Friday, September 17, 2010

Fair Trade: The Shield: America's 1st Patriotic Comic Book Hero

The Big Annual Sale at Borderlands here in Greenville, SC almost always features a table with deeply discounted trade paperbacks, which almost always yields something.  In years past, I have gotten David Lapham's Murder Me Dead and Silverfish, Chuck Dixon's Claw The Unconquered, Mark Rickett's Noweheresville, and this volume: a collection of the earliest stories to star The Shield.

Our hero, the first patriotic superhero type, is "G-Man Extraordinary" Joe Higgins, who developed a supersuit thanks to a secret formula his father developed.  A full-blooded American. Higgins went to work for the FBI as both an agent and a crimefighter.  And he stays busy -- battling foreign saboteurs, spy rings, and multinational terrorists using his strength and wits.

This is not a thick volume, only 96 pages, but it does feature 6 issues worth of Golden Age material in color, so it's pretty well-packed at least.  The stories are pretty standard Golden Age fare; at least, given my limited amount of Golden Age exposure.  Higgins doesn't kill his enemies most of the time, instead capturing them and telling some onlooker to phone the FBI.  (It was the 40s, I guess you could still do that.)  The stories themselves are creative, with The Shield using his powers in some bizarre ways, such as when he lights himself on fire and jumps at his foes.  I can definitely see how this title was a popular as it was in the months leading up to the war.  The character is a solid concept and the idea of a flag-emblazoned hero was still new.  Amazingly enough, Pep Comics #3 predicts an attack on Pearl Harbor, not by the Japanese but rather by the evil Count Zongarr, some 18 months before it actually happened.

There's some interesting cameos in here as well.  The Wizard, Shield's fellow Archie/MLJ star, pops up a few times, including letting our hero borrow a small jet.  The foreword indicates that over the span of a month in 1940, both The Shield and The Wizard did battle with the evil Mosconians (rough Soviet analogues, actually), in something of an early crossover of sorts!  We also get a small appearance by The Midshipman, a Navy character who shared the pages of Pep with The Shield, which was novel.  

Overall, this was a good read for someone who only got into The Shield from his recent revival over at DC.  I would have paid full price for this volume, but getting it on the cheap made it all the better.


Aaron said...

Cheap TPB's are definitely a great pleasure. I remember occasionally as a kid encountering a Shield story in an Archie Digest and wondering what the heck it was all about. I think as time goes on I'll gradually get more into the Golden Age, it's only been in the last few years I seriously got Silver Age fever, so I guess I'm slowly working back - probably will get to the Golden Age around my own golden age. Thanks for the write-up.

Diabolu Frank said...

It occurs to me that the Shield was probably something of a template for Steel: The Indestructible Man, and Henshaw could have benefited from the insanity. Scipio did a series of posts about the Shield a few years ago that really made me want to read this, but that trade was insanely overpriced for the page count (not unlike all those Theaksonized reprints at AC, where you can find color scans of the original books online.)

Luke said...

@Aaron: I only got into the Golden Age (beyond the occassional public domain horror comic) because of my Hawkman blog and the Winged Wonder's original stories. It has been my experience that the Golden Age has it's own tropes and idiosynacracies, just like the Silver Age or Bronze Age... they just seem stranger because it's been nearly 80 years for some of this stuff.

@Frank: I remember Scipio's posts indicating the inanity of The Shield. And while those are fair, like a lot of stuff it needs to be taken in the context. And one man's inanity is another man's creativity. ;) That being said there's some goofy as all heck stuff in this volume, but given the fact that it comes from a truly bygone era, it's easier to swallow. At least for me; I may be more prone!

I think that The Shield had to be at least an unconscious influence on Conway; I know on an interview over at Views From The Longbox, Conway said he primarily drew from Captain America (which makes sense), but also begs the question of how much of Cap was based on The Shield? THE WORLD MAY NEVER KNOW.

Diabolu Frank said...

Oh, no, I likes me some high grade insanity. I've got both of the Fantagraphics Fletcher Hanks volumes on my shelf, not to mention Golden Age Wonder Woman. Silver Age inanity is the stuff I struggle with.