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Comic Strip / Spy vs. Spy

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The Cold War may be over, but the Lukewarm War rages on!

A recurring cartoon feature in MAD magazine, originally created by the Cuban exile Antonio Prohías. The characters debuted in issue #60 (January, 1961).

As the title implies, it is about two spies, Black and White, who constantly try to outdo (usually read as: "kill") each other with varying levels of success. Sometimes Spy A's plan goes off without a hitch, sometimes Spy B has a hidden countermeasure that makes everything blow up in Spy A's face (literally, whenever possible). Sometimes Spy A anticipated a countermeasure and set up another trap to trick Spy B. Occasionally, a female Grey Spy would show up to do them both in.

After Prohías retired, he passed the strip on to others. Bob Clarke illustrated from 1987 to 1993, then George Woodbridge for two issues, followed by Dave Manak from 1993 to 1997. Clarke's first four installments were still written by Prohías, but Duck Edwing did most of the gag writing under the other artists' tenures and other writers pitched in on occasion (including Michael Gallagher, with whom Manak previously worked on Sonic the Hedgehog (Archie Comics)). From 1997 to the end of 2020, the strip was drawn and almost always written by Peter Kuper.

There are a small set of different games based on the series, most notably the 1984 Commodore 64 title, the most ported of them all (including the NES), and the 2005 Xbox title.

Spy vs. Spy contains examples of:

