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).
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.
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.