For as long as comic books have existed, especially superhero ones, characters who don the red, white and blue of the flag and take up the fight against tyranny and injustice have been one of the may cornerstones of the industry. To that end and in honor of the holiday, here are six patriotic heroes who also have continued legacies into the modern age.
Star-Spangled Kid & Stargirl
There’s something to be said for heroes who dress themselves up in the flags of their nations and work for the betterment of its citizens. And when it comes to the Star-Spangled kid, wearing the flag and fighting crime to make America and the world safer certainly go hand in hand.
Sylvester Pemberton (created by Jerry Siegel and Hal Sherman): one of comics first “kid” heroes, Sylvester Pemberton was also unique because he had an adult sidekick, Pat Dugan aka. Stripesy. Both on their own and as members of the Seven Soldiers of Victory, Pemberton and Dugan fought the Nazi’s and fifth columnists, defending the countries shores during the war. After the Seven Soldiers were lost in time and returned, Pemberton became the hero known as Skyman, dying in combat with Solomon Grundy. But Pemberton’s heroic legacy didn’t die with him, it lived on. Pemberton also made the leap from comic to mainstream media, showing up briefly in the Smallville episode Absolute Justice (played by Jim Shield).
Courtney Whitmore (created by Geoff Johns): Courtney Whitmore was a lot like every other teenager, except she also found out her stepfather Pat Dugan was the former sidekick to the original Star-Spangled Kid. Putting on the original costume to tick Pat off, she grew to love the life of a superhero, bonding with Pat as he helped fight crime in his S.T.R.I.P.E. armor. Joining the legendary Justice Society of America, Courtney was given Jack Knight’s cosmic staff after he decided to quit the life of a hero. Changing her name to Stargirl, Courtney has became a charter member of the team, taking on Solomon Grundy and avenging Sylvester’s death, mixing it up with the Injustice Society, and besting Per Degaton in a time travel adventure with the original Justice Society. Like Sylvester, Courtney has also made the leap into other media, showing up on Smallville (played by Britt Irvin), Legends of Tomorrow (played by Sarah Grey) and on multiple DC cartoons including Justice League Unlimited, Batman the Brave and the Bold, and Justice League Action.
Superheroics sometimes are more then just the passing of a name and costume, sometimes its “the family business,” and superheroing certainly runs in the family for the two women who have held the title of Liberty Belle.
Libby Lawrence (created by Don Cameron and Chuck Winter): the daughter of a US major stationed in Poland in 1939, Libby fled back to America after her father died in an air raid, outwitting Nazi troops across four countries before gaining passage to England and then to America. Hailed as a hero, she stood before the Liberty Bell one day and was overcome with a strange sensation as the bell and the miniature she carried with her pealed in tandem. Discovering after that she had advanced speed, strength and stamina, Libby took down a group of Nazi spies operating out of Philadelphia. Donning a costume with a bright blue domino mask, Liberty Belle fought throughout the war as a member of the All-Star Squadron. Marrying fellow Squadron teammate and super-speedster Johnny Quick (Johnny Chambers), they had a child named Jesse, who would grow up to carry on the legacies of both her parents.
Jesse Chambers (created by Len Strazewski and Mike Parobeck): Growing up the daughter of two superheroes, Jesse’s life was filled with her father teaching her his formula that granted super-speed in hopes of creating a successor. Gaining powers, she instead opted to further her education, donning a costume only after the Justice Society of America returned in the early 1990s. Giving herself the name Jesse Quick, Jesse first joined up with the Titans to take down a nuclear arms deal headed by Vandal Savage. Later losing her speed in a battle with Zoom, she joined up with the latest roster of the Justice Society of America, taking on her mother’s mantle as the second Liberty Belle and marrying teammate Rick Tyler, the second Hourman. After the JSA split due to a difference in how the job should be done, she elected to stay with the main team while her husband went with the splinter group. When Batman asked her to join the Justice League to fill the role left by Wally West, Jesse Quick raced once more until a surprise pregnancy prompted a leave of absence to be with Rick. Like Stargirl, Jesse has shown up in the CW’s shared TV universe on The Flash (played by Violett Beane), as the daughter of Earth Two’s Harrison Wells, gaining speed powers and joining in adventures with Barry Allen and Wally West.
The Fighting Yank
Like Liberty Belle, the legacy of the Fighting Yank is a family one. Stretching from the 1940’s into the modern age, this two-fisted flag wearing hero has lead the charge for decades, being given new life by some of the best writer and artist teams around.
