The Spy Smashes series begins with the interesting premise that the hero’s identity is a secret even from the reader. For the first fourteen stories of his run, Spy Smasher carries on a crusade against the plans of The Mask, a foreign spy master whose agents try sabotage, kidnapping, propaganda and murder to destroy the morale of the US, which is not yet even at war.
Spy Smasher is often shown only in shadow in these tales, to keep up the mystery of his identity, but the writer neglected one critical factor: giving the reader possible suspects. There are only four recurring characters in the strip. Admiral Corby works for naval intelligence, and Spy Smasher is usually aiding him. Corby has a daughter, Eve, who becomes his personal secretary in Whiz Comics 5, and Eve has a fiancee, Alan Armstrong, “a wealthy young Virginia sportsman,” who occasionally fights to save Eve and her father, and unmasks a couple of spies, but is never around when Spy Smasher is in the room. Gee, who could it possibly be?
The fourth recurring character is Zambo, the Admiral’s Filipino houseboy. He appears only in the first year of the series, and it seems fairly clear that he is really The Mask, though that never gets revealed. The Mask dies in issue 15 without his identity being exposed, though Zambo never appears again after this story.
Alan is finally revealed to be Spy Smasher in Whiz 15, although Eve saw his face back in issue 3. Admiral Corby is let in on the secret in this story as well.
Spy Smasher wears a brown aviator suit, with the headgear and goggles, and a cape. There is a diamond emblem on his chest, though it does not stand out much until issue 19, when they start colouring it black. His costume abruptly changes colour to green in Whiz Comics 26, with the black diamond getting a red outline. As there was a Spy Smasher movie serial being released at around this time, I suspect the colour change was done to match the movie. It’s a good change, brown has never been a colour for superheroes.
Spy Smasher generally relies on his fists, or guns, when battling the incessant hordes of spies out to destroy America, but he does have one neat piece of equipment, his gyrosub. This is introduced in his first appearance, as a combination airplane, autogyro (helicopter), speedboat and sub. It looks like a short, fat airplane. The watercraft elements are rarely used, and pretty much forgotten as the series progresses. By 1943 the shape of the craft has changed as well, almost looking like a flying saucer. It has two large triangular wings running the entire length of the fuselage, giving the craft almost a diamond shape. The diamond symbol on his costume is never explained, but I do wonder if the ship’s shape was altered to match it.
What prompted Alan to become Spy Smasher is never explained. While it is not surprising that no story in Whiz Comics addresses his “origin”, as his very identity was a secret at the start, it is remarkable that this was not the subject of the lead story in Spy Smasher 1. Following the “rule” established by Superman 1, the lead stories in Captain Marvel Adventures 1 and Ibis the Invincible 1 gave extended versions of the character’s origin, so at this point we really ought to have learned why he chose to put his costume on in the first place.
In his last two encounters with The Mask, in Whiz 14 and 15, we get to see the Hypno-Chair, a device the Mask has created to brainwash and control people. Spy Smasher gets captured and controlled using the chair, and even though the Mask is dead, Spy Smasher goes on a destructive and traitorous rampage through issues 16 – 18. Captain Marvel guests (and Spy Smasher appears in the Captain Marvel stories in Whiz) in these issues, trying to capture Spy Smasher, and restore his mind. Captain Marvel almost gets him into the Hypno-Chair in issue 18, but Spy Smasher destroys it. It comes down to a battle of wills, and through sheer mental effort Captain Marvel restores Alan’s mind. Captain Marvel and Spy Smasher team-up again in Whiz Comics 33, to defend the USS Alaskazona.
America Smasher is introduced in Spy Smasher 2, a German agent constructing a giant bomber which Alan manages to destroy just before it reaches the US. He believes America Smasher to have died in the plane crash, but the Nazi returns in a number of stories, building a secret munitions factory (America’s Greatest Comics 1), trying to destroy the Panama Canal (Whiz 31), using propaganda to try to destroy the morale of the Americans (Spy Smasher 5), and trying to kill Admiral Corby at a New Year’s party (Whiz 39).
There are some other interesting nazi agents that he faces off against, Dark Angel in Spy Smasher 1, the Tigress in Spy Smasher 2, the Golden Wasp in Spy Smasher 7 – but despite their names and costumes, they are really just foreign agents with elaborate schemes. No one in this series has any kind of powers.
Although this series makes it feel like the US was at war by early 1940, when the States actually enters the war, Spy Smasher starts having adventures outside the US. I should also mention that Spy Smasher 4 features a story, “The Crime of Pearl Harbour,” that has him fail to stop the attack. Spy Smasher has numerous stories on Pacific islands, and even heads to Tokyo in Spy Smasher 9. He helps the French underground in America’s Greatest 3, and discovers that Admiral Corby’s nephew Stuart is not a traitor, but has pretended to join the Germans to spy on them for the French. He helps the Yugoslav resistance in Spy Smasher 7, is in Berlin in Spy Smasher 10, and Brazil in Spy Smasher 11.
The story in Whiz Comics 44 scared me when I read the title, “The Junior Spy Smashers of America,” but fortunately this was a one-off idea, as some kids spot a Nazi sub debarking spies on the coast, and help Spy Smasher bring them in. They do not become a gaggle of sidekicks.
Spy Smasher continues in the Late Golden Age
Spy Smasher: Whiz Comics 2 – 56 (Feb 40 – July 44)
Spy Smasher 1 – 11 (Fall 41 – Feb 43)
America’s Greatest Comics 1 – 6 (Fall 41 – Winter 42), 8 (Summer 43)
All-Hero Comics 1 (Mar 43)