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Thursday, July 28, 2011

Jack Kirby's Fighting American: The Gloriously Weird Adventures of a Captain America Wannabe

Posted By on Thu, Jul 28, 2011 at 7:00 AM

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"You put the head of one guy on another guy, and you have a new character," explains Joe Simon in the introduction to Titan Books' square-jawed, two-fisted, batshit crazy collection of the complete Fighting American comic-book series.

Simon isn't kidding. With Jack Kirby, he created Captain America (in 1941) and The Fighting American (in '54), which might seem something like first coming up with Twinkies and then moving on to Zingers, except for the fact that Fighting American series is a lark of patriotic dada.

On the one hand, it's the copycat story about a scrawny, Steve Rogers-like everyman who gets pumped up into a commie-punching Atlas-in-tights thanks to government science. He's Cap, right down to the sidekick. It's a one-guy's-head-on-the-other's-body situation that came about due to the vagaries of comic publishing and character ownership -- Simon (words) and Kirby (art) worked for a company that didn't hold the rights to Captain America, so presto: Here's Fighting American.

On the other hand, the short stories here tend toward the wild and self-referential, with 'ol F.A. sojourning through earth, time, and space battling Roman legionnaires, interstellar fungi, Mexican banditos, Red spies with names like Hotsky Trotsky and Poison Ivan, Martians sent here in a "Beef Box" to stop our lousy TV shows, and even an unsympathetic comic-book inker who alters Simon and Kirby's pages so that Fighting American (and Speedboy, his masked pubescent plus one) get gunned down by crooks. All this in just seven issues!

My favorite villain is Super Khakalovitch, who flies about by doing the squatty Russian kick dance and whose superpower is B.O.

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Of course, by singling him out I mean no disrespect for the toothsome floating head that goes right for Fighting America's moneymaker.

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Or for the archcriminal mastermind Round Robin, who seems a clear inspiration for the Kingpin, one of the great villains of the Marvel comics universe Kirby would go on to cocreate a decade later.

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In that dead-serious goofing, there's also shades of Richard E. Hughes' Herbie, aka the "Fat Fury," who would debut just a couple years later and prove to be one the strangest -- and most forgotten -- of all comics heroes. Please, someone, reprint Herbie back issues!

Here's how ridiculous things get. A mysterious element called Z turns up in food that, when eaten, transforms people into bizarre, truthful parodies of themselves: a janitor becomes a giant, a scientist becomes a pygmy, and, hey, maybe sometime off panel Captain America became Fighting American. That story ends thusly:

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Next: Adventure, "King" Kirby Style!

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Alan Scherstuhl

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