Bruce Carter III (created by Richard E. Hughes and John L. Blummer): the first member of the Carter family to take up the name of the Fighting Yank, published by Nedor Comics during the Golden Age. Bruce Carter III was a billionaire seeking to do more with his life. One night in 1941, the ghost of his colonial ancestor Bruce Carter I appeared before him, showing him the location of a cloak that would give it’s wearer strength and invulnerability. Along with his namesake’s tri-corner hat, Bruce Carter took the name the Fighting Yank, smashing his way through the Axis forces during the 1940’s. Fading into the background as the war ended and superheroes, especially patriotic ones became less popular, he was revived in the 1990’s by AC Comics, then again in the 2000’s, both by Alan Moore and America’s Best Comics, and Jim Krueger working with Alex Ross at Dynamite Entertainment.
America’s Best Comics Fighting Yank (created by Alan Moore and Chris Sprouse): A background similar to that of the Golden Age hero, this version of the Fighting Yank belonged to a team called SMASH (Society of Modern American Science Heroes). In 1969, the moon landing awakened a sleeping interstellar invader who began to attempt to conquer Earth. Several SMASH heroes died, and the rest were frozen in moments of time in orbit around the planet. Flash forward to the 2000’s and the alien is bested by the return of Dr. Tom Strange and alternate Earth hero Tom Strong, reviving the others and thwarting the alien from turning the Earth into a new living space station. Sadly, Bruce Carter III was one of the causalities of this victory, his mantle and powers passing to his daughter Carol.
Dynamite Entertainment Fighting Yank (created by Jim Krueger and Alex Ross): Like America’s Best Comics, this Fighting Yank also began his career in the 1940’s, until the ghost of his ancestor told him the way to end the war was to trap all of his fellow heroes inside Pandora’s Urn, due to Hitler opening it and releasing all the various evils within. The heroes were the embodiment of hope, hope for victory against a powerful enemy. Bruce did so, the end result being a world without heroes that turned out for the worse. Flashing forward again to the 2000s, Bruce is an old man, prompted to open the Urn again and bring about a new age of heroes by the American Spirit. Upon his death, brought about while trying to atone for his mistake, Bruce finds he has taken the same role as Bruce Carter I, and now roams the Earth as a ghost, offering aid to his still living allies.
Carol Carter (created by Alan Moore and Chris Sprouse): Daughter of the ABC Comic’s version of the Fighting Yank, Carol Carter was frozen in time alongside her father and the other members of SMASH in 1969. After revival and her father’s death in the 2000’s, Carol became the new Fighting Yank, with her father’s ghost aiding her in the new fight for liberty. Falling in love with fellow hero Ms. Masque (Diana Adams), Carol and Diana had a happy life until a strange disease killed the majority of Earth’s population. This including members of SMASH and Diana. Adopting a more aggressive approach to superheroing, Carol fought with anger until Tom Strong returned again to the SMASH Earth seeking help to prevent his pregnant daughter from dying. With Tom’s help a cure is found, and Carol took comfort that the nightmare was finally over.
Hailed as the first ever patriotic comic book character (appearing in Pep Comics #1 in January of 1940; a full 11 months before Captain America first appeared), the Shield was one of MLJ Magazines top selling characters, and even after the initial boom of superhero comics quieted down, the hero has still showed up over the years.
Joe Higgins (created by Irv Novick & Harry Shorten): The first person to don the colors of The Shield, he fought for truth, liberty and justice throughout WWII, gaining enough fame to even have his own “Shield G-Man Club.” Supplanted by the growing popularity and success of Archie Andrews, Joe hung up his costume, but has still had strong fame with readers as he has popped up again over the years (most recently in the Red Circle line of comics Archie contracted to DC from 2008-2011).
Lancelot Strong (created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby): Showing up in 1959 when Archie Comics asked Joe Simon to come up with new heroes for their “action line comics,” the second person to wear the costume appeared in The Double Life of Private Strong #1. He achieved moderate popularity. It was Archie Comics third attempt at reviving the Shield that hit the mark.
Bill Higgins (created by Jerry Siegel & Paul Reinman): Archie’s revamping of their superhero comics in the mid-1960’s brought more changes about in the form of a new Shield, the son of the original. Showing up in Fly-Man #31 (May 1965), the new direction was emulative of Marvel Comics and the Batman TV series. Sadly it was short lived, with the entire series of hero comics being canceled in 1967. Yet the Shield would not stay away, though the next one wouldn’t show up until the 1980’s when Archie Comics made another attempt at superheroes, this time under the banner of Red Circle Comics. Failing to keep up with other companies, the characters (including the Shield) were published by Impact Comics (a DC imprint), and with it came another new Shield.
