Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Requiem For An Ass-Kicker

Super-hero powers don’t get any more basic than a vaguely defined propensity for ass-kicking and speechifying. Super-heroes don’t get any cooler than a man who shows up out of the blue to do both at the drop of the hat, sometimes seemingly without provocation.

Here we see Uncle Sam as he first appeared during the long prelude to America’s involvement in the war - kicking ass and taking names.

DC never had a Captain America. They didn’t need one, because they had Superman, who represents the whole American Way thing in a slightly more subtle way than just draping yourself with the flag. But when DC bought the characters of the old Quality line, they bought the original Captain America -- Uncle Sam. Although Uncle Sam goes back to at least the Civil War (meaning that DC “owning” such an uncopyright-able character is a dubious distinction at best), he first premiered as a four-color ass-kicker back in July, 1940, in the first issue of Will Eisner’s National Comics. Captain America didn’t premiere until March of 1941 -- but you can’t accuse Joe Simon and Jack Kirby of much in the way of plagiarism, since Will Eisner hardly had to exert himself much to make a costumed adventurer out of a public-domain symbol.

Sure, Captain America may have beaten Uncle Sam to the proverbial punch by being the first American hero to sock Hitler on the jaw on the cover of a comic, but here Uncle Sam makes up for lost time by hitting Hitler so damn hard that he spins in the air like a top as his arms and legs make a vague approximation of a swastika.

Despite the character’s pedigree as a creation of Will Eisner, Uncle Sam hasn’t done a lot in his sixty-five year history. He fought World War two, spent a good thirty years in limbo, and finally got resurrected in one of those interminable JLA/JSA crossovers in the early 70s. Along with the rest of the Quality heroes, it was revealed that he was a member of one of those WWII-era retcon supergroups, kinda like the Invaders and the All-Star Squadron. Amazingly, though, Roy Thomas doesn’t appear to have had anything to do with it.

Why did hot-pants ever have to go out of style?

So, where does that leave our beloved icon of ass-kicking unilateralism? Well, dead in a pool of his own blood, by the looks of things. Unfortunately, the events of Infinite Crisis #1 do not seem to have been kind to our friend Sam, as he got the stuffing beat out of him by a group of Secret Society villains.

Here we see Sam entering the villains’ stronghold by ripping a steel door off his hinges. Much like his symbolic namesake, he’s not big on subtlety.

Wow - getting the full business from Black Adam - I’ll bet that stings.

I don’t think anyone ever liked the Ray much. But anyway, Uncle Sam still isn’t falling yet . . .

Even after all that it looks like he’s still ready to hand out twelve different flavors of ass-whup.

The old guy’s so tough they basically have to “SHRRAKKKK” him to get him to stay down. Not very sportsmanlike, if you ask me.

So here he is, lying face down in a pool of something or other . . . looks like he got thoroughly trashed, no? Well, if there’s one thing I can say with any certainty, it’s that this is an extremely unconvincing death scene, if it is even intended as such.

Ultimately, the only way to make a previously-dismissed character cool is to turn him into a badass. Uncle Sam has all the ingredients of a badass, and the folks who brought us Infinite Crisis have done a wonderful job of setting the scene for his inevitable return as a pure-dee badass of the first order. This time, as they say, it’s personal.

I’m sure there’ll be an Uncle Sam series spinning out of the events of the Crisis, so let me be the first to volunteer my services to write the new adventures of Uncle Sam. Wouldn’t take much to make the character cool again - give him a cherry red 1969 Mustang and a talking dog sidekick. Have him drive around the country dispensing ass-whuppings to whomever looks at him funny. I can guarantee it’ll ship 100K the first month.

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