Monday, May 30, 2011

Red, White & Blue in 4-Color

Patriotic superheroes have been around for almost as long as comic books have. DC and Marvel have had their share of these red, white & blue clad characters over the years. Marvel, of course, has the granddaddy of World War II heroes, Captain America - soon to be seen again on the big screen. Marvel likes to forget the other CAPTAIN AMERICA movie (and TV-movies).Cap (Steve Rogers) "came back to life" in 2009 after being dead for about 2 years, causing a frenzy of non-comic book fans to crowd into comic shops in hopes of nabbing a copy of the "collectible" issue to sell on eBay for more money. Ugh.The DC Universe, on the other hand has had Wonder Woman, as well as a plethora of stars-and-stripes donning dudes and dames—both homegrown and adopted when the company absorbed Quality Comics, Fawcett Comics and Charlton Comics. These characters include Mr. America, Miss America (not to be confused with the Marvel heroine of the same name), Uncle Sam, Liberty Belle, Minute Man, Rusty Ryan, Stars-Spangled Kid and Stripesy and later additions like Americommando, Agent Liberty, Major Victory, General Glory, Steel, Commander Steel and Citizen Steel. I'm sure there are others that have come and gone.
In 2009, DC entered into a deal with Archie Comics to acquire the publishing rights to the MLJ/Red Circle characters. DC had already published these characters in the early 90s under the Impact! Comics banner.But now for the first time, these classic heroes were promised to be apart of the DC Universe proper— including the great grandaddy of patriotic heroes—The Shield!

The Shield first appeared in PEP Comics #1 (January 1940) - a full fourteen months before the more famous Captain America, who has an extremely similar origin. Hmmm...

The Shield was created by writer Harry Shorten and artist Irv Novick, with his secret
origin revealed in Shield-Wizard #1 (Summer 1940).
The Shield's secret identity was that of chemist Joe Higgins, the son of Lt. Tom Higgins who was slain by the Nazis, who were after his secret formula for super-strength. After his death, son Joe took on his father's research, concluding that he must apply chemicals to certain parts of his anatomy: Sacrum, Heart, Innervation, Eyes, Lungs, Derma, and then zap himself with x-rays—thereby giving him super strength, invulnerability and the ability to leap tall buildings in a single bound!The Shield was born and became the star player in MLJ's lineup.
That is until a certain redheaded upstart named Archie Andrews appeared, relegating The Shield into becoming a supporting player, eventually being forcing him into an early retirement.
Other Archie/Mighty/Radio Comics versions of The Shield appeared over the years, notably Joe Simon & Jack Kirby's Lancelot Strong and Bill Higgins, son of the original.
The MLJ heroes returned briefly in the 1960s during the campy comic book craze, this time teamed up as The Mighty Crusaders.Archie Comics again brought them all back in the late 1980s to cash in on the independent comics explosion.
Then, in the 90s DC Comics bought the rights and started up the Impact! Comics line - hoping to introduce the characters to a new generation of comics fans.
This attempt failed miserably.
Just when we thought we saw the last of these characters, they resurfaced in a few issues of Archie's Weird Mysteries in the early 2000s, almost coming full circle.
And the in 2009, DC's Red Circle revival will gave The Shield and his super friends yet another chance at greatness, under the guidance of comics superstar J. Michael Straczynski.

It didn't quite work out that way. Now, two years later The Shield and his Red Circle companions join the plethora of DC Comics that are in limbo while fans await the news of a "blockbuster" announcement in June that promises to redefine DC Comics for the future. So on this Memorial Day, I salute The Shield - the Captain America that never made it big.

1 comment:

Rick Andreoli said...

I didn't know that whole history. Super cool.