Move over Captain America, make room for the Fighting American
Even though he's probably the best known, Captain America isn't the only patriotic superhero. Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, the team that gave us this red-white-and-blue hero in the 1940s, turned to a new hero in the 1950s. As Simon relates in his autobiography, "Joe Simon: My Life in Comics," just published by Titan Books:
'Fighting American' was our last new project for Crestwood. In December 1953 Timely-Atlas brought back Captain America in a comic book called 'Young Men.' Jack and I still weren't happy about the circumstances that had caused us to leave the title, even though it had been more than a decade since then....'You know,' I said [to Kirby], 'there's no reason we can't do our own character again. They can't corner the market on patriotism, after all.'
Where Cap and his sidekick Bucky battled Nazi goons, the Fighting American and his sidekick Speedboy (who looks like Bucky with peroxide-blond hair) faced off against nefarious Communists during the Cold War 1950s. Along with the Simon autobiography, Titan has published a collection of Fighting American's battles against crazed Commies that's perfect for perusing after you see the movie "Captain America: The First Avenger."
Imagine two brothers who are opposites: Johnny, who's strong and handsome; and Nelson, who's sensitive and small. When crusading newscaster Johnny uncovers a Communist plot, the villains mortally wound him. As he's dying, Nelson swears to avenge him -- and agrees to take part in "Project Fighting American." Unlike Cap's transformation from 4F civilian into super soldier thanks to drinking a powerful serum, the experiment that turns Nelson into the Fighting American involves transferring Nelson's life force and mind into Johnny's body. The transfer's a success, of course, and he goes on to battle a variety of foes, many of which display the kinds of Russian cariacatures based on sterotypes probably floating around American culture at that time.
These include the bumbling, larcenous pair known as Rimsky and Korsakoff; Poison Ivan, an evil peddler of Soviet propaganda; and my personal favorite, the smelly, leaping villain Super-Khakalovitch, who has trouble pronouncing the letter "v." "Fools!" he shouts, "I am inwincible!"
If you're interested in the history of the Red Scare of the 1950s, this collection of comic tales provides an unexpected complement to serious histories: It's an entertaining time capsule of the era.
-- Nick Owchar
Top photo: Cover of "Joe Simon: My Life in Comics"; bottom photo: Cover of "Fighting American" Credits: Titan Books