The Secret History of Crash Morgan

As we approach his 70th Anniversary, as both the gang busting Special Agent FBI and the astounding Human Rocket Crash Morgan has thrilled generations of action aficionados throughout the world … 


Raymond WheelwrightIn 1931 comic strip writer and artist Raymond Wheelwright (left), already famous for the swash-buckling cartoon strip The Steel Rose (1925-1936) developed Crash Morgan, Special Agent FBI as a daily comic strip for the Chicago Herald Sun Times. The character, loosely based on the real life gangbuster Eliot Ness, guarded the fictitious Metropolitan City from a tidal wave of illegal booze, stolen firearms and, in a twist uniquely Wheelwright's own, counterfeit pottery. One of the reasons for Crash's popularity lay in his freakish and exotic Rogue's Gallery, among whose number could be found the villainous dwarf Landers Foldenstaff, the beautiful yet deadly Venus Caress, the devilish Judge Injury, the sultry and mysterious Contessa De Durbervilles, the ravening Cajun Doc L'Orange and the diabolical Actor-turned-bootlegger Eddie "the Bard" Malone, a character who survived the repeal of Prohibition in 1933 partially due to his popularity but largely because Wheelwright, a consumate alcoholic, had been too drunk to notice. 

1933 also saw the national syndication of the comic strip, as well as the involvement of EC comics who reprinted the earlier strips before commissioning new material. At a time which saw the messy and necessary divorce of his wife reflected in the messy and unnecessary death of Crash's original sweetheart Candy Bernice, in his deepening alcoholism Wheelwright's imaginings became more and more fantastic, violent and misogynistic. Stories such as Terror of the Blood Sucking Amazon Women of Hades and The Vampire Mummies of Eros became commonplace, and sales began to fall. 

In 1935 the comic strip looked set for cancellation. Things were bleak for Crash.

Salvation came in the form of Solly S. Saltzberg, a radio producer with a sponsor and no show, and an old associate of Wheelwright's. Buying the rights from Wheelwright for just $150 and a bottle of fine Kentucky Bourbon, Saltzberg set about remoulding the material into a form worthy to bear the legend "A Choccy Chunks Cereal Serial". Tragically, Wheelwright soon after died of Cirrhosis of the entire body. 

He immediately made sweeping changes. Of Crash's original Gang Bangers, only kindly Police Chief O'Flaherty, voiced in the series by Edward G. Robinson and the irascible physicist Dr. Weinstein remained. Crash's sidekicks - among them Arapaho Joe, Billy McGilhooey and the unfortunately named Li'l Coon (after the coon-skin hat he habitually wore) - had had a tendency to die nobly as the story demanded or simply if Wheelwright had grown bored with them. Crash's new sidekick Buddy Brannigan brought an element of stability to the character of Crash, as did the introduction of the scientist Professor Milton Fairweather and his lovely daughter Glenn, intrepid reporter for the London English Evening Post and Crash's new love interest. 

On the 5th May 1935 the first Crash Morgan radio serial Crash Morgan and the Cannibal Kitchen of Doc L'Orange  was aired - and was an immediate hit. It seemed if every kid in America was suddenly eating Choccy Chunks cereal and wearing a Crash Morgan Special Decoder Ring. 

It was not until the show had been running for six months, however, that the Rocket Suit was introduced and Crash Morgan - the Human Rocket was born!
The first Crash serial Crash Morgan and The Scourge of the Silk Claw was first shown by Republic Pictures in 1937, starring Nick "Handsome" Ransom, a five time medal winner in hurling who had played the singing Cowboy Chuck Nupp in the serials Chuck Nupp On The Trail and Chuck Nupp Vs. The Prairie Zombies. He was an ideal choice to play Crash, an All American Hero. After all, you only had to hear the name "Handsome" Ransom and you'd think of hurling or Chuck Nupp. 

Serial PosterKasper Von Kruger, a.k.a. The Silk Claw was one of a new breed of villains developed especially for the screen, cleverly anticipating the Nazis as enemies of America despite their fascistic militarism, but it was not until 1939 that Crash ventured to Mars in the classic Crash Morgan Versus The Spider Warlords of Mars (above) and met his Moriarty - the villainous Spider Warlord Tang the Pitiless. Again and again they clashed in Crash Morgan and the Conquest of the Spider Warlords of Mars and Crash Morgan and the Curse of the Spider Warlords of Mars

In 1941 America joined the Second World War and Tang was temporarily eclipsed by the return of the Silk Claw as Crash's primary nemesis. Meanwhile, off-screen, through endless personal appearances Nick "Handsome" Ransom worked to raise morale and to raise money for America's War Drive as tirelessly as only a cowardly vain actor desperate to avoid the draft possibly can. 

