39 Flag-Bedecked Heroes That Did Their Best to Wrestle the Title of “World’s Most Patriotic Superhero” Away From Captain America
1. American Eagle
First appearance: America’s Best Comics #2 (Standard, 09/42)
Captain America may be getting all the Hollywood buzz this summer, but he’s not the only superhero who sported Old Glory while kicking Nazi butt. In fact, the highly patriotic days of the Second World War saw an entire platoon of nationalistic heroes decked out in red, white and blue, many of them inspired by Captain America’s huge popularity among young patriots (as well as soldiers serving overseas). Among those brightly garbed heroes was the American Eagle, also known as young scientist Tom Standish. He was trying to discover the secret of an eagle’s strength and buoyancy (um, okay) when he had an accident involving his “eagle serum” and a strange black ray. Fast forward past the Nazi conspirators and attempt on his life, and Tom discovers the accident has imbued him with super-strength and the ability to leap great distances. Now, a normal scientist might have tried to replicate the accident or taken some time to study its effects on his body, but there’s no time for such scientific niceties when America’s enemies are on the move! And so Standish designs a patriotic costume, calls himself the American Eagle, adopts a young sidekick named Eaglet, and starts a new career as his nation’s wartime defender, a career that outlasted the actual war by about a year.
2. Captain Battle
First appearance: Silver Streak Comics #10 (Lev Gleason, 05/41)
With a name like John Battle, you just know this guy isn’t going to become an accountant or a claims adjuster. A veteran of World War I, Battle decides to stop the coming Second World War before it happens (never mind that the war in Europe had already started in 1939; the U.S. was still not part of the conflict in early 1941 and so for most Americans it hadn’t really started yet). To that end, he sets up a laboratory on top of a mountain and begins his fight against fascist nogoodniks and warmongers. Part Reed Richards and part Nick Fury, Battle is joined in his mission by his various assistants, such as secretary Jane Lorrain, and his sons, Nathan Hale and Captain Battle, Jr. Despite having no superpowers to call his own, he had access to all kinds of advanced technology, including the Curvoscope (which allows him to see anywhere on Earth), a gyroscope-like Luceflyer (for easy transport), and his Dissolvo Gun (take a guess). Enemies included Black Dragon and Baron Doom. Hard to find a good guy named “Baron” anywhere, isn’t it?
3. Captain Commando
First appearance: Pep Comics #30 (MLJ/Archie, 08/42)
If the idea of American Eagle taking a young boy under his wing (ha!) and throwing him up against gun-toting Nazis sounds a little irresponsible, it’s important to remember he wasn’t the first superhero to tart up a prepubescent boy in colorful garb for after-school action. And at least the Eaglet (gak) wasn’t the Eagle’s own flesh and blood… unlike Billy Grayson, a boy who discovered his father was the legendary Captain Commando and decided to show his approval by joining his dad in the crime-busting business as a member of the Boy Soldiers (the “Boy Commandos” name having already been claimed by DC for one of its own fictional squadrons of underaged soldiers). Captain Commando, we were told, was a man so feared by the Nazis that they doubled the manpower in their coastal garrisons when they heard he was heading their way… but he was apparently powerless to tell his own son the European battlefront was no place for kids to hang out. Final appearance: Pep #56, about a year after the war ended, and probably around the time Child Services came knocking on the Captain’s door.
4. Captain Courageous
First appearance: Banner Comics #3 (Ace Magazines, 09/41)
No relation to the similarly named British novel about life on the high seas, Captain Courageous distinguished himself by wearing a distinctive star-shaped mask and by being more than a mere mortal looking to avenge the boys at Pearl Harbor. Like the more famous Uncle Sam (see below), Cap was a supernatural “spirit of courage” who came into existence and shared his superpowers (strength, flight, ability to survive underwater) whenever brave men and women needed some courage. Apparently, that didn’t happen too often, as he made a handful of Golden Age appearances in Banner Comics and Four Favorites before fading away, never to be seen again.
5. Captain Flag
First appearance: Blue Ribbon Comics #16 (MLJ/Archie, 09/41)
Captain Flag had a pretty generic name and costume, but he made up for it by having the most batshit crazy origin story ever conceived. He started out as effete playboy Tom Townsend, who witnessed his wealthy inventor father’s murder at the hands of the eeee-vil Black Hand. Before he could do anything about it, an eagle crashed through the window(!) and carried him off(!!). Taken to the eagle’s nest and treated like one of the eagle’s own chicks, Townsend turned into a physical marvel (can’t beat that clean mountain air!) and made a costume out of an American flag the eagle brought to him one day. No, I’m serious! Calling themselves Captain Flag and Yank the Eagle, Townsend celebrated the start of his superhero career by bringing his father’s killer to justice. He lasted all of seven issues of Blue Ribbon Comics, making his final appearance in early 1942 — probably around the time the office peyote supply ran out.
