PREVIOUSLY: Joe Simon and Jack Kirby’s FIGHTING AMERICAN
Well I guess you just can’t keep a Fighting American down for good. As I noted before, after the initial series came to an end after 7-issues, the character remained dormant for 11 years until an 8th issue was published in 1966. It would be 23 years before the character saw print again when Marvel published a collected edition of the original comics in 1989. 5 years after that, the character returned in a new 6-issue miniseries published by DC Comics (with the first issue being published the same month that Jack Kirby died). This was actually my first introduction to the character, this was the height of the 90’s comic-book boom when I was buying dozens of new comics every week (ah, to be young and have so much disposable income again…), just picking up anything that looked even remotely interesting to me. So I bought this book without any knowledge of the character’s history. I wish I knew more about the behind the scenes creation of this book, and what lead it to be published by DC comics. Did the Marvel compilation spark new interest in the character, and if so why did Marvel not attempt to publish a new series (although I guess they may have felt the character to be redundant since they already have Captain America)?
Whatever the reasons, this book attempted to keep the satirical tone of the original stories, with a healthy dose of humor. The character was still owned by Joe Simon and the Jack Kirby Estate and was simply licensed to DC for this series, so it is assumed to be set in its own separate continuity from the mainstream DC universe. There is a big costume party in the finale issue where several people are dressed like various DC heroes, including Batman, Robin, and The Flash, and a bystander sees Fighting American in costume and says “are you Captain Am-“ but Fighting American cuts him off and say he’s not him.
Writers Dave Rawson and Pat McGreal updated the character’s origin and set it in the then-present day of 1994. We learn that in 1984, Johnny Flagg was a successful daytime TV talk show host who focused on political and financial corruption, and Nelson Flagg was his younger brother who worked for the show. One of Johnny’s targets was man called Poison Ivan, re-imagined here as a corrupt businessman ala Ivan Boesky. One night, Ivan has Johnny shot in a drive-by shooting, with Nelson seeing the whole thing. Right at that moment, Government agents from the secret Project Fighting American show up and take take Nelson along with Johnny’s corpse to a secret lab, where the scientists tell Nelson about the plan to put his brain into Johnny’s rebuilt body to create a superhero to fight the evils of Communism. Nelson is needed specifically because it’s said that the mind-transfer only works when there’s a genetic match between the two people. So Nelson agrees. But he’s not told until after he’s put unconscious that the transfer will take ten years to complete.
But then we see as the years pass eventually, the Soviet Union collapses, and the Cold War is over and communism is no longer seen as a credible threat, so when Nelson is finally revived in Johnny’s new and improved body, the project’s reason for existence is gone. Nelson doesn’t care about that at first, he just wants revenge for his brother’s murder, but when he finally tracks down Poison Ivan, Ivan is already a broke bum living on the streets and he has a heart attack when confronted by Fighting American.
The rest of the series has the government attempting to use Fighting American as a tool for American patriotism, with an entire news apparatus working to promote him and his exploits, although Johnny is uncomfortable with any deception of the American people. They also revive his old TV show, and since no one knew what happened to Johnny Flagg, they create a cover story to explain his ten-year absence, which is so absurd that I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who may want to track the series down after reading this review. The producer of Johnny’s new show is an Asian woman named Mary Loo (clearly a nod to the women named Mary in the original series), whom Johnny is immediately smitten with, but she rebuffs all of his romantic advances with her finally revealing to him in the final issue (after it’s been heavily implied in previous issues) that she’s a lesbian.
And Speedboy is also re-imagined, he’s a young Black man working as a gopher backstage at Johnny’s talk show that helps him out in a jam and Johnny has a costume made for him and makes him his sidekick. And just like in the original series, they never reveal the character’s real name, not even when we see him interacting with his parents (who are also not named), people tend to just call him “kid” and Johnny sometimes calls him “son”. But the twist is that he’s never referred to as “Speedboy” either. After he first gets his costume in the third issue, we see him and Johnny training together, and the kid says he can’t wait to see the headlines: “Fighting American and-“ but then he’s cut off by another character before he can finish, and so we never hear what his planned superhero name was meant to be.
Meanwhile, a secret evil organization known only as the Free Association is working behind the scenes to destroy the Fighting American, and they keep sending new villains after him. Along the way, the story takes several unexpected turns.
In issue #2 a group of costumed crazies called The Media Circus use doctored footage to discredit the Fighting American and succeed in turning the public against him. In desperation, Johnny reveals his secret identity live on his TV show.
They face the villains GROSS NATIONAL PRODUCT, who is huge and gross and has some kind of hypnotic powers, and DEF IZZIT, a White man in a tiger-print trench-coat who speaks in rhymes. And it ends with Fighting American arrested and taken to jail.
Fighting American is still rotting in jail, although thankfully the prison guards allow him to wear his costume behind bars, madness is sweeping the nation as people are going crazy spending money and causing riots. Mary Loo arranges for Fighting American to film his show in prison and “the kid” works to clear Fighting American’s name (again).
This issue is notable as it’s the first to deal with the duel-identity crises that Simon and Kirby ignored in their series. A villain with mental powers gets into Fighting American’s mind and brings up all of his insecurities as Nelson Flagg and feelings of inadequacy towards his brother Johnny, plus makes him wonder who he even is now.
And it all ends comes to a suspenseful, action-packed, and satisfying conclusion, with Fighting American standing triumphant and the Free Association exposed and seemingly defeated.
It’s a clever book, and very entertaining, with very nice artwork from Greg LaRocque, but I can see why it didn’t really catch on at the time, as it wasn’t flashy or “extreme” or featuring any A-list characters. And strangely I don’t recall the promotion making a big deal about the Simon/Kirby connection, which I feel was their best chance to sell this book, especially in the wake of Kirby’s death. They should have put their names above the title on the covers, at least.
Still, overall, it was a good effort. Unfortunately, it’s never been collected in a trade, nor are the issues available digitally, but you can order copies HERE.