Comic Art Friday: Skulduggery

I know we just did a riff on Cloak and Dagger not too long ago, but you know how it is in comics — the same tropes keep popping up again and again.

Spy Smasher and Cloak and Dagger, pencils by comics artist Eric Koda

In this Common Elements tableau drawn by the talented Eric Koda, our hero and heroine find themselves confronted by Spy Smasher, a classic stalwart from that thrilling Golden Age of yesteryear. (For those of you who are new here, Common Elements is my series of original commissioned artworks, bringing together unrelated comics characters who share some feature in, well, common.)

Although he’s fallen into relative obscurity now, Spy Smasher was quite a popular hero back in the day — popular enough that Republic Pictures produced a well-received film serial featuring the character. Spy Smasher made his debut in Fawcett Publications’ Whiz Comics #2, the very same issue which presented the premiere of an even more popular hero: the original Captain Marvel.

Like the good Captain, Spy Smasher sprang from the collective imaginations of writer Bill Parker and artist C.C. Beck. Unlike the Captain, Spy Smasher possessed no superhuman or magical abilities. He was simply a skilled investigator named Alan Armstrong, who employed a variety of high-tech tools to track down and thwart covert enemies of the United States of America. (His trademark weapon was a fantastical vehicle called the Gyrosub, which combined the features of a submarine, an airplane, and a car.) You might think of Spy Smasher as a less-bizarre Batman, with a slightly narrower career focus. During the post-World War II years, Spy Smasher changed his code name to Crime Smasher, and broadened his attack to include nefarious ne’er-do-wells of every stripe, not just spies.

When DC Comics bought the rights to the former Fawcett characters in the early 1970s, Spy Smasher began popping up occasionally in stories featuring Earth-S, the alternate Earth where the Fawcett heroes resided before the Crisis on Infinite Earths maxiseries merged all of the Multiverse worlds into one. His most prominent appearances came in the Captain Marvel series, The Power of Shazam. This series depicted Alan Armstrong as a retired hero who befriended Billy and Mary Batson, the alter egos of Captain Marvel and Mary Marvel, respectively.

Because modern comics publishers can never leave well enough alone, there’s now a modernized version of Spy Smasher running around in the DC Universe. The latest edition is a young woman named Katarina Armstrong — I’m not certain, but I’m guessing that she’s Alan’s granddaughter — whose creator, writer Gail Simone, describes her as a sort of female Jack Bauer, the antiterrorist operative portrayed by Kiefer Sutherland in the late, great TV series 24. Katarina mostly hangs out with the distaff crimefighting team Birds of Prey.

Back at last to our featured artwork. It’s easy to understand how a guy who’s looking for spies everywhere might be thrown off by the nomenclature of a team calling themselves Cloak and Dagger. He may, however, be in over his head in this instance. I love Eric Koda’s figure work in this drawing, as well as the personalities with which he imbues his characters.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

Explore posts in the same categories: Comic Art Friday, SwanStuff, That's Cool!

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