PREVIOUSLY: DC Comics’ FIGHTING AMERICAN
This time The Fighting American didn’t stay in publishing limbo for long, for just three years after DC published their miniseries, the character returned in this 2-part minsieries by Rob Liefeld for his new imprint Awesome Comics.
But first let me give some necessary background.
In 1996, Rob was hired by Marvel to revamp Captain America and The Avengers, with Rob himself taking over the art on the Captain America book. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t take this opportunity to post this infamous early promo drawing that Rob did of the character.
Rob drew six issues of his new Captain America series, but then says that at that point Marvel, which was going through serious financial issues at the time that eventually lead to the company filing for bankruptcy, attempted to renegotiate the deal they made with him, paying his less money, and he refused and left the project altogether. But at that point he’d already drawn several pages worth of art for his next couple of issues of Captain America, and didn’t want to just toss them out. So instead he decided he would rework the pages for a new character and publish them at Awesome comics. And thus we were greeted with…
I remember seeing these images in some of the comics news magazines at the time, like Wizard, and even as a fan of Rob’s I thought this was audacious. I mean it’s like he clearly barely even tried to make this a unique character. Even the name was lame, “Agent: American”, that doesn’t even sound right. But this comic was not to be. Instead, he ended up publishing his stories for Fighting American. There was a lawsuit involved with Marvel at the time, and for many years after I assumed that the lawsuit was over Agent: America, with Marvel claiming copyright infringement, and so he licensed Fighting American from Joe Simon and the Kirby Estate to use that instead, which I thought was a smart move since that’s a pre-existing character. But years later I’ve seen Rob write about this on Facebook, he says he actually tried to license Fighting American first, but Joe Simon wanted more money than Rob was willing to pay, so then Rob “created” Agent: America and when Simon saw those ads he realized that Rob was going to carry on without him, and agreed to a better price for Rob.
Even with the added shield, which Fighting America never wielded before, I think if Rob had stuck with the original costume he would have been in better shape legally. Although supposedly the only concession Marvel won in the lawsuit was that Rob’s Fighting American could never be seen throwing his shield, like Captain America frequently does. And so in September 1997, Fighting American vol. 3 #1 was published by Awesome Comics.
This 2-issue series is set in the present, and from the opening credits on the back of the front cover, it’s implied that this is supposed to be the same character from the original series:
“Transformed by science to become American’s premier super soldier, John Flagg lead the battle for freedom during the Cold War in an effort to prevent the spread of communism throughout the free world. Following one of the greatest losses of his career, however, John Flagg retired his costume, leaving behind a legacy of heroism paralleled by few.”
An old enemy of Fighting American’s, called The Red Menace, has resurfaced and launched devastating missile attacks on London, Moscow, and Paris. A man named General Cole, working for the Pentagon travels to Wichita, Kansas where John Flagg is running a farm by himself. Although Flagg initially has no interest in returning to action, once he hears that the Red Menace is back, he agrees. The government gives him his old suit and then they introduce him to S.P.I.C.E. (Super Prototype Intelligent Cyborg Entity), an artificially intelligent android built in the form of a teenage girl, whom they assign as his partner even though Fighting American really doesn’t want a partner, and there’s a brief reference to Speedboy in the first issue, clearly, something bad happened to him which lead to Fighting American’s retirement. But he has no choice but to accept S.P.I.C.E.’s involvement. The U.S. Army’s flying “helijet” takes them to The Red Menace’s base on “Skull Island” which is floating in the air. Fighting American and S.P.I.C.E. land on it and start fighting a bunch of masked henchmen armed with guns. And then a robotic villain called The Iron Cross appears in all his glory.
In the second issue we see that Iron Cross is not alone, he’s got SMASH by his side. Who is SMASH you ask? Well, he’s the Hulk, except purple and with long hair.
Seriously. See for yourself.
We also get some more examples of exactly what S.P.I.C.E. can do, she’s like Inspector Gadget, with a bunch of weapons built into her body. Anyway, without too many spoilers, the heroes defeat the villain and get away before the Skull Island self-destructs. Except we never do see The Red Menace, although he was advertised along with The Iron Skull and SMASH at the end of the first issue. Back at the Helijet, we see Die-Hard from Youngblood and Rob Liefeld’s version of Thor, asking if Fighting American wants to join their new version of the superteam The Allies. But instead Fighting American declares that he’s quitting again.
So how is it?
Well, again, even as an admitted fan of Rob Liefeld, this is not some of his best work. Rob draws the scenes in the present, while Stephen Platt draws flashback scenes set in the past. Their art styles are so vastly different that it’s somewhat jarring. But it’s also just way too obvious that these were redrawn Captain America pages. Even in the flashbacks, the first issue opens in some small Russian town in 1954, where a spaceship crashes and some kind of Soviet military official arrives with a bunch of soldiers to retrieve the craft (and the being inside it) and then they kill all the villagers to cover it up. And then another flashback shows Fighting American on some kind of battlefield fighting Soviet troops, and they’re clearly meant to be Nazis. In the second issue, in another Platt-drawn flashback sequence, Fighting American meets Battlin’ Baron and his Roarin Roughnecks, who are clearly stand-ins for Nick Fury and his Howling Commandos.
And then in Rob’s sequences, S.P.I.C.E. is just his replacement for the young female “Bucky” that he created and teamed up Captain America with when he drew that series. When he draws John Flagg, he’s a dead-ringer for Steve Rogers, complete with blonde hair now although the Simon/Kirby version had brown hair (in fairness, DC’s John Flagg was also blonde, so there is a precedent). At the time I couldn’t help buy admire the “eff you” attitude Rob seemed to be taking against Marvel, if they were going to kick him off an assignment drawing Simon and Kirby’s Captain America, he would now compete with them on another patriotic superhero created by Simon and Kirby. Why not? But he could have put a little more effort into it, including using the original costume.
And what’s weird on that is that Rob ended up creating and selling some Fighting American action figures, one that had his new design and one that had the original design (although with an added shield).
Storywise, while Rob is credited with the story, Jeph Loeb is credit as the writer, so he did the actual scripting. I think he did the best he could in trying to make this into a coherent story, but it’s not his best either. The only notable thing it added to the original Fighting American mythos is that Speedboy finally gets a name, he’s referred to as “Tommy Landers” in the 2nd issue. But what exactly happened to him is still left a mystery for future writers to address…