In 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
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.
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.
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!
Kasper 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 1945 the war ended and Crash
returned in Crash Morgan and the Empire of Evil. The hiatus was over
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.
Salvation 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!
A 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.
1995 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.