For two of the patriotic heroes created by Simon and Kirby the alter ego was a soldier (Captain America and the Shield) but for Fighting American it was as a television commentator. These two career choices are not as dissimilar as might be assumed because both provide the alter ego with a patriotic background. The patriotism of soldiers is self evident while as a commentator Johnny Flag can show his patriotism by denouncing Communist supporters. This probably seemed a good choice at first, but not as events progressed in America politics. As mentioned in the last chapter of this serial post, Joseph McCarthy had obtained great popularity in his crusade against Communist and their sympathizers that he declared were imbedded in the government and many American institutions. McCarthy was not without critics and his popularity began to plummet following a television show with Edward Murrow, called See It Now, which aired on March 9, 1954. Afterwards Johnny Flag denouncing Communists seem much too close to McCarthy’s tactics. Further the Red Menace no longer looked as threatening as the Nazi’s during WWII. Apparently Atlas either ignored the shift in American politics or did not know how to respond to it as the Captain America stories they published went unchanged. However Simon and Kirby both saw and knew that something had to be modified if Fighting America would have any chance of becoming popular.
Fighting American #3 (August 1954) “The Man Who Sold out Liberty”, art by Jack Kirby
Joe Simon admits that they changed the type of stories for Fighting American because of McCarthy’s political downfall (as told in “The Comic Book Makers”). The timeline supports his statement as well. The creation of a comic book would start 5 months earlier then the final cover date (1 month to create the art, 1 month to print it, 1 month to distribute and cover dates were 2 months after the comic was actually released). Murrow’s television show on McCarthy was early March so the first Fighting American issue to reflect the impact of the show should be cover dated August which was the cover date for issue #3. In fact the first story for FA #3, “The Man Who Sold Out Liberty”, would have been quite at home in either of the first two issues; criminals and spies, lots of action and no particular emphasis on humor. The only thing that sets this story apart from earlier Fighting American issues is the villain “Square Hair Malloy” who seems like someone out of Dick Tracy.
Fighting American #3 (August 1954) “Poison Ivan”, art by Jack Kirby
Enemy spies appear in another story in issue #3 but how serious could any reader take Hotsky Trotski and Poison Ivan? It wasn’t just the names that were funny, Simon and Kirby poked fun at them as well. Poison Ivan is shown corrupting a small group of boys with outlandish propaganda:
All the great sports were invented by communists heroes… basketball, football, gin rummy – hide and seek – and bingo.
In one scene Poison Ivan is shown poking his little finger into his ear. While humor was also an element found in even their most serious work, Simon and Kirby has taken Fighting American to a whole new level. Comedy would now be an essential part of almost all the stories.
Fighting American #3 (August 1954) “Poison Ivan” page 7, art by Jack Kirby
Poison Ivan may have been portrayed as a fool throughout the story but when it came time for a confrontation with the Fighting American he suddenly became a worthy opponent. Jack Kirby drops into a 3 X 3 panel arrangement and has each panel focus on only the fighters. The result is a fast moving, action filled, fight sequence of the kind that Kirby did better then anyone else. Fighting American may have become a predominately humor comic but Jack never seem willing to completely abandon action in any genre.
Fighting American #3 (August 1954) “Stranger from Paradise”, art by Jack Kirby
One of the oddest stories in issue #3, or perhaps in the entire Fighting American series, is “Stranger from Paradise”. It is a modest 2 pages long with a almost strict 3 X 2 panel grid and a splash panel that is little different from the rest of the story panels. The Fighting American only appears in two panels and is easy to overlook in one of them. Speedboy plays a bigger roll but the true hero of the story is young boy from Russia. It is unusually wordy story for a Simon and Kirby production and perhaps the only one they did where the art takes a backseat to the text. That is not to say the art isn’t great just that so much of the humor is found in the script.
Fighting American #4 (October 1954) “Tokyo Runaround”, art by Jack Kirby
“Tokyo Runaround” is a great story full of action and humor. But check out the splash, what a masterpiece! The design works well with the story’s theme and of course no one could make such effective use of the oddly placed running figures as Kirby.
Fighting American #4 (October 1954) “Operation Wolf” page 4 panel 3, art by Jack Kirby
The Communists were not the only ones to be made fun of by Simon and Kirby; even Fighting American could be on the receiving end. The annoyed gun bearer was Rhode Island Red.
Fighting American #4 (October 1954) “Homecoming: Year 3000” page 4, art by Jack Kirby
While the Fighting American title now combined humor and action, “Homecoming: Year 3000” from issue #4 was pure science fiction. Even more oddly the Fighting American never even makes an appearance and his alter ego, Johnny Flag, only shows up at the very beginning and ending of the story (the story is presented as Johnny Flag’s dream). The simple explanation for this anomaly is provided by the name of the story’s hero, Starman Zero. Starman Zero was the protagonist for syndication strip that Simon and Kirby created called Tiger 21. Tiger 21 was never picked up, actually all the original art for the strip never got past the lettering stage with all the strip art remaining as uninked pencils. Thus “Homecoming: Year 3000” was Simon and Kirby recycling unused material. Starman Zero does share a special connection with Fighting American; they both have an origin where a machine is used to transfer the mind of one individual into another body.
Fighting American, Chapter 1, Captain America Returns