Michael Barnes (created by Grant Miehm and Mark Waid): DC Comics’ Impact line ran from 1991-1992, and featured a grittier version of Archie Comics Red Circle heroes. The Shield first showed up in Legend of The Shield #1 (a book retelling stories the DC way of the character) with Lt. Michael Barnes taking up the armor and legacy until the cancellation of the Impact series. DC would once again take up publishing Red Circle Comics in the mid-2000s, before control passed over to Archie, which moves now to the current Shield-wearer.
Victoria Adams (created by Adam Christopher, Chuck Wendig and David Williams): With Archie in control of its heroes again, another revamp came about, this time with the series being titled Dark Circle Comics. Appearing in The Shield #1 (December 2015) Victoria Adams is the latest to wear the Shields costume, and with the status of being an immortal symbol of America, her adventures are a smash hit.
It wouldn’t be a 4th of July hero article without including Marvel’s Sentinel of Liberty, noted Avenger and box office smash hit Captain America. As there have been many people to take up the costume of Captain America besides Steve Rogers over the years (William Nashland, Jeffrey Mace, William Burnside, John Walker), this will focus on Steve Rogers and his two direct successors, Bucky Barnes and Sam (Falcon) Wilson.
Steve Rogers (created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby): Captain America #1 hit newsstands in December of 1940 and with a cover of Cap slugging Adolf Hitler in the jaw, it was an instant hit. Over the decades, Steve Rogers has been on his own and with other heroes, going up against the worst of the worst that Marvel has in the way of villains. As a hero both in comics and other mediums (TV, movies, cartoons, video games, etc.), Steve Rogers stands tall as one of the great fictional champions of American ideals and will continue to do so (despite the recent chaos at Marvel with his history being altered to that of an undercover sleeper agent for HYDRA).
Bucky Barnes (created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby): Cap’s sidekick and friend, Bucky Barnes was his constant companion during WWII, taking on the Red Skull and an endless parade of war profiteers, spies, 5th Columnists and typical Axis-themed super-villains. Labeled as deceased for decades, Bucky’s return in Captain America #1 (January 2005) as the Winter Solider, brought a piece of Steve Roger’s life back to him. After his memory being restored and getting a heavy dose of reality, Bucky fought alongside Steve again, taking up the costume and shield of Captain America when Steve was thought dead in the famous “Death of Captain America” story arc. When Steve was revived, Bucky returned the shield and is still fighting the good fight even now.
Sam Wilson (created by Stan Lee and Gene Colan): Showing up in Captain America #117 (September 1969), Sam Wilson is one of the finest heroes Marvel has to offer. Becoming friends with Steve Rogers, Sam has fought alongside Captain America for years and starring in his own series, Sam was chosen to take up the shield and title of Captain America after Steve Rogers found the Super Soldier Serum drained from his body. With Steve’s return to the role (and now subsequent villain status), Sam will still be there, fighting for what’s right, even if it means fighting against one of his oldest friends.
Rounding out this list is Mr. America, a hero who like so many others, has survived the rise and slight fall of superhero comics in the 1940’s, making his way into the 21st century still fighting for what is right.
Tex Thompson (created by Ken Fitch and Bernard Bailey): Appearing as a backup feature in Action Comics #1, Mr. America remained a fan favorite for many years. Former oil baron Tex Thompson was prompted to became Mr. America after observing an ocean liner he was supposed to be on be sunk by Nazi U-boats. Using a bullwhip and a special chemical that turned a colorful carpet into a functional cape, Tex and his friend Bob Daley (as sidekick Fatman) fought crime until Tex was given an important task. President Roosevelt himself asked Mr. America to infiltrate Nazi Germany and destabilize it from within. Changing his name to the Americommando, Tex was believed to have perished during the bombing of Dresden while saving innocent lives. This was a ruse, as Tex showed up years later as the mysterious Coordinator, founder of the Hero Hotline Organization.
Trey Thompson (created by Geoff Johns and Dale Eaglesham): a distant relative of Tex Thompson, Trey’s first and only appearance was in the revived JSA series in 2007. His seemingly long career as a hero is cut down when first his family, then later himself, are murdered in a plot by Vandal Savage to take down patriotic heroes with legacies and families. Despite the Thompson bloodline ending, Mr. America’s name did not die.
Jeffrey Graves (created by Geoff Johns and Dale Eaglesham): As Trey Thompson’s contact within the FBI, Agent Graves was fired upon Trey’s death and his subsequent working partnership with Trey was discovered by the government. Vowing justice for his dead friend, Jeff took up the mask and whip of Mr. America, joining the Justice Society and in the process obtaining an advanced bullwhip from Mr. Terrific that could deliver a powerful kinetic shock.