Golden Age Showcase: Spy Smasher

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

Image result for alt right rally

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.

Image result for superman un american

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,

Image result for world war 2 battle

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

Image result for american nazis 1930s

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.

Image result for spy smasher

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.

Image result for bill parker comic books

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.

Image result for bill parker comic books

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

Comic Book Cover For Whiz Comics #2

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.

Comic Book Cover For Whiz Comics #2

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”.

Comic Book Cover For Whiz Comics #2

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.

Comic Book Cover For Whiz Comics #2

Eat your heart out Batmobile!

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

Comic Book Cover For Whiz Comics #2

The day is saved and the plans are returned.

Comic Book Cover For Whiz Comics #2

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.

Comic Book Cover For Whiz Comics #16

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.

Comic Book Cover For Whiz Comics #18

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

Image result for fawcett comics crime smasher

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.

Image result for superman vs captain marvel

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”,

Image result for spy smasher patriot act

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.

Image result for gail simone spy smasher

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.

Image result for spy smasher

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.

Golden Age Showcase: The Owl

Let’s talk about Batman.

Image result for batman

We all know Batman, we all love Batman.  Why?  Because he’s Batman!

The reason I bring this up is because like his blue Boy Scout friend, the Golden Age Batman was incredibly popular.  And as we all know, with popularity comes a host of imitators, knock offs, and copies just different enough to avoid copyright lawsuits.

Today we’re going to look at one of the more successful Batman imitators and a hero with one of the most bizarre legacies in comic books: The Owl.

Image result for dell comics the owl

Origin and Career

The Owl was one of the few original characters created by a company called Dell Comics.

Image result for dell comics

The character was created by comic book artist Frank Tomas and made his first appearance in Crackajack Funnies in July of 1940.

Comic Book Cover For Crackajack Funnies #25

No, I don’t know why they spelled “Crackerjack” wrong.

The hero’s secret identity is Nick Terry, world famous private detective.  In his first adventure he learns about a notorious criminal who has escaped from prison.

Comic Book Cover For Crackajack Funnies #25

You’ll notice that he’s rich enough to hire a butler, keeps strange hours at night, and has a fiancee named Bella Wayne.

As if we needed any more proof that he was a ripoff of Batman.

With that being said, I will admit that the Owl has one thing on the Caped Crusader.  His costume is much more terrifying.

Comic Book Cover For Crackajack Funnies #25

In fact, the costume is so terrifying that the adventure ends with the criminal dying from a heart attack out of fear.

Comic Book Cover For Crackajack Funnies #25

The Owl got a costume redesign the next issue and continued his campaign of fear and intimidation across the city.

It’s worth mentioning that Belle Wayne was no meager damsel in distress either.  She was a fairly competent reporter and actually learned her fiancee’s identity early in the series.

Comic Book Cover For Crackajack Funnies #28

Oh, by the way, the Owl was rich enough to afford his own plane as well.

It’s worth mentioning that Belle actually managed to save the Owl as well.  After being kidnapped and imprisoned by a villain called Pantherman (hey, there are worse names), Belle pops out of nowhere wearing…

Comic Book Cover For Crackajack Funnies #32

When the Owl asks about the costume her response is pure gold.

Comic Book Cover For Crackajack Funnies #32

The two would continue their adventures for a couple more issues.  While they were popular, the rest of their adventures during the 1940’s were nothing really special.

So what happened?

The Owl and Owl Girl had a pretty good run but Dell Comics stopped publishing new stories for them in 1943.

Despite the character’s popularity, Dell wasn’t the best place for a hero like this.  You see, Dell didn’t spend a lot of time with original characters, they were making too much money off of licensed comic books like Mickey Mouse.

 Image result for dell comics mickey mouse

In fact, they were doing so well that Dell was able to survive the comic book scares of the 1950’s relatively intact and without having to bend to the will of the Comics Code Authority.

Image result for comics code authority

Sadly, internal struggles and split business partnerships meant that Dell folded in 1962 but their successor company, a publisher called Gold Key Comics, continued and even revived the Owl.

Image result for gold key comics the owl

As if the similarities between the Owl and Batman weren’t obvious enough, the entire reason why the Owl was revived was to cash in on the success of a certain tv show.

Image result for batman 1960's show

Like the Adam West classic, the new Owl comic was campy, silly, and didn’t last very long.

Image result for gold key comics the owl

Since then he has made three appearances in the modern day.  The first in AC Comics’ Men of Mystery in 1999,

Image result for ac comics men of mystery #19

Dynamite’s Project Superpowers in 2008,

Image result for dynamite comics project superpowers the owl

and Dynamite actually gave him his own limited series in 2013.

Image result for dynamite comics the owl

So the Owl’s legacy is a successful one.  As a Golden Age hero he’s lasted a lot longer than many of his contemporaries and was just different enough from the crowd to stand apart from the source material he was ripping off.  But, I think it’s safe to say that his greatest legacy are all the other heroes who have adopted the owl as their symbol.

Granted, I’m sure comic book greats like Alan Moore weren’t thinking of this particular hero when they created heroes like Nite Owl,

Image result for nite owl

or several villains who go by that name,

Image result for owlman

Image result for spider man the owl

but the Owl was the first hero to use that name and that deserves credit and respect.

Image result for dell comics the owl