RETRO REVIEW: Fighting American #1 (April/May 1954)

by

Or – “Early Work By The Architects Of Comics History…”

It’s always interesting to look at comic creator collaborations, and none has had more impact than Simon and Kirby, creators or co-creators of most of what you love in comics.  Joe and Jack worked in all comics genres, from science fiction to romance, but during the 1950s they created a scathing parody of patriotic super-types, still remembered today.  Your Major Spoilers (retro) review awaits!

FIGHTING AMERICAN #1
Writer: Jack Kirby/Joe Simon
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inker: Joe Simon
Colorist: Jack Kirby
Letterer: Ben Oda
Editor: Joe Simon/Jack Kirby
Publisher: Prize Comics
Cover Price: 10 Cents
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $3000

Previously, in Fighting American:  In the beginning, there was Captain America.  (Well, to be honest, in the beginning, there was The Shield, but Captain America came soon on the heels of the first patriotic superhero.)  The dawn of the 1950s led the fortunes of comic book superheroes to wane, and the advent of the Comics Code Authority coincided with an end to all but the hardiest superhero titles.  (That didn’t stop westerns, romances and others from remaining viable, mind you.  It also didn’t stop the Superman and Batman juggernauts completely.)  By 1954, experimentation was the watchword, and the creators of Captain America decided to go back and try what worked for them before.  We open with uber-patriotic commentator Johnny Flagg, broadcasting coast-to-coast with a warning about communists, traitors and enemy spies!

Even though the leg-work is being done by his milquetoast brother Nelson, Johnny’s televised warning earns the ire of the man upon whom he was blowing the whistle, one Peter Piper. (The punny names are a running gag in this book, as next issue’s villains are The Doubleheader and the Handsome Devils.)  Having lost a promising patsy, Piper decides to directly strike back against Johnny himself…

The thirst to avenge his brother’s untimely demise leads Nelson Flagg to ignore several HUGE red flags in the colonel’s invitation, and the younger Flagg reports bright and early to a strange brand of induction center, only to hear the colonel’s unbelievable (and kind of morbid) plan…

The thing that most people remember Fighting American for these days is being awkwardly revived by Rob Liefeld, but before that the book was known for being one of the first takes on a satirical super-hero.  While this origin story is played somewhat straight, I suspect that Simon & Kirby had the impetus for that satire in mind when they created this portion of the tale, as it’s kind of the ultimate bizarre origin, complete with disturbing Frankenstein-inspired body-switching apparatus.

Now that he has his big brother’s face and form, Nelson takes over his broadcasts, leaving the villains confused and more angry than ever.  Piper calls Johnny Flagg on the phone (??) and goads him into a meeting, but gets a lot more than he bargained for when the Fighting American arrives!

Looking at these pages, I’m struck by how inordinately complex F.A.’s costume is, filled with stars and stripes and cuffs and such, but how it doesn’t QUITE cross over the line into ridiculousness (especially by 1950s standards.)  Fighting American’s intent to smash communists and spies parallels “Johnny” Flagg’s crusading broadcasts, leading the enemies of America to strike against him again…

Another explosion exposes Johnny’s identity to the young page, who follows our hero as he races against time (and away from more tiny bombs) to track the villains to their underground lair.  Simon & Kirby even give us an explanation (Nelson did a documentary about the construction of the sewers under the city, apparently) before Fighting American and his page confront the villain of the piece:  a Nazi cyberneticist, with a knack for building exploding robots!

“Hey, kid!  You’re not dead, so now you’re a superhero!”  You have to love old comics sometimes.  (I’m sure that I’ll get at least two comments telling me “No” before morning, so if you’re planning to write one, feel free to quote your favorite Rogers & Hammerstein lyrics instead.)  With two origins under their belt, S&K move on to the next enemy of America, as Johnny Flagg issues an open challenge to try to beat the American entry in the upcoming European Road Race!  Why?  Because it’d be a short issue otherwise!

“Gnortz & Boltz.”  Heh.  With the American driver dead, Fighting American and Speedboy see no choice but to take his place in the rally, winning the race in a mere four panels (it was the 50s, they had stuff to get to!) before discovering that DAN GRADY NEVER HAD A DAUGHTER!!!  Turns out, the girl was the very communist spy who killed the driver.  Wanna bet she doesn’t see the end of the issue?

Hooray for America!  The Eiffel Tower is destroyed, and the bad guys thwarted, and also we won a road race!  What does this have to do with fighting Communists?  I don’t know, and probably neither do you!  In later years, Joe Simon was interviewed about the origins of Fighting America, and admitted that he was created (and this issue written) with the intent of him being a straight-forward communist-fighting dynamo.  Soon enough, though, the crusade of Senator Joe McCarthy began going off the rails, leading the creators to re-imagine the character as a looser and frankly goofier take on the two-fisted heroes of yore.  Fighting American #1 is, sadly, not the best of the unorthodox hero’s run (but it is the one that I own) and plays the sillier elements of the series a little too straightforward, but still manages to look really spiffy (Simon & Kirby together is always fun to read) and impress me enough to earn 3 out of 5 stars overall.  This issue almost makes me forgive the thankfully-short-lived Liefeld incarnation of the character, which is a tall order, indeed…

Rating: ★★★☆☆

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