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Smash! (comics)

Smash! was a weekly British comic, published first by Odhams Press from 64 Long Acre in London, and then by IPC Publications Ltd from Fleetway House in nearby Farringdon Street.

It ran for 270 issues, from 5 February 1966 to 3 April 1971, when it was merged into Valiant. During 1967 and 1968 Smash! was part of Odhams' Power Comics line, absorbing its sister titles Pow! on 14 September 1968 (issue 137) and Fantastic on 2 November 1968 (issue 144).

As Pow! and Fantastic had themselves already merged with Wham! and Terrific, Smash in effect absorbed the best strips from all of the Power Comics lineup.

As with all of the other Power Comics, Smash! included reprints from America's Marvel Comics; but the last of these, The Fantastic Four, ceased when the title was taken over by IPC in the spring of 1969.

History of SMASH

The Superhero Years

Marvel comics were first introduced into SMASH! at issue 16 when Incredible Hulk reprints began. When most of the initial run of 6 issues had been used up, Odhams turned to Hulk 'guest star' roles in Fantastic Four and Avengers. These other Marvel heroes proved popular, too. A few weeks after Hulk's debut, Batman crashed onto Smash!'s front page with American newspaper strips. In 1968 Daredevil replaced Hulk stories which by then were up to date with the American material. (One early Smash featured no Hulk pages, another printed what would seem to be an original story!) The Fantastic Four began a fairly short run in September 1968 when Smash incorparated Fantastic, and ran the Wedding of Reed and Sue story from FF Annual 2 because it featured every Marvel hero and villain. In that issue, Thor began a six-month run, stories continuing from Fantastic.

Odhams Humorous & Adventure Strips

There were a lot of humorous strips in the first one hundred and sixty seven issues of Smash. These included 'The Nervs', a very surreal strip about the little characters who inhabit a schoolboy called Fatty: a strip which showed them running Fatty like a group of workers running a factory. For it's last year, 1968-9, Ken Reid drew this double-page feature and achieved a rare level of hilarity and bawdiness.

'The Man from BUNGLE' was a thinly veiled spoof of the popular TV series "The Man from UNCLE". BUNGLE was a secret spy organisation for the British Government, organised along similar lines to UNCLE; and the secret agent employed a wide variety of hugely unlikely secret gadgets in his fight against his humorous opponents, more directly an obvious emulation of Leo Baxendale's 'Eagle-Eye, Junior Spy' in 'Wham!'

'Grimly Feedish' and 'Bad Penny' were Leo Baxendale creations, the latter a fairly obvious remake of Minnie the Minx from Beano, but the former was a true original, the most popular character from Baxendale's 'Eagle-Eye' strip in Wham! (Smash!'s predecesor).

'The Swots and the Blots' was another Baxendale creation although drawn by other hands until his memorable and brilliant run began when Smash! was 'taken over' by IPC at Easter 1969. Early in this 3 year run, Baxendale adopted a new, looser style that influenced many others in the comics field just as his Beano work in the previous decade had.

'The Cloak', continuing from Smash!'s summer 1968 amalgamation with Pow! where it had originated, was another secret agent strip, about a character whose ingenuity and never-ending supply of gadgets and odd weapons were matched by the odd - and some were very odd - enemies he fought, and also his female colleague, "Lady Shady, the shady lady". The strip also benefited from the very unusual, idiosyncratic drawing style of Mike Higgs, who's interest in pop culture made the strip seem very modern.

'Wiz War' was a half-page strip, devoted to the feud between two wizards: Wizard Prang and his enemy Demon Druid. Being a comedy strip, the editorial staff allowed the hero to have the very silly name of Wizard Prang (a piece of RAF slang, from the Second World War).

Wizard Prang was robed all in white, and Demon Druid was always in black; but otherwise their costumes were similar - a sort of flowing wizard's robe with stars on, and a tall pointed hat. They would fly around on broomsticks, zapping each other with spells - which turned the other into a toad, or something equally amusing. The best feature of the strip was the sign above Wizard Prang's door, which usually read "Wizard Prang is... In" (if he was at home) or "Wizard Prang is... Out" (if he was out and about); but if he'd had a bad time in the story, in the final panel the sign would make a humorous remark, such as "Wizard Prang is... All At Sea".

Most of the Odhams strips were either superhero strips or purely humorous, but 'The Spectre' was an adventure strip in which a secret agent, whose cover was that he had apparently been killed during a mission, fought crime by using an array of gadgets that made it appear he was the ghost of the missing agent. So his opponents were terrified to find that if they shot him he didn't die (a bullet-proof raincoat was the trick there). And he had a secret underground hideout, from which he would covertly and unexpectedly emerge, or disappear into, under cover of an artificial fog, to give the impression he was coming and going from the spirit world.