  • Achievements in Ignorance: Two MAD Magazine Sunday strips have two instances of the White Spy defeating the Black Spy by complete accident:
    • The first one is the Black Spy attempting to sabotage the White Spy's morning routine, first by replacing his alarm clock with a bomb. White narrowly avoids it and makes a cup of coffee. He then trips on a wire trap set by Black but splashes the coffee into Black in the process. Blinded, Black frantically makes a run for it, accidentally trips on the window frame, and falls to his death, which White looks over in complete confusion.
    • Another has the Black Spy coat himself in a chemical that renders him invisible and infiltrates the White Spy's base while the White Spy is developing a heat-seeking missile project. The missiles recognize Black's heat signature and immediately fire on him, much to White's surprise since he didn't know Black was there in the first place.
  • Acme Products: These often pop up in Kuper's strips.
  • Adaptation Expansion: Animated versions of some strips sometimes end up adding bits to the plots.
  • All Psychology Is Freudian: In one strip, White has recurring nightmares involving him being killed by Black throwing a knife in front of a building's door. He goes to see a therapist (who looks like Freud himself with a beard and a cigar) who explains that many of the objects dreamed about are due to psychological issues: a dysfunctional family (Knife), an inner child alter ego (Black), repressed sexuality (Door), and Social/Religious/Economic stress (Background). White then happily walks out without his weapons and thanks the therapist... who turns out to be a disguised Black, who then kills White by throwing a knife at him exactly like his dreams entailed.
  • Ambiguously Evil: We're never given any info on just why these three spies are fighting each other, so we have no idea which, if any, of them are good, evil, or grey.
  • Ambiguously Human: The titular characters themselves. While they have human-like hands and even human-like feet, they have very unhuman-like faces that lack ears and look more like plague doctor masks, making them stand out from the more human-like characters. This is made strange by the Grey Spy, the White and Black leaders, and random extras looking perfectly human, making Black and White's stylistic appearances anomalies.
  • Animated Adaptation
    • For MADtv sketches. They usually follow the scripts of various strips to the letter.
    • Also an element of Cartoon Network's MAD, which experienced several Art Shifts, most notably a stop-motion animation style towards the final seasons. A few of the early MAD sketches were remakes of MADtv sketches. The spies also made cameos in some of the show's other sketches.
    • Also for a short time a series of Live-Action Adaptation + CG commercials for Mountain Dew.
  • Arch-Enemy: Black and White's beef has decades of history, and they are constantly trying to one-up each other.
  • Art Evolution:
    • The spies went from looking like this to this. (Note especially that their inverted black eyes with white pupils started out as black sunglasses with white reflections). They also had buck teeth, smaller hats and shorter 'beaks' compared to later versions as the strip went on.
    • Peter Kuper makes the Sinister Schnoz angled to look more like their noses than an entire cone for a head. Once the magazine switched to color, he gave them realistically colored skin.
  • The Artifact: The Morse code message in the title panel, which spells out "By Prohías", was kept after Antonio Prohías retired in 1987. All of the subsequent artists have used it as well.
  • Backwards-Firing Gun: Occurs in one strip drawn for a series of paperbacks, where Black is enjoying some target practice alone but leaves his sniper rifle unattended while he sets up new targets. White, seizing the opportunity, takes the gun and takes aim at Black while he begs for his life, only for the gun barrel to actually be the scope White is looking through, making him shoot himself in the face while Black stops pretending to be scared so he can celebrate.
  • Baldness Angst: In one strip, Black worries that he's going to be bald after accidentally pulling a hair out in the bathroom. He decides to go to a barber, wanting to test a new hair growth serum. However, the barber turns out to be White, having poured fast-growing serum on his head with the intent to overwhelm and strangle Black with his overgrown hair... but the tables are turned when the hair White has combed from Black fuses to an explosive hair comb. As an insult to injury, Black celebrates his victory while getting his fast-growing hair under control and shaves it into a stylish pompadour.
  • Badass Longcoat: Both worn by both spies.
  • Beach Episode: Frequently, the Spies take their fights to the beach in what was supposed to be a vacation for them.
    • In one strip, later turned into an Animated Adaptation, White takes pictures of a hot beach babe, glues them to the inside of Black's glasses while he's tanning, sets up a wooden pole, and cat calls Black to wake him up, who's so struck with lust that he sprints right into the wooden pole face-first and knocks himself out while White sits back and laughs.
    • In a later strip, Black is tanning once again while White shows up to screw with him by using a mirror to focus the sun into a heat ray to burn his back. Black, expecting this, has his picnic basket spawn a network of mirrors to reflect and superheat the sun beam back at White and scorch him to dust.
    • In a strip drawn by Kuper, White is relaxing on the beach when an inexplicably ripped Black kicks sand into his face, intimidates him into walking away and embarrasses him in front of a bunch of girls. Cue White looking into bodybuilding and training for weeks to get buff enough to fight Black; he returns to the same spot at the beach and sees Black relaxing in some sand. White goes to kick it in his face, only for him to notice that it's a decoy and he's just walked over quicksand. Cue White sinking and asphyxiating to death while Black is in the background watching and laughing.
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished: The female Grey Spy was never defeated. A self-admitted example by Prohías, who eventually found her immunity to slapstick rather boring.
  • Behavioral Conditioning: Spoofed twice.
    • When setting up a series of traps to kill Black, White is seen reading a book about conditioning behavior when Black shows up to the gauntlet. He effortlessly avoids two lethal traps by swinging on tree branches while White is left seething in his hiding spot. When Black hits the final trap, he grabs the tree branch, which has been hollowed out. It slides half the tree into the ground, and he smashes his head between it and the tree branch.
    • While reading a book based on the Pavlovian Response, Black gets the idea to attach bells to his clubs and smash White's head in with them three times in one day when he least expects it. When White goes to the hospital to get his mangled head treated, the nearby bell tower goes off, reminding him of all the times Black smashed his head in and rang a bell while doing it. His body suffers an involuntary reaction so severe that the top of his head breaks out gigantic bruises, and the pain is so intense he’s knocked out instantly.
