HERO HISTORY: Uncle Sam

by

Or – “The Capstone To Our Major Spoilers Star-Spangled Weekend™!”

The Hero History project is a strange and nebulous beastie, and has plumbed the depths of several corners of the Silver, Bronze and modern ages, as well as the depths of space and the mind of Jack Kirby.  But one thing we’ve NEVER done before is troll through the Golden Age itself, that far-flung lost realm filled with Nazis, Fifth Columnists, guys named “Scooop,” “Hop,” and “Stripesy,” as well as the prototypical heroes that started this whole soopa-dupin’ thing in the first place.  Though predated by MLJ/Archie comics The Shield (the first patriotic hero) today’s entrant predates even STEVE ROGERS in his red, white and blue exploits, and carries quite a pedigree, having been created by Will Eisner himself!  He has outlasted a comics company, TWO entire Earths and most of his peers (numbering the late Red Bee, Phantom Lady, Black Condor, The Ray, Quicksilver/Max Mercury, Bozo The Iron Man, Captain Triumph. The Spider, Midnight and more.)  As with any Golden Age refugee, he’s been through a lot of changes, but somehow he always manages to return to his original, iconic form before long.  65 years down the line, he’s still fighting the good fight with his two strong fists, an ironclad sense of right and wrong, and a damn fine looking hat.  This, then, is your Major Spoilers Hero History of The American Spirit, known to some as Taylor Samuel Hawke, to others as Samuel Augustus Adams, or Sam Wilson, or The Patriot or many other names, but perhaps known best as… UNCLE SAM!

The year is 1940.  War has broken out across Europe, and many brave men and women have already given their lives against a seemingly implacable foe, but on the shores of America, a different kind of uniform is popping up.  Following in the steps of Superman and Batman, dozens of men and women (and a few kids) have put on distinctive costumes and become two-fisted mystery men!  As costumes go, though, nothing beats that of a hero who appears in an America on a world that will one-day be known as Earth-X…

Not everybody can pull off striped pants with a top hat and tails, but is it really all that much sillier than underpants on the outside and pointy ears?  But where did such a hero come from?  Who is he and how did he come to be?  Is he a man at all?  At least part of him is, and that portion of the tale takes place nearly a century earlier, during the American Revolutionary war, as a young man named Sam takes ona mission which he knows will be fatal:  draw Hessian mercenaries away from a convoy carrying much-needed supplies to the rebel alliance American soldiers.

Sam’s side of the tale isn’t told until many years later, as the mysterious figure who comes to bring him salvation has a very familiar face…

But where, you ask, did this “spirit of America” come from?  All in good time, Faithful Spoilerite, all in good time.  Though America hasn’t officially entered the second World War, Uncle Sam gets involved in conflict worldwide, stepping in wherever liberty is threatened and justice stops being ‘for all.’

Sam even finds himself a partner, of sorts, a young man named Buddy (not to be confused with Bucky, who came about a couple of years later) who accompanies him in his travels around the world.  Sam quickly becomes fond of the boy, protecting him the same way he protects the principles of freedom and liberty: by kicking the butts of people who would threaten them.

Indeed, for a man who dresses so dandily, Uncle Sam is not afraid to get his hands dirty, wading into gunsels and artillery alike with abandon that few (save Superman himself) have ever shown.  But there’s one lesson you learn quickly about the Spirit of America:  You DO NOT $#&*. With.  The.  Hat.

“Bath” here is a euphemism for being thrown in a vat of what may be quicksilver, proving that our hero takes his chapeau dead seriously.  As the literal spirit of the American Way, Uncle Sam has mystical strength and endurance, but he also gets assistance from another mystical source:  The spectre of George Washington himself!

With the help of the Founding Fathers (shades of Captain Marvel’s elders) Uncle Sam manages to fight against all manner of tyrant and schmendrik, all around the world.  His proactive stance predates the United States’ entry into the battlefields of World War II, but it’s quite clear what battlefields they’re referring to.  (In an eerie bit of precognition, Will Eisner, or more likely, the Eisner/Iger studios in concert, put together a story about an Axis attack on Pearl Harbor…  A story that was published in the late FALL of 1941, weeks before the actual attack.)

