Last time, we looked at international superheroes, primarily from the DC stable. In the future, I think I’ll post about Marvel’s assembled Russian and Chinese heroes, although some have their roots in the Red Scare era of the very early Sixties:
I plan to celebrate Captain Britain‘s fortieth birthday in the autumn but the UK has had a long, long relationship of envy and admiration of American culture. From jazz to nylons, from Rock’n’Roll to Prom, from denim to the Kardashians, totems of the American Dream permeate England’s dreaming.
The foremost icons of the Land of the Free in comics are self-evident. Wonder Woman, as DC’s premier superheroine, wears the colours of the USA but her mission of peace through loving submission isn’t American per se. By comparison, as the protagonist in four blockbuster movies, Chris Evans inhabits the role of Captain America and makes him a symbol of integrity and optimism, without being cheesy or stiff.
So, to celebrate Independence Day, we pose the question: who is the second-best patriotic US superhero? I’ll look at these American Dreamers in the order I first “met” them.
Of course, you’ll know that the first star-spangled super-man was The Shield from the Archie/MLJ comics line. He’s an enduring character , perhaps because he’s a redhead. I first saw him in an Alan Class reprint ( where I also came across the likes of Captain Atom and the THUNDER Agents).
I next saw the Shield in the early 80s revival of the Crusaders, where he joined forces with Simon and Kirby’s Private Strong ( a Cap/Superman mash-up)
DC revived the MLJ gang for the !mpact line of kid-friendly comics in the 90s- an inspired idea that never caught on.
As for Cap’s Marvel rivals, I’ve posted before about my soft spot for the bespectacled flier Miss America, whom I first encountered in Marvel Super-Heroes reprint of the All-Winners Squad.
She has a modern-day successor in America Chavez, the enigmatic powerhouse of the Ultimates. (Author Al Ewing also seems fond of his own creation, the adult Danielle Cage – read on…)
Miss A was the second patriotic player in the Bronze Age Liberty Legion, alongside The Patriot. Although this non-powered hero later impersonated Cap at the end of WWII, the only thing that wasn’t bland about him was his busy costume.
The USAgent is a Cap stand-in from the late 80s. Introduced as a pragmatic military man, John Walker was depicted as psychologically unstable, although he was also played as Marvel’s Guy Gardner: the team “asshole”. USAgent also parodied Judge Dredd at one stage.
While Ewing’s newest iteration of the Avengers will star Luke Cage’s grown-up child as Cap, another alternate future introduced an earlier, distaff Captain America:
American Dream and the Dream Team were a witty homage to Cap’s Kooky Quartet and Shannon Cater even starred in two mini-series in the last eight years. She also functions as a bridge to DC’s patriotic heroes, as we’ll see momentarily…
The original Star-Spangled Kid and Uncle Sam were both revived in early- 70s JLA/JSA team-ups written by Len Wein. Sam is more of a living symbol than any of the other heroes in this post and has always struck me as a little ridiculous. And I read several Freedom Fighters comics. (Native American villains. I can’t even…)
The Star-Spangled Kid was a twist on the Bucky role; as you’ll know, his adult aide Stripesy was the junior partner in this duo. I never cared for SSK, with his hand-me-down Starman powers in the JSA revival of the Seventies. He became the leader of Infinity Inc in the 80s and finally took on an adult role as Skyman ( with Lanceleot Strong’s duds, it seemed.)
Skyman was murdered by Solomon Grundy and Mr. Bones in the late 80s but the mantle was passed to Stripesy’s stepdaughter, who seems very similar to the aforementioned American Dream :
Commander Steel was a mash-up of Cap and Iron Man, who had his own short-lived, old-timey series just prior to the DC Implosion. Revived a few years later in All-Star Squadron, he seemed superfluous, as did his teenage son in the infamous Detroit League.
Overshadowed somewhat by the armoured, hammer-wielding namesake through the 90s, the character was revived in 2007. A bereaved and pain -killer -addicted Citizen Steel was an early recruit in the second Johns Justice Society series.
In the new 52, a Filipino Captain Steel made his debut and was promptly melted. I would certainly consider this version for a more diverse DC team, however,
I first encountered Liberty Belle in the early 80s issues of All-Star Squadron. Libby was an athletic heroine who was romantically involved with Johnny Quick– was Roy Thomas deliberately echoing the Whizzer/ Miss America relationship he’d written at Marvel?
Libby became the chairwoman of the Squadron, in a move for equality mirrored by other 80s heroines- Dream Girl, the Wasp and Heather Hudson to name but three. She gained forgettable sonic powers a la Vibe later in the Squadron’s history and a big, red cape. Libby’s daughter Jesse has played the role too, when she’s not using her father’s speed formula. I like other athletic heroines better, I’m afraid.
Miss America was the Post-Crisis substitute for Wonder Woman in the wartime JSA ( although not the first- the story of the Golden Age Fury is worth investigating one of these days, not to mention Wonder Woman’s mother…)
I have a Black Lightning post coming up this month -here, or on our sister blog, Some Fantastic Place. Anyway, this Miss A had transmutation powers, like Firestorm. She mostly adventured on Nazi parallel world, Earth-X, IIRC and is (probably) deservedly forgotten.
Another lesser-known patriotic heroine is Skyrocket, from Kurt Busiek’s Power Company. She’s essentially a mash-up of Cap and Iron Man but also an army aviator. Celia reminds me of Marvel’s Monica Rambeau: a strong, intelligent black woman with leadership qualities but largely overlooked.
So: who is the second-best patriotic hero?
As a “legacy” character for two Golden Age heroes, I think the answer has to be DC’s plucky, likeable Stargirl. Having been a member of the JSA, the New 52 Justice League of America and Justice League United/Canada, plus several episodes of Smallville, Courtney is my favourite flag-waver. The others may also bring pathos or conflict, but Stargirl has perseverance and positivity in spades.
Coming soon: the Sino-Supermen
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