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Fighting Yank. Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

12 Patriotic Superheroes Other Than Captain America

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Fighting Yank. Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Captain America—created by Jack Kirby and Joe Simon—is 75 years old, and he’s never been more prominent thanks to Marvel's terrific movies (the third of which, Captain America: Civil War, hits theaters May 6). While Cap is the most successful and enduring patriotic superhero, he’s far from the only one. There have been many flag-wrapped heroes in the long, weird history of comics. Before you buy your ticket for the latest Cap movie, take a moment to salute his forgotten cousins, spoofs, and predecessors.

1. MISS AMERICA

This Quality Comics hero with a pageant-y name has a very Captain America-like origin: Joan Dale was a product of Project M, a U.S. super soldier program. Miss America had the impressive power of molecular transmutation: she could turn stuff into other kinds of stuff. Miss America became part of the DC Universe when DC bought the Quality Comics heroes, including such gems as the Red Bee and Bozo the Iron Man (no relation to Tony Stark).

2. AMERICOMMANDO

Though he was also called Mr. America, Tex Thompson deserves to be remembered for the much awesomer name of Americommando. Like Indiana Jones, he had no superpowers but was good with a whip. Like Superman, he debuted in Action Comics #1—not as Americommando or Mister America, but a plain ol’ cowboy hero.

3. YANKEE POODLE  

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There have been many comic book dogs—such as Krypto the Superdog and Ace the Bat-hound—but no pooch as patriotic as Yankee Poodle. As Jon Morris points out, a meteor accident enabled this star-spangled canine to shoot stars and stripes from her paws. Our dogs won’t even roll over.

4. NUKE

Created by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli in their '80s classic Daredevil: Born Again storyline, Nuke is the rare patriotic hero who puts the U.S. government in a negative light. A product of the same program that produced Captain America, Nuke didn’t turn out quite so spiffy: He’s a freaky killing machine with a flag painted on his face and red, white, and blue pills to calm him down or turn him loose. The future Nuke appeared on the first season of Jessica Jones as Will Simpson.

5. UNCLE SAM

Uncle Sam has been the personification of America since at least 1813, but he’s also been a superhero since National Comics #1 in 1940. Appropriately, Uncle Sam led a group of heroes called the Freedom Fighters.

6. FIGHTING YANK

This character, created in 1941, is one of several patriotic superheroes that hearken back to the War for Independence. Bruce Carter III is visited by an extremely patriotic apparition: his ancestor, Bruce Carter I, who reveals the location of a power-granting magical cloak. Sometimes that’s all it takes to be a patriotic superhero.

7. LIBERTY BELLE

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Like many DC characters, World War II hero Liberty Belle is part of a superhero legacy. Just as new Flashes and Green Lanterns replace old ones, Liberty Belle is the descendent of Miss Liberty, a hero of the Revolutionary War. Liberty Belle is one of the most literal heroes in the very literal world of comics: her powers are triggered by, you guessed it, Philadelphia’s Liberty Bell. Move over, Bat-Signal.

8. THE CONQUEROR

Created by comics legend Bill Everett in 1941, this bombastic character gained superpowers from a Cosmic Ray Lamp—which may need a bulb change, since he didn’t last beyond a mere four appearances. The Conqueror is featured in Jon Morris’ wonderful book The League of Regrettable Superheroes. Morris offers an apt description of the Conqueror: “Brutal, relentless, humorless, and dressed a little like a waiter in an ice cream shop, the Conqueror didn’t skimp on action.”

9 AND 10. THE STAR-SPANGLED KID AND STRIPESY

That doesn’t quite have the same ring to it as Captain America and Bucky, does it? Truthfully, there’s not much worth knowing about this duo except for one cool fact: They were created by Jerry Siegel, one of Superman’s co-creators. One of this duo’s main nemeses was the unfortunately spelled Doctor Weerd. They are slightly more impressive than another patriotic duo, Yank and Doodle.

