On the heels of the United States elections, not to mention the November 11th commemoration of Veteran's Day, I thought it would be fitting to run a patriotic Cover to Cover column I originally wrote this past summer for Independence Day. Enjoy....and God Bless our veterans!
Ever since the birth of the United States in 1776, its people have devised countless ways to express their patriotism. Some of these expressions are noble and dignified…
…while others…not so much.
Similarly, comic book covers have a long history of patriotic sentiment, with many of them easily qualifying as “noble and dignified”...
…while other covers…..well, let’s just say they fall into an entirely different category.
As great as the more noble covers are, I wanted to dig a little deeper to find patriotic covers that stray off the beaten path. In other words, covers that better represented the endearingly surreal world of superhero comics.
Let’s kick things off with Captain America himself on the cover of his 200th issue, appropriately published during America’s Bicentennial year of 1976. I ask you, what more stirring way to celebrate the 200 year existence of the U.S. than to scream “America Will Die!” across the cover?
Despite his status as the most famous of the star-spangled superheroes, Captain America wasn’t the first. That honor goes to The Shield, introduced in Pep Comics #1 (January 1940), published by MLJ Comics (which would later become Archie Comics).
Here we see The Shield (left), sidekick Dusty (right) and his pal Hangman yucking it up on Pep Comics #26 (1942), while the Liberty Bell itself works over two Axis flunkies. Note the message to “Remember Pearl Harbor”, which had occurred only a month or two earlier (printed cover dates were…and still are…about 3 months beyond the actual month of publication).
Things get much more serious with the next issue of Pep, as the clenched fist of Axis Evil rips through the Bill of Rights! It’s up to our peppy trio to put a stop to it…and maybe tape up the sacred document while they're at it.
In the summer of 1940, The Shield spins off into the awkwardly titled Shield-Wizard Comics, sharing the series with The Wizard, “the man with the super-brain” (and Superman costume). Note the tiny trio from the renowned “Spirit of ‘76” painting marching through the Wizard’s legs.
Though technically not a comic book cover, a bizarre twist on the Spirit of ’76 motif appeared on The Mighty Marvel Bicentennial Calendar. It must have been an inspiring sight for the battlefield patriots to catch a glimpse of two bizarrely costumed men and a giant green monster playing the drums and fife.
The Spirit of ‘76 theme also turned up on the cover of The Marvel Family #23 (1948). However, in place of an American Flag, Cap carries a sign crassly plugging the Marvel Family.
Hawkman had no such reservations about waving Old Glory on All-Star Comics #22 (1944). Under the approving gaze of Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln, the rest of the JSA pulls off the admirable (yet awkward-looking) feat of saluting the flag while running. Even more impressive is the Atom (second from the right), who appears to be running with only one leg!
Another U.S. President makes an appearance on the cover of Hit Comics #44 (1947). Using his ability to summon historical or mythological figures, Kid Eternity brings forth a majestic 8 ft. tall George Washington. Unfortunately, the bizarre “Kid Eternity trips up the Shoe” blurb diffuses some of the scene's glory. (“The Shoe” was apparently one of the Kid’s villains).
History and mythology are once again blurred on the magnificent cover of The Lone Ranger #76 (1954), as the legendary western hero fights alongside the Union forces in America’s Civil War.
Jumping from the Civil War to World War II, we find Batman and Robin celebrating the Fourth of July by…what else?...mischievously blowing up Hitler, Tojo and Mussolini. Batman #18 (1943) was one of literally hundreds (if not thousands) of fiercely anti-Axis comic book covers published during the war years.
The hated trio of Axis leaders are once again humiliated on the cover of National Comics #38 (1944), this time by American icon Uncle Sam himself! An incredibly buff Uncle Sam, I might add.
Taking “a robust American defense” to a surreal new level, a now-shirtless Uncle Sam dispatches a club-wielding King Killer while simultaneously inspiring the creation of the Chippendale Male Dancers many decades later.
With his shirt back on (and dignity restored), Uncle Sam appears in All-Star Squadron #31 (1984), imploring DC’s Golden Age heroes to “Save the World”, specifically the alternate world of “Earth-X”.
World War II patriotism takes a dangerous turn on the first issue of America's Best Comics (1942), as The Black Terror and Doc Strange (along with their boy sidekicks!) are shot from a tank’s cannon before a cheering throng of American children.
Joe Simon and Jack Kirby’s Boy Commandos #3 (1943) continued the child endangerment theme by depicting the lads passing live ammo and operating a cannon.
“Fused powder horns” are the weapons of choice for Miss Liberty, Frontier Heroine on the cover of Tomahawk #81 (1962). Points for a great costume, but points off for tossing her exploding powder horns directly in front of Tomahawk and young Dan Hunter….the guys she’s supposedly rescuing! Hey…watch it, lady!
The Star Spangled Kid and his adult sidekick Stripesy battle the aptly-named Dr. Weerd, who balanced out the liability of his tiny, football-shaped head with…a sledgehammer! Who says the threat level of Golden Age villains had something to be desired?
Finally, what says baseball, mom and apple pie more than a giant hairy hand with bloody fingernails attacking Captain Flag and his faithful bird companion, Yank the Eagle?
Of course, the best thing about Captain Flag wasn’t this cover from Blue Ribbon Comics #19 (1941), but his moving origin story:
Immediately following his father’s murder by criminals, an eagle crashed through the window and carried off the sickly Tom Townsend to its nest! There, the eagle nursed him back to health and, combined with the “healthy mountain air”, transformed Tom into a “physical marvel”.
It gets better.
One day, the eagle brought home an American flag(!), which Tom interpreted as a sign that he should convert the flag into a crime-fighting costume. Calling himself “Captain Flag”, he and Yank the Eagle returned to civilization to fight crime.
Go ahead. Dab the tears from your eyes. I’ll wait.
As you’ve now seen, comic books have long promoted an earnest, sincere and, yes, somewhat skewed love of country. Whether featuring flag-waving Axis-smashers, ammo-passing youngsters or a shirtless Uncle Sam, these patriotic comic book covers wonderfully mirrored the brash vitality, disarming humor and super-sized pride of the American people themselves.