Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Fighting American!

Jack Kirby's and Joe Simon's Fighting American has been one of those comics I've wanted to read for a very, very long time. For whatever reason (doubtless expense) I passed on Marvel's hardback reprint volume back in the very late 80's. I did at some point pick up a reading copy of Harvey's one-shot from the mid-60's which finally put into print the unpublished eighth issue of the run plus other stuff, and that gave me a taste. Over the years I've run across stories on the internet, but I still wanted to read the saga through.

Thanks to Titan Books I now have done so. I actually bought the big Simon & Kirby Superheroes book from Titan almost a year ago, but before I could get to reading on that, I read that a trade of the Fighting American material alone would be coming out. I waited, picked up a copy and then it sat on the nightstand for months while I got distracted by one thing and then another.

But this week the distractions disappeared and the waiting is over. I've read the whoLe shebang. The original issues, remastered and reprinted in vibrant color and deep blacks and the other stuff including file stories from Joe Simon but not penciled by Jack Kirby. It's clear where the energy in this team comes from, despite Simon's innovation.

After a pretty straightforward start where a brave but physically weak young man is given the chance to animate the form of his war-hero brother, we quickly meet the obligatory sidekick and the team of Fighting American and Speedboy is off and running. They don't stop for much, including characterization. The fact a man inhabits the body of his dead brother is completely forgotten. These are true-blue Americans who are out to snuff the Red Menace in its many forms and that's enough motivation for anyone.

As the stories progress the villains get zanier and zanier and the tongue of the creators gets pressed more and more firmly into the cheek. What began as a another well-crafted superhero series becomes a satirical knock on a society ripe with cultural issues. There are whiffs of Ditkoesque philosophy and smidgeons of Eisnerian social commentary as the Fighting American keeps the U.S. safe from the Red Menace and other thugs.

There's very real magic when a Genie shows up, and there's time travel and food of the gods and other sci-fi tropes all over the yard. There's a splendid dream story in which Johnny Flagg, our hero goes to the distant future and spies how life will be. The assortment of baddies is a hoot as you get the feeling the creators are trying to outdo themselves with each succeeding issue.

The sense seems to be that anything can happen in a Fighting American story, and for far too few issues it did. It is a wild wild ride made up of dense brief stories filled with Simon and Kirby punch and power.

Everyone needs to read this. If you can't wait, here are most of the stories at this link.

Here's a gallery of Fighting American covers and images.

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