11. THE SHIELD

By far the most important patriotic superhero other than Cap, the Shield debuted in 1940 (over a year before Captain America) and features the same star-spangled outfit, a very similar super-soldier origin, and the same Nazi-fighting early adventures. In fact, the reason Cap carries a round shield is that his original triangular shield looked too much like the symbol on the Shield’s chest. This unfortunately forgotten character has been revived several times over the years, including in a current ongoing series for Archie’s Dark Circle line. One difference: This time, the Shield is a woman.

12. AMERICAN BARBARIAN

This is perhaps the strangest entry on the list: the American Barbarian—real name Meric—is a Conan/Thundarr type with red, white, and blue hair who fights evil hordes with the mystical Star Sword, which leaves a trail of red, white, and blue in the air, and lives on the planet of Earthea in the distant future. The comic describes Earthea as being populated by “Roving mutant armies, legions of the risen dead, renegade robots, wild herds of genetic supermen, roving citadels on wheels, science experiments run amok, swirling matter-devouring black holes, re-animated dinosaurs, the sewer people of New New New York…” Plus a massive evil pharaoh named Two-tank Omen. American Barbarian partakes of the spirit of Captain American co-creator Jack Kirby but is completely its own thing, thanks to the exuberance of writer/artist Tom Scioli.

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Hulton Archive (left), Bruno Vincent (right) // Getty Images
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How Superman Helped Foil the KKK
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Hulton Archive (left), Bruno Vincent (right) // Getty Images

The Klansmen were furious.

Dozens of them had congregated in a nondescript room in Atlanta, shaking cloaked heads at the worrisome news that their sect leader had just shared: An act of gross subterfuge had transpired over the airwaves. Millions of Americans had now become privy to their policies, their rankings, their closely guarded methods of organized hatred.

All of it fodder for some comic book radio show. Their mission had been compromised, sacrificed at the altar of popular culture. Kids, one Klansman sighed. His kids were in the streets playing Superman vs. the Klan. Some of them tied red towels around their necks; others pranced around in white sheets. Their struggle for racial purity had been reduced to a recess role play.

Stetson Kennedy listened, doing his best to give off irate body language. He scowled. He nodded. He railed.

The covert activist waited patiently for the Klan to settle down. When they did, he would call radio journalists Walter Winchell and Drew Pearson, offering the results of his infiltration into the group for public consumption.

He’d also contact Robert Maxwell, producer of the Superman radio serial. Maxwell, eager to aid the humanitarian mission of the Anti-Defamation League, would promptly insert the leaked information into his show’s scripts. In between fisticuffs, his cast would mock the KKK’s infrastructure, and the group’s loathsome attitudes would be rendered impotent by the juvenilia.

The Klan roared, demanding revenge on their traitor. “Show me the rat,” their leader said, “and I’ll show you some action.”

Kennedy cheered, just as they all did.

And when he returned home, his Klan robe would be traded for a cape.

The cover to the first issue of Superman
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Kennedy, born in 1916, was an unlikely undercover operative. After a back injury kept him out of World War II, the Jacksonville, Florida native decided he wanted to combat anti-American forces on the home front. With Klan members alleged to have assaulted his family’s black maid when he was a child, the Klan—once again gathering steam in an era of segregation and racial divisiveness—was a favored target.

Having convinced a “Klavern” in Atlanta, Georgia that he shared their bigoted views, Kennedy donned the ominous attire of a Klansman, attended cross burnings, and covertly collected information about the group that he would then share with law enforcement and media. Radio journalist Drew Pearson would read the names and minutes of their meetings on air, exposing their guarded dialogues.

Revealing their closed-door sessions was a blow—one that Kennedy didn’t necessarily have to confine to nonfiction. In 1946, Maxwell, who produced the Superman radio serial broadcast around the country, embraced Kennedy’s idea to contribute to a narrative that had Superman scolding the racial divisiveness of the Klan and airing their dirty laundry to an enraptured audience.

“The law offices, state, county, FBI, House Un-American Activities Committee, they were all sympathetic with the Klan,” Kennedy said later. “The lawmen were, ideologically at least, close with the Klansmen. The court of public opinion was all that was left.”