  • Behind the Black: Several gags have relied on a Spy not noticing something that should be obvious to his point of view, simply because it's not on panel at the time.
  • Black Eyes of Evil: Whenever they're not portrayed as Cool Shades, their eyes have black sclera on white pupils.
  • Bloodier and Gorier: Initially, it was kept in check by the rules of Bloodless Carnage and cartoon violence, but ever since Peter Kuper took over, many of the gags have become much more visceral, with blood splatter and cartoonish gore commonplace.
  • Bizarrchitecture: Justified by artistic necessity in most cases, but it's still jarring to see houses that seem to exist without an entire wall or that are comprised of just one bathroom.
  • Bookworm: White's been shown to explicitly be one, with multiple strips having him buried nose-deep into books he's reading. What keeps it from him being a Badass Bookworm, however, is that it's been used against him every time.
    • While he's reading a Sherlock Holmes book in bed, Black sets up a miniature crime scene outside his house with mini-versions of them, has mini-Black murder mini-White, and lures the actual White into putting on his Sherlock Holmes hat and pipe to investigate the crime scene. The clues promptly lead him into finding the grave of a vampiric mini-Black Spy, he gets his wooden stake out and stabs it into the grave... which makes him smack the detonator on a bundle of TNT and blow him to pieces.
    • While reading a book outside and waiting for the bus, Black peeks out his window and gets the idea to pack a saw and stand next to White. White is so immersed in his book that he doesn’t notice Black standing right next to him by the stop, sitting next to him on the bus, doesn't notice him sawing the handlebars off while they're getting out, leading him to the edge of a cliff and tossing him to his death.
    • While White is reading The Frog and the Princess at the park, Black gets the idea to contact a local hag of a witch in the woods and tell her about his plan. She happily goes along and curses herself into becoming a frog, to which Black carefully places her and some attractive clothes on a bench, runs around in a witch broom handle so White can see him acting like he's in a fairy tale, and lures him into finding the frog and clothing. Thinking back to the book he just read, he gives the frog a big kiss, thinking he's found a princess, only for him to break the frog's curse and find out he's just made a fat ugly witch fall in love with him. Cut later, and White's miserably coming out of a church after being forcibly married to the witch, who's lustfully carrying him to their car while Black, the best man at the marriage, is just barely holding back his laughter.
    • In another strip, White is so distracted reading a book at the park that he doesn't notice Black bribing his son (?) with a lollipop to smack him over the head with a toy shovel. It doesn't do anything but enrage him; it does lead to him falling into a second trap by Black soon after.
  • Bound and Gagged: In a non-lethal animated short, the White Spy is in the hospital following an accident that breaks two of his limbs. Black promptly uses a jar of honey, a few boards and a bunch of ants to crawl into the open hole in White's cast (that he made). He also promptly gags White so that he doesn't scream bloody murder at having ants in his foot cast.
  • Broke Episode: When Black is in need of quick cash, he's hired by a businessman selling glasses in a part-time employment agency as a human billboard. When Black walks outside to advertise, the bill slips from the board, revealing it to be a bullseye... right when Black is next to an artillery range, and White, revealed to be disguised as his new boss, watches as Black is shot to death by soldiers in the firing range.
  • Brought to You by the Letter "S": In the spin-off ''Spy vs. Spy Jr.", "S" stands for "Spy".
  • Buried Alive:
    • One of their most infamous gags. While White is looking at a plan in the middle of the desert sun, Black sneaks behind to clobber him but falls in White's shadow, which turns out to be a Spy-shaped hole right before White buries him.
    • In the ending of Danger! Intrigue! Stupidity! Black bumps into a tombstone made for White that lists all the times Black killed him in earlier pages. He gets so amused and distracted by reading all the times he won that he doesn't notice he's walking down a ladder into a hole so White can bury him alive.
    • In a strip by Kuper, Black has his revenge by tricking White into thinking he died and was buried in a cemetery, who read the newspaper and ran to his grave to dance over it, only for it to be a hollowed-out hole and for Black to be the guy tending the graves, who promptly shovels dirt into White's new grave while he's still in there so he can dance over it instead.
  • Cartoon Bomb: Regularly deployed by both spies.
  • Cash Lure: One intro panel comic has Black pulling this on White, with a dollar tied to a string leading to a guillotine. The version on MADtv has Black successful in defeating White, only for White's headless body to make a final successful grasp at the dollar and slump over after.
  • Cement Shoes: While White is trying out some new metal boots he invented that let him walk on water, Black sees him and runs up to mug him at gunpoint so he can steal them. When White takes them off, and Black takes them, he tries to walk on water as well, only for him to suddenly get dragged down to the water floor, revealing White was just hopping on stone pillars, and Black just put on magnetic boots, which stick him underneath as he drowns to death.
  • Characterization Marches On: In the first comic strip, the spies are Friendly Enemies, who might try to poison each other, but don't bear any ill-will over it. In the second comic strip, their established rivalry took off to a start, but they didn't always kill each other, as some comic strips had them merely pulling pranks on each other. As time went on, when they evolved to their more refined designs, the spies became even more hostile against each other and more unscrupulous, if still only towards each other. When Peter Kuper started making the Spy Vs. Spy comics in Phobias' place, their brutality and hostility went up even further!
  • Charlie Brown Baldness: Both Spies sport only a couple strands of hair in the later strips, something that becomes the plot for strips when they try to take care of them.
  • Cheated Angle: The Spies' heads are almost never shown from the front. (Check the page image for This Is Gonna Suck for an aversion.)
  • Cheshire Cat Grin: Both Spies whenever they're scheming.
  • Colorization: Spy vs. Spy - An Explosive Celebration adapts most of the comics featured in The Complete Casebook and colorizes the formerly monochrome strips to celebrate the comic's long run.
  • Complexity Addiction: The spies generally seem to care more about one-upping the other spy in hilarious ways than actually winning, and particularly seem to enjoy setting up situations where their rival is Hoist by His Own Petard; as a result, many of their plans are far more complex than they need to be.
  • Continuity Nod:
    • Occasionally, the spies will reuse previous plans with new twists. Probably the best-known examples are the multiple occurrences of a Spy avoiding death from above by wearing a spring under his hat.
