Joe Simon & Jack Kirby - Fighting American
Classic 50s action with satirical edge from famed writer and artist team
Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, the greatest writer-artist team of the Golden Age of comics, created, among other colourful costumed crime-fighters, the star-spangled superhero Captain America. Conceived as the ultimate patriot in response to wartime America’s heightened patriotism, Cap first appeared in 1941, and has, over the years, sold upwards of 200 million copies of his red, white and blue branded title. But by the 1950s the public’s appetite for superheroes was on the wane and Cap was cancelled in favour of more popular horror and romance comics. He famously reappeared in 1964, when he became a member of the Marvel Comics super-team The Avengers (once more drawn by Kirby), and his popularity has continued, with a few ups and downs, to the present day, when we look forward to the immanent release of the Hollywood blockbuster Captain America: The First Avenger.
Cap was briefly revived in the mid-1950, but attempts to re-brand him as a ‘Commie smasher’ met with failure. What news of his reappearance did do, however, was prompt his original creators, Simon and Kirby, to get in on the act and capitalise on Cold War paranoia with another all-American hero. Fighting American was inspired by Captain America, and the title, which ran for seven issues from 1954-55, might have been nothing more than a pale imitation, if it weren’t for Simon and Kirby swiftly agreeing to turn their new creation into a pastiche of their old one and satire on the era of communist paranoia. Thus, we have the two-fisted ‘champ of split-second action’ and his obligatory sidekick, Speedy, beating the daylights out of a rogues’ gallery of nefarious foreigners – Poison Ivan, Hotsky Trotsky, Super Kakalovich, Hero of the People – as well as home-grown villains including organised crime bosses and swinging playboys – while dispensing all-American homilies such as, ‘I’m going to make more of a mess of you… than you make out of the English language.’ Pow!
It’s daft, fun stuff, and while Fighting American is unsurprisingly dated, the humour gives the strips a new lease of life (they’re also surprisingly violent – in the first issue FA pushes an opponent’s head through a brick wall). The strip also remains an interesting curio: a superhero title dating from a time, at the end of the Golden Age and shortly before the beginning of the Silver Age that reintroduced Captain America as well as The Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, The X-Men, etc, when there was no market for them. Finally, anything co-created by Simon and Kirby, here in the second decade of their fruitful partnership, is worth a look.