The Secret Lives of Villains #205

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President’s Day special: Uncle Sam

Happy President’s Day everyone!

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For our non American readers, President’s Day is an American holiday held on the third Monday of every month.  It was originally made a legal holiday in order to honor George Washington and Abraham Lincoln,

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but depending on what state you live in it can either celebrate one of them, both, or every President who has been elected into office.

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Now, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that the position of President of the United States of America is probably not the most popular position of leadership in the world right now,

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but let me make my position on the matter perfectly clear.

While it is important to realize that the position of President of the United States is a difficult one, and that we should honor the people who sacrifice their time and health to the job, the truth of the matter is that at the end of the day the President is an elected official who can, and should, only do so much.

At the end of the day the problems that we face as a society can only be solved when ordinary people come together to fix them and take action.  Solutions are almost never the work of one great individual, but rather a collection of ordinary people.

Sadly, the slow and tedious work of millions is difficult to comprehend.  So in order to make sense of it all we do two things.  We celebrate the lives and achievements of a few men and women and we craft symbols and signs that we can rally around.

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That is part of the reason why I like superheroes so much.  They’re colorful, larger than life, and an easy way for people to relate to things and events that are much bigger than themselves.

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In an increasingly complex and chaotic world, they are the walking solutions to many of our problems.

So let’s take a look at a Golden Age superhero who wasn’t just a superhero who represented the millions of men and women who fought in WW2, but a walking symbol of America as well: Uncle Sam.

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Origin and Career

Uncle Sam became the personification of the American people and government during the War of 1812, although you probably recognize him more from his World War 1 recruitment poster.

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According to legend, the character of Uncle Sam was based off of the real life Samuel Wilson, who was a meat packer from New York and a fervent American patriot.

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Uncle Sam is up there with the bald eagle, baseball, and the flag as great American symbols and since he has such a violent history and is often associated with war it only makes sense that when America decided to get involved during World War 2, they co opt the ever loving crap out of him.

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Naturally he found a home in comic books and in July of 1940, Quality Comics published National Comics #1 hit the stands with Uncle Sam leading the charge against the Axis.

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I don’t know what I like more, the fact that Uncle Sam’s hat hasn’t blown away in the wind, or that they have a LITTLE KID RUNNING ACROSS AN AIRPLANE WING ATTACKING A FULLY GROWN MAN ARMED WITH A PISTOL!

Boy, child safety laws were pretty lax back then.

Like every hero, Uncle Sam needed an origin story.  It turned out that the folks at National Comics were content to keep him as a vague symbol of American government and way of life, only this time he was going to get his hands dirty and join the fight against crime and injustice.  It turned out that Uncle Sam was the spirit of a fallen soldier from the American Revolution and continued to appear whenever his country needed him to fight.

With any other company or creator this probably would have turned into a silly little farce, but this version of Uncle Sam was written by Will Eisner.

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If you don’t know who Will Eisner is, all you need to understand is that the comic book industry’s version of the Oscars is named after him.

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Anyway, this version of Uncle Sam did his patriotic duty and fought off, what else, the forces of evil and tyranny that just so happened to look like the Nazis.

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His superpowers were whatever the story needed and he had a kid sidekick named Buddy Smith who accompanied Uncle Sam on his many dangerous adventures.

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So what happened?

He spent 45 issues beating the enemies of America, and freedom loving people everywhere, to a pulp.

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Then Quality Comics went belly up in 1956 and was bought out by DC.

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DC’s Uncle Sam would go on to be a pretty big supporting character in the DC universe.  He became the leader of the Freedom Fighters, a group of old Quality Comics characters that were brought together in a Justice League type of arrangement.

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His origin was retooled a bit.  Now he was a spiritual entity that was summoned by the Founding Fathers in an occult ritual that bound the “Spirit of America” to the body of a dying patriot.

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He’s had a steady presence in the DC universe ever since the 1970’s.

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In 1997 DC’s greatest imprint, Vertigo Comics, gave Uncle Sam a two issue mini series written by Steve Darnell and drawn by Alex Ross.

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My hat is off to Vertigo for taking a pretty goofy character and treating him with respect and giving him a meaningful story.

He appeared in the DC event comic Blackest Night.

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and was dramatically revamped as a mortal black man in the New 52 reboot.

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Uncle Sam is an interesting character.  On one hand he’s goofy, colorful, and the kind of un ironic display of patriotism that would make a lot of people cringe.  On the other hand he’s a symbol of a violent and destructive superpower that has a nasty habit of sticking its nose in business that it has no right to be in.

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Personally, I’m more inclined towards the first interpretation.  Whether you love him or hate him, there is no denying that the man is pure Americana and I can’t think of a better symbol of the effort and determination of the American people.