When America entered the war, Uncle Sam entered with it, and continued punching fascism in the face for nearly the entire conflict.  Uncle Sam was even a founding member of the All-Star Squadron, the super-hero team formed by President Roosevelt when he asked all the masked men and women to unite as one battleforce against evil.  Sam’s first appearance with the All-Stars turned out to be a turning point for many members of the team…

It seems that, one afternoon, Uncle Sam found himself overwhelmed by a mystical vortex of some sort, by which he was transported to an alternate reality, one in which the Nazi menace was MUCH more powerful than on his home world.  Finding a world devoid of heroes, Sam took decisive action:

The quintet of heroes was overwhelmed and lost (though most of them were not killed outright) ending Uncle Sam back home for more assistance.  Appearing at the first FULL meeting of the All-Star Squadron, Uncle Sam quickly engages help from half a dozen All-Stars.  Returning to the unknown alternate world, Sam and his team manage to stop a Japanese attack on the California coast, but the troubles of this world are great enough that Uncle Sam knows what he must do…

The All-Star Squadron continues without Uncle Sam, but several months later, Uncle Sam returns for reinforcements…  As powerful as he and his compatriots are, things just aren’t going as well as they could be.  Enter: PLASTIC MAN!

 

Having already gathered other heroes, Uncle Sam’s speech is so convincing that Phantom Lady, Doll-Man and Plastic Man immediately sign up and travel through the interdimensional vortex to the new world…

Going clockwise, we see The Blackhawks (in their planes), The Spider, Plastic Man, Black Condor, Uncle Sam, Doll-Man (on Sam’s shoulder), The Ray, Phantom Lady, The Jester, Midnight, Human Bomb, Thor the dog and his master Manhunter.  It was some years before we saw what happened to Sam and his Freedom Fighters when the war ended (due mostly to the cessation of publishing by Quality Comics, the company which translated his adventures on ‘Earth-Prime’) and when we finally DID discover the truth, it was due to a freak accident during the annual JLA/JSA summer crossover adventure…

Anybody else think that the unusual vibrational nature of the Flashes had something to do with this accident?  I know I do.  The six heroes disappear from Earths One and Two entirely, and are stunned to find themselves marooned on an unknown planet.  Like James Kirk before (or is that AFTER?) them, they are stunned to find a comtemporary world filled with NAZIS!

The seemingly doomed heroes find their salvation in a familiar star-spangled form, as a strpey-pantsed spectre of the past wearing a tri-color top hat OF JUSTICE!

The League and Society have been transported from their homes of Earth-One and Earth-Two to a THIRD Earth, the Earth where Uncle Sam emigrated years before, a world designated Earth-X!  (I believe Len Wein, the writer who transcribed this story from the multiverse, initially designated it ‘Earth-swastika symbol,’ but editor Julius Schwartz balked.  Erasing the crossbars, Julie dubbed it Earth-X, and kablammicus!  We got a name.)  Sam and his fellows have spent decades fighting against a Nazi menace that would not fall as it did on alternate earths.  What fellows, you ask?

Plastic Man, Blackhawk, and the others have already given up their lives fighting injustice on this world.  The JLA and JSA agree to help them fight the good fight, but both teams eventually fall prey to a mind-control ray.  It is only the power of the android Red Tornado manages to free his friends (and by extension) Earth-X from enslavement.  (Turns out that the leader of the alterNazis was Robo-Hitler.  Go figure.)  After decades at war, Uncle Sam could barely believe that his world was finally free…

Of course, if you’ve been fighting constantly for…  let’s say 20 years (the sliding timeline makes this an academic exercise anyway) you may not find yourself content with having nothing to do.  With their world united, the Freedom Fighters find no real superhero action on Earth-X, and Uncle Sam decides that maybe it’s time to seek out a little adventure on Earth-One!

Still, whatever the world, whatever the menace, the power of the American spirit will not be defeated.  Even when nature itself turns against you, you grit your teeth and you do what you must…

Never saw BATMAN kick a grizzly bear over the horizon, didja?  HA!  Uncle Sam even had to deal with Johnny-Come-Latelies who wanted to steal his role as Sentinel of Liberty, as with a certain shield-slinging punk who looks… kind of familiar.

