My long-time readers might remember that a couple years ago I posted “Marvel Comics’ America-Themed Superheroes”. Then, I followed up around Veterans’ Day with the DC version. I figured it was time I did one for adventurers not from the Big Two. As usual, these are superheroes whose names and/or costume motifs are/were of an American patriotic theme….
First appearance: American Flagg! #1 (First Comics, Oct. 1983)
Civilian identity: Reuben Flagg
Comment: American Flagg is the brainchild of a comic legend, writer/artist Howard Chaykin. As per the summary at ComicVine, “The year is 2031. The United States has fallen to pieces after a series of social and economic disasters known as the year of the domino. The American government and the heads of most of the big corporations have relocated to Hammarskjold Center on Mars (temporarily of course). The Megacorporation known as The Plex now owns everything…. When former vid star Reuben Flagg is drafted into the Plexus Rangers, he’s sent to Chicago, a cesspool of gang violence, dirty politics and urban warfare. It’s enough to crush an ordinary man but Reuben is a survivor and with the help of his new friends, he just might be the man to put it all back together.” I confess, I never got into the character back in the day. But, I may have to track down a trade paperback collection or two, and give him another try.
First appearance: Fighting American #1 (Prize, May 1954); Fighting American #1 (DC, Feb. 1994); Fighting American #1 (Awesome, Aug. 1997)
Civilian identity: Nelson Flagg, John Flagg
Comment: Nelson Flagg was an unathletic writer who worked for his brother Johnny, a popular & outspoken TV news commentator. When Johnny was murdered, Nelson promised to avenge him and was promptly recruited for the U.S. military’s “Project Fighting American”. Nelson’s mind and life-force were transferred to Johnny’s “revitalized and strengthened” corpse. Nelson adopted his brother’s civilian identity and the costumed alias “Fighting American” to battle Communist threats.
Originally created by the legendary team of Joe Simon & Jack Kirby, Fighting American was a response to Timely/Atlas relaunching Captain America. It was a very rare-for-the-time creator-owned property. The original series quickly went from anti-Communist heroic drama inspired by the McCarthy hearings to superhero satire. Fighting American lasted 7 issues for the Prize Group, then a single issue of “reprints and unpublished material” for Harvey Comics in 1966. Marvel published a 3-page story in 1989; then DC published a 6-issue mini-series in 1994, tweaking the title character to a “former radio host bent on avenging his brother’s death.” A few years later, after some licensing & copyright disputes with Joe Simon and Marvel, Rob Liefeld published a couple mini-series under his Awesome Entertainment. The character was now John Flagg, a former soldier who gained powers via a unique experiment. In 2009, Dynamite Entertainment then got into a licensing skirmish with Simon and the Kirby estate over the character. Bottom-line? Great Captain America “clone” with lots of potential but that probably proved to be more trouble than it was worth.
First appearance: Startling Comics #10 (Standard/Nedor, Sept. 1941)
Civilian identity: Bruce Carter III
Comment: The Fighting Yank was created for Nedor by Richard E. Hughes and artist Jon L. Blummer as another WWII-era patriotic hero. Rather than the usual American flag or eagle motif, this character’s costume went old-school — like Marvel’s Spirit of ’76 did years later — with tri-corner hat and cape. He did put a flag on his chest, though. The reason is linked to his “origin”. Carter got his powers when the ghost of his ancestor Bruce Carter I, a Revolutionary War hero, appeared to him and showed him the location of a magical cloak that would give him superhuman strength, invulnerability, and flight. The character was fairly popular and soon got his own series. He also inspired other characters with the same name, different costumes, from different publishers: Timely/Marvel, AC, America’s Best Comics / DC (who gave Carter a daughter who followed in his footsteps, though she later changed her name to “Fighting Spirit”), and Dynamite (which had FY on a mission to retrieve Pandora’s Box from Hitler; cool Alex Ross cover, too). I never read anything with this character, but he definitely deserves to be mentioned here. I may track down the ABC/DC stuff, especially since there’s a tie to “Tom Strong”.
First appearance: Pep Comics #1 (MLJ/Archie, Jan. 1940); Legend of the Shield #1 (DC/Impact, July 1991)
Civilian identity: Joe Higgins
Comment: The Shield is arguably the first patriotically-themed superhero ever published in the U.S., pre-dating Captain America by 14 months. The “origin” story begins with Tom Higgins, a scientist who discovers (develops?) a chemical that can give a person superhuman abilities. When Tom is killed by enemy agents, his son Joe uses the chemical on himself, giving him enhanced strength, invulnerability, and leaping ability. With Hoover’s blessing, Higgins used his abilities to fight gangsters and spies. Unfortunately, the character was eventually overshadowed by Archie & friends, and Captain America became the premiere flag-based hero. The Shield has made occasional appearances since then, including as part of Archie’s “Mighty Crusaders” in the 1960s and as part of DC’s short-lived Impact line-up in the 1990s. (That’s where I first saw him.) DC tweaked his origin, then gave him a successor, Lt. Michael Barnes. I guess it’s hard to gain traction when in the shadow of a Living Legend.
First appearance: Savage Dragon (vol. 1) #1 (Image, July 1992)
Civilian identity: Johnny Armstrong
Comment: SuperPatriot was created by popular writer/artist Erik Larsen back in Image Comics’ early days. In his backstory, Armstrong was Larsen’s version of Captain America, fighting Nazis in WWII with a superteam called the Allies. In the 1990s, a much older Armstrong — though his powers kept him young and fit — suffered a savage attack by supervillains. His life was saved when scientists from Cyberdata rescued what was left of his body and transformed him into a cyborg with an array of weapons and abilities even beyond those he had in his (earlier) prime. He then went through a period of extreme mental instability, committing vigilante murders and fighting Savage Dragon. But, he “later regained his own mind and became a superhero again, joining the newly formed Chicago group called Freak Force.” SuperPatriot has since crossed paths with many Image heroes and become well respected in the superhero community. He also had two grown kids, who became the now-deceased superheroes known as Liberty & Justice. I enjoyed the character when I used to read a lot of Image stuff. Last time I saw him was an appearance in Invincible; wouldn’t mind finding some TPBs of SuperPatriot’s mini-series and other appearances.
I got a little wordier on this one, since I limited myself to five. Of course, there have been many more American patriotic-themed characters by various small publishers over the decades. Here are a few:
(The) Great Defender
(The) Old Soldier
Yankee Doodle Jones
Happy Independence Day!!