Wednesday, 4 February 2015

COMICS SUCK! - Fighting American #6 (Feb 1955)

60 YEARS AGO - February-March 1955
Cover art by Jack Kirby
By Joe Simon & Jack Kirby

Before there was Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, there was Joe Simon and Jack Kirby.

They created the first 10 issues of the original Captain America Comics. Each issue features multiple stories and they're all excellent. After Simon and Kirby left the book, the series spiraled downward in terms of quality. The series would limp on for another 7 years before being rebranded Captain America's Weird Tales to appeal to fans of the new horror craze that was sweeping the nation. It would finally be cancelled after two issues.

Those first ten original issues remain legendary, however. From there on the team continued to create new interesting characters with unusual depth for the Golden Age era (roughly 1935-1956), including Manhunter, Boy Commandos and the Newsboy Legion. Later, Kirby would help revive Green Arrow for DC Comics and co-create the Challengers of the Unknown, fore-runners to the Fantastic Four before returning to the company that he had co-created Captain America for. But before returning, there were a few twists in the road.

Fighting American was Simon & Kirby's response to Marvel Comics (then called Atlas) revamping of the Captain America title in 1954. It was a way to show Atlas how the character was supposed to be done. Fighting American and his young sidekick Speedboy (because all fightin' heroes had young sidekicks in the Golden Age) were a two-man anti-communist army with no superhero powers ... per se. F.A. did have enhanced abilities, much like that "other" star-spangled hero the team had invented 13 years earlier, and he would use this prowess to beguile communist forces in America. But by issue #2, Simon and Kirby were disgusted by the tenor of anti-communist sentiment in the McCarthy hearings, especially once the House Select Committee started targeting comic books. From that point forward Fighting American became a parody.

The first story in this issue, "Deadly Doolittle" is a fast moving crime caper. A well-put-together blonde named Marilyn Biltrite approaches Johnny Flagg aka Fighting American in his civilian guise, plants a wet one on him ... and also a handful of stolen diamonds. When a pair of crooks catch up with her to retrieve the diamonds, Fighting American shows up to punch some face and save the damsel. It turns out Ms. Biltrite is a maid at old man Munneybelt's mansion and took the diamonds before the crooks could. It's a fun story with little social commentary.

I mentioned earlier that Fighting American was Simon & Kirby's response to Atlas Comics revamping of Captain America, well that's not speculation. The middle story of this issue is a reprint of Fighting American's origin from issue 1 which was basically a re-telling of Captain America's origin, right down to a scrawny soldier volunteering to be used as a guinea pig for an experimental serum. One can't help but think that in today's heartless, corporate world, the company would have sued Simon & Kirby for plagiarising their own idea.

The third story in this issue however, is a different animal altogether (before Justice League of America debuted in 1960, it was rare for comic books to feature single full-length stories). In "Super-Khakalovitch ... Boy 'Has-Been'!" we're introduced to the raggedy titular villain of the piece. We first encounter him posed in a Russian cossack dance while leaping through the air, big toe protruding through a hole in his smelly sock. He shouts, "Fools! I am inwincible!" as he bounds over the heads of Fighting American and Speedboy who plug their noses in olfactory disgust as Speedboy says, "Boy! Is he strong!!" In the 10-page story Super-Khakalovitch is sent to America by his Soviet handlers for reasons unspecified and falls in love with American cars. He is defeated when soviet spies (who are "everywhere! Watch everybody ... even Super-Khakalovitch") sensing his betrayal decide to give him a bath with a fire hose, thus eliminating his super-smelliness. The now de-powered Khakalovitch decides to settle in the U.S., with the blessing of Fighting American, of course. Low-brow stuff, and buckets of fun. And not just fun, it holds up as a parody of funnybook heroes and propaganda techniques in media to this day.

This was the penultimate issue of the original Fighting American series. When Kirby returned to the company that would be known as Marvel Comics, he would go on to bigger things, Joe Simon died in 2011 at the age of 98 and remains relatively obscure outside the cloistered world of comic book fanaticism, although his legendary status within that world is assured. The creative team would revive Fighting American for a single issue published by Harvey Comics in October 1966. The giant-size edition featured new stories and reprints.

After reading this issue and having a good snicker, the anti-communist youth of America no doubt hit the jukebox at the local malt shoppe and spun this little record:

Or maybe not. Rock & Roll wouldn't enter the American consciousness on a large scale until at least a month later. Elvis released five flop singles on Sun Records before breaking through on RCA a year after Rock & Roll hit the big time. Ask me his best stuff was recorded for Sun. It was raw, rugged jive music with a country flair, just the way Rock & Roll was intended. Hell, Elvis was Punk Rock in February 1955.

After they were all hopped up on Fighting American comics, Elvis and sodas, those now restless teen-agers almost certainly went to the local movie house and caught this barn-burner of a film:

The original The Fast and The Furious was one of director/producer Roger Corman's earliest successes and it only encouraged him to keep going. He's still going strong to this day!

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