought this one would be more apropos.

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Thank you Superman.

The sad truth is that the reality of the situation is, and always has been, complicated.  While these comic books were created to provide a morale boost to the men and women fighting against fascism,

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fascism had a very real presence in America since it became a thing.

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Yes, those are swastikas next to the American flag and a picture of George Washington.  This is a picture from 1938 at a Nazi rally in New York.  This was a thing right up to the point where we started fighting the Nazis.

One of the things that we’ve been seeing in a lot of these Golden Age comics are superheroes who don’t go off to Europe to fight the Nazis, they find plenty of them here.  While there was a war to fight across the ocean a comic book hero could always find a spy ring, saboteurs, or enemy agents hiding around with plans to disable the war effort.

Maybe the heroes saw that there were other threats that were much closer to home, or maybe they just wanted to save money on air travel.

Either way, let’s dive into some escapism and talk about a hero who held down the home front against the scourge of Nazi spies: the eloquently named Spy Smasher.

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Origin and Career

Spy Smasher was first published by Fawcett Comics and was created by Bill Parker and C.C Beck, the two men who originally created Captain Marvel.

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The hero made his first appearance in Whiz Comics #2 in February of 1940, an issue that was actually the first issue of the Whiz Comics title and has one of the most iconic covers in comic book history.

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The story starts off with a literal bang, someone is sabotaging American military vessels.

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Wait, $20 million dollars for an aircraft carrier?  What a bargain!

Naturally this worries a lot of very powerful men in Washington, and one man decides to share potentially dangerous information with his daughter and fiancee.

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Nazi spies in America?  Preposterous!

Meanwhile, the spies themselves have been busy and decide to steal plans for a mine laying ship, only to be foiled by the timely arrival of the Spy Smasher.  They are led by a fairly creepy individual known as “The Mask”.

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The hero manages to pursue the villains in his Gyrosub.  This is a vehicle that serves as a helicopter, an airplane, speedboat, a submarine, and a completely ridiculous looking vehicle.

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Eat your heart out Batmobile!

Long story short, the hero winds up defeating the spies, even though the main villain escapes.

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The day is saved and the plans are returned.

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In a fairly ballsy move, the creators didn’t reveal the identity of the Spy Smasher in the first issue.  In fact, they didn’t reveal the secret identity of the Spy Smasher for most of his stories.  Sure, it may have been a clever marketing ploy, but even children would have thought it was weird that Spy Smasher and Alan Armstrong were never in the same panel together, and how Alan disappeared whenever there was trouble, or how Spy Smasher had a strange fascination with the woman who was Alan’s fiancee.

Spy Smasher was Alan Armstrong is what I’m trying to say.

It turned out that Spy Smasher’s battles with his arch nemesis the Mask turned him into a pretty popular hero.  He was so popular that he actually had a crossover with Captain Marvel in Whiz Comics #16 where he turned evil and tries to hypnotize the hero into doing his bidding.

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But it’s okay because it turned out that it had all been a ploy by the Mask to hypnotize and brainwash the now dead Mask to do his bidding.

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Spy Smasher continued to have a career after the war, although he did change his name to Crime Smasher to fit with the times.

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So what happened?

Alan Armstrong remained a popular staple of Fawcett Comics, right up to the point where they were forced to stop publishing comics in 1953 after losing a lawsuit to DC Comics that claimed they had ripped off Superman.

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While Captain Marvel would go on to have a pretty successful career (he’s called Shazam! now due to copyright issues) Spy Smasher fell by the wayside.  I guess when there are just no more spies to smash you don’t really have a future.  Why they didn’t decide to use him to hunt Soviet spies is beyond me.

Spy Smasher would go on to have a limited career, barely used but not forgotten.  One of his most notable appearances was in the excellent tv show Justice League Unlimited where he appeared in the opening of the episode “Patriot Act”,

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and in Gail Simone’s Birds of Prey series she introduced a character named Katarina Armstrong, a highly skilled global anti terrorism agent with a costume that was heavily inspired by the original Spy Smasher.

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While she looks like Spy Smasher and has his last name, any potential relationship the two may have had is not revealed.

In many ways Spy Smasher had the same career trajectory that a lot of Golden Age superheroes had.  He was popular in the 1940’s and while he fell by the wayside after the comics industry crashed, he was fondly remembered by those who knew and would go on to be an influence for the superheroes of the future.