    • The final strip in the first paperback book, "The All New MAD Secret File on Spy vs. Spy," featured Black Spy encountering an open cemetery dedicated to him. When he goes over in confusion, he finds that the tombstone lists all the times he won over White Spy in the previous parts of the book, causing him to chuckle. Of course, this was a trap by the White Spy to bury him alive.
  • Cool and Unusual Punishment: Many of the one-panel opening gags involve the Spies coming up with absurd and petty non-lethal ways to torture each other. A typical example shows Black trussed up to a streetlight by White, forced to listen to a band badly performing Christmas carols; White is rushing away with his fingers in his ears.
  • Cool Shades: The Spies unquestionably wore sunglasses in the oldest comics, but now their eyes alternate between appearing naturally dark with white pupils or as sunglasses.
  • Curiosity Killed the Cast: Investigating why the other spy is doing something strange is never, never, a good idea.
  • Dead Hat Shot: It is common to see one of the Spies' wide-brimmed hats lazily floating back down or on the surface of the water after some sort of catastrophic explosion. This was most common during Prohías' run as an easy and bloodless shorthand for 'yes, this particular Spy is dead, on to the next strip.'
  • Death Is Cheap: Almost every strip ends with one or both spies suffering a horrible death, only for both of them to reappear just fine and resuming their war in the next strip.
  • Deliberately Monochrome: The strip has been running in color since 2001, but many depictions and animations of the Spies still portray them in a monochrome world, save for the occasional Splash of Color.
  • Delivery Guy Infiltration: Although both spies are masters of disguises, it's Black who seems to use this trope more often, often overlapping with Janitor Impersonation Infiltration. He has disguised himself as a mailman/delivery man to steal documents/give a booby-trapped parcel to White, a plumber/handyman to screw with White's toilet/booby trap his home.
  • Discreet Drink Disposal: In the first strip of the series, the two spies meet up at a sidewalk café for a drink. Each surreptitiously pours his drink on the ground instead of drinking, correctly suspecting that the other has poisoned it.
  • Disguised in Drag:
    • One early strip featured the Spies independently coming up with the idea to disguise themselves as women and attack the other Spy when they least expect it. The strip ended with both Spies en femme, standing in the same street corner waiting for the other Spy to turn up. The following strip subverted this with both spies encountering women who drop a handkerchief for the spies to pick up. The spies think that the women are the other spies in disguise so they flee, much to the women's anger. The spies run into each other, and they sit on the sides of a bench, weeping and realizing that the women were real.
    • In another strip, later adapted into a MADtv cartoon, the Black Spy builds and programs a robotic girlfriend after losing his previous lover to the White Spy. Then comes White disguised as a woman seducing Black, enraging his robot girlfriend into attacking and pummeling him while White makes a getaway.
  • Disney Villain Death: Sometimes, the losing spy dies from falling.
  • Distracted by the Sexy: Whenever the Grey Spy is around.
  • Dreadful Musician: Invoked by both spies to agitate the other.
    • One strip had both Spies run into each other on the street with violin cases, and both are hurrying to open theirs. White Spy pulled a gun out of his case — Black Spy pulled a regular violin out of his and began chasing White while deliberately playing it very poorly.
    • In another strip, the White Spy puts miniature bombs into the Black Spy's gloves, and when the Black Spy puts them on and then steps outside, the White Spy plays the tuba loudly, prompting the Black Spy to plug his ears just before the bombs go off.
    • In yet another strip, the Black Spy badly plays the violin, so the White Spy gets the bow caught in a slingshot and then flings the Black Spy out the window.
    • In yet another strip, the Black Spy, disguised as a hippie, badly plays the flute, which prompts the White Spy to start attacking him before being obliterated by a rocket shaped like the Peace symbol.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: The early comics were more prone to either spy winning in a non-lethal way, like by making a clean getaway or by humiliating each other. For example, the first gag had both spies trying to poison each other. Neither one died (although a pair of cats that were unlucky enough to consume the poison on the ground did)!
  • Establishing Character Moment: The above-mentioned first gag, in which the spies have a friendly drink of tea — feeding their cups to nearby cats, who both die from the poison as the spies walk away. Unusually for an Establishing Character Moment, as mentioned above, something happened that has almost never happened since: a tie.
  • Everyone Knows Morse:
    • Antonio Prohías wrote the comic as a coded "Screw you" to Fidel Castro for attempting to arrest him as a spy for the CIA by writing "By Prohías" in Morse code.
    • As an actual comic gag, one early strip had the Black Spy eavesdropping on White, who is apparently tapping out Morse code messages over the radio. Black gets some paper and pencil and starts copying everything down, only for the message to become so long and fast that he's buried in papers while still writing. White opens the door to check on him, revealing he had a woodpecker tapping a tree log to screw with Black.
  • Evil Is Petty:
    • One of the MAD skits has the White Spy apparently breaking into the Black Spy's house on Christmas just to put coal in his stocking. The attempt doesn't pay off for him.
    • Another strip had the Black Spy sculpting a bust of the White Spy's head and hat in front of his fan club - which turned out to be a toilet.
  • Fake Defector: It can be reasonably assumed that the Black Spy convinced his superiors to stage his dishonorable decommissioning as part of an elaborate scheme to kill the White Spy, in which case his superiors were applauding him for successfully pulling it off.
  • False Teeth Tomfoolery:
    • Implied whenever they get blown up or killed via a smash to the head, as entire dentures come flying out whole from their mouths.
    • In one strip, the Black Spy is suffering from severe tooth aches and goes to the dentist, a disguised White Spy trying to steal his documents, to get it removed. When Black walks away and White opens up his papers, he finds out too late that they're plans for a tooth bomb, before the tooth he just removed from Black blows him up.
  • The Farmer and the Viper: Once, while spying on Black getting berated and apparently decommissioned by his superiors, White gets a rare moment of compassion and decides to approach Black and recruit him to become another White Spy, who was just despairing over being rendered jobless. Black (now also White) then proposes a plan to blow up the Black Embassy with White (the real one) using some TNT, only for him to reveal at the end that this was all a plan to take advantage of White's kindness and blow him up with the hidden TNT when they enact their plan.
