July 22, 2014


Spy Vibe Comics Week: SPYMAN. Spend the week in our secret lair as we share images and stories from the Spy Vibe collection. Today we look at images from a three-issue series developed by Jim Steranko (S.H.I.E.L.D.)! Details below. Spy Vibe's archive of vintage photos of people reading comics here

By the summer of 1966 Pop Art elements were finding their way into fashion, graphic design, film, and television. The Batman TV series was in full swing, and creators in various media hit a stride thinking outside the box and pushing Space Age technology and the Cold War climate to the forefront of Pop Culture. Before he began to work with Jack Kirby and influence Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., Jim Steranko helped to create a number of books for the new thriller imprint at Harvey Comics. The most notable was Spyman. Steranko apparently wrote the first issue and drew the title page. His schematic of Spyman's techno-hand was then used on the covers and inside each of the three issues. Interior art was handled by George Tuska, Dick Ayers, and Reed Crandall. Writing duties of the remaining two issues seems to be a mystery, but it has been suggested that series editor and Captain America co-creator Joe Simon supplied the scripts. Story continues below.

Spyman centered around an agent named Johnny Chance. In the origin issue, he struggled to diffuse an atomic bomb, but lost his hand when the detonator exploded. Like a proto-Bionic Man, he was given a new mechanical hand filled with useful spy gadgets. It has been suggested by Dial B For Blog that the premise was inspired by the 1964 Outer Limits episode "Demon With a Glass Hand" starring Robert Culp (I Spy). What I enjoy most about looking at panels from Spyman is the wonderful use of classic conventions from mystery adventure, cliffhanger serials, and the Pulps. We get to feast on secret societies, diabolical masterminds with death-ray beams, traps, and daring escapes. I love any comic that includes a hooded baddie dispatching order with the line, "You know the penalty of failure." I always hear Blofeld's voice when I read that.

Cold War paranoia about mind control also crept in with a story about an ID machine. Like Prospero's dangerous instincts manifested as a monster, the ID machine threatened the lives and free will of our heroes. The tag line on the cover read, "Can the agents of liberty resist the machine that controls men's minds?" The era was gripped in a war of ideology, and stories like Invaders From Mars, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and Spyman illustrated the creative ways writers and artists smuggled the political climate into their work. Despite the fact that Steranko did not draw these comics, the panels- especially in the The Psycho Known as Cyclops- contain examples of Steranko-like use of surreal imagery and bold colors.  

Cold War and Spy Boom influences were also included in the ad pages of Spyman. A brief look through the issues revealed ads for signed photos of David McCallum as Illya Kuryakin (The Man From U.N.C.L.E.), as well as ads for an "electronic computer brain" that included the atomic symbol for some reason. There was also a polaris nuclear submarine toy- because nothing says "fun" like nuclear war! This ad read, "How proud you will be as commander of own POLARIS SUB- the most powerful weapon in the world! What hours of imaginative play and fun as you and your friends dive, surface, maneuver, watch the enemy through your periscope, and fire your nuclear missiles and torpedoes!" There was also an espionage supplement story for younger readers called Eye Spy and His Gal Friday Jane Blond: Agent# 00 1/4, which echoed the paranoia that enemy spies were lurking off-shore in their deadly subs. Stay tuned for more Cold War thrills during Spy Vibe's Comics Week. Enjoy!

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