Most of these strips didn't survive the relaunch in 1969. Notable losses were 'The Cloak' and 'The Man from BUNGLE', as the popularity of spy spoofs faded; in 1968 even the "Man from UNCLE" television series had been cancelled. 'The Spectre' was another which was lost in the reshuffle.

Other strips which didn't survive included 'Sammy Shrink', a humour strip about a boy who is only two inches tall, and 'Ronnie Rich', a strip which featured the richest kid in the world, who stands to inherit a fortune if only he can get rid of the money he's got. Each week Ronnie would spend his every last penny, in some reckless or extravagant way, only to have his scheme backfire and make him richer than ever. He never did get his hands on the fortune.

The Closure of the Power Comics

Odhams had launched four Power Comics in 1966/7, following on from the initial success of Wham! im 1964 only to close them fairly quickly, merging each in turn into the survivors, until finally only Smash remained. But in a limited market such as the UK, why did they take such a big risk as to launch five new titles, if it was so quickly obvious that the market could only support one?

Evidently the losses incurred on the four Power Comics which had failed so quickly (Pow, Wham, Fantastic and Terrific) were so crippling that they ultimately pulled Smash down as well. It couldn't generate enough income to pay off the group's accumulated losses, except by selling it off.

This is supported by the fact that even Smash was only a limited success. It was evidently on shakey ground, for IPC made massive changes to it in 1969, dropping not just the Marvel superhero strips but many other strips too; and introducing new strips, a new cover feature, and free gifts. Even so, IPC then had to give it yet another shakeup twelve months later, in 1970, dropping the newly introduced 'Warriors of the World' cover feature, and substituting 'The 13 Tasks of Simon Test', which provided both a new cover feature and a new lead strip.

(NOTE: The above "information" is completely wrong. Odhams did not "sell off" any comics to IPC. The comics were not in debt. The truth is more complex. From IPC's own website : "The International Publishing Corporation Ltd was formed in 1963 following the merger of the UK's three leading magazine publishers – George Newnes, Odhams Press and Fleetway Publications – who came together with the Mirror Group to form the International Publishing Corporation (IPC). And IPC Magazines was created five years later, in 1968." Odhams didn't "sell" Smash to IPC. The International Publishing Corporation that already encompassed Odhams and Fleetway created a new Magazine division in 1968 to manage its titles more efficiently.)

Smash under IPC

When the ownership of Smash changed from Odhams to IPC, in the spring of 1969, the revamped Smash contained a mixture of new British strips, which were mostly humorous, together with reprints from Lion, such as 'Eric the Viking' - but strictly no superheroes. And not only were all the superheroes lost, but the comic itself changed utterly.

As a symbol of the change a new cover feature appeared, entitled 'Warriors of the World', replacing the humour strip 'The Swots and the Blots' which had previously occupied the cover. Happily "The Swots and the Blots" survived and prospered, now drawn by Leo Baxendale, and attaining a new, deliriously daft high standard, rarely even approached in other comics.

After fifty two weeks, the 'Warriors of the World' cover feature was ended, and was replaced by 'The Thirteen Tasks of Simon Test'. Each week's cover then featured a full-page splash advertising that week's Task, which Simon Test would be undertaking in a new adventure strip on the inside pages. Simon Test proved so popular that when he completed the original thirteen week series (one task each week) he was given a new series of adventures, extending his hold on the cover indefinitely.

At first, however, the lead strip was 'Master of the Marsh', a series in which Patchman, a hermit who lived in the East Anglian fens, became sports master at Marshside Secondary School. He was the only teacher who could control the kids, a group of little hooligans known as 'the monsters of the Marsh' (a male version of St Trinian's).

Although the strip initially featured humorous stories about the attempts of Knocker Reeves, the worst of the 'monsters', to get the better of the new teacher, it eventually transpired that Patchman was secretly the guardian of a collection of relics left behind by Hereward the Wake, who had fought the Norman invaders in the fens during the 11th Century. In this respect the strip had an occasional tendency to veer-off in a science fiction direction.

Another new adventure serial with humorous overtones was 'The Amazing Adventures of Janus Stark'. Stark was an escapologist in Victorian London, who appeared to be simply an unusual act on the music hall stage, but who secretly used his extraordinary abilities to investigate crime. He had an unusually flexible bone structure, and could get out of an astonishing variety of tight situations at need, thanks to the training he received in childhood from his mentor, Blind Largo. There was a touch of Reed Richards, from the departed Fantastic Four strip, in Stark's uncanny abilities.

