A few months ago (i.e., for Independence Day), I posted about Marvel Comics’ superheroes whose names and/or costume motifs are/were of an American patriotic theme. Since yesterday was Veterans Day, I figured it was time to do the DC Comics counterpart to that earlier post. As before, I’m only highlighting the most significant such characters, but I’ll list some “honorary mentions” at the bottom. Hope you enjoy! (If not, tell me why.)
First appearance: All Star Comics #8 (December 1941)
Civilian identity: Princess Diana of Themyscira, aka Diana Prince
Comment: Diana, of course, is not from the United States, though it is her adopted home when away from Paradise Island (aka Themyscira). Her creator, William Moulton Marston, apparently gave her the American flag-inspired costume to represent “American symbolism and iconography”. It was World War II and she was fighting Nazis, after all. But, I have no idea what reason (if any) was given for the design in her origin story. The character itself became an American icon of sorts, so the flag-theme was fitting. In later years, she became more of a world-hero & feminist symbol everywhere, so it isn’t surprising that a recent reboot explained that the elements of her classic costume had pagan/Amazonian roots. (There have also been periods when she wore a costume with some or most of the red/blue/stars motif missing.)
First appearance: (historical): National Comics #1 (July 1940); (modern): Justice League of America (vol. 1) #107 (Oct. 1973)
Civilian identity: n/a
Comment: Based on the familiar icon dating back to the War of 1812, the comics’ Uncle Sam character was originally published by Quality Comics in the 1940s. Years after DC Comics bought the Quality properties, the character was resurrected as leader of a group called the “Freedom Fighters” from a parallel Earth. He is the spirit of a nameless colonial soldier who was killed in the American Revolution and became the mystical personification of the nascent United States of America. He has superhuman strength, including the ability to leap huge distances, can’t be photographed, and has limited precognitive abilities. However, he loses strength and stability, even to the point of discorporation, as the overall character of the nation “strays from righteousness”; although, he will (re-)incorporate at a later date, when the country gets back “on the proper path.” Personally, I didn’t take much notice of the character until the 1997 mini-series. (Wasn’t thrilled with the story, but Alex Ross’ art rocked! This one by Daniel Acuña is pretty cool, too!)
Liberty Belle I & II
First appearance: (Lawrence): Boy Commandos #1 (Dec. 1942); (Chambers): Justice Society of America (vol. 2) #1 (Aug. 1992)
Civilian identity: I: Elizabeth “Libby” Lawrence; II: Jesse Chambers
Comment: (This entry is a little odd, since I am combining two characters in one.) In the early days of WWII, Olympic swimming gold-medalist Libby Lawrence found herself an unintentional hero and spy for the Allied forces. A couple years later, an odd accident while visiting Independence Hall in Philadelphia left her with enhanced strength, speed, & stamina. (An experiment in 1942 would later give her the ability to manipulate sound waves.) Fashioning herself a Liberty Bell-themed costume with a belt made from the same metal of the actual Liberty Bell, Lawrence adopted the moniker “Liberty Belle” and began a career as a masked “mystery woman”. She later co-founded the All-Star Squadron, where she worked alongside and eventually married Johnny Chambers (aka the speedster “Johnny Quick”).
The couple had a daughter Jesse, who would later become the crimefighter known as “Jesse Quick”, using the same formula as her father to draw energy from the Speed Force — that is, when she wasn’t running Quickstart Enterprises. In this guise, Chambers has worked for years with the (New) Titans, Justice Society, and most recently the Justice League. There have been periods when she temporarily lost her ability to access the Speed Force. But, not only has that been restored, she has also gained her mother’s enhanced strength and adopted the name and legacy of the “Liberty Belle”.
Star-Spangled Kid I / Skyman I
First appearance: Action Comics #40 (1941) OR Star-Spangled Comics #1 (Oct. 1941)
Civilian identity: Sylvester Pemberton
Comment: Pemberton was a “wealthy brat” who became another flag-themed, Golden Age vigilante hero. He lived on DC’s “Earth-Two”, but survived the Crisis on Infinite Earths storyline to live on the Post-Crisis “New Earth”. He and his sidekick Stripesy (see below) fought in WWII, eventually joining the Seven Soldiers of Victory. The team became lost in time during a mission in 1948 and were later rescued and brought to the present day by the Justice League and Justice Society. Originally, Pemberton had no special powers, relying on his natural abilities in fighting, acrobatics, leadership, and tactical analysis, with a few helpful gadgets thrown in. When he joined the Justice Society, he gained the power of flight via Starman’s Cosmic Converter Belt (and sometimes the Cosmic Rod). He later founded the L.A.-based Infinity, Inc. and changed his identity to “Skyman”. Unfortunately, he was eventually killed in a battle with the Injustice Society.
Star-Spangled Kid II / Stargirl
First appearance: Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. #0 (July 1999)
Civilian identity: Courtney Whitmore
Comment: Young Courtney Whitmore realized that her stepfather used to be Stripesy, adult sidekick to the teenaged Star-Spangled Kid, when she found his old crimefighting equipment (inc. the Cosmic Converter Belt). She put on a stars-n-stripes costume to mock him at a patriotic-themed dance, but they ended up working together to fight minions of the Dragon King. Pat Dugan, the former Stripesy, now had a high-tech suit of armor, which he called S.T.R.I.P.E. Whitmore relied on her gymnastics and kickboxing abilities, as well as various enhanced abilities from the CCB. The two decided to team up on a regular basis as “Star-Spangled Kid and S.T.R.I.P.E.” After several adventures with Dugan and other superheroes, Whitmore was given custody of the Cosmic Rod and the Starman legacy when Starman (i.e., Jack Knight) retired. Re-christening herself Stargirl, she now added flight and energy projection to her arsenal. Surviving the Crisis events, she became a valued junior member of the Justice Society.
Stripesy / S.T.R.I.P.E.
First appearance: Star-Spangled Comics #1 (Oct. 1941)
Civilian identity: Patrick Dugan
Comment: Back in the the early 1940s, Dugan joined Sylvester Pemberton to take down a bunch of homefront Nazis. They teamed up “officially” to become a costumed, Axis-bashing, crimefighting, “mystery men” duo and members of the All-Star Squadron and the aforementioned Seven Soldiers of Victory. In addition to being great in a fistfight (thanks to skills in boxing, wrestling, & acrobatics), Dugan is a gifted mechanic & engineer, having built Pemberton’s Star-Rocket Racer, the JSA’s Steel Eagle, and his own S.T.R.I.P.E. (Special Tactics Robotic Integrated Power Enhancer) battle suit. The armor includes some weapons (e.g., lasers, missiles), sensors, and defensive capabilities, as well as powered flight and limited invulnerability for the wearer. After traveling through time and teaming up with his stepdaughter (see above), Dugan became a reserve member of the Justice Society, serving both as team mechanic and sometimes going on missions. He is mostly retired, now, but still mentors Stargirl and puts on the armor on occasion. (His son, Mike, has also worn it a few times.)
* Note: While he has never exactly been a popular character in his own right, I felt that Dugan’s connection to both Star-Spangled Kids added to his importance, especially as a solidly-DC, patriotic-themed hero.
The Americommando (Crusaders member)
The Americommando (Tex Thompson)
General Glory I & II
Major Victory I, II, III
Red, White, and Blue
Happy Veterans Day!!