  • Femme Fatale Spy: The Grey Spy.
  • Footsie Under the Table: In one of the few strips not to feature the losing spy's grisly demise, the Black and White Spies are both invited to tea with a Grande Dame, and shortly after they take their seats, the Black Spy is amazed to see their hostess kick off a shoe and rub her foot amorously up his leg. So he kicks off his shoe and returns the gesture... only for the enraged hostess to give him a slap before literally kicking him out of the front door. Meanwhile, the grinning White Spy produces the fake leg he used to set the trap.
  • Foregone Conclusion:
    • The title strips at the top of early-to-mid-era comics would depict another instance of the two fighting each other but with a clear victor. Smart readers eventually noticed that the spy who won the title strip would lose the main comic.
    • The Grey Spy would always win out over both spies. Prohías realized this (see Wouldn't Hit a Girl below), and instead of having her continue to show up and predictably kill both Black and White spies, he quietly phased her out of the strip entirely, though future writers brought her back.
  • Friendly Enemy: The Spies would often hang out together, even though they are setting traps for each other. Early strips for the comic even described them as 'friendly rivals'.
  • Gadgeteer Genius: If there's one skill all three Spies have shown through their decades of print runs, it's an absurdly gifted ability to build basically any weapon, trap and machine meant to defeat the other Spy. Other times, though, their gear is as simple as a party horn that'll snatch papers or a desk fan that'll blow away whatever's been sent for them.
  • Gambit Pileup: A staple of the series. At least one strip will have one spy's plan completely turned on its head by an unexpected decoy... and quite a few strips play everything straight just to specifically subvert this.
  • Gambit Roulette: A particularly notable example is the black spy staging his own dishonorable decommissioning from his embassy in an elaborate scheme to kill the white spy.
  • The Game Plays You: In one strip, the Black Spy spots a physical arcade game called Kill the White Spy with two tiny models of himself and the White Spy in a plastic box. Inevitably, he decides to put a coin in and watches with delight as the tiny Black Spy clubs the tiny White Spy over the head... whereupon the tiny White Spy falls through a hole in the bottom of the machine and lands on the floorboard on which the Black Spy is standing, launching him up into the air where the tiny Black Spy, having also been launched up and out of the machine, clubs his giant counterpart to death with a grin.note 
  • Giggling Villain: In the animated adaptations, either spy would chuckle after killing the other. MADtv gives them suppressed snickering not unlike Ernie's laugh from Sesame Street, while MAD gives them high pitched chipmunk-like giggling.
  • Go-Karting with Bowser: Particularly when the Gray Spy was involved, both spies would actually be seen hanging out with each other before she defeats both of them, such as while they're working together to build a large puzzle (which was a bullseye for a bomb to be dropped on them).
  • Gorn: As much can be expected from cartoon characters, with body parts flying.
  • Grey-and-Gray Morality: Neither spy is portrayed as good or evil since both of them are equally ruthless towards each other. Their moral alignments are a matter of fan interpretation.
  • Groin Attack: White Spy is a victim of this in one of Kuper's strips.
  • Hanging Around: Subverted. One animated short (vid here) has one of the spies obliging the other to build a gallows at gunpoint. When the spy has the noose around the other spy’s neck and pulls the lever to drop him through the trapdoor, it instead causes the actual gibbet to drop and clock the would-be hangman on the head.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Happens routinely, usually thanks to one of the spies tinkering with the other's trap. For example, in one strip, the Black Spy tests a metal bulletproof vest by spraying it with machine gun fire; satisfied with the results, he puts it on and walks up to the White Spy, who is standing in the middle of a bridge. The White Spy promptly pulls a giant magnet out of his coat and throws it over the bridge, dragging the Black Spy to his death.
  • Identical Grandson: They've got ancestors who've kept the rivalry up ever since they were pre-historic cavemen, Roman soldiers, newborn babies, and up to the present as secret agents. Even then, they're sometimes revealed to have children of their own who look pretty much exactly like them, just without their trench coats.
  • I Know You Know I Know: Too many times to count.
  • Imagine Spotting: In an early strip, Black Spy sits on a park bench with a thought bubble over his head showing that he's thinking about the plans for a submarine. White Spy approaches and steals the submarine plans out of the thought bubble.
  • Improbable Weapon User: Rather, an improbable body part user. In the paperback book Masters of Mayhem, the Black Spy responds to having a gun pressed to his back by swinging his nose into White's arm to break it.
  • Improvised Weapon: One story that was animated for MAD has Black ambushed by White with a machine gun while skiing; he turns one of his skis and his belt into an impromptu longbow and shoots a ski pole into White's chest.
  • Instrument of Murder: Weapons disguised as musical instruments occur a few times.
  • Invincible Villain: If you can call the Gray Spy a villain, she’s this because she never loses to the other two.
  • Invisible Streaker: Inverted — see the entry in The Nudifier.
  • Jail Bake:
    • One strip had Black, acting as a prison guard, make a cake with a nail file inside it for White, his prisoner (passing the cake off as from White's mother). White finds the nail file and uses it to saw through his window's bars... only to realize all too late that the "window" was part of a crushing trap Black had set up.
    • A later strip reused this plot only to flip it on its head: White receives another cake in jail (presumably actually from his mom this time), finding a nail file and a picture of his cell window with the bars cut off. He slides the nail file under the door, scaring Black into entering the cell to find it seemingly empty with an open window, trying to chase after him but slamming his head into the still-intact window bars that were covered by the picture. White then simply crawls out from under the bed and walks out victorious.
  • Laughably Evil: While it's never made clear which side - if any - is evil, their joy and passion in tearing each other down and their imagination that goes into building more insane and convoluted plans and traps to get an edge over the other make them tremendous fun to watch. It helps that since they can't really be killed for good anyway, there's no harm in just enjoying the chaos.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: In one instance, Black stops White from sleeping by using a watch's ticking to keep him up all night. The poor exhausted Spy then goes to a hypnotist who cures him by using the same watch... and steals his suitcase, with the hypnotist turning out to be Black. But as he opens it, he finds his watch tied to a timebomb and a bundle of TNT, which sets it off to explode soon after.