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If you ask me it’s a crying shame that nobody uses him any more, I’m sure he wouldn’t mind coming out of retirement to fight a few more Nazi spies on American soil.

Crowdfunded Comics that deserve more attention: Emet Comics

Normally on this blog, we talk about a single comic book project that is trying to get funded through a site like Kickstarter or Patreon.  However, today we’re going to do something a bit different.  Instead of looking at a single project we’re going to be looking at an entire company called Emet Comics.

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Emet Comics is a Los Angeles based comic book publisher that focuses on comic books written and drawn by female creators about female characters.

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They have a relatively small, but incredibly diverse, line up of titles that include everything from science fiction to slice of life stories.

One series of note, this March they completed a successful Kickstarter campaign to continue production of a title called Fresh Romance, a romance comic anthology they had acquired from a publisher called Rosy Press after it shut down in 2014.

So technically this blog post still falls within the bounds of its original purview, it’s just about a comic that has already been funded.

Emet Comics website: http://www.emetcomics.com/

Why I like this company

Because I reached out to the head of Emet Comics, a wonderful lady by the name of Maytal Gilboa, and instead of either passing me off to an assistant or simply ignoring me she took time out of her day to actually talk to me about her work, and motivations.

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Mrs. Gilboa got her start in Hollywood as a development executive and as a leading voice in Hollywood for the advancement of women in executive positions.  She founded Emet Comics in 2015 and has been steadily growing and expanding a network of highly capable female talent as a way to draw more attention to female creators and to empower women by creating better role models in fiction and in its creation.

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Long story short, she knows her stuff.

While empowering women is a noble goal but one thing that Mrs. Gilboa made very clear during the time we talked was that she was an entrepreneur and this is a business venture.  It’s worth mentioning that Emet Comics does have an open submissions policy for female creators and female driven stories, which points towards a company policy that favors new ideas and expansion.

You can find the submissions page here

Now, I know from personal experience that this kind of work isn’t easy.  You have to manage your artists, make sure the website is in working order, find new and interesting ways to get people engaged with your product and paying attention, and if you’re creating something yourself?  Then you have to do all of that while cranking out an original story on a fairly regular basis.

For me, it’s exhausting…and all I do is write a couple of blogs and produce a webcomic!

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So what we have here is a company run by a capable, dedicated, and highly motivated founder with a clear cut mission and an ever expanding library of books and creators.

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I think I might have a new role model.

Why you should donate/be on the lookout for their books

We all know how the cutthroat, knuckle dragging, razor thin profit margin world of comic book publishing is dominated by male creators.  While that does need to change I’m not going to focus on that.  Instead, I’m going to talk about another buzzword that’s been floating around the comic book world for some time now: diversity.

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It’s a pretty powerful word.  In fact, it’s such a powerful word that there are some people who infamously said that diversity is the thing that’s actually killing established companies like Marvel Comics.

That is simply not true.  It’s not diversity that is hurting sales, it’s a lack of diversity (and a handful of other things but we don’t have time for that right now).  But not just in the racial or sexual identity of its characters, it’s the lack of diversity in the types of stories that are being told.

Want historical proof?  During the Golden Age of Comics, a time in comic book history where comic books were sold to boys and girls, publishers put out all sorts of books from superheros,

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to crime comics,

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to romance comics.

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It was this diversity of content that allowed the budding comic book industry make a tidy profit and become a pop culture phenomenon.

Today we have an industry that is dominated by a core group of superheroes owned by two companies that dominate over two thirds of the market.

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One could be forgiven for growing weary of the endless parade of costumed vigilantes.

Granted, there are a growing number of comics and comic book publishers who are branching out, but in an industry that is dominated by male creators creating stories for a male audience I would like to make the argument that if the comic book industry wants to survive, publishers need to start finding new stories and new audiences.

Emet Comics is a new comic book publisher that has made it their mission to destroy many of the long held assumptions about women in the comic book industry, even if they wind up being the only ones who do it.  They have new and different creators telling new and different stories across new and different genres.  It is the right publisher, doing the right thing, at the right time and more than worthy of your attention and money.

Emet Comics website: http://www.emetcomics.com/