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Sure, you can call me corny and cheesy but you know what?  I’m okay with that.

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Golden Age Showcase: The Patriot

Happy post Super Bowl everyone!

Last night was one of the greatest games I have ever seen and I am so happy that my favorite team won their fifth championship.

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Full disclosure, I am a huge fan of the New England Patriots so I would like to apologize for anyone reading this who isn’t a football fan and has to put up with yet another half crazed fan talking about something that’s not that interesting.  As for anyone who was hoping for the Patriots to lose, I’m not sorry in the slightest.

The game was one of the greatest things I have ever seen, so I thought it might be fitting to talk about an old school hero named The Patriot.

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Look, it was either this guy or Sportsmaster and I chose him.

Origin and Career

The Patriot was a second string character created by writer Ray Gill and artist Bill Everett,

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who was also the man who created Namor the Submariner.

The character first appeared in The Human Torch #4 in April of 1941.

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Fun fact: the issue is rather famous for a printing error that stated it was issue #3 instead of #4.

Anyway, the Patriot’s actual name was Jeffery Mace and his first appearance was in a ten page backup story titled “The Yellowshirts turn Yellow!” where the Patriot defeated a group of people looking to subvert the United States war effort by overthrowing the United States government.

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The character proved to be pretty popular for a backup character and would go on to have a successful, if not a bit standard and cliche, career as a secondary character in The Human Torch comics and Marvel Mystery Comics as well.

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I like to think that if Captain America didn’t turn out to be as popular, the Patriot would have been able to become a much more established superhero.  He wasn’t flashy, he didn’t have any special powers or particularly noteworthy stories, but he did his job and was popular enough to have a pretty long and storied career in the 1940’s.

So what happened?

Life tip: if you want to survive through trying times, you have to be able to stand out so people notice you.  The Patriot did not have that chance and as a result died out with the superhero fad in the late 1940’s.

With that being said, his previous popularity gave him something that a lot of his colleagues never had: a second chance.

His first appearance was in The Avengers #97 along with his colleague in arms The Fin (the same guy we talked about last week) as a mental projection of Rick Jones in order to wage war on the Kree and Skrull.

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He wound up joining the retconned superhero group known as The Liberty Legion and was given a much more fleshed out backstory in the 1970’s.

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They gave the man a much more fleshed out backstory that gave him some much deeper connections to the Marvel Universe as a whole.

In the new reality Jeffery Mace was a reporter for the Daily Bugle (Spiderman!) who was inspired by his idol Captain America.

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He even got to BE Captain America for a little bit when Marvel published a “What if?” story where he got to don the uniform of Captain America for a bit in order to explain how the hero could have continued to work after being frozen in ice.

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He was actually the third person to don the costume.  That’s him carrying the previous Captain America stand in, a hero called “The Spirit of ’76”.

Jeffery had a couple of guest appearances after that and was killed off in main continuity in 1983.

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But for some wonderful reason, the Patriot still had some juice left in the tank.

In the modern day Jeffery’s story was retold in a comic book series called Captain America: Patriot that took a closer look at McCarthy era America and superheroes who wear the red, white, and blue.

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His legacy lives on with a kid named Eli Bradley (the son of Isaiah Bradley from the excellent Truth: Red, White, and Black) working with the Young Avengers.

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Also, for the first time in this entire blog, I can say that we have a superhero who actually made it outside of comics and into the movies!

Jeffery Mace made it onto the Marvel tv show Agents of S.H.E.I.L.D and was played by Jason O’Mara.

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I won’t go into any further details for fear of spoiling the show, but I can say that he is one of the good guys and a friend to Coulson.

The Patriot is as big, bright, and as dumb as they come.  He wasn’t meant to be all that interesting, he was written to punch Nazis and fight during the war.  What Marvel created was a patriotic mascot, what they got was one of the best and most sincere attempts to replicate Captain America, one of their greatest icons.

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Golden Age Showcase: The Face

You know who everyone loves?  Batman.

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You know what one of his greatest lines is?

“Criminals are a superstitious and cowardly lot”.

I love that line because it sums up Batman perfectly.  So much of his character is about instilling fear and dread into his opponents and it’s an integral part of the costume, especially the mask.

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This is part of what made Batman so popular and as we all know, popularity breeds imitators.

Today we’re going to talk about one of Batman’s earliest, and least successful, imitators simply known as…The Face.

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Hold on to your seats ladies and gentlemen.

Origin and Career

The Face was one of the hallmark creations of a little known comic book publisher called Columbia Comics.