  • Latex Perfection: They'll often disguise themselves as other people to trick or kill the other Spy. What really brings this trope into action is that their long and gigantic noses have no trouble being molded into normal head shapes.
  • Loud of War: The White Spy holds a geisha at gunpoint and has her sneak a microphone onto the Black Spy, who is headed to a party at the Black Embassy; she warns the whole party with an emergency video call that White's listening in on them with a headset with a microphone hidden in Black's pin. Black and the rest of the party promptly gather all the trumpets and tubas, surround the now removed microphone, and begin playing absurdly loudly while everyone else screams as loud as they can. Outside, White's head has exploded into a bunch of pieces from the sheer volume of it all.
  • Ludicrous Gibs: Prohias wasn't shy about drawing shoes, hats, and dentures flying all over the place after an explosion. Later comics began to graphically illustrate heavy wounds once Peter Kuper took over.
  • MacGuffin: Oftentimes, a briefcase labeled "Top Secret" will provide the motivation for the spies' feud.
  • Master of Disguise: All three spies, being well, spies, are prone to putting on completely convincing disguises to remain hidden.
    • In the case of the male spies, they also manage to hide their Sinister Schnozzes despite how tight of a fit their mask would be. To date, they've disguised themselves as women, handymen, newspaper boys, doctors, therapists, dentists, firemen, film directors, opticians, and each other.
    • The Gray Spy does this to a lesser extent, given that she normally relies on her good looks to ruin the other Spies with their gullibility. In Kuper's run of the strips she adopts disguises a little more often, with her disguising herself as an artist in a tattoo parlor and a fortune teller on two occasions.
  • Mars Needs Women: The male spies, White and Black, are Ambiguously Human beings with long, conical heads, whereas Grey, whom the former two fall head-over-heels for without fail every single time, looks perfectly human. So it's either this trope or Sexy Dimorphism.
  • Maximum Capacity Overload:
    • Deliberately done in one comic, with White tricking Black into carrying several 1000-pound weights on an elevator (he thinks they are White's secret plans).
    • Another strip had the Black Spy carrying a missile that kept falling apart behind him as the White Spy collected the pieces to assemble and steal it himself. The White Spy builds the entire missile and falls to his death when he crosses a wooden bridge that breaks under his weight.
  • Mêlée à Trois: Assuming these guys each fight for a given nation like real-life spies do, it can be inferred that this trope is going on between White's, Black's, and Grey's.
  • Minimalist Cast: Aside from the leaders and the Grey Spy, all of whom are used very sparingly, the Black Spy and the White Spy are practically the only people in their universe.
  • Mirror Character: White Spy and Black Spy are practically identical in almost every respect but their color scheme.
  • Murder by Cremation: In the last strip in the short-lived Sunday strip, Black Spy becomes a victim of this.
  • The Napoleon: Black and White are both consistently shown to be a fair bit shorter than the average person, and while they're suave when 'speaking' to whatever background character is being sparingly used, they tend to lose their cool easily when near each other. By contrast, the Grey Spy is about the tallest character seen regularly in the comics.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished:
    • Mild example. In one particular strip, Black sees a girl trapped in a cage on top of a wooden pole. He climbs up, intending to help her, only for the cage to fall down and trap him at the bottom of the pole. It was a trap from White, and he's seen taking his disguise off and laughing at a shocked Black.
    • The same could be said for the White Spy in "Defection". When he thought the Black spy lost his job and was down on his luck, he felt sorry for him and decided to help him... only for the Black spy to turn on him and blow him up with dynamite.
  • No Plot? No Problem!: All that is known is that these two spies are trying to kill each other with complicated devices. It's not known why they do this, but that is ultimately irrelevant as the point of the strips is to see how they outsmart each other in comical ways.
  • The Nudifier: In one strip, one spy creates an invisibility potion. While scheming about what he'll do to the other spy, the other spy pours a chemical into the potion. Then the first spy drinks the potion out in public, and freaks out when only his clothes disappear or turn invisible. He then gets arrested.
  • Oh, Crap!: The losing spy sometimes realizes too late that he's been had, resulting in either this trope or This Is Gonna Suck.
  • One-Person Birthday Party: In one strip, which was later adapted into a MAD cartoon, the White Spy is forlornly celebrating his birthday alone when he receives a birthday cake from the Black Spy in the mail. After checking for traps and realizing it's real, he cheerfully thanks the Black Spy and lights the candles. The Black Spy then fires a heat-seeking missile that homes in on the cake's candles.
  • Outfit Decoy: In one strip, the Black Spy sees the White Spy's hat poking up from behind a rock. He ducks behind a tree for cover, then snaps off one of the branches and puts his hat on it to lure the White Spy out of hiding so he can shoot him. However, the White Spy is actually hiding in the tree, and he promptly bashes the Black Spy over the head with a club and grabs his bag of secret documents; meanwhile, the view shifts to reveal that he has used the same trick as the Black Spy, with his hat propped up on a stick.
  • Out-Gambitted: Currently provides the image for the main page. Many strips feature one of the Spies trying to spring a trap, only for the other Spy to have a counter trap ready to return fire. Just to give one example for each spy:
    • In one strip, the White Spy sees the Black Spy standing on the pavement next to a MacGuffin case. He puts a bomb in an identical case, puts it down next to the Black Spy, and picks up the other case... only to discover that the Black Spy bolted it to the paving slab so that the White Spy picks up both cases and gets blown up by his own bomb.
    • In another strip, the White Spy appears to be trapped in a small prison cell, so Black Spy rolls up to him behind the controls of a tank... only for the White Spy to turn the "cell bars" from vertical to horizontal, revealing that each one is a gun barrel. He promptly perforates the Black Spy with bullets.
  • Palette Swap: The two spies, other than the colors of their clothing, look identical. And the 2005 Xbox game featured a Red spy and a Blue spy. Lampshaded in one strip where the spies paint themselves in each other's colors without the other's knowledge to pull a trick... and then run into the other spy, who now looks like themselves. This confuses them so badly and/or causes a big enough existential crisis that they both have to go see a psychiatrist. The same one. At the same time.
  • Pie in the Face: Happens in one strip in the much Lighter and Softer Spy vs Spy Jr., which ran for a short time in Mad Kids.
