Written by Rob Liefeld and Jeph Loeb
Drawn by Rob Liefeld and Stephen Platt
Inked by Jon Sibal and Joe Weems V
Published by Awesome Comics
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 barely even tried to make this a unique character. Even the name was lame, “Agent: America”, 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.
But then Marvel sued Rob, because, as you can see his version of Fighting America looks a lot more like Captain America than like the original version of Fighting American.
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).
Honestly, I think the original design just looks better.
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…
[…] PREVIOUSLY: Rob Liefeld’s FIGHTING AMERICAN […]
I am really ambivalent about Rob Liefeld. On the one hand, he has been involved in the creation of some really underwhelming comic books, his artwork is just so wonky and exaggerated, and he has a lot of difficulty staying focused on any one project for an extended period of time. On the other hand, he seems to really love comic books, and no matter how often his various projects meet with setbacks or cancellations he always tries to dust himself off and try again.
I think I’m a lot more forgiving of Liefeld when he works on his own creations, such as Youngblood. I was incredibly annoyed as a reader when Heroes Reborn interrupted Waid & Garney’s great run on Captain America, and felt the same a decade later when he convinced Marvel to give him Cable, cutting short really amazing work by Joe Casey & Ladronn. So I would rather see him just play with his own characters… although nowadays, considering I barely read anything from either Marvel or DC, I doubt I would care at all of the Big Two gave him a series.
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I also had been reading that Waid/Garney run on Captain America and was loving it at the time. That scene where Bill Clinton revokes Captain America’s American citizenship still stands out.
But when it comes to Rob I’ve always been a bigger fan of his own characters. I was not buying comics around the time Image launched, and it was Youngblood #1 that got me back into comics, which including going back and buying much of his and the other Image founders earlier Marvel work, in addition to collecting the rest of the Image output for the next few years. But I think it’s because I discovered Rob through Youngblood that those are the characters I always care about the most, and I prefer when he works on those. And it’s shame that he never seems to put any real dedication towards working on any of his own characters, compared to always coming back to Marvel or even DC.
Like, I understand the idea behind coming back to do new Deadpool comics around the type the movies come out, as you want to capitalize on that publicity, but then he introduces some new character, Major X, for Marvel? And right now he’s doing a Snake Eyes solo miniseries for IDW? Why not do something with one of the dozens of original characters that he still owns? There’s a PROPHET movie currently in the works, so wouldn’t it make more sense to be working on a new Prophet series to hype up that character? I saw a comment in another blog talking about the controversy last year when he lost control of the rights to Younbglood, the person said that although they support “creator’s rights” it was hard to feel bad for Rob when he’s never done much with YB himself. He never even finished the Youngblood Bloodsport miniseries with Mark Millar, which should have come out right at the peak of Millar’s mainstream popularity.
And that goes into the point you made about his lack of focus. In an earlier comment on another post you said it was like Rob has ADHD, and you’re right. I mean, since his original New Mutants/X-Force run which made him a star, he’s never had another extended run on any title, not even one he owns. His career is littered with dozens of false starts, aborted runs, and announced projects that never came to pass. As a fan of his, it can be frustrating.
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[…] out The Shield comic, if only to see him working on another patriotic-themed superhero following his previous work on Captain America and The Fighting American. But then Rob got mad when some art was leaked, which he said spoiled a major plot-point of his […]