Ostensibly aimed at children, Superman’s daily radio dramas were often broadcast to assembled nuclear families; one phone poll showed that 35 percent of its audience was composed of adults.

But regardless of whether parents listened, the activist believed the younger demographic was worth attending to. “Even back in the ’40s, they had kids in the Klan, little girls dressed up in Klan robes at the cross burnings," Kennedy said. "I have photos of an infant in a cradle with a complete Klan robe on. It seemed like a good place to do some educating.” 

In “Clan of the Fiery Cross,” a 16-part serial airing in June and July of 1946, Superman opposes an organized group of hatemongers who target one of Jimmy Olsen’s friends. Exploring their network, Clark Kent uncovers their secret meetings and policies before his alter ego socks the “Grand Scorpion” in the jaw. The idea, Kennedy wrote in his account of his work, The Klan Unmasked, was to made a mockery of their overblown vernacular.

When traveling, for example, Klansmen might identify one another by asking if they “knew Mr. Ayak,” an acronym for “Are You a Klansman?” Although Kennedy may not have actually shared their code words on air—a longstanding myth that was debunked in Rick Bowers’s 2012 book, Superman vs. the KKK—their histrionics were perfect for dramatization in the breathless structure of a radio drama. Given shape by actors and sound effects, all the clubhouse tropes of the Klan seemed exceedingly silly.

The cover to the first issue of Superman
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

As Kennedy continued to serve up Klan secrets to Superman, he watched as Klan morale dipped and membership enrollment ebbed. Desperate, the Klan tried calling for a boycott of Kellogg’s, a new sponsor of the show, but racial intolerance was no match for the appetites of post-World War II homes. Rice Krispies and Corn Flakes remained breakfast table staples, and Superman’s battles with the close-minded continued. Emboldened by his success against the Klan, Superman took aim at Communism, a favorite target of the show’s anti-Red star, Bud Collyer.

Kennedy would go on to burden the Klan using proof of uncollected tax liens, and eventually convinced the state of Georgia to revoke their national corporate charter.

Kennedy died in 2011 at the age of 94. While some of his accounts of subterfuge in the Klan later came under fire for being embellished, his bravery in swimming with the sharks of the organization is undeniable. So, too, was his wisdom in utilizing American iconography to suffocate prejudice. Fictional or not, Superman may have done more to stifle the Klan’s postwar momentum than many real people who merely stood by and watched.

Portions of this article were excerpted from Superman vs. Hollywood: How Fiendish Producers, Devious Directors, and Warring Writers Grounded an American Icon by Jake Rossen with permission from Chicago Review Press. Copyright (c) 2008. All Rights Reserved.

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7 Engaging Facts About Goofus and Gallant
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Courtesy of Highlights for Children

For well over 60 years, the preadolescent readers of Highlights for Children magazine have gotten regular lessons in morality from Goofus and Gallant, a pair of kids of indeterminate age and relation who offer sharp contrasts in behavior. Gallant is prone to exhibiting perfect manners; Goofus is selfish, thoughtless, and has even been seen torturing small animals. (Honest: He has stoned birds and once subjected a frog to some disturbing cruelty.)

The two-panel strip has become so ubiquitous that warring ideologies are often described as “Goofus and Gallant” types. If you’ve ever wondered whether there’s more to Gallant than being a goody two-shoes or whether Goofus is flirting with juvenile delinquency, check out our round-up of the pair’s storied history.

1. THEY USED TO BE ELVES.

Goofus and Gallant

Goofus and Gallant were the creation of Garry Cleveland Myers, a child psychologist and popular syndicated parental advice columnist. Myers debuted the strip, then known as the The G-Twins, in Children’s Activities magazine in 1938. While the twosome were already displaying their radically different approaches to life, Myers depicted them as fanciful creatures with pointed ears and curly-toed shoes. No one is quite sure why Myers opted for the fairy tale aesthetic, although one theory is that he wanted to depict bad behavior rather than bad children.

