Smash! : The Odhams Years – Part 1: Superheroes

Summary:

‘Smash!’ was the most successful of the five ‘Power Comics’ published in Britain in the 1960s by Odhams Press, a division of IPC. Targeted at boys aged 10 to 14, it was published from 1966 to 1971. This article is part of an analysis of the causes and consequences of the comic’s relaunch in 1969; a case-study of the economic pressures affecting the UK publishing industry in that period.

The Superheroes

Marvel strips were first introduced into Smash in issue 16, when Incredible Hulk reprints began. One early issue of ‘Smash’ even printed an original Hulk story.

When the American run of Hulk adventures had been used up, Odhams turned to the Hulk’s ‘guest star’ roles in ‘Fantastic Four’ and ‘The Avengers’. These other Marvel heroes proved equally popular. From issue 76, in July 1967, Daredevil replaced the Hulk, as ‘Smash’ had exhausted all the original Hulk stories, from all sources, that Marvel had published in the USA up to that point.

Smash issue 75, 8th July 1967

Prior to that, however, a month after the Hulk’s debut DC’s Batman became the second American superhero to debut in ‘Smash’, crashing onto the front page of issue 20, in reprints from American newspaper strips, credited in-page to ‘Batman’ creator Bob Kane but actually drawn by Whitney Ellsworth and ghost-written by Al Plastino. This was a response to the sudden popularity of the Batman television series starring Adam West. The enormous impact of this hit tv series led to the Batman strip retaining the front cover of ‘Smash’, in colour, for better than a year and a half, entitled Batman, with Robin the Boy Wonder.

Initially, this syndicated newspaper strip adopted the camp style of the Adam West television series, with appearances by humorous guest stars such as American funnyman Jack Benny. In the later part of the run (which featured serious, rather than camp, stories) Batgirl, too, appeared in the strip, with Batman initially believing her to be a criminal rather than a crime fighter. Superman then co-starred in the strip, which was retitled Superman and Batman with Robin the Boy Wonder, as Batman and Robin attempted to save Superman from the diabolical Professor Zinkk who was secretly poisoning him with kryptonite.

In September 1968 the Fantastic Four began a brief six-month run, when ‘Smash’ incorporated ‘Pow’ (which had previously merged with ‘Wham’, in which the strip had initially featured). They were introduced to readers of ‘Smash’ with the wedding of Reed and Sue from FF Annual #3, as this also introduced just about every superhero and villain in Marvel’s stable.

The Fantastic Four saga then continued from the story ‘Defeated by the Frightful Four’, which began a multi-issue epic, recounting their defeat at the hands of the Frightful Four and the loss of their superpowers; their subsequent battle with Doctor Doom in which a powerless FF are led by Daredevil; and their final victory over the Frightful Four, in the appropriately named “Lo, There Shall Be an Ending”, which was the very last Marvel strip to appear in ‘Smash’.

The Mighty Thor in Smash #144, 2nd November 1968

Thor began a short run in November 1968, when ‘Smash’ absorbed ‘Fantastic’. The stories, continued from ‘Fantastic’, began with Thor battling the Growing Man, followed by The Enchanters, then defying Odin and refusing to return to Asgard, desiring to be with Jane Foster. So, by an odd co-incidence, the tales featuring Thor included If the Thunder Be Gone, featuring the Ringmaster’s Circus of Crime, where, in the same issues in which the Fantastic Four lost their superpowers, Thor also lost his (for defying a vengeful Odin). When the Marvel strips were discontinued the following Spring, the final Thor reprint had to have a new ending substituted, to resolve a continuing sub-plot.

The financial crisis which overtook Odhams in 1968, resulting in the closure of all the other Power Comics, now caused them to give up the expensive licence to reprint the Marvel superhero stories. This decision took effect in March 1969, when the licence came up for renewal, causing the final Marvel strips to appear in issue 162. The expensive Batman newspaper strip had already been discontinued, ending in issue 157.

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About StephenPoppitt

Jimmy Clitheroe site webmaster: http://myweb.tiscali.co.uk/bridip/clitheroe
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