"Captain America: Winter Soldier" hits theaters and I have to say I'm very excited to see it. The flag-waving wonder is my favorite of the Avengers and certainly one of my top five characters from Marvel Comics. Although he's the most well-known, Cap isn't the first patriotic super hero to go up against foreign spies and bad guys for the good ole U.S. of A. That privilege belongs to MLJ Comics' The Shield.
For those not up on their comic book history, MLJ became Archie Comics and continues to publish stories about the teen heartthrob from Riverdale and all his buddies to this day. The Shield preceded Captain America as the first patriotic super hero by over a year. He first appeared in issue #1 of Pep Comics which was published in January of 1940. Marvel's red, white, and blue adventurer didn't make his debut until March of 1941.
Created by Irv Novick and Harry Shorten, the Shield's origin was told in Shield-Wizard Comics #1, which premiered in the summer of 1940. The son of a brilliant chemist, Joe Higgins continued his murdered father's work. He discovers that the chemical mixture his father was concocting gives man super powers when it's rubbed on parts of his body.
After experimenting with the chemicals on himself, Joe realizes he's gained a number of extraordinary abilities like flight and increased strength. Deciding to use his powers to help his country during wartime, the Shield becomes a G-Man and takes his missions straight from J. Edgar Hoover himself. His familiar costume was dyed red, white, and blue by the chemicals.
The Shield spent the first half of the 1940s fighting against foreign agents obsessed with bringing down America and trying to take over the world. He disappeared from the pages of Pep Comics in 1948. The patriotic crusader wouldn't be heard from again until 1959, when Captain America creators Jack Kirby and Joe Simon were commissioned by Archie Comics to design a fresh batch of super heroes. One of those characters was a new Shield which had nothing to do with the original.
Over the decades, the Shield has shown up in several different comic books under the banner of a couple publishers. He got his own title when he was added to the continuity of the DC Universe. We saw him working crowd control with Green Arrow and Black Canary.
The Shield recently came back into active duty as the leader of the New Crusaders for the Archie Comics imprint Red Circle Comics. They are a team made up of all the children of his past partners-in-crime fighting. The veteran super hero helps them battle modern-day evildoers in the name of truth, justice, and the American way. He was the star of his own back-up story in the pages of The Fox comics, as well as partnering up with the character for a story arc.
I feel it's important for credit to be given where it's due, and the Shield has been neglected. It's safe to say that the concept of Captain America was based on Pep Comics' first patriotic super hero. There's no denying the Shield had a lasting impact on the golden and silver ages, and continues to have an influence in the comic book world today.
A graphic novel collection of his first adventures are found in "America's 1st Patriotic Comic Book Hero: The Shield." It's available now in print editions.
The Shield's newest adventures can be found in the single issues of The Fox comic books right here.