By: Joe Simon (writer), Jack Kirby (artist), Harry Mendryk (restorer)
The Story: Rest easy, folks! Fighting American and Speedboy will keep you safe from any Commie bozo trying to louse up your freedom!
The Review: The Silver Age was certainly a funny era of comics. Even under the pretense of being more scientifically-minded than the sunnier, more innocent Golden Age, the creators of the period would still enthusiastically embrace the most outlandish or irrational ideas. Imagination took almost absolute precedence over thoughtfulness back then, leaving future readers to wonder how in land’s sakes writers and artists could take themselves so seriously.
Fighting American started off taking itself as seriously as any comic of its time, especially its similarly patriot-minded counterpart, the relaunched Captain America. For a while, it made the same attempts of pseudo-science and melodrama as its peers; the early issues were full of ideas like mind-transference machines, miniature guided missiles, and villains with semi-credible histories (Von Feygel, Nazi expert on robot bombs). But soon afterward, FA evolved into a more self-aware product, becoming more at ease with parodying itself
In the process FA turned into, as some have called it, the Dr. Strangelove of comics. And just like the titular villain of that film, the villains developed an extreme campiness, especially where their dastardly plots were concerned. Poison Ivan literally spends his free time indoctrinating America’s kids: “All the great sports were invented by Communist heroes—basketball, football, gin rummy—hide and seek—and bingo…” One such child later confronts our hero in his alter ego of Jack Flagg: “No! I won’t let that Cossack beat any information out of me!”
This over-the-top behavior is quite enjoyable since it’s only barely distinguishable from the portrayals of politically-minded villains in other comics. You can only see the self-parody of FA in little asides, like Poison Ivan’s foreboding, “Da! You’ll see me soon enough, ‘Mister Fancy Underwear!’” If not for this unprecedented call-out on heroes and their obsession with wearing their underpants outside their clothes, you’d easily believe Simon is totally serious in the follow-up: “I’ll have you shanghaied to Communist country—where everyone wishes he were dead!”
But more than villains are open for mockery in stories like “Z Food”, where the titular product turns people into their innermost selves upon consumption. Sure, the spies turn into balloons since, as Fighting American boasts, “That’s what they happen to be! Communists! And full of hot air, naturally!” But the same line our hero uses to put down his enemies also purposely points his own ignorance, a practice which applies to the narrator as well, as he describes what happens to homeless people who eat Z food, “Tramps don’t change—they like to be tramps.”
Kirby gives this unconventional series the same high class of art he’s now revered for in the creation of some of the most seminal comics of all time. He depicts all the Silver Age science wackiness with astounding credibility, and though most of his characters look more or less the same across titles, within the series itself, each has a distinctive face and build. How can you really critique one of the men who essentially established the standards of comic book art?
Conclusion: This collection of comics shows that at least some people were aware of the ridiculousness of their times. Even though the stories are undeniably silly, they’re silly because they mean to be, which gives them a kind of sophistication even above the more famous Simon-Kirby works.
- Minhquan Nguyen
Some Musings: - “…we saved the television industry! You performed a public service, Fighting American!” “I’m not so sure kid—I’m not so sure!” Oh, Fighting American, you were right to doubt—just look at Jersey Shore and The Apprentice. But at least we also got Community and Mad Men out of it.