One long-running success in the new Smash was 'Bunsen's Burner', another adventure yarn with humorous overtones. Ben Bunsen was the owner of a vintage car, which was known as "the Burner" because it was so old it was steam-driven! As with an old-fashioned stream train, it had a boiler which had to be stoked, and it ran on coal. Ben and his pal had to drive the Burner around the world, as a condition of Ben inheriting his uncle's fortune; but a rival claimant was secretly out to stop them.

Another long-running strip was 'The Battle of Britain', in which secret agent Simon Kane fought against the usurper, Baron Rudolph, who had seized control of Britain by the use of a secret weapon. This emitted a sound wave that paralysed anyone who wasn't protected against it. Rudolph had set up a police state; and his organisation was similar in its structure and uniforms to England in the Middle Ages, around the time of King John.

'Rebbels on the Run' was initially an adventure story about three brothers who's surname was Rebbel, who ran away from an orphanage to avoid being split up. But after a few months on the run, the strip took an astonishing turn and became a science fiction serial, with the boys discovering that their late father's mind had been preserved within the brain of a robot. This became the boys' unofficial guardian, and they embarked with it on a quest to track down the criminal who had murdered their real father, who had turned out to be an undercover agent for the government.

A very popular feature was the humorous strip 'His Sporting Lordship'. Henry Nobbins had been a labourer on a building site, until he inherited the title of Earl of Ranworth and five million pounds. Before he could touch the money, however, he had to perform a number of sporting feats. He also had to evade the nefarious attentions of Mr Parkinson, who was a rival claimant to the fortune, and Parkinson's villainous henchman Fred Bloggs.

Another offering with a sporting theme was the wrestling strip 'King of the Ring', featuring Ken King, who was a champion of the grunt-'n'-grapple game. At first the strip suffered somewhat in the credibility department, because of the fact that King's manager had the rather unlikely name of Blarney Stone! Even the Smash editorial staff must have thought this a bit much, as they chucked Blarney out of the series part-way through, and substituted a new manager with a less silly name.

One or two all-humour strips were introduced with the relaunch. One of these was 'The Touchline Tearaways', featuring three mad keen supporters of Grimshaw Rovers, a totally useless professional football team, perpetually in danger of being relegated as it was made up entirely of ailing and decrepit players. Each week the Tearaways would execute some scheme from the touchline to help the team win that week's match, usually involving a battle against officials from the League (who, not unnaturally, wanted to put a stop to the Tearaways well-intentioned cheating on behalf of the Rovers).

Sporting strips were the order of the day. New strips with a sporting theme included not only 'His Sporting Lordship', 'King of the Ring' and 'The Touchline Tearaways' (above), but also the humorous football strip 'The World-Wide Wanderers', about a League football team composed of eleven players drawn from eleven different countries (possibly not so funny today).

Football manager Harry Kraft was a passenger on a ship passing through the Suez Canal. Ships from all over the world called there, and the crews conducted impromptu soccer matches to while away the time in port. Due to some foul-up or other, some of the crews had been stranded there; and constant soccer practice (as there was nothing else to do) had caused them to develop fantastic footballing skills. He shipped eleven of them, from as many different countries, back to England; and they used their highly unorthodox individual skills to play as a team in the old Fourth Division.

World War Two strips were also featured in the new Smash. 'Sergeant Rock - Paratrooper' was one of the strongest strips in Smash, and also one of the few non-humorous strips. It was used as a setting for war stories featuring paratroopers; and much of the time Sgt Rock only served the strip as a narrator, opening and closing stories which featured other characters. It became more tales-of-the-parachute-regiment than tales of Sgt Rock himself, presumably as a device for reprinting old war stories from other comics.

A very short-lived strip, which featured for only a few weeks after the relaunch, was the spoof World War Two strip, 'Nutt and Bolt, the Men From W.H.E.E.Z.E.' This was a reprint of an old strip, possibly from Lion. Its title certainly suggests it was born out of the earlier television popularity of "The Man From UNCLE". It featured an English scientist, Professor Nutt, a boffin who invented secret weapons for use against the Germans, and his Army "minder", one Sgt 'Lightning' Bolt.

Merger with Valiant

After two years, Smash merged into Valiant, in 1971, although the Smash Annual continued to appear for some years afterwards. Some of the strips did survive in the new Valiant, such as 'His Sporting Lordship' and 'The Swots and the Blots', but most were lost.

Even with all of the changes IPC made, the new Smash had lasted only two years. It must have been only marginally profitable, to decline into oblivion so quickly. IPC did not even have the burden of the accumulated debts which were incurred on the four other Power Comics, so the situation must have been pretty bad.

The dates suggest that it was IPC's policy to give changes 12 months to bed down, then review the situation and take further action if needed. But the writing was on the wall for Smash, because ultimately even IPC's flagship, Valiant, did not survive.

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