6. Captain Freedom
First appearance: Speed Comics #16 (Harvey, 05/41)
Like many other heroes, Captain Freedom had a secret identity (Don Wright). Like many other heroes, he worked as a journalist during the day (heroic newspaper publisher). Like many other heroes, he fought saboteurs, spies and anyone else undermining the Allied war effort. Like many other heroes, he took under his wing a group of young children who aided him in his fight against evil (the Young Defenders, four newsies whose names and appearances varied depending on the story). Unlike most other heroes wrapped in the flag, he started out with some basic super-strength and flight abilities, but those powers vanished soon after his first appearance. Super or not, he outlasted the war longer than most patriotic heroes, marking his last appearance in the 44th and final issue of Speed Comics (02/47).
7. Commando Yank
First appearance: Wow Comics #6 (Fawcett, 07/42)
Compared to most of the other heroes on this list, Commando Yank’s outfit was very subdued, consisting only of khaki coveralls, a blue mask, and a blue chest emblem with a white star and ill-advised looks-like-a-bull’s-eye circle in the middle. But that was enough to let those no-good Ratzis know which country was kicking their butts! Without the mask, he was war correspondent Chase Yale, another in a long line of comic-book reporters who decided to do more about the evil that men do than just write about it. So he joined Naval Intelligence and, when duty called, fought freedom’s enemies as Commando Yank. He had no powers beyond a good deal of training with guns and knives, but that was enough to get him through the war, and he made his final Golden Age appearance in Wow Comics #64 (03/48).
First appearance: USA Comics #1 (Timely/Marvel, 08/41)
“As long as there is injustice, there is a need for a defender to battle it.” In a likely unintentionally humorous bit of prose, another web resource notes the Defender was “perhaps inspired by the example of other patriotic heroes.” Perhaps? Appearing not long after the first issue of Captain America hit the stands, the Defender was clearly an attempt by Timely to cash in on the captain’s popularity, with old artwork repurposed to replace Captain America and Bucky with the Defender and Rusty. A skilled fighter who was trained as a U.S. Marine, Don “Defender” Stevens was known for sporting red-and-white-striped leggings and a prominent “USA” printed vertically down his torso. He’s also known for starring in a flashback scene in a 2004 issue of Daredevil, a scene in which a New York City mobster recounts just how easy it was for him to kill a superhero who didn’t possess any actual superpowers. Shoulda stuck to fighting Nazis, Don!
9. The Eagle
First appearance: Science Comics #1 (Fox Features, 02/40)
Not to be confused with the American Eagle, the Eagle was wealthy American scientist Bill Powers, who also fought Nazis as a spy before putting on a costume to fight them again as the Eagle. At one time, he had wings that allowed him to fly; later, he chucked the wings in favor of an anti-gravity solution that he soaked his cape in before every adventure (making him possibly the only hero whose own personal kryptonite was laundry day). And of course, like any other self-respecting patriotic superhero, he also came equipped with the requisite super-strength and sidekick (codenamed “Buddy” — and yeah, they weren’t really trying with that one). The Eagle was also willing to kill his enemies if necessary, which shouldn’t surprise anyone familiar with the publishing practices of Fox Features, a place where “if it bleeds, it leads” wasn’t just a colorful journalistic phrase.
10. Fighting American
First appearance: Fighting American #1 (Prize, 04-05/54)
Of course, the end of the Second World War didn’t mean the end of American nationalism. While most patriotic heroes retired after the end of the war, a number of them, including Captain America, fought the good fight until 1949, when he joined the rest of his costumed comrades in forced retirement. A brief revival in 1953 pitted Cap against the Commies, but its short run suggests readers in Eisenhower’s America weren’t keen on savoring the adventures of gaudily costumed heroes beating up enemies of the state. That didn’t stop other companies from giving it a try, especially when they had a few all-stars on their payroll. Fighting American was created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, the same dynamic duo that created Captain America; they let Prize Comics have first crack at Fighting American because of their previous successes with Prize’s romance and horror line-ups. In a nutshell: when athletic radio announcer Johnny Flagg is murdered by enemy agents, his wimpy brother, Nelson, volunteers for an experiment in which his mind is placed in his brother’s rebuilt and enhanced body. Together with Speedboy, he then fights such villains as Hotsky Trotsky, Poison Ivan, and Super Khakalovich. As you can imagine, he was very much a product of his time, and attempts to revive him for modern audiences have confirmed his status as a product of his time.
11. Fighting Yank
First appearance: Startling Comics #10 (Standard, 09/41)
With his green cape, white shirt, and blue jodhpurs, Fighting Yank proved you didn’t have to literally wrap yourself in the American flag to fight for your country… but just in case anyone doubted where his loyalties lay, he sported a picture of a waving American flag on his chest. Bruce Carter was a Revolutionary War soldier whose failure to keep information out of enemy hands condemned his spirit to walk the earth. Many years later, he visited his descendant, also named Bruce Carter, to show him the location of a magical cloak and tri-corner hat that can bestow invulnerability and super-strength on the wearer. His girlfriend, Joan Farwell, was in on his secret right from the start, and she usually accompanied him on his adventures. Despite some of the more far-out aspects of his story (a magical tri-corner hat…?), he lasted longer than most other Golden Age heroes, appearing in Startling, America’s Best, and his own comic until 1949.
12. The Flag
First appearance: Our Flag Comics #2 (Ace, 10/40)
In case you ever wondered if there is such a thing as trying too hard with the whole “patriotic hero” motif, allow me to introduce you to the Flag. Young Jim Courtney was left on the doorstep of a crippled war veteran and flagmaker, who discovered the infant had an American flag birthmark on his chest. On his 21st birthday, he was visited by the spirits of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln (what, Millard Fillmore was booked?) and told by them that he would have the “speed of the wind and the strength of 100 men,” as well as the powers of flight and invulnerability, in his fight against America’s enemies. Oh, and he would leave a star-spangled trail behind him whenever he ran, because the tight pants and striped sash didn’t make him silly enough. And his birthmark glowed whenever somebody called the Flag for help. Really, it’s a shock to learn he didn’t train his butt to whistle “Yankee Doodle” every time he bent over. Total Golden Age appearances: five, which was about four too many.
First appearance: Captain Aero #1 (Holyoke, 12/41)
And then, as a flag fluttered through the window, he said to himself, “Criminals are a cowardly and unpatriotic lot. So I shall become… Flag-Man!” Eh, not quite. Truth to tell, I’m not sure how or why Major Hornet decided to wear a mask and cape, but I’m guessing highly patriotic reasons were involved. An aide to the President in his civilian identity, Flag-Man and his sidekick, Rusty, fought against those enemies of the state who could not be dealt with through the usual legal channels. Okay, fine — he killed people, all right? But they were bad people who hated America, so… that makes it all right, I guess. He had no powers to speak of beyond a good roundhouse punch, but he got around quite a bit, fighting for truth and justice both on the homefront and in the South Pacific against the Japanese. Roosevelt must have been pretty generous with the vacation time back then.
14. The Great Defender
First appearance: Hit Comics #18 (Quality, 12/41)
Why, yes, now that you mention it — “super-humility” was apparently one of this hero’s many powers. “Great” or not, the Great Defender was one of those special heroes whose powers didn’t come from hard work or a handy brush with radiation. Stormy Foster was just another meek and mild pharmacy assistant who discovered a “vitamin” (DRUG!) that could give him the strength, speed and endurance of ten men. He then decided to create a patriotic costume and use his vitamin (DRUG!) to fight spies and saboteurs. He was often assisted in his adventures by Ah Choo, a horribly stereotypical Chinese-American boy who worked at another drugstore, and by Dr. Vaughan, his kindly and oblivious boss who rarely questioned Foster’s tendency to disappear from work for hours at the time… or ever wondered where his store’s supply of vitamin (DRUG!) ingredients kept going.
First appearance: Exciting Comics #15 (Nedor, 12/41)
The details of Liberator’s origin story don’t suggest much of a patriotic motive for his actions: chemistry professor Nelson Drew discovers an ancient Egyptian formula that temporarily gives him superhuman strength, speed, invulnerability, and the ability to hold his breath for an extended length of time. But that was the 1940s for you: you get superpowers, you cut up a flag for your costume, you go out and kick the asses of whatever fifth columnists you could find, including X-3, the “diabolical Nazi spy and man of a thousand faces!” His final Golden Age appearance took place in Exciting Comics #35 (10/44), but like a lot of other public-domain superheroes he was revived by Alan Moore for his 1999 Tom Strong series. A guy could do a lot worse than end up in an Alan Moore story.
16. Liberty Belle
First appearance: Boy Commandos #1 (DC, Winter 1942)
Elizabeth “Libby” Lawrence can probably claim the top prize in the “wrong place in the wrong time” sweepstakes. First, she and her father, a U.S. Army major, were in Poland when Germany invaded that country. After her father was killed in a blitzkrieg, Lawrence escaped to Holland only to see that country invaded, and then to France, where she also witnessed the fall of that nation. She escaped by swimming the English Channel, a feat of courage that turns her into a media celebrity and spokesperson for American involvement in the war. One day, while visiting the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, she discovers that the tiny replica of the bell which she always carries vibrates whenever the real bell is struck, an act that somehow imbues her with great strength and bravery. Her adventures just barely outlasted the war, but she had the good luck to be chosen as one of the lead characters in The All-Star Squadron, a 1981 series that revived DC’s wartime heroes for a new generation of readers. Thanks to that gig (and her status as one of the few high-profile DC heroines from the 1940s not named “Wonder Woman”), she’s enjoyed a steady career ever since. Well, her luck had to change eventually.
17. Major Victory
First appearance: Dynamic Comics #1 (Harry ‘A’ Chesler, 10/41)
Fans of DC’s Spectre might find Major Victory’s origin story a little familar — a nameless soldier was on night patrol at a U.S. army installation when he ran afoul of a saboteur’s bomb, which killed him instantly. The soldier’s remains are then taken to “Father Patriot,” who restores his body and brings him back to life by ringing the Liberty Bell. Now christened Major Victory, the resurrected soldier fights for America wherever he’s needed, and he appears whenever Father Patriot rings the Liberty Bell in a way that only Major Victory can hear. Unlike the Spectre, Major Victory doesn’t pick up any ghostlike powers during his resurrection, but Father Patriot was kind enough to also provide him with a mountain hideout, a radio receiver, and a plane in his fight for freedom and liberty. Although I have to say, after the whole “bringing him back to life” thing, giving him a plane and a place to crash between missions doesn’t seem that impressive.
18. Minute Man
First appearance: Master Comics #11 (Fawcett, 12/41)
You like things that are uncomplicated? Fine. Try this on: U.S. Army Private Jack Weston wanted to do more for the war effort than just being stationed at Camp Blaine, so he put on a costume and went to fight Nazis as Minute Man, the “one-man army.” Because he was a Fawcett character, he also got to join Bulletman, Bulletgirl and Captain Marvel Jr. in the Crime Crusaders Club, which was awfully nice of them, considering his only apparent power is “figuring out how to wash his costume in a manner that’s respectful of the U.S. flag.” He was mostly forgotten after the war, thanks in large part to Fawcett exiting the comic-book business in the early 1950s, but he was among the characters picked up by DC when it bought the rights to all the Fawcett characters, including Captain Marvel. He’s since made a few appearances in DC’s various Shazam! titles over the years.
19. Miss America (I)
First appearance: Military Comics #1 (Quality, 08/41)
Joan Dale was just another reporter catching an afternoon snooze on a bench near the Statue of Liberty when she had a dream in which the statue came to life. It told Joan that it would give her magic powers to help America because it heard her wish to possess the powers of the Statue of Liberty to help those in need. Apparently, the statue is more of a magician that it lets on, because Dale woke up with the ability to make a tree disappear and turn a gang of thugs into doves. She decided to use her newfound powers to stop criminals and enemy agents as Miss America (the name a man grateful for her intervention had given her), though at first she chose to do so in civilian clothing (her costume with the flag color scheme didn’t appear until the fourth issue). Her strip lasted only seven issues, and she was gone by the time Marvel put out its own Miss America (see below). Even when DC bought up Quality’s characters in 1956, there was little indication anyone there even knew she existed… until the mid-1980s, when a rewrite of the whole DC universe gave Miss America a new origin in which her “magic dream” was replaced by the story of a mad scientist working underneath the statue and kidnapping Dale to subject her to strange experiments that gave her the same superpowers, with her none the wiser and assuming her induced hallucinations about a talking statue were actually magic. Yeah, that’s more believable.
20. Miss America (II)
First appearance: Marvel Mystery Comics #49 (Timely/Marvel, 11/43)
As mentioned above, the first Miss America caused barely a ripple in the comic business, so it’s possible Marvel’s editors didn’t even know of her existence when they pushed out their own character of the same name. Their version was certainly more successful than Quality’s Miss America: more than four years in the back pages of Marvel Mystery Comics, her own title after only six months, and a gig as a member of the short-lived All Winners Squad (a 1970s series scripted by Roy Thomas also retroactively made her a member of the Liberty Legion). Madeline Joyce was just another beautiful ward of a radio tycoon when she witnessed an experiment in which a professor was able to harness awesome power from a lightning bolt. Rather foolishly, she tried to duplicate the experiment on her own, an act that resulted in her being able to fly and perform feats of super-strength. Her last Golden Age appearance was in issue #85 (02/48), but like most Marvel heroes she would make a few return appearances, like the time she appeared alongside other 1940s Marvel heroes in a 1997 episode of the Spider-Man animated series.
21. Miss Victory
First appearance: Captain Fearless #1 (Helnit, 08/41)
Living in Washington, D.C., has been known to drive people crazy from time to time, but few of them actually go so far as to put on a superhero costume because of it. Joan Wayne (no relation to the iconic movie star) was just another Washington stenographer who grew tired of the crime and corruption around her, so she decided to help out the FBI by putting on a red-white-and-blue costume and beating up criminals and crooked politicians. It probably sounded like a better idea in theory. Not that she was completely foolish about her decision to leap in front of bullets; despite any explanation for how she got such powers, she did possess superhuman strength, flight and durability. She hung in there until 1946, and then disappeared completely until the 1980s, when AC Comics resurrected her and a number of other public-domain heroes for brand-new adventures; in this new lease on life, she’s a scientist whose war efforts included the superhero-creating V-47 Formula. And it’s Ms. Victory now, thank you very much.
22. Mr. America/Americommando
First appearance: Action Comics #1 (DC, 06/38) [as Tex Thompson]; Action Comics #33 (DC, 02/41) [as Mr. America]; Action Comics #54 (DC, 11/42) [as Americommando]
Debuting in the same issue as Superman’s first appearance, Tex Thompson started out as a Texas oil millionaire free to live a life of adventure, foiling spies and criminals wherever he found them. That carefree life changed when he was on a refugee supply ship heading for Europe that was blown up by the Nazis. Presumed dead, he turned up alive in Portugal, swearing vengeance against all of America’s enemies. Now calling himself Mr. America, he dyed his blond hair black and adopted a costume based on the American flag; he carried his patriotic motif even further by whistling “Yankee Doodle” to unnerve opponents and leaving red, white and blue feathers behind as a sign that he’d been there. (Less patriotic in theme was his choice of a whip as his main weapon and his use of a flying carpet as a cape. Hey, whatever gets the job done.) Not too long after this new stage in his career, Thompson was ordered by President Roosevelt himself to undergo military training and become Americommando, the nation’s top commando behind enemy lines. His final Golden Age appearance was in Action Comics #74 (07/44), and he wouldn’t be seen again until DC’s The All-Star Squadron series in the 1980s; he also played a pivotal — though not very flattering — role in DC’s 1993 Golden Age mini-series.
First appearance: Human Torch Comics #4 (Timely/Marvel, Spring 1941)
“This is the Story of One American Who Decided to Do Something About It All!” Reporter Jeff Mace was on a plane heading for Virginia, where a strike at a munitions plant was also attracting the attention of high-ranking government officials, who were also on the plane. The strike was the work of a group of dastardly fifth columnists, who were so determined to cause trouble they replaced the plane’s pilots with their own agents! After the agents parachuted from the plane, Mace became the Patriot and pulled the plane out of its death dive, bringing the officials safely to the airport and ensuring a settlement to the strike. And an important lesson was learned by all: striking is just plain un-American! Debuting around the same time as the far more successful Captain America, the Patriot enjoyed a brief Golden Age career; he was brought back as part of Marvel’s WWII-era Liberty Legion team (“America’s Homefront Heroes!”) in 1976, the same year readers learned he had also assumed the role of Captain America back in the 1940s after Rogers went missing. He died in a 1983 issue of Captain America, his patriotic partner by his side to the end.
24. Pat Patriot
First appearance: Daredevil Comics #2 (Lev Gleason, 08/41)
As you may have noticed from other entries on this list, a patriotic superhero didn’t always need fancy superpowers to put on a flag and do the right thing; why, all any true-blue American really needed to fight spies and gangsters was a bit of gumption and spunk! And maybe a little moxie on the side. Patricia Patrios would certainly agree with that; she started her career as an assembly-line worker, doing her part for the war effort even though the U.S. wasn’t yet officially involved. When she brought her workplace concerns to her foreman, she was fired for insufficient dedication, but she had no time to worry about that flagrant violation of labor law because that night she was acting in an amateur stage production as a female version of Uncle Sam. On the way home, while still in costume, she wound up foiling an operation that was stealing airplane motors and smuggled them to Axis nations… an operation masterminded by none other than the foreman who fired her! Dubbed “Pat Patriot” in the ensuing media reports, the incident encouraged her to use her new name and costume to defend the homefront (though she continued appearing onstage as well). Her last appearance was in Daredevil Comics #11 (06/42) and… well, that was pretty much it.
25-27. Red, White and Blue
First appearance: All-American Comics #1 (DC, 04/39)
Conceived by Superman creator Jerry Siegel, “Red” Dugan, “Whitey” Smith and “Blooey” Blue were three childhood pals who grew up and enlisted in the U.S. military when Hitler was running rampant through Europe. Redheaded Red wore the blue dress uniform of an Army Intelligence officer, blond-haired Whitey wore the reddish-brown uniform of a U.S. Army man, and dark-haired Blooey wore the whites of a Navy seaman. (Don’t worry, there won’t be a quiz later.) In their first adventure, they unite to save a young woman by the name of Doris West, not realizing she was actually a federal agent on the trail of a spy ring. Despite their disparate duties, the three men went on many thrilling missions alongside West, who functioned as their government contact. The strip was fairly popular despite it not being a straight-up superhero feature, and the quartet marked their final appearance in All-American Comics #71 (09/45), a book that appeared on newsstands roughly around the same time Japan surrendered to end the war. The feature stands out as being one of the very few Golden Age properties DC has never revived, not even for a quick mention in any of its Who’s Who series. Maybe if one of them had at least tried wearing a cape…?
28. The Shield
First appearance: Pep Comics #1 (MLJ/Archie, 01/40)
Someone has to be first. Considered the very first patriot-themed superhero to hit the stands, the Shield debuted a full 14 months before Captain America even thought about punching Hitler in the face. So why hasn’t anyone tried to make him the next Hollywood star? While it’s true the Shield was a success for MLJ Comics right from the start, his debut probably didn’t have the same impact as Captain America’s because the U.S. wasn’t as concerned about the war when the Shield first appeared as it was when Captain America #1 came out (the Shield also had a habit of going after gangsters and spies, decidedly smaller fish than Hitler, Cap’s first cover villain). The first Shield story revealed that Joe Higgins was the son of scientist Tom Higgins, who discovered a chemical that could give superpowers to ordinary humans. Alas, he was killed by enemy agents, and so Joe used the process on himself to become the Shield. Armed with limited super-strength, invulnerability, and the ability to leap superhuman distances, his identity was known only to FBI boss J. Edgar Hoover. The Shield was eventually muscled off the cover of Pep by a certain red-headed teenager, and by issue #65 (12/45) he was completely out of the book. He’s made a few appearances since then, particularly in the 1960s as part of Archie’s Mighty Crusaders team and in the 1990s as part of DC’s Impact line-up, but his lack of career traction suggests modern-day readers only have so much room in their hearts for overly patriotic heroes.
29. Spirit of ’76
First appearance: Pocket Comics #1 (Harvey, 08/41)
As you’ve probably noticed, a large number of these flag-draped heroes were just ordinary joes who decided to put on a flashy costume and fight evildoers because they felt the normal channels for making a difference (becoming a cop, joining the army, etc.) weren’t enough. That was certainly the case for Gary Blakely, a patriotic young fellow whose family had served in every armed conflict in his nation’s history. Witnessing the Nazi advance through Europe, the Oxford scholar and star athlete headed back to America to become a cadet at West Point. Realizing he had to wait four years before seeing any action, he dons a costume based on the Revolutionary War uniform of his great-great grandfather, calls himself The Spirit of ’76 and goes out to anonymously kick traitorous ass. (Note: He’s not to be confused with the Spirit of ’76, a superhero first introduced in Marvel’s 1970s Invaders series who, like Patriot, was later revealed to have donned the Captain America uniform when the original Cap went missing, only to get crushed by a giant robot. I’m starting to think that Captain America uniform is jinxed).
