As anyone with a serious grasp of history understands, patriots are most often ciphers for those who end up, well, writing history. Even if they’re superheroes.
Take the following comic book characters, who’ve alternately served as straight-up supersoldiers, jingoistic nationalists, unrepentant terrorists and even clueless dunces, depending on the writer.
But above all else, no matter their masters, these superheroes served, which is what patriots and ciphers do.
Whether they executed that service for their countries, consciences, crackpot plots or uncontrollable desire to dance, they fulfilled their duties with honor, horror and often hilarity – and sometimes even a single-finger salute to the status quo. Ironic anachronisms assemble!
What links these heroes more than anything else is their love of America. Patriotism in the modern age is still as strong as ever outside the pages of comic books. Those wanting to display their patriotism for all to see may want to consider something like flying the flag in their yard. Does anybody really think that Steve Rogers doesn’t have a huge flagpole at the front of his house for all the neighbors to see how much he loves his country? He’s Captain America after all, and it would be weird if he didn’t! Plus, it would definitely make his home look better as flagpoles seem to have the ability to skyrocket curb appeal.
Patriot: Captain America, created in 1941 by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, is the alter ego of one-time sickly scrub Steve Rogers. (Rogers’ sidekick, Bucky Barnes, later stepped into Captain America’s boots.)
Publisher: Marvel Comics.
Powers: Thanks to an experimental serum – that strangely couldn’t be re-created to produce more than one supersoldier – Captain America boasts enhanced strength, speed and agility. He also wields an indestructible shield.
Postmodern wrinkle: Immobilized in ice once his popularity cratered after World War II, Captain America was resuscitated as the leader of The Avengers during comics’ Silver Age. He was controversially assassinated as an enemy of the United States in Mark Millar’s Civil War, but landed a full presidential pardon and will soon storm movie screens fighting neutered Nazis.
Patriot: First American, created by Alan Moore and Jim Baikie.
Publisher: America’s Best Comics, Moore’s Wildstorm imprint published by Image Comics and then later, controversially, DC Comics.
Powers: None. He’s a hapless fool, really.
Postmodern wrinkle: As his name implies, First American is a self-important joke, continually taking responsibility for most major U.S. historical events although he’s an incompetent of negligible physical prowess and, as the page above illustrates, occasionally comes down with Saturday night fever. His sidekick U.S. Angel, a starlet who can’t wait to be rid of him, is equally lame, but both serve as riotous vehicles for Moore’s acid satire on misplaced patriotism and self-righteous moralism.
Patriot: Yankee Poodle, created by Roy Thomas and Scott Shaw for their all-pets pop-culture goof Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew.
Publisher: DC Comics.
Powers: Animal magnetism. (Get it?) This anthropomorphic canine shoots electromagnetic red-and-white attractor stars from her left hand and blue repulsor stars from her right. When used together, they create a Newtonian magnoblast that could level a town for laughing at how ridiculous that sounds.
Postmodern wrinkle: Yankee Poodle’s alter ego is Rova Barkitt, gossip columnist, that most patriotic of professions. She’s also inspiration for the much more serious patriotic superhero Stargirl, created by current DC Comics chief creative officer and Yankee Poodle fan Geoff Johns. Maybe he should have put the poodle in the Green Lantern film.
An extended version of this article appeared at Wired