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SPY SMASHER

spysmasher_mv_ssr spysmasher_mv_1 spy_smasher_ya_ssatrd
 
Full Name: Alan Armstrong
Nationality: American
Organization: None
Occupation Freelance Agent

Creator: Bill Parker, C. C. Beck
Time Span: 1940 - 2006

ABOUT THE SERIES

       Spy Smasher is a freelance agent.
       By that I mean that he works for, and takes orders from, nobody but himself. He is totally on the side of the American government as it finds itself the target of a host of very bad enemy agents wanting to cripple the country before it can enter the wars overseas. He has chosen to seek these miscreants out and stop their nefarious schemes without the help of any organization and he seems to be more successful that way.
       Spy Smasher is the name he gave himself. In real life, he is Alan Armstrong, described numerous times in the recorded adventures as a "wealthy Virginia sportsman". He on a couple of occasions refers to himself modestly as a "horse farmer". Looking at his house and reading the brief descriptions of his estate, though, he most definitely is quite well off. How he got his money, whether it was earning it himself or inheriting it, is never revealed. He is never seen doing any actual work and his lack of employment is never mentioned so the idea of "idle rich" comes to mind.
       In his Spy Smasher persona, of course, he is anything but idle. Spy Smasher thinks nothing about leaping from tall places to tackle bad guys or race into buring buildings to snatch a kidnap victim or vital secret document or even pick up a bomb about to explode and throwing it out the window. And when the shouting dies down and the authorities show up, Spy Smasher routinely disappears without so much as a farewell. He is decidedly not out for the glory.
       Armstrong/Spy Smasher is in superb physical shape and is extremely athletic and nimble as is shown in his many outrageously dangerous stunts. He also possesses a first-class mind and a sharp instinct for who is really a bad guy in disguise. Even more impressive is something he may well have invented and which he uses repeatedly during his long career - the gyrosub. Certainly he is wealthy enough to finance its creation and when, early on in his life, it is destroyed, he has or gets another one built.
       This revolutionary vehicle deserves more than a passing mention. It is a two-person (three if real friendly) device that drives on land, can go deep underwater, and flies swiftly through the air. Though it has no propellers visible in the front or on top, it can reach impressive speeds and it can hover for long periods. Apparently he has some mechanism for controlling it remotely because he leaps from it one many occasions and it comes to pick him up or lands itself.

YOUNG ADULT BOOKS

Number of Books:1
First Appearance:1941
Last Appearance:1941

1 Spy Smasher And The Red Death Spy Smasher And The Red Death
Written by Manly Wade Wellman
Copyright: 1941

The 4th book in the Dime Action Book series. The story is adapted from the comic book story titled The Red Death.

MOVIES

Number of Movies:2
First Appearance:1942
Last Appearance:1966

       While the number of movies indicates 2, there is really just the one 12-part serial from Republic Pictures. The original came out in 1942. The second "movie" was a re-editing of the first to make it fit into a 2-hour made-for-television movie (100 minutes plus commercials).
       I quite enjoyed the episodes and was quite impressed with the action sequences. Reading up a bit on them, I learned that the two men doing the stunts had to pull off some dangerous acts to get it on film and they pulled it off beautifully. One critic said the serial was one of the very best of a long litany of serials put out in that decade.
       The writers or producers did something that confused me, though, and that was changing the basic history of the character quite a bit. At least I think it was a change because having read the comics, I saw nothing of the background that was told in the movie. Of course, changing the flic from the book is nothing new but this was a stunner. Alan Armstrong has, in the movie, a twin brother, Jack, and it is Jack who is engaged to Eve Corby and it is Joe who sometimes helps Alan who faked his own death overseas so he could freely operate as Spy Smasher. Things will not work out well for Jack, unfortunately.
       One other big change is the gyrosub, such a wonder of technology, is replaced with a "Bat Plane". Odd.

1 Spy Smasher Spy Smasher
Director: William Witney
Writers: Joseph F. Poland, Joseph O, William Liveley, Norman S. Hall, Ronald Davidson
Actors: Kane Richmond as Spy Smasher / Alan Armstrong / Jack Armstrong, Marguerite Chapman as Eve Corby, Sam Flint as Admiral Corby, Hans Schumm as The Mask
Released: 1942

Told in 12 15-minute serial episodes, Spy Smasher, secretly Alan Armstrong, takes on the Nazi spymaster, the Mask, who is in charge of saboteurs all over America.

2 Spy Smasher Returns Spy Smasher Returns
Director: William Witney
Actor: Kane Richmond as Spy Smasher
Released: 1966

Taking the original 12-part serial and re-cutting it so it lasted 100 minutes, the producers created this tv-movie. Same plot, of course.

TELEVISION


Number of Episodes:1
First Appearance:2006
Last Appearance:2006
Network:Cartoon Network

REGULAR CAST

       Other than the made-for-tv movie mentioned in the Movies section, the only appearance of Spy Smasher on television is a brief flashback scene in an animated Justice League Unlimited episode. It was a good one, though.

COMIC BOOKS AND GRAPHIC NOVELS

Number of Stories:97
First Appearance:1940
Last Appearance:1997

       When Fawcett Comics decided to come out with its own line of superhero comics, it created Captain Marvel. (DC later claimed the concept was stolen from its Superman hero, sued, won and cost Fawcett its existence.) Eventually Marvel would have a host of magazines going on about him and his "family" but the origin of the story was in Whiz Comics. As most comics those days were anthologies consisting of many different stories and heroes, Whiz presented an assortment of heroes in their own adventures. One of these was Spy Smasher.
       For information sake, the first issue of Whiz Comics was #2. There never was a #1 put onto the stands. This was for legal reasons that still sort of hurts my brain.
       Whiz Comics with Captain Marvel leading the way, lasted quite a few years. Some of the supporting story-lines came and went but most hung around.
       Golden Arrow, infant son of a scientist who's lighter-than-air balloon carrying him, his wife, and the baby, is shot down over the western U.S. Mom and Dad die but the boy survives to be raised by an old prospector. The baby grows up learning incredible abilities from animals and decides to fight crime with his bow and arrow.
       Ibis the Invincible, a 12th Dynasty Egyptian mummy that returns to life via the power of the Ibistick
       Lance O'Casey, swashbuckling sailor of fortune who loves to travel the oceans of the world in search of adventure and always seems to find it, or it him.
       Dan Dare, ace private detective who loves to solve mysteries and does so repeatedly with the help of his beautiful female assistant, Carol Clews. He lasted but a while. He should not be confused with the British comic character who came along a decade later and achieved far greater fame.

       When first we meet Spy Smasher, he is given fairly even page-count with the others as no one knew who would make it and who would go away. Apparently Spy Smasher made it because after a time his page count grew and he even got to star in an adventure with the main man, Captain Marvel, something the other guys did not.
       He even got his own magazine in the summer of 1941 for just over a year, producing 11 issues of its own with usually 3 adventures per, while still maintaining his regular spot in Whiz. Obviously sales were not good enough to continue this solo gig but when it shut down in February of 1943, things continued as normal in Whiz.
       Sometimes the stories were a tad shorter than normal and sometimes they ran a bit long but they continued in Whiz Comics until a year after WWII ended. With the end of Nazi Germany and its unending supply of enemy agents, and likely because the interests of the readers was shifting, Alan Armstrong retired his Spy Smasher persona to take up a new profession: Crime Smasher.
       The switch was not totally abrupt as in one day he is Spy Smasher and the next he is Crime Smasher but it does take place in one issue. Spy Smasher is retiring and as he reenters civilian life, he intends to donate the plans for his revolutionary Gyrosub to the Smithsonian. Criminals learn of this, though, and go after the plans. Armstrong gets upset at their antics and takes them on. Doing so gives him an idea for what to do next in his life. He publicly opens his business as Crime Smasher.
       Seven month of single adventures in Whiz Comics follow. Then comes a single issue release of Crime Smasher but then the character faded away.

       When Fawcett ceased operations and sold its litany of characters to D.C. most were put on the shelves never to be used again. Some, like Spy Smasher, would return now and then in small roles.
       The first appearance I know about was a small gig in a three-part "Crisis" saga in 1976. It was not much and did not last long but it did end with his standing next to Superman and Wonder Woman (not bad).
       Then in 1997, a retconned world in the Captain Marvel universe sees a flashback story in which an Commie-fighting Spy Smasher co-opts an archaeologist to help keep a magical doodad from the bad guys' hands, said scientist being the future father of Billy Batson. Note that in the retconned universe, it was not Captain Marvel who helped him regain his sanity when the Mask messed with his mind and turned him anti-government, it was a fellow Fawcett City superhero named Bulletman.
       Other than a mention in another Captain Marvel story, but no appearance, Alan Armstrong aka Spy Smasher has been retired.

       AC Comics, a reprinter of old works, did release in the early 2000's some black-and-white versions of old Fawcett stories featuring a nice mixture of characters (no Captain Marvel). Spy Smasher saw a half-dozen or so of his tales resurrected.

Note 1: The identity of the writers and artists for the various Fawcett tales are taken from the excellent ComicsPlus website. If I get it wrong, though, it is my fault.

Note 2: If a title is in "" marks, it is my invention. If it is not, it is from the actual comic.
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MY COMMENTS

       I admit I enjoyed the Spy Smasher stories even though I never cared for the name at all. "Smasher"???
       The stories play an important, IMHO, reminder of how things were in the two years leading up to our entry into WWII. We were not yet at war but because we were providing aid to England so we were a target and even more so, we knew we were and knew we had to be ever at the ready.
       Spy Smasher's prime adversary for the first year and a half was the Mask, a man who lead an impressively large cadre of henchmen out to cause considerable trouble and to steal any secret Admiral Corby seemed to leave laying about. One thing that makes the Mask so fascinating is that he was not a jargon-spouting die-hard follower for any side. He was decidedly mercenary. He on more than one occassion and his men on others talked about how procuring this item or that would make them millions. While we never learned who the Mask really was before he was killed, we definitely knew his motivations.
       Fanatics would come later, of course, especially when we were actually in the War and the writers could call the opposition Nazis instead of talking about the "dictator" or the "warlord". There was even an issue that dealt with Spy Smasher's desire to go after Hitler himself and explaing why he did not.
       Once the War was ended, the enemies moved from the Nazis back to somewhat what they were before the War, namely "international spies" who would steal our technology either for their "side" or to make money. The huge advances in science and weaponry made the lure to steal them not only a great storyline but also a very realistic one.

       With DC Comics owning the rights to Spy Smasher, they can, of course, do anything they want with him but so far they have used him sparingly and, except for some retcon with regards to Captain Marvel made necessary because CM is now in the present time and Spy Smasher was long before, they have not messed with the concept of the character and they are to be applauded for that.

GRADE

My Grade: B

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