‘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.
Odhams Adventure Strips
As Smash was essentially a superhero and humour comic during the Odhams years, there were few traditional adventure strips in it; but a handful do bear special mention.
From issue 144 Smash was the only surviving Power Comic, as this was the issue in which Smash and Pow (as it then was) merged with Fantastic. Five British adventure serials were introduced in this issue, to plug the gap left by the loss of the withdrawn American superhero strips which had been major features of the four closed titles.
At Night Stalks… The Spectre is an adventure strip in which a crime reporter on the Daily Globe newspaper is apparently killed while investigating a news story. The world believes newspaperman Jim Jordan is dead, but he still carries on his crusade against crime… calling himself The Spectre.
He is now fighting crime, rather than merely reporting it, using an array of gadgets which make it seem he is the ghost of the missing reporter. Hence his opponents are terrified to find that if they shoot him he doesn’t die (a bullet-proof raincoat was the trick here). And he has a secret underground hideout beneath the statue erected in his memory, 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. His first case began in issue 144, in which he tracks down Black Murdo, the racketeer who the world believed had murdered him.
Destination Danger, a motor racing serial, also began in issue 144. This strip was about a feud between a young English racing driver, Jeff Jackson, who was working for Puma Motors in the USA, and his enemy Vic Stafford, the Puma team’s chief driver, who has taken a bribe to throw a forthcoming race.
Although new to Smash, the old-fashioned artwork in the strips At Night Stalks… The Spectre and Destination Danger marked them out as reprints. The use of reprints was a cost-cutting measure, indicating the straightened financial circumstances of Smash at this point – if any evidence were needed beyond the closure of all four of the other Power Comics.
Laird of the Apes was a science fiction strip, milking the popularity of the big budget Charlton Heston motion picture Planet of the Apes which was released earlier that year. In the strip, set in the 18th century, a young Scottish laird returns to the Highlands to aid his outlaw clansmen in their struggle with the English Redcoats, bringing with him a band of highly trained Apes.
An adventure strip with a sporting theme was the wrestling serial King of the Ring, featuring Ken King, who was a champion of the grunt-‘n’-grapple game (although in the earliest strips he had begun as a boxer). As was not exactly uncommon in the Odhams years, there was a tendency to give the characters very silly names. The most outrageous example in this strip was King’s manager, who was called Blarney Stone!
Blarney’s real name was originally Tim Stone, and Blarney was only a nickname; but this was soon forgotten. In order to fulfil Ken’s ambition to travel, Blarney agrees to manage him on a world tour, if he’ll agree to fight his way round the world!
The fifth was Brian’s Brain, an adventure serial with science fiction elements, which was continued from Pow. This featured two schoolboys: the eponymous Brian and his friend Duffy Rolls. Brian Kingsley possessed an electronic Brain resembling a human skull, which he carried about in a box. It could communicate with him telepathically, glowing when active; and it could control the actions of animals if they were within a few yards, which was the limit of its brain-wave transmissions.
All five strips commenced in issue 144; and all were serials, with cliff-hanger endings each week.