30-31. Star-Spangled Kid and Stripesy
First appearance: Star Spangled Comics #1 (DC, 10/41)
Not content with just pumping out patriotic heroes, many publishers in the 1940s pumped out titles that made it very clear which way their flag flew. Star Spangled Comics joined National, Our Flag, All-American and other similarly themed titles to deliver the best in jingoistic entertainment. The stars of the first issue were, appropriately enough, the Star-Spangled Kid and Stripesy, two more in a long line of superheroes with nothing more than pluck and courage to see them through a fight. Young Sylvester Pemberton was at the movies watching a patriotic film when Nazi sympathizers tried to stir up trouble; he quelled the riot with the help of mechanic Pat Dugan. The next day, at Dugan’s garage, a customer within earshot of both men wished the American flag could come to life and show Nazis who they’re messing with, and Pemberton and Dugan separately decided to do just that. It was sheer coincidence that one chose the stripes and the other chose the stars for their costumes, and they decided to form a team after working together on a case. By the seventh issue, they lost their cover spot to the Newsboy Legion, but they kicked around the book’s back pages until 1948; they were next seen in 1972 in an issue of Justice League of America, and went on to play various supporting roles in the DC universe.
First appearance: Fight Comics #15 (Fiction House, 10/41)
The first issue of Captain America was cover-dated March 1941; by astonishing coincidence (or not), a huge number of patriotic superheroes hit the stands in issues cover-dated October to December of that year. Fiction House was mostly known for its cheesecake jungle and adventure books, but the temptation to own a successful patriotic hero was apparently too good to resist, as evidenced by the appearance of Super-American. In 1941, scientist Allan Bruce invents the Chronopticon, a machine that allowed him to view the future and communicate across time. Rather than do something useful with it — like, say, find out ahead of schedule how to build an atom bomb, or inform Allied commanders of enemy maneuvers before they happen — he instead contacts the year 2350, a time when everyone in America has superpowers (three cheers for beef hormones!). After the future U.S. president hears Bruce’s plea for help, he sends an American soldier with super-strength and flight powers back in time to help the Allies win the war (even though, one assumes, the future U.S. president would already have known his side won). And then Super-American stepped on a butterfly and doomed us all (no, not really).
33. Uncle Sam
First appearance: National Comics #1 (Quality, 07/40)
A personification of the American spirit, “Uncle Sam’s” roots as a national symbol go back to the early 1800s, but it was artist James Montgomery Flagg who created the character’s definitive look for a U.S. Army recruiting poster during the First World War. As the Second World War engulfed Europe and American patriotism was on the rise, it was only natural for a comic publisher to turn the public-domain character into one of its stars, and Quality Comics was the first publisher to jump at the chance. In his first story, Uncle Sam starts out as a soldier killed during the Revolutionary War, a man who loves freedom so strongly his soul is transformed into his nation’s Spirit of Liberty, lending his strength whenever his country needed him. Fast forward to 1940, where a patriotic American named Ezra Smith is killed by fascists working to undermine American defenses before the nation gets involved in the war. Ezra’s son, Buddy, wishes there were someone to defend America, and Uncle Sam appears before him to do just that. The two of them shared many adventures in both National and Uncle Sam’s own quarterly comic until late 1944, when the public’s passion for patriotic heroes was on the wane; Uncle Sam next showed up in the 1970s in issues of DC’s Justice League of America, where he led a team of heroes on an alternate Earth ruled by victorious Nazis, and the short-lived Freedom Fighters. Fans of Fox News or jingoism in general should skip 1997’s thought-provoking U.S. mini-series, in which writer Steve Darnell and artist Alex Ross portray Uncle Sam as a delirious homeless man bruised and battered by past injustices committed in his name. Heavy.
First appearance: Feature Comics #42 (Quality, 03/41)
Appearing the same month as Captain America, USA is generally considered the first female patriotic superhero to appear in an American comic book. And like Uncle Sam, her male counterpart, she exists as a symbol of her nation’s liberty, existing only to lend her strength to her nation when it needs it. Her story begins in Philadelphia in 1777, where a young girl dies while trying to deliver threads from the first American flag to her Uncle Sam during a snowstorm. Her ghost dwells over her gravesite until 1941, when a passerby discovers a locket and opens it. Bursting forth from the locket, the supernatural hero carries both the Torch of Liberty and the American flag (not the original 13-star flag as you might expect, but the contemporary flag that sported 48 stars at that time). With her powers of flight and energy projection, as well as superb fighting skills, USA took on anyone who threatened the American way of life, and she wasn’t above killing those who wouldn’t admit to the error of their ways. For whatever reason, she didn’t generate much reader interest, and she was gone after seven issues, never to be seen again. Which is just as well: if she stayed any longer, we’d probably still be debating how to pronounce her name ( “oosa”? “youssa”? “you-ess-ay”?).
35. U.S. Jones
First appearance: Wonderworld Comics #28 (Fox, 08/41)
U.S. Jones — he was known by no other name — was a costumed superhero who ended up working as an agent for the U.S. Secret Service, which seems a little counter-intuitive when you think about it. A skilled fighter in peak physical condition, he was never given an origin story or an identity other than his costumed one, but he did have a friend called the Grumbler who helped him fight such menaces as the White Killer. By all accounts, he was a minor superhero at a time when publishers were churning out hundreds of them, but he is unique in the sense that, while other superheroes tried to start up fan clubs, U.S. Jones called children to action against America’s enemies with the “U.S. Jones Cadets Membership Kit.” Before America even entered the war, he encouraged young people to keep fit and conserve resources — an unusual endeavor, given most efforts to promote homefront sacrifice didn’t take place until after Pearl Harbor. Dynamite Entertainment brought back U.S. Jones, along with many other public-domain superheroes, in their 2009 Black Terror mini-series, so there’s still a chance readers will get to know the man behind the mask.
36-37. Yank and Doodle
First appearance: Prize Comics #13 (Prize, 08/41)
In the real world, kids who wanted to kick Nazi butt but weren’t old enough to enlist were out of luck; in the comic books, kids had all kinds of options. Most young patriots looking to do their part for the war either got sidekick gigs with a grown-up superhero (think Captain America’s Bucky or Uncle Sam’s Buddy) or formed their own elite military units, like the Boy Commandos. Twin brothers Rick and Dick Walters chose a different route, donning red-white-and-blue costumes and becoming full-fledged superheroes in their own right. Their vaguely defined superpower was the ability to be strong and invulnerable while in the presence of each other, but “America’s Fighting Twins” weren’t too keen on exploring the extent of their powers, preferring instead to just punch all their enemies. (They were also kind enough to make it easier for their opponents to tell them apart by sporting a “Y” and a “D” on their chests when they sprang into action.) Over time, their strip was merged with that of fellow Prize Comics star the Black Owl, and Yank and Doodle were turned into sidekicks for the adult hero. By 1948, Prize Comics had become Prize Comics Western, and that was the end of Yank and Doodle.
38. Yankee Doodle Jones
First appearance: Yankee Comics #1 (Harry ‘A’ Chesler, 09/41)
Hey, kids! Looking for a real American superhero you can root for in the fight against the evil JapaFasciNazis? Then meet Yankee Doodle Jones! After all, he’s got the red-blooded goodness of three crippled war veterans running through his artificial veins! Wait…. what?!?!? Turns out this hero started life as an android created by a scientist who used body parts taken from three World War I veterans — men who didn’t survive the process but willingly gave up their lives for the sake of creating “an American champion.” After he was brought to life in a way that in way no resembled a certain Boris Karloff movie, the artificial being was injected with a secret fluid that gave him heightened strength, speed and durability. As these things tend to go, a group of Nazi agents broke into the lab and mortally wounded the scientist, but not before the scientist’s son injected himself with the fluid and helped Jones avenge his father’s death. Dubbed Yankee Doodle Jones and Dandy (no, really) by Dandy’s dying father, the duo decided to use their powers to defend their country, which they did for the rest of Yankee Comics’ run. And no, don’t ask which dead veteran parts they used to make him, because I don’t want to know.
39. Yankee Girl
First appearance: Dynamic Comics #23 (Harry ‘A’ Chesler, 11/47)
It seems appropriate to place Yankee Girl at the end of this list, since she was one of the last of the patriotic heroes to make an appearance during the Golden Age, and one of the very few to make their debut after the war’s end. Through magical means, young socialite Lauren Mason learns that, just by saying the words “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” she can instantly change into Yankee Girl, a hero that is super-strong, bulletproof, and can fly. Her Golden Age career was brief and undistinguished, and she wasn’t seen or thought of again until the 1990s, when AC Comics revived her to star in its FemForce title. In the AC Comics universe, Yankee Girl and several other Golden Age heroes volunteered to enter suspended animation at a top-secret vault, ready to be revived when the world needed them. Though she’s often depicted as a woman from an innocent era who is naive to the ways of the modern world, that hasn’t stopped Yankee Girl from updating her wardrobe to reflect more modern fanboy tastes. Well, maybe “taste” isn’t the right word to use…