We’ve spoken in the past about Harvey’s short-lived attempt to jump on board the super hero bandwagon of the mid-1960s, and how despite hiring industry legend Joe Simon to put together a slew of new titles for them, the work was ultimately underwhelming and swiftly vanished with a scant track. Well, among that short batch of releases were a couple of true gems, and this was one of them: FIGHTING AMERICAN #1, 1966. if you wanted a book to compete with the hot new Marvel titles, you really couldn’t do much better than this.
FIGHTING AMERICAN had been created in 1954 by the partnership of Joe Simon and Jack Kirby (who was by 1966 working as the creative powerhouse of the new Marvel titles) as part of their self-published Mainline field of books. But it came out just as the crackdown on the field began, and unable to get decent distribution and placement, Mainline folded after a couple of years. It went under so swiftly that there was material for at least two more issues of FIGHTING AMERICAN lying around in Joe Simon’s files. So when he came on board with Harvey to develop new books for them, he dusted off this material, made a deal to keep the copyright for himself, and proceeded to release it.
ADDITIONAL: While Simon and Kirby did self-publish their own line of comics as mainline, reader Steven Brower correctly points out that FIGHTING AMERICAN was published by Crestwood (Prize).
Simon and Kirby were motivated to create FIGHTING AMERICAN by the 1953 revival of their greatest hit, Captain America, by what was then known as Atlas Comics. They figured that if there was a demand for Captain America out in the world, they were the ones best equipped to fill it. So they built their own new patriotic hero and sent him into the fray. And it really didn’t work at first.
By the second or third issue, inspired by the trend towards humor in teh field, Simon and Kirby began gagging up their new patriotic creation. Fighting American himself continued to play the straight man, but like Plastic Man before him, suddenly he found himself in an absurdist world, facing cartoonish and ridiculous enemies and situations. It was this contrast between what Simon would occasionally blurb as “split-second action” and wacky comedy that made the Fighting American strip so memorable.
For the one Harvey issue that was released, Simon split the book between “new” stories that had been created in 1955 for issues that went unpublished and vintage reprints of the older Fighting American stories (slightly sanitized by the Comics Code.) In fact, this first story, “Round Robin”, is interrupted two pages into it so that Simon can run an abridged version of Fighting American’s origin story and thus reintroduce the character. His sidekick Speedboy (no civilian name ever given) had his origins likewise recapped before the Round Robin story started up again–a very weird choice that didn’t help with the reading experience.
For readers of the period, it was almost sacrilegious to see Jack Kirby work being published on a non-Marvel title–but the fact that he was there at all brought a certain number of eyeballs to FIGHTING AMERICAN within fandom. Apparently, though, not enough eyeballs, as only a single issue of this revival would be published, leaving Simon with yet more inventory that would not see print. But it did have the benefit of introducing a new generation of readers to this classic and memorable series.
Simon’s other big win was in licensing the rights to reprint Will Eisner’s great newspaper creation The Spirit. Harvey wound up publishing two issues reprinting a selection of classic Spirit stories from the 1940s along with new short tales by Eisner himself. As with Fighting American, this was the first taste that a lot of comic book readers would have of this classic series.