Foiled by ... Archie?
December 1941 shook the world with the shocking Pearl Harbor attack. The same month brought a shakeup in the comics world, though admittedly a less serious one. It was the month that redheaded Archie Adams debuted in Pep Comics. Archie became America's favorite teenager, and by 1946 Pep's publisher, MLJ Magazines, would become Archie Publications. But for Pep's star-spangled leading superhero, the Shield, Archie's rise signaled the beginning of the end.
The Shield debuted in Pep No. 1 (January 1940). His flag-inspired ensemble inspired countless imitators--Captain America, a coterie of other "Captains," Miss Victory, the Patriot, Uncle Sam, and entire platoons of wartime superheroes. Like Marvel's Cap (alias Steve Rogers), the Shield had an alter ego: a secret serum transformed Joe Higgins into a hyper-soldier ready to fight for American ideals under direct orders from the president and FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover.
Joining the Shield in his Axis-thwarting efforts were colleagues such as his sidekick, Dusty (a Robin knockoff), and the Hangman, a macabre Batman analogue whose principal war-era foe was the subtly named Captain Swastika. Creepy Madam Satan, a green-faced servant of Lucifer, was an unlikely co-star.
From 1941 to 1948, the Shield recruited kids to help him uphold the law through his Shield G-Man Club. The card-carrying, badge-wearing members knew the four stars on the Shield's uniform stood for truth, justice, patriotism, and courage. Kids were encouraged to write in with tales of their own crime-fighting exploits.
Sales of Archie Publications superhero comics waned in the late '40s, along with those of their competitors. But in the 1960s, the MLJ heroes returned--some, like the Hangman, now inexplicably as villains--as the Mighty Crusaders. In the '70s, Archie Publications published superhero stories under a Red Circle Comics imprint. DC Comics has now licensed the Red Circle characters for use in all-new stories. Shield and the Crusaders will crusade again! Take that, Archie ...
Dr. Arnold T. Blumberg is the curator of Geppi's Entertainment Museum, Baltimore, Maryland, which supplied the images here. For more, visit www.geppismuseum.com.