After Myers and wife Caroline started Highlights for six- to 12-year-old readers in 1946, they were eventually able to acquire the rights to the strip. Goofus and Gallant debuted in their magazine in 1948; by 1952, they had morphed into two regular kids. Their parents lost the elf ears, too.

2. THEY MAY HAVE BEEN BASED ON REAL KIDS.

Highlights turned into a family enterprise, with the Myers’s children and grandchildren having a hand in its publication. In 1995, Kent Brown Jr., the Myers’s grandson, told the Los Angeles Times that he was the inspiration for Goofus and that his cousin, Garry Myers III, was the model for Gallant. Myers III denied the accusation. “Kent gets great glee out of claiming to be Goofus," he said. Brown later stated that all of Myers's 13 grandchildren helped inform the characters.

3. ONE ARTIST DREW THE STRIP FOR 32 YEARS.

Goofus and Gallant

Once Myers secured the rights to the two characters for Highlights, he enlisted illustrator Marion Hull Hammel to draw their adventures (and misadventures), taking them from the elfin creatures of the early days to the human boys of the 1950s and beyond. Hammel wound up drawing it for 32 years; Sidney Quinn took over when she retired and worked on it through 1995. Current artist Leslie Harrington has been on the strip since 2006. 

4. GALLANT GETS HATE MAIL.

While the recurring theme of Goofus and Gallant is to exercise the Golden Rule, not all juvenile readers are on board with Gallant’s impeccable manners. "I got a letter from an attorney who'd grown up with the feature," Rich Wallace, the magazine's then-coordinating editor, told the Los Angeles Times in 1995. “He had something he wanted to get off his chest: 'Gallant was a wussy.'" Other readers have expressed similar disdain for Gallant, observing that they identify more with Goofus.

5. GOOFUS IS NOT A SOCIOPATH.

Goofus and Gallant

In the absence of any in-panel clinical diagnosis of Goofus’s reckless behavior—including but not limited to playing with fire, being unkind to peers, and vandalizing school books—we’re left with the editorial directives of Highlights. In a 1993 interview with the Chicago Tribune, magazine publicist Tom White admitted that Goofus is a “surly, uncooperative, ill-mannered child” but that "he is not a sociopath.” Good to know!

6. THEY’VE BEEN FEATURED IN ROUGHLY A BILLION ISSUES.

Discounting the two years they were absent from Highlights from 1946 to 1948, the antics of Goofus and Gallant have appeared without fail in every subsequent issue. In 2006, the magazine celebrated its 60th anniversary by shipping its one billionth copy. The magazine went from selling 20,000 copies of its first issue to averaging 2.6 million readers a month in the 1990s.

7. ONE EDITOR’S THEORY WILL BLOW YOUR MIND.

Goofus and Gallant

When Goofus and Gallant began their broadly-drawn moral plays in the 1950s, they were depicted as identical twins. Later on, editors for Highlights indicated the two were brothers, but not twins. By 1995, they were simply two unrelated boys. But according to former coordinating editor Rich Wallace, the two might actually be part of a Fight Club-style twist. “I’ve theorized they’re two sides of the same kid,” he said.

We were so awed by this possibility that we asked Highlights editor Judy Burke if it held any water. "We show the boys with different parents in the panels and they look slightly different from each other," she says. More recently, the two have seemed to become aware of the other's existence. "In April 2016, we had them breaking through their respective art panels and pranking each other for April Fools’ Day, which they couldn’t have done if they were the same child."

That doesn't mean that readers can't have an existential crisis of their own. "Each time we run Goofus and Gallant, we include the line, 'There’s some of Goofus and Gallant in us all,'" Burke says. "When the Gallant shines through, we show our best self.  We also include a few 'Goofus and Gallant Moments' from kids, where they tell us about times when they felt like either Goofus or Gallant. These two aspects of the feature support the theory that both characters reside within the same individual, and it’s up to that person to choose how to behave."

All images courtesy of Highlights for Children and used with permission.

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