It's Independence Day here in the United States, and what better way to celebrate it than to remember the fictional men and women who drape themselves in red, white and blue and try to personify what makes the country great?
For almost as long as there have been superheroes, there have been superheroes who were intended to be patriotic figures representing American values by offering up inspirational speeches, standing up for the little guy and socking Hitler in the jaw whenever possible. Considering the popularity of the medium during the Second World War, it's easy to see why Real American Heroes became so prevalent, even if they've failed to find so easy a purpose ever since (Although trying to do so has produced such great stories - and such sly commentary as Captain America's 1970s villains, the Committee to Regain America's Principles... or CRAP, for short). But this isn't a day to think about troubled times... so let's salute the brave, bold and... others... of America's Fictional Finest.
Still the best of all of America's superheroes - or, at least, the only one who's really weathered the years and stayed in print the longest. Sure, there was that whole period he disappeared after the War, but that's because he was frozen in a block of ice. Who would've wanted to have read that month after month?
Who could be more patriotic than Captain America? Well, how about Uncle Sam himself? Oh, alright; this character, created by The Spirit's Will Eisner, wasn't the Uncle Sam, but instead the resurrected spirit of a Revolutionary War-era soldier who mystically returns in America's various hours of need, but still. Look at that beard and wonder just who could argue?
Created more than a year before Captain America, Archie Comics' super soldier patriot may not have the name recognition of Marvel's counterpart, but DC Comics is doubtlessly hoping that J. Michael Straczynski's upcoming revival of the superpowered military man will change all of that.
The Fighting Yank
A character so wonderfully named, he's been revived not once but twice in recent years, and by no less than Alan Moore (in a 2001 issue of his America's Best Comics series Tom Strong) and Alex Ross (in his ongoing Project Superpowers series). But who could resist the lure of a man haunted by the ghost of his War of Independence-era ancestor who fights for his country's honor?
What are the odds that a woman could have a spiritual connection with the Liberty Bell so strong that it gives her superpowers and the ability to fight Nazis? if you're a comic book character from the 1940s, apparently they'd be good enough for that character's daughter to take on the same costumed identity and fight crime with the Justice Society today.
The Forgotten Heroes
Reason #1 to love this 1941 superhero: His secret identity is a Texan oilman out for revenge against the Nazis. Reason #2: His sidekick's name was "Fatman." Reason #3: His Nazi-fighting technique? Dying his hair black and whipping his enemies until they surrender. Why is this character not getting multiple movies and fan worship as we speak?
Sadly unrelated to the above, Miss America gained her powers from a dream where the Statue of Liberty came to life and gave them to her, and thankfully kept up that level of weirdness all the way through her career, whether it was faking her own aging process in order to live a quiet life or making a new body for herself from space debris and renaming herself Miss Cosmos. There's something admirable about that kind of ingenuity, wouldn't you agree?
A much more recent patriotic hero than most, John Walker hails from the 1980s and an unsuccessful stint as a replacement for Captain America that accidentally led to his parents' death. His success as a character is perhaps best defined by the fact that he - an American-themed hero with a very American name - was transplanted to Canada by Marvel in a desperate attempt to make him a success. It failed.
Marvel Comics' 1981 attempt at inclusiveness resulted in this Native American hero, Jason Strongbow, whose generic origin story (Gained powers in accident caused by supervillain, seeking revenge for a dead brother) and lazy stereotypical costume didn't hint at the potential that's slowly being unlocked by more recent creators in series like Thunderbolts and War Machine.
DC Comics keep trying with this name, even if the characters keep getting popular enough to outgrow it; the first SSK became Infinity Inc.'s Skyman in the 1980s, and the second became the Justice Society of America's Stargirl. Luckily, we now apparently have a third in the Teen Titans franchise, even if she does happen to be martian. Does an alien really count as star-spangled?
The Crazy Ones
Sure, there may be nothing particularly American about his name - or even his outfit, most of the time - but there's no doubting that Alan Moore's Watchmen character served his country - or more accurately, his country's government - better than most superheroes. Not enough to stop himself getting thrown out a window, sure, but them's the breaks.
Frank Miller's intentionally-failed attempt to repeat the Captain America experiment may have seemed slightly out of place in the classic "Born Again" Daredevil storyline, but there's no denying that his drug-fueled, crazed Vietnam-flashback rantings made him a memorable indictment of mindless patriotism in Reagan's America.
An old-school superhero captured, made into a cyborg and going insane and murderous in the process? Erik Larsen's quasi-parody may have a history that's as ridiculous as it is eventful - and that's before you've gotten to the kids he didn't remember having and his half-martian grandchild - but we're choosing to look at him as a man who's just made a few mistakes, is all.
Leader of conservative supergroup the Force of July - Get it? - this DC Comics character was everything some would want in a true American hero: Charismatic, attractive, arrogant and racist as all get out. Never given to complex characterization, the character's descent into political parody continued when he joined a new corporate superteam called the Captains of Industry - Get it? - before, thankfully, dying.
Yeah, I know; Steve Rogers isn't crazy, right? But his retconned 1950s replacement most definitely was. After all, how else would you describe a man whose take on American values was deemed acceptable by Nazi supervillain the Red Skull on more than one occasion? Yes, he may think he was a patriot - and, thanks to cosmetic surgery, he even looks exactly identical to the original Cap - but this guy is not the kind of hero you want in your corner.
Yank & Doodle
Yes, it's a crime-fighting duo called Yank and Doodle. Even during their heyday of the 1940s, there's no way that kids didn't find these two America-loving teenagers more than a little dumb. Surprisingly, they've just been revived in Dynamite's Project Superpowers series... Here's hoping that new names are forthcoming.
Well, what else would you call the world's most patriotic crime-fighting dog? Part of DC Comics' Zoo Crew, Poodle isn't even the most America-centric of the team... That'd be American Eagle. Who, you guessed it, is an actual Eagle. Stunningly, thanks to Final Crisis, these characters are officially part of DC's main continuity these days.
Armed with a boomerang tiara and her quick wits, The Tick's occasional partner in crimefighting stands out as being probably the most capable of all the characters in the comic/show - Dressed like Lady Liberty and working for the US government more often than not, evil will never get away with it as long as she's around.
The First American and US Angel
Alan Moore's turn of the millennium take on the idea of patriotic comic characters was this unusual duo - An overweight, incompetent superhero (The latest in a long line of First Americans) and the former stripper who dreams of taking his place. Social satire, or serious commentary on the impotence of American masculinity in the face of an increasingly revelatory society obsessed with surface glamor above all? You be the judge. But it's not the latter.
If a trucker who can pick up CB transmissions thanks to the metal plate in his head, and then gets kidnapped by aliens before opening an intergalactic diner in space doesn't sound like the very personification of the American Dream to you, then there's only one explanation: You're not an American in the first place. But even that doesn't stop us from wishing you a happy Independence Day... even if it was independence from you that's being celebrated in the first place.