Action FunniesIn 1945 the war ended and Crash returned in Crash Morgan and the Empire of Evil. The hiatus was over and an America buoyant with Victory was keen to once again embrace its favourite son. Morganmania swept America. Crash Morgan could be found on mugs, lunch boxes, cereal boxes and transfer kits. Hundreds of thousands of children swelled the ranks of Crash's fan club, The Junior Rocketeers of America and another radio series was commissioned. At this golden time three comics titles ran at once; Action Funnies Starring Crash Morgan (left), Adventures of the Human Rocket and Tales of Crash Morgan, as well as the short lived spin off title Crash Morgan's pal Buddy Brannigan. On radio, in comics and in the movie theater, it seemed as though Crash were invincible, until he faced the greatest challenge of them all - television!


As television became more and more popular during the fifties the cliff-hanger serials began to die, and, in 1953 Crash finally succumbed in his final republic serial in Crash Morgan in the Twenty First Century. Even the conversion of the Silk Claw into a freedom-hating KGB operative and the addition of new characters like Rebel the Wonder Dog and the Glenn's lascivious rivals-in-love Huanita De Tacos and her lovely sister Gladys was not enough to bolster Crash's fading popularity. "Handsome" Ransom's death undergoing experimental cosmetic surgery in
Los Angeles in 1955 only helped to hasten the character's decline in the public eye. 

With the cancellation of his radio show and both Adventures of the Human Rocket and Tales of Crash Morgan, Crash Morgan survived briefly only as a backup strip in Action Funnies, now starring Dirk McGuire, RedBuster, until that too was finally cancelled in 1963. 

Power League USASalvation was to come again, in the form of Myron J. Saltzberg, son of Solly S. Saltzberg and a former Junior Rocketeer himself. He successfully brought Crash to the small screen in 1967, as The Human Rocket and Buddy, a campy, high-energy show that eschewed many of the serials original themes in a hip, post-modernist take on the character. Adults loved it for the irony and kids loved it for the action and the endless parade of stars lining up appear in Crash's Rogues Gallery. Only the purists bemoaned the loss of the Mars stories, only touched upon in the classic two-parter If Doom be thy Destination, which guest starred Phil Silvers as Tang and Joan Collins as Arakne. 

The series ran for five seasons until 1972 and a total of 120 episodes were produced, all of which have run in syndication almost constantly since and typecast the lead actor Burt North as Crash for the rest of his career. Marvel comics opted to resurrect Crash Morgan as a comic strip in 1969 in The Human Rocket and the Power League USA (above) at the same time as the Crash Morgan and Friends cartoon first aired a year later while the old Republic serials were repeated again on Saturday mornings. Crash was back!
For years rumours of a Crash movie had spread through conventions and fanzines, but it wasn't until 1983 that  Michael Winner, director of screen classics like The Cool Mikado and Parting Shots finally brought Crash to the big screen in colour for the first time. Crash Morgan: the Motion Picture (above) starred a young Sylvester Stallone as Crash and Sir Ian McKellen (then just a humble Dame) as Tang, and with a soundtrack by Rock legends Spinal Tap the film was an immediate and explosive critical failure. The audiences, however, loved it for its high energy approach, the retro-production design that faithfully recaptured the look of the original comic strip and for Joanna Lumley's exotic and barely clothed Arakne. In 1984 Crash Morgan: The Motion Picture won an Oscar for Most Repetitive And Intrusive Use Of  A Theme Song In A Motion Picture. 

Movie PosterA sequel was planned, but stalled never to be re-started by a lawsuit by Burt North, who believed the role of Crash should have been his by right and claimed that he had both a verbal and implicit contract with Myron J. Saltzberg to that effect. 

Crash's critical standing was further increased in 1986 by the release of the comics miniseries Crash Morgan: Inhuman Rocket, by acclaimed writer Alan Moore. A dark and gritty deconstruction of the Mars mythos, Crash Morgan: Inhuman Rocket was set thirty years into Crash's future and set on a desolate Mars where Arakne and Crash had married and been forced to have Tang live with them rather than place him into a home. Lauded by both critics and people who knew how to enjoy themselves alike, the series redefined the role of  comics as a storytelling medium, the nature of the hero-figure in a comics narrative and the meaning of the word "depressing". As a result of the positive critical acclaim surrounding the series comics readers began to believe that it was finally cool to be seen reading comics, not taking into account the fact that it's only cool to be seen reading comics if you're clearly not the sort of person who reads comics in the first place

Play poster1995 saw the Young Crash Morgan cartoon series, in which Crash was re-invented as a floppy-haired, flying-skateboard riding anti-authoritarian rebel. Poorly animated and existing primarily to promote a range of toys, it too was an immediate success but only notable for the use of the voices of Burt North as Professor Fairweather and Mark Hamill as Mollusk. 
Crash Morgan is more popular and recognisable now than he has ever been. In movies, on television, in comics and on the radio he has become a popular cultural figure as distinctive as Mickey Mouse, or Batman, or Dougal from The Magic Roundabout. The mythos and characters have acquired depth and meaning beyond their simple pulp roots, inspiring first a two-hour stage play in 2000 (see right), and then the complete condensed radio script live three years later.
Turn on the Dial!
Tune in the Radio!
Crash Morgan forever!