“The Americommando” (with his kid partner Rusty, the pyrokinetic Fireball and has partner Sparky, as well as the oceanic dwelling Barracuda) turns out to be less a hero than he seemed, and “the Crusaders” are brought low by the power of Uncle Sam.  Even established Earth-One dwellers team up with Uncle Sam in his fight for freedom wherever there’s trouble…

That, dear friends, is a rare dual appearance by Barbara Gordon as Batgirl and the original Kathy Kane as the original BATWOMAN!  History in the making is old star-spangled-hat to the man called Uncle Sam.  Uncle Sam and his partners eventually made their way back home, finding Earth-One to be a bit TOO interesting, but the eventual universe-spanning conflict known as the Crisis on Infinite Earths brought the living symbol of America back into the DC Universe proper…

Uncle Sam fought as one of the most powerful members of the superhero strikforce, but he and the Freedom Fighters were taken by surprise when a coalition of villains led by Brainiac took over Earth-X (as well as Earth-4, the home of Captain Atom and the Charlton Comics heroes and Earth-S, the home of Captain Marvel and friends.)  Even when things were at their worst, Uncle Same refused to give up hope.

The heroes of seven universes fight against the incursion of anti-matter and the evil Anti-Monitor, and suffered great losses.  Kara Zor-El fell, Barry Allen fell, entire WORLDS were destroyed…  As tempers flared and the stakes got as high as they ever can, Uncle Sam stepped in to remind the heroes exactly what they’re fighting for.

The Crisis ended with five universes melded into one, and the history of Earth-X mostly not happening.  Sort of.  It’s complicated.  In any case, Uncle Sam disappeared from the landscape for long months, as the spirit of America changed.  The malaise of the 70′s and the greed of the 80′s took their toll on the man who represented the ideals of freedom and such, and when Uncle Sam again turned up, he was not the man anyone knew before…

His madness turned out to be created by a SECOND version of Uncle Sam, a dark mirror (Ugh) which represented all the negative aspects of the American dream, a capitalistic nightmare run amok.  His power diminshed, his image tarnished, Uncle Sam nonetheless confronted his dark self, and laid down the law as only the spirit of liberty can.

In this new paradigm came the lost truth about Uncle Sam.  When Samuel Hawke undertook his mission back in 1940, he merged with the “Spirit of America.”  But WHERE did the spirit itself come from?  Witness a clandestine meeting of the founding fathers of the United States of America, one man from each of the thirteen colonies who vowed to protect the true nature of the country they were trying to forge…

As the term “Uncle Sam” hadn’t yet been coined, Samuel Hawke’s incarnation was referred to as “Brother Jonathan,” an earlier historical/mythical figure who bore a strong resemblance to Uncle Sam.  In the years that ensued, as the country became more fragmented, so did the Talisman which gave Uncle Sam his energies.  A group of zealots called The National Interest began gathering the original Talisman, and using it’s power to sway the spirit of Uncle Sam into their power.  Of course, that does leave the question of his physical form…

The spirit of America chafes at being chained to any one political viewpoint, and leaves it’s masters.  Eventually, the Spirit that was Uncle Sam combines it’s power with 13 new disciples, from all walks of life, races, creeds and religions, bringing them all together in one amagamated creature, a TRUE spirit of what America stands for…

And you thought stripey pants were garish.  The Patriot finds it’s way to the center of the National Interest, and discovers that all of the men of the council, though once good-intentioned, were being manipulated by an evil force called The American Scream.  (Whether or not the Scream is related to Sam’s evil duplicate is unclear, but seems to be implied.)  Using all of their wills in concert, the former Uncle Sam overcomes the power of the American Scream…

When the world becomes threatened by the Imperiex assault, the President of the United States once again calls all the heroes of the world together into one fighting force against an unstoppable aggressor.  The differences here are that the President in question is Lex Luthor, and the heroes have all changed immensely.  Of course, having the spirit of Uncle Sam in his makeup, The Patriot remembers how this all went down before…

Leading an oddly familiar team featuring the new Ray, the new Black Condor, Damage and others, Patriot is key to breaking the Imperiex’ hold on the galaxy.  Some months later, Superman is visiting his hometown of Smallville, Kansas (located 50 miles or so west of Salina approximately where Wilson, Kansas exists in our world, per the DC Almanac) when a mysterious man suddenly starts whaling the tar out of him, berating him for his “alien codes” and his foolishness.  Who is it that can kick the bajeezus out of the Man of Steel with nearly no effort at all?