  • The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything: They're secret agents for their respective organizations, but they only occasionally perform actual spy work by trying to steal classified documents and uncover rival secrets. The rest of the time, it's more of a personal rivalry as they attack each other while lounging around or seemingly seek each other out just to fight and trap each other.
  • Poison Ring: One pre-strip panel has both spies at a café, each wearing rings and looking away from each other. Black's ring is tipping poison into White's drink...while White's ring contains a fan blowing the poison powder back into Black's drink.
  • Sadist Show: Neither Spy is a particularly good guy, and they rarely take pleasure in anything other than brutalizing their rival. It's entertaining to watch and read through how creative the plans get.
  • Satchel Switcheroo: The Spies regularly pull this on each other.
  • Sexy Dimorphism: The male spies, White and Black, are Ambiguously Human beings with long, conical heads, whereas Grey, whom the former two fall head-over-heels for without fail every single time, looks perfectly human. So it's either this trope or Mars Needs Women.
  • Shoe Phone: There are several examples of this, as the two spies use these to kill each other. Examples include special shells that disguise their firearms as certain props like hairdryers and cameras. They disguise bombs as harmless items from time to time as well, like books, teeth, and credit cards.
  • Silence Is Golden:
    • No one in the entire comic's run has spoken an understandable word (although a Spy uses a recording of himself saying "Stick 'em Up" in one strip); Prohías spoke almost no English when he began drawing the strip, but his earlier Spanish-language comics like El Hombre Siniestro contained precious little Spanish. It was simply his style.
    • The cartoons that ran on MADtv were likewise silent cartoons, having only background music and sound effects. They didn't even have title cards.
  • Sinister Schnoz: Their most distinguishing feature is their heads, which are shaped like elongated cones. Averted with the grey spy, who, again, looks perfectly human.
  • Speaking Simlish: A MADTV short gave them incomprehensible babble accompanied by Symbol Swearing in the one time they speak, in which White managed to get Black executed by a firing squad by cursing out his superior through a swallowed microphone.
  • Spinoff Babies: Spy vs. Spy Jr., which ran in MAD Kids magazine.
  • Spy Versus Spy: Why else would we call it that?
  • Statuesque Stunner: The Gray Spy, who is much taller than either spy and who both fawn after (frequently getting killed by her over it).
  • Strictly Formula: Sort of. While the comics themselves were always wacky in the various ways the different spies would beat each other, there was always header art of a Spy vs Spy battle in most of Prohias's works. Whoever won the header art would lose the main strip. Unless Grey Spy was involved, anyway.
  • Stuff Blowing Up
  • Straw Loser: Both spies, to the Woman in Grey.
  • Stylistic Suck: The Mountain Dew commercials use background music cues mostly consisting of someone banging random piano keys.
  • Sunday Strip: A very short-lived version in 2002, drawn by Manak and written by Edwing.
  • Symbol Swearing: White Spy once tricked Black Spy into swallowing a miniature speaker, then spoke profanities through the speaker once Black Spy's superior came in. The superior then had Black Spy executed for cursing him.
  • Tampering with Food and Drink: In the first strip, the two spies share a pot of tea, and both of them poison the other's and throw away their own. On two later occasions, White has killed Black by poisoning his drink while being disguised as a barman and by poisoning his rice. In a title-card-turned-Animated-Adaptation, he turns the table on this being used on him when he and Black seems to be sharing a table for cups of tea, Black looks away mischievously to pour a dust cloud of poison into White's drink, who has a hidden fan to blow it right back into Black's drink, and Black ends up killing himself through drinking his own poison.
  • The Television Talks Back:
    • In one strip, White Spy climbs into Black Spy's television to shoot him through it. Turns out Black Spy's remote holds a machine gun.
    • In an earlier strip, the White Spy set up a camera to see if the Black Spy would show up. He appeared to be on his front door, but he was actually inside the TV.
  • They Killed Kenny Again: Black and White repeatedly kill each other but never fail to return to the pages.
  • This Is Gonna Suck: Provides the page image. Generally, if a Spy finds out too late he's been had, it'll be either this trope or Oh, Crap!.
  • Together in Death: A non-romantic example, and in an unprinted strip. The Black Spy storms White's house with a squad of his soldiers, who capture and execute him via firing squad to Black's glee. Later, apparently overcome with teary loneliness and missing the time he and White used to spend chasing each other, Black commits suicide with his gun and dies, with the final panel showing Black and White's spirits happily chasing each other in the afterlife.
  • Too Dumb to Live: The losing spy, on certain occasions. Also, when the Grey Spy shows up, if the two spies wouldn't drool over her and try to win her, they wouldn't end up in her traps.
  • Unspoken Plan Guarantee: Subverted. Generally speaking, the more planning/preparation you see a Spy do, the more likely he is to succeed.
  • Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonist: Both spies are unpleasant people who constantly murder each other in hilarious ways for seemingly no good reason.
  • V-Sign: The winning spy would usually do this by the last panel so it's clear who won that episode. Made even more frequent in Kuper's run of the comic.
  • Woman Scorned: Black once made a robot girlfriend in an attempt to make White jealous. When another woman arrives and wins the affections of Black, the robot girlfriend gets angry and stomps on him.
  • Wouldn't Hit a Girl:
    • Meta-example — Prohías couldn't bring himself to let the Grey Spy lose because he felt too squeamish about drawing a woman suffering the usual fates of the loser in the comic. Eventually, he phased her out because she came across as an Invincible Hero (or Invincible Villain, depending on how you look at it). Bob Clarke and Duck Edwing brought her back for two strips in 1988-89, and Peter Kuper made her into a recurring character.
    • In the comics themselves, neither Spy was willing to try and attack Grey or was too busy fawning over her or baited in her traps to actually lay a finger. In Kuper's run of the comics, though, they at least got bold enough to sometimes try to steal from and sabotage her (not that they got any closer to beating her).
  • Xanatos Gambit: Related to the above. While the Grey Spy always won, she was, for that very reason, eventually phased out of the comic entirely. Considering how the Black and White spies can't perma-kill each other, maybe they lost on purpose.
  • Xylophone Gag: In a rare example of the trope working, White Spy rigs a piano to squirt nitroglycerin into Black Spy's mouth when he pushes certain keys. Boom.
  • Zany Scheme Chicken: The premise.