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The company was formed in 1940 through a partnership between a newspaper company called the McNaught Newspaper Syndicate and a man named Vin Sullivan.

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Interesting fact: Vin Sullivan was the man who bought the rights of a little known character named Superman from Siegel and Shuster for a company called National Allied Publications, although you know them better as DC comics.

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Anyway, Columbia’s biggest seller was an anthology comic called Big Shot Comics and the Face was in the very first issue published in May of 1940.

Comic Book Cover For Big Shot Comics #1 - Version 1

He was created by an artist named Mart Bailey.

As for backstory, the Face was the superhero identity of humble radio station announcer Troy Trent who decided to fight crime just because he could.

Comic Book Cover For Big Shot Comics #1 - Version 1

In order to do this he decided to don a horrifying green mask with red hair, long fangs, and yellow eyes.  This disguise proved to be incredibly helpful since it struck enough fear into his enemies’ hearts that he could either get the jump on them or wrangle a confession from them quickly.

Comic Book Cover For Big Shot Comics #1 - Version 1

In his first adventure the Face helped save a group of sick orphans who were being poisoned by food supplied by a greedy businessman who was pocketing government aid money and selling sub par supplies back to the people that needed them.

Comic Book Cover For Big Shot Comics #1 - Version 1

No, I am not joking, this comic was absolutely serious.  I know that it may seem a bit much for our more developed brains to accept a story where the bad guy is just that evil and the good guy’s job is to save a bunch of orphans, but I thought it was sincere enough and just well written enough to make for a pretty good story.

Come to think of it, “pretty good” describes most of the Face’s stories.  The art work was pretty good, for Golden Age comic book standards, and while he never graduated past fighting crooks and gangsters his stories were either interesting enough or had some twist to them that made the writing a step above most of the crap that was being published at the time.

The character had a nice gimmick, with a good artist, and some good storytelling behind him.  He would wind up becoming one of Columbia Comic’s greatest heroes and I could easily see him making the leap into modern times along with more well known heroes like Batman and Superman.

So what happened?

The same thing that happened to Columbia Comics, he disappeared after they went out of business in 1949 due to declining sales.

Despite the fact that the Face was successful the sad fact of the matter was that superheroes just weren’t selling in the late 1940’s and by the early 1950’s the entire comic book industry would be on the ropes.

Sadly, the Face’s career was over.  However, a new hero who was heavily based off of him called “Mr. Face” did appear in Dynamite Comics’ Project Superpowers comic book series.

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His powers got a much needed update after being thrown into a mystic object known as the Urn of Pandora.  When he emerged he realized that people would see their worst fears come to life if they looked at his face and mask.

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Boy, this is a short section.  I wonder if there is anything I can do to add to this article?

How could he be remade?

What’s this?  A new section for long time readers in an attempt to remain fresh and interesting?  Well alright then.

In this section of the article I’m going to take a look at the character of the week and see if he/she/it could be remade and how it could be done.  Think of it like a pitch for a superhero revival only I’m not being paid for it.  Also, if anyone reading this should take a look at the article and be moved to turn it into a story of their own please feel free, I wouldn’t have put this on the internet if I didn’t want people to copy it.

Alright, so here’s what works.  The Face has a cool gimmick and costume.  Sure Batman has the whole “strike fear into criminals using the costume” deal but he also has decades of training and a bottomless bank account to help.  Our modern take on the Face would double down on the “using the mask to cause fear” idea and not rely on martial arts as much.

Maybe he could use the mask in conjunction with a fear inducing chemical like the Scarecrow,

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or maybe it could be some sort of mystic curse or ancient deity like a much more serious version of the Mask?

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What doesn’t work that much is the backstory and secret identity.  Having a superhero fight crime and have a life outside of crime may have been okay in the 1940’s but that just won’t fly here.  We need to give him a semi plausible backstory and motivation for fighting crime.

So, without further ado, here’s a short paragraph describing my idea for a revamped Face.

Tony Trent is a government scientist working on a top secret drug for the United States government.  He is a brilliant chemist working in conjunction with a psychologist named Tanya Ferguson (his love interest and helper) and they have been partnered together  in order to develop a drug for what they think is for crowd control purposes but is actually a powerful hallucinogenic drug for interrogation and discrediting enemies of America.  Tanya discovers the project’s true purpose and threatens to go to the press with the news.  Fearing reprisal the government shuts down the project and attempts to liquidate both Tony and Tanya.

The assassination attempt fails and both of them manage to flee.   The rest of the comic is the two of them trying to find the people responsible for trying to kill them and shutting the project down.  Tony is able to use the prototype fear gas, along with a plastic mask that he randomly picks up, as a weapon against anyone who would try to take them out.