He’s been around nearly as long as that other patriotic superhero – and now, the Fighting American has made his way to the present day.
For those that don’t remember, the Fighting American was created in 1954 by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, who’d co-created Captain America back in the 1940s, and then saw their character being revived without them in the short-lived “Captain America – Commie Smasher!” run. Deciding to do their own book, Simon and Kirby quickly modified what was a straightforward dramatic action story in the first issue to an over-the-top satire in reaction to the McCarthy hearings and anti-Communist paranoia of the 1950s, with campy tales pitting the Fighting American and his sidekick Speedboy against such goofballs as 'Poison Ivan' and 'Hotsky Trotsky.'
The book only ran seven issues, but earned enough of a following as a unique take on superheroes and as a historical curiosity that it returned numerous times. Harvey Comics reprinted some stories in the 1960s, and Marvel did a more comprehensive collection in the early 1990s – while DC comics did a short-lived revival a few years later, followed by another by Rob Liefeld’s Awesome Entertainment in 1997.
But now, the new book Fighting American, out this week from Titan Comics, returns to the satire of the original concept even as it brings it into the present day…literally and figuratively. Yes, the Fighting American and Speedboy are about to meet the 21st Century, and it’s not going to be easy for anyone involved. To find out more, we talked to writer Gordon Rennie (2000 AD, Warhammer) about reviving the most offbeat patriotic hero of the 1950s.
Newsarama: For those who don't remember the character, fill us in a bit on the history of the Fighting American and Speedboy - the past, and what's going on with this new ongoing.
Gordon Rennie: The Fighting American is true blue 1950s patriot Nelson Flagg, whose war hero and radio show host older brother Johnny was assassinated by Red agents opposed to Johnny's anti-Communist crusade.
Luckily, thanks to advanced science and the crazy imaginations of Simon and Kirby, the U.S. military were able to transfer Nelson's consciousness into the body of his dead brother - no, really - and he was reborn as the super-powered Fighting American, defending the US from anyone out of destroy the American way of life.
Our story features the original Fighting American from the 1950s - he's not rebooted or reinvented in any way – except he and his faithful sidekick Speedboy have traveled forward in time to present-day America in pursuit of Poison Ivan, one of the character's classic villains. What they all find is an America very different from the one they knew in the 1950s, and a world far more cynical and complex than the one they left behind in the ‘50s.
Nrama: What made Titan want to take on this concept? It's a little ironic to see a character with the word "American" right there in the title coming from a British publisher.
Rennie: You mean like Marvel publishing a title called Captain Britain?
Rennie: Titan had been reprinting a bunch of old Jack Kirby and Joe Simon stuff, including a collection of the original Fighting American stories. They'd developed a very good relationship with the Kirby and Simon families, who now control the estates of the two late greats, and I think the idea came from there to do a new Fighting American series.
I think the families were particularly keen to see something more in the satirical comedy vein of the original series, rather than the fairly meat-headed takes on the character seen in previous revivals.
Nrama: What tone do you want to strike with the series? The original deeply satirized both superheroes and the anti-Communist fervor of the 1950s - do you want to tackle more of the whitebread tone of older comics or the change in values between the 1950s and the present?
Rennie: Both, really. There's this quite endearing innocence to the Fighting American and Speedboy, that they bring with them from the 1950s into this world, and as they encounter some of its more morally or politically-complex issues.
At the same time, that gee-whizz innocence belies the social conservatism of the era they come from. And which a terrifying large number of people today seem to want to take us back to. The Fighting American is going to be befuddled by some of the changes in social values between his time and ours, and he very much comes from an era that had no idea of the words political correctness, so whether he'll fight against these changes or come to see the values of modern America as still all-American values is the longterm journey he's going to go on in this book.
And we try to make it funny, too.
Nrama: Any favorite characters from the original series? I am fond of Round Robin myself.
Rennie: Yeah, there's lots of great characters among the Fighting American's villain line-up. I particularly like Doubleheader, who's a two-headed mobster with both of his heads having radically different personalities from the other one. We may well be seeing him in a future story arc. There's also Deadly Doolittle, Invisible Irving, and Nazi mad scientist Von Feygel that it would be fun to see in this new version of the strip.
Nrama: For that matter - the Fighting American has had several revivals since the 1950s run. What do you feel is the fundamental appeal of the concept?
Rennie: I think what's always drawn previous revival efforts to the character is the magic of the Simon and Kirby names on it. Other takes played the character really straight, and very much focused on his roots as Joe and Jack trying to replicate the success of their earlier creation Captain America. Seeing the character as simply a Cap retread - or portraying him as such - really seems to miss the humour and the point of satire in the original stories, I think.
Nrama: What are some other older, lesser-known concepts you'd like to revive?
Rennie: It would be particularly fun to do something with Captain 3-D, who's this totally meta character who's trapped inside a comic book but can come to life out of it when the pages are viewed through a special 3-D glasses. I mean, you could have lots of post-modern fun with that. What if he came out of his comic but was still aware that he was still inside another comic?
Nrama: Do you see doing more stories with the Fighting American?
Rennie: Oh yes. It's an ongoing book now – we're planning way ahead on the Fighting American's adventures in the crazy world of the 21st century.