The games contain examples of:

  • Adaptational Heroism: The Story Mode of the titular Playstation 2/Xbox game has the White Spy/Black Spy playing a decidedly heroic role as they are assigned with the mission of saving the world from an evil general who plans on destroying it with a doomsday weapon...while still trying to outwit the other spy in the process, of course!
  • Artificial Stupidity: It is exceptionally easy to bait the A.I. into your traps. Even on hard and/or the last level(s) of the game.
    • Most notably, the time bomb trap placed in a room with a pickup will almost always get them in any port of the first game. They never learn that going out and back in would save them the trouble of having to try and stop you from running straight for the exit.
    • A.I. Breaker: Operation: Booby Trap has numerous field hazards, which the AI knows not to stand in. The AI also knows it can jump through most (but not all) of these. However, the AI has the following quirk: When the AI retreats from you without moving up or down, it will stay just off the edge of the screen and wait a second to recover some health. HOWEVER, if you so much as inch towards the computer, he will approach you regardless of health and attempt (briefly) to stand next to you so that he can punch you. You should see where this is going: stand at the edge of a damage hazard, repeatedly bait the computer into said hazard fast enough to where he doesn't recover health, and let the computer DIE FROM THE HAZARD.
  • The Computer Is a Cheating Bastard: The computer will never lose the knife (first game and all ports except the Game Boy Color) and knows EXACTLY where each item is (Extremely apparent on Operation: Booby Trap, where the first two items the computer picks up will invariably end up being Attache Case and Key Item in that order)
  • Death Is a Slap on the Wrist: The key items you lose in the first game get hidden in the room you died in, and you just lose 30 seconds on your clock (and have to wait 5 seconds to respawn). Operation: Booby Trap dumps your items into a random chest (even booby-trapped ones) without decreasing your timer, but the respawn time is 10 seconds. However, the respawn timer is MORE than enough for most competent players — and the A.I. — to bolt for the exit if they have everything, and on Operation: Booby Trap, dying when your opponent has all the items is almost a guaranteed loss.
  • Fan Remake: SPYvsSPYvsSPYvsSPY. Thinking of two spies can't satisfy you? We have FOUR!
  • Life Meter: Operation: Booby Trap actually has a visible one, and traps in that game do not instant-kill. It does, however, slow you down after taking so much damage.
  • One-Hit-Point Wonder: Traps effectively turn the victim into this on everything except Operation: Booby Trap.
  • Too Dumb to Live: You shouldn't get killed by the same trap you set 5 seconds ago. Especially if you've got EVERY key item on you.


Video Example(s):


Spy vs. Spy - Dollar

Black Spy gets the upper hand in an animated version of a teaser panel.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (14 votes)

Example of:

Main / CashLure

Media sources: