President’s Day special: Uncle Sam

Happy President’s Day everyone!

Image result for presidents day

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  It was originally made a legal holiday in order to honor George Washington and Abraham Lincoln,

Image result for presidents day

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.

Image result for american presidents

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,

Image result for president trump

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.

Image result for american symbols

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.

Image result for superheroes

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.

Image result for golden age uncle sam quality comics

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.

Image result for uncle sam

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.

Image result for samuel wilson

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.

Image result for uncle sam world war 2

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.

Image result for national comics #1

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.

Image result for will eisner

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.

Image result for eisner award

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.

Image result for golden age uncle sam quality comics

Image result for national comics uncle sam,

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.

Image result for national comics uncle sam and buddy smith

So what happened?

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

Image result for golden age uncle sam quality comics

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

Image result for dc comics

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.

Image result for dc comics freedom fighters

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.

Image result for dc comics uncle sam origin

Image result for dc comics uncle sam origin

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

Image result for dc comics uncle sam origin

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.

Image result for dc comics uncle sam vertigo

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.

Image result for uncle sam blackest night

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

Image result for uncle sam new 52

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.

Image result for uncle sam dc comics

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.

Image result for uncle sam

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

Image result for uncle sam dc comics

Advertisements

Cambrian Comics Friday Showcase: My favorite comics #4

Out of all of my favorite comic books that I enjoy and endlessly recommend to everyone I meet this is the one that has probably enjoyed the most mainstream success.  But before that we need a brief history lesson.

Vertigo is an imprint of DC Comics (for those of you who aren’t sure what an imprint is think of it like a company within a larger company that focuses on one specific thing) and is one of the most popular brands in comics.  It was founded in 1993 with a lady named Karen Berger at the helm.

334909KarenBerger-md

Mrs. Berger had originally been responsible for bringing some of the most popular British comic book writers of the modern era into American comic books.  Names that included Grant Morrison

grant_twitter

Alan Moore

Alan Moore

and Neil Gaiman

download

among many others.  This “British Invasion” of comics created some of the darkest, edgiest, and most exciting work the industry had ever seen with new takes on heroes like Animal Man, Hellblazer (this is the title of the comic that has Constantine in it), and The Swamp Thing.  This new sophisticated take on comics, coupled with an opportunity for DC to take over some projects that Disney comics had abandoned after an implosion in the 90’s (no really), led to the creation of the Vertigo imprint and the publishing of one of its most iconic series and my 4th most favorite comic.

4. Sandman (Vertigo Comics)

250px-Sandmanadsmall

Author: Neil Gaiman

Artists: Sam Kieth, Mike Dringenberg, Jill Thompson, Shawn McManus, Marc Hempel, and Michael Zull

Number of Issues: 75

Sandman is very intelligent storytelling told by a man who is very passionate and interested in things that often seem a bit childish.  It’s a fantasy series but this is most definitely not for children.  Gaiman loves to talk and write about magic and mythology and one of the best ways to tackle such massive subjects is to give them humanoid shape and personalities.

The comic follows the imprisonment and subsequent escape of Morpheus, the Lord of Dreams.

Neil-Gaiman-Sandman

After being imprisoned for decades by a black sorcerer Morpheus finally manages to escape and make his way back to his kingdom, a land where he rules over the dreams and imaginations of every human being in existence.

963780-the_dreaming1

It’s a strange world that seems both familiar and unfamiliar to the naked eye and is home to a large cast of strange and mysterious characters such as Cain and Abel

Cain-Abel

Lucien the Librarian who looks after all the books and works ever created but were never made.

cb6b34a4767e384ff86db2f7de7a7e04

and a whole host of dreams such as the terrifying Corinthian.

2951200-corry2

It also turns out that Morpheus is not the only one of his kind.  The Lord of Dreams is one of seven “Endless”, a group of immortals that represent various aspects of the universe: Destiny, Death, Desire, Despair, Delirium, Destruction, and Dream.

EndlessFamily

And that brings us to the second aspect of the comic and my personal favorite.  While the crux of the series is about Dream and how he tries to piece his life and his kingdom back together after being held in captivity, the Endless are immortal and powerful beings that hold sway over so much of humanity and access to every corner of the universe.  This gives the comic ample opportunity to jump across time, space, and dimension to bring stories about whatever the author wants to talk about.  In one issue Dream could be conversing with his brothers and sisters and trying to figure out what to do with some strange universe shattering phenomena in the next issue Dream could be sitting in a bar with an immortal human being discussing the nature of life.  The Sandman deals with the forces of Hell, Heaven, Norse Mythology, the French Revolution, Greek myths, inter dimensional travelers, super heroes, serial killers, Shakespeare, actors, and even normal everyday human beings trying to live their lives.  The story is massive, sprawling, and offers a glimpse into an imagination that is ripe with wonderful stories and tales to tell.

If you would like to read the series you can buy it digitally on Comixology or the Vertigo store.  Also, DC launched another Sandman title called “Sandman: Overtures” which is in stores and online right now.