Friday, March 12, 2010

After Spy Smasher: The Black Commando

For a brief period during World War Two, Fawcett Comics’ aviator anti-espionage hero, Spy Smasher, enjoyed tremendous popularity, rivaling that of the publisher’s flagship character, Captain Marvel. So it was only natural that Spy Smasher was the second Fawcett good guy to get his own movie serial.

Produced by Republic Pictures, directed by William Witney and starring the heroic-looking Kane Richmond, Spy Smasher, which went into release on April 4, 1942, was a box office smash. This did not go unnoticed by Republic’s chapterplay rival, Columbia, who immediately started work on their own axis-battling super hero, The Black Commando. The Commando made his screen debut in the 15 chapter serial, The Secret Code. It premiered on September 4, 1942, a scant five months after Spy Smasher’s opening.
Above: That's not Kane Richmond as Spy Smasher! It's a publicity shot of  Paul Kelly as The Black Commando in the Secret Code!

And should you doubt that The Black Commando was created in response to Spy Smasher, just check out these ads!

While it’s a shame no comic publisher picked up the Black Commando as a strip in the 40s, AC Comics has featured the character in more recent comics, such as FemForce and The Vault of Heroes. Ironically, AC also publishes some very nice Spy Smasher reprints, too.

Also, we need to mention the late Alan G. Barbour. Without his efforts to preserve them, most of these archival serial print ads would be lost to time.

A clip from Spy Smasher:

And from the folks at serial bowl, here's The Secret Code's trailer:

As always, the images and clips are owned by their rightful copyright holders, while The Masked Mayhem character and its likeness as well as this article are copyright 2010 Will Meugniot.


  1. I must admit, I didn't make the connection before! Oh well, there were plenty of fifth columnists to go around on the serial screen, so we should be grateful there were some extra gangbusters on the scene as well.

  2. I think we should also make the point that Columbia tried to do Republic one better by including a bonus feature in each week's chapterplay. That is, there was an actual code-breaking "lesson" included in the SECRET CODE episodes.

  3. Yes, and they are a lot of fun. I'm sorry I didn't get to see this serial until adulthood. Would have loved the code-making segments as a kid.