Captain America was not the first patriotically-themed super hero to appear in comic books. That honor is reserved for The Shield, headliner of PEP COMICS for MLJ (eventually ARCHIE) who first appeared in the inaugural issue of that series, the creation of Harry Shorten and Irv Novick. Like most of the early super heroes, the Shield was an attempt to recreate Superman, and so the initial conception of the character gave him strength and speed and invulnerability similar to that of the Man of Steel.
Eventually, though, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby introduced their own patriotic super hero Captain America over at Martin Goodman’s Timely Comics. Due primarily to the storytelling skills of Simon and Kirby, CAPTAIN AMERICA COMICS was a smash, swiftly becoming the best-selling title in Goodman’s line and inspiring every other publisher in the field to come up with their own star-spangled knock-off. Seriously, there were dozens of these guys, all of them attempting to capture not only the surface styling of Captain America but the manner in which his stories were told. And that brings us back around to the Shield.
The first thing the folks at MLJ did was to reach out to Goodman, Simon and Kirby and threaten legal action. There wasn’t all that much there to go on–you couldn’t possibly copyright the idea of a hero wearing a costume based on the America flag. But the threat was enough to get the Timely team to make some changes to Captain America–notably, they dropped Cap’s triangular shield, with matched the look of the Shield’s chest design, in favor of the much more famous circular version.
In response, MLJ didn’t do much, for a while. The did start changing the logo on the first page of all of their Shield stories to read THE ORIGINAL SHIELD AND DUSTY in an attempt to cast some shade Timely’s way. But still, they kept on doing the same kinds of stories with the Shield that they had been, to only middling returns.
But the big change happened in mid-1942. Apparently feeling that if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em, MLJ completely retooled the Shield strip to make it much more like Captain America. This all began in PEP COMICS #29, from which this story is drawn, though the whole sequence played out over a few issues of a few books. Out of nowhere, the Shield began to lose his super-powers, the first time something like this had happened (at least deliberately–some of the publishers in the golden age would completely overhaul a character from one installment to the next without any explanation)
In the story this is presented as something that might be short-lived, something that simply happens as a part of the story. But it’s not–it’s a permanent change. Additionally, either on his own or more likely because he’s been instructed to by his editors, artist Irv Novick begins mimicking Simon & Kirby’s style. His regimented grid-style layouts become a hodge-podge of curved panels with figures popping out of them–just as Simon & Kirby were doing on Captain America.
Undaunted, the Shield still feels compelled to carry out his duty as a costumed hero even without his super-abilities, and so he and Dusty (who never had any powers to start with) begin to act more and more like Cap and Bucky. (It’s worth pointing out that, by this point, the Shield had swiped its set-up and powers from superman, its kid sidekick from Batman, and its eventual art style and approach to action from Captain America, making it perhaps the most imitative series on the stands.)
The MLJ books were never shy about being violent or quasi-gory, but here Novick leans even further into that sort of luridness, chasing the dragon of Simon & Kirby.
I’m not going to leave you on this cliffhanger, especially given that the question of the Shield’s powers is resolved within the first two pages of the story in PEP COMICS #30
Here in #30, the tag line has become THE ONE AND ONLY SHIELD. But not the one and only Captain America, I’m afraid.
“I’m just as glad you haven’t got your super-powers back!” Screw you, Dusty!
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