As indicated by the cover caption “From the creators of Captain America”, the pitch of Fighting American is clear. It’s a patriotic hero with a familiar feel from the original creators — but if you’re just looking for a tie-in to one of the summer blockbusters, you’re underestimating the inspired insanity of Jack Kirby.
First, the basics. This paperback includes all the Fighting American comics — the first seven issues, published by Prize from 1954-1955; the attempted first-issue relaunch from Harvey in 1966; and an unpublished followup. (It’s the same material restored for The Simon & Kirby Superheroes coffee table book, but this volume is more focused and cheaper.)
Johnny Flagg is a television broadcaster, former star athlete, and war hero who bears the scars of his service through his use of crutches. His younger, mousier brother Nelson looks up to him and writes his crusading TV speeches. When Johnny is killed by enemies of America, the government enlists Nelson to participate in an experiment. Nelson is transferred into Johnny’s revitalized body and given the costume of Fighting American. There’s even a young sidekick, Speedboy, who otherwise works as a page at the TV studio. (And doesn’t have another name. In his first story, he’s only referred to as “page boy” and “young fellow”, and from then on, “Speedboy”.)
Fighting American’s main difference from Captain America is that he was created and operated in the mid-50s, not the less-nuanced World War II era. Fighting American had to struggle with the Cold War and its paranoia about Communists. After the first few stories, played straight as Fighting American fought the usual saboteurs and foreign spies, a demented sense of humor took over, parodying the red scare attitudes of the period. For instance, a gang of killer muggers called “The Handsome Devils” turn out to be ugly, jealous men in masks. Poison Ivan brainwashes neighborhood kids into communists by telling them how the Commies invented baseball and television. The great lover Doraymirio hoodwinks heiresses to take their money for foreign enemies.
Then there’s Simon and Kirby’s ridiculous creativity. Doubleheader, for instance, takes over the rackets with a telekinetic device that lets him win at gambling — but his most distinctive feature is that he’s got one body and two heads. Plus, one is smart, one a hoodlum, so they’re constantly arguing with each other. In another story, the miracle nutrition of Z-Food has transformative powers, turning people into their true natures, whether giants or balloons full of hot air. One tale is a twisted ad for body-building, as Fighting American’s workout regime allows him to survive being thrown back in time into a gladiatorial arena.
That’s the appeal of this volume to me — as I read the stories, they got crazier and weirder, all populated with Kirby’s dynamic, packed art. It was like mainlining artistic originality. You can read the sci-fi dream story “Home-Coming Year 3000” online as a preview, or the ethnic humor of “Jiseppi the Jungle Boy”. Harry Mendryk, who did the art restoration, talks about the process he used and has posted lots of Fighting American art online. (The publisher provided a review copy.)