Fighting American #1 (April 1954) by Jack Kirby
It is easy to see why one of the entries for my recent Best Simon and Kirby Cover contest was Fighting American #1. The cover shows a race car flying off a cliff. It that was not bad enough the engine is exploding. Fighting American and Speedboy leap to safety with Fighting American pulling along another man by his leg. Surprising the man shoots a gun at his would be rescuer. This scene takes up pretty much every inch of the cover below the comic title. I cannot see how Simon and Kirby could possibly have added more excitement to the cover. The art was done when, in my opinion, Joe and Jack were at their peak. Just look at the exaggerated perspective that Kirby uses, it is amazing. No doubt about it this is one great piece of cover art.
Fighting American was obviously Joe and Jack showing how Captain America should be done. They had created Cap in 1941 but only did the first 10 issues, less then one year of work. Timely continued to produce Captain America without S&K up to issue #74 (October 1949) which was re-titled as Captain America Weird Tales. Timely must have known that they were about to end the title because the single Cap story showed the definitive end of their long time nemesis, the Red Skull. I say definitive because although the Red Skull had been shown supposedly killed before this time the story shows him in hell. There was a Captain America Weird Tales #75 (February 1950) but Cap did not actually appear on the cover or in any story.
Coincidentally the demise of Timely’s patriotic hero marked the period of the rise of Joe McCarthy. McCarthy lead a crusade against all the communists that he said had infiltrated the U.S. government. McCarthy’s “investigations” can best be described as a modern day witch hunt. But that was not so obvious to Americans at the time as can be shown by the fact that a Gallup poll taken in January 1954 showed McCarthy had a 50% approval rating. It is only a guess, but perhaps all of McCarthy’s talk about Communist infiltration brought back to the Atlas company thoughts of their previous success with their superheroes. After all if their hero line was was so financially successful fighting the Nazi’s during the war, perhaps it might occur again using the same heroes to fight the Communists. Whether that was thinking or not, Atlas re-launched the Human Torch, Sub-Mariner and Captain America in Young Men #24 (December 1953). It takes three to four months to produce a comic and so the earliest cover date following YM #24 appearance would be March or April 1954. April is exactly the date that appears on the cover of Fighting American #1. The timing is too perfect, could Joe and Jack saw that their old creation had reappeared? This could have prompted them to rush their own patriotic hero out hoping to take part in the superhero revival.
Captain America #76 (May 1954)
But Joe McCarthy’s rise did not go unopposed. On March 8, 1954 Edward R. Murrow did a segment of “See It Now” critical of McCarthy and his tactics. On June 9 during one of his Senate investigation meetings Joseph Welch addressed McCarthy with the line “Have you sense of decency, sir, at long last?” On June 10 Senator Flanders introduced a resolution to condemn Joe McCarthy. On December 9 1954 the condemnation of McCarthy was passed by the Senate. At this point Joe McCarthy had been pretty much discarded on the rubbish pile of history where he belonged. I do not suggest that McCarthy’s downfall had any affect on the Atlas superhero revival attempt. No I think that the termination of this revival with Human Torch #38 (July 1954) can be blamed on the fact that they were really poor comics. (Sub-Mariner Comics continue until issue #41 dated October 1955 due to a hope of a movie deal). But although I do not think McCarthy’s fall affected Atlas much, it may have had an affect on Fighting American. That title had started out as exciting superhero fare but by issue #3 (August 1954) had turned to humor. The timing is just right for Joe and Jack to begin to see what McCarthy was really about and to change their comic accordingly.
Before closing this post I would like to comment on the artist for the cover of Captain America #76 shown above. Both the GCD and AtlasTales attribute it to John Romita. John Romita did do a lot of the art for Captain America during this revival attempt. For instance he signed the covers for Captain America #77 and #78. Although unsigned, some of the art inside Cap #76 appears to be by Romita. But I find it hard to believe that John was the artist for the cover, Captain America just looks like he was done by a different hand. In an interview of John Romita by Roy Thomas from Alter Ego (volume 3 #9) both seem to indicate that they do not believe the cover for #76 was by Romita either. However the suggestion that John makes in the interview that it may have been done by Carl Burgos or Joe Maneely seems even less creditable. Unfortunately I do not know enough about Atlas artists to suggest an alternative. In the interview John mentions that Stan Lee often had art rework done by whatever artist had stopped by at the office at that time. John particularly suggests that Cap’s smile on issue #76 might be an example of that. But perhaps for Cap #76 the rework was much more extensive.