Uncle Sam quickly comes to his senses, and the two men take a walk to downtown Topeka, which apparently consists of skyscrapers and a giant park in the middle, and marvel that the town is being rebuilt after near annihilation during the Imperiex war.  Superman finds that Uncle Sam has been unduly influenced by the President, and his mystic nature is imbalanced due to Luthor’s general unpleasantness…

Having reunited his Freedom Fighters during the war, Uncle Sam gets them official government backing, and the team becomes an arm of the FBI.  Whenever there’s trouble, they’re there on the double, as shown when Eclipso goes nuts…

When things are at their darkest, the villains of the New Earth unite together (much as they did during the Crisis on Infinite Earths.)  Uncle Sam and his Freedom Fighters end up checking out reports of metahuman activity in the warehouse district of an unnamed town…

They find a coalition of super-villains, each with immense power, and are quickly overwhelmed.  Bizarro, Sinestro and more take their shots at Uncle Sam, but it is one of the survivors of the lost Earth-S that eventually bests him, as Black Adam punches the American Dream right in the face…

Many of the Freedom Fighters are killed, Damage is scarred for the rest of his (sadly, short) life, and Uncle Sam’s essence is completely dissipated for the first time ever.  A time of great darkness comes over the world, and in the absence of Uncle Sam, a new team of corrupt and immoral government superheroes are created, this time under the control of a mad cyborg who wants nothing more than complete control of America.  These “heroes” run amok, unchecked, until a familiar man appears before them, and orders them to cease and desist their evil…

Amazingly, rather than utterly defeat them in combat (something that his interactions with the team make clear he is capable of) Uncle Sam turns these disparate against their masters, bringing in a few friends, old and new, as the nucleus of a new team of Freedom Fighters!  Unfortunately, the government doesn’t take the loss of their soldiers kindly, forcing Uncle Sam to break out a couple of new/old tricks…

Uncle Sam ends up surrendering to Father Time, the leader of SHADE, who tries to break the man who represents the unbreakable spirit of America…

The evil robot IS elected President, but his own schemes undermine him, as Uncle Sam’s imprisonment allows him to find evidence that the President plans to use “Identification Chips” implanted under the skin as mind control devices.  The Freedom Fighters come togther to bring this plan to light…

In the aftermath of this nigh-disaster, Uncle Sam realizes what it is that he has to do.  These callow young heroes need a leader, someone who can form them into a crack unit, a real team of Freedom Fighters…

In the post-Final Crisis world, Uncle Sam even finds himself to be darn near unique in that he REMEMBERS the events BEFORE the original Crisis.  Far as I can tell, only Power Girl remembers the truth of things, but it is clear that Uncle Sam remembers that he comes from Earth-2 and spent time on Earth-X, and all that has happened in between.

Indeed, in the 66 years (our time) that he’s been active, Uncle Sam has been at the center of nearly every earth-shattering crossover mess, and as always, he has a very pragmatic, all-American though process about it all…

Like Captain America, The Shield and a few others, Uncle Sam’s patriotism makes him occasionally a difficult character to wrap your mind about.  But where Uncle Sam succeeds is in his conceptualization.  Rather than being a man of his times, he is a man of ALL times, and represents the best portions of the mythology of America:  A can-do spirit, old-fashioned no-nonsense attitude, and the belief that all men are created equal.  For all the things that one can say are wrong with the entities and agencies of the United States, Uncle Sam reminds us of what it was really MEANT to be about.  Freedom, justice, and all of that high-falutin’ stuff.  There is much comedy that could be had in a man wearing striped pants, a stovepipe hat, and talking like Andy Griffith, but not only does Uncle Sam pull it off, he elevates the post of superhero in ways that nobody (with the possible exception of Superman) can ever do.  Uncle Sam represents more than just a fight against bad guys, he represents a set of tenets that still hold truth 200-odd years after their conception, and in that, he shows us all what freedom is really about.  Happy Fourth of July, everyone!

**If you’ve enjoyed this Hero History, you might want to ‘Read All About It’ at your Local Major Spoilers! You can just click “Hero History” in the “What We Are Writing About” section on the main page, and read about a hundred or so other guys who are awesome as heck…   The adventures of Uncle Sam have been published by Quality Comics, while the man himself is currently the property of DC Comics, Inc.  A new Freedom Fighters series is, as of this writing, in the near future.

Next up:  I’ll still be looking to the Hero History section of the Major Spoilers forums for an expectation of where you, the Faithful Spoilerites would like to see the Hero Histories go. I’m not making any promises (Spawn is almost certainly a no-go) but I’m willing to hear what you, the readers would like to see. As always…

Watch.

The.

Skies.