Simon & Kirby: When Fighting American Stole From Starman

FIGHTING AMERICAN is a well-remembered series produced by the Joe Simon & Jack Kirby Studio in the 1950s. It started out as a reaction to the revival of Simon & Kirby’s best-selling patriotic super hero at Atlas Comics, Captain America–they figured that if the public wanted that kind of a character, they were better suited than anybody to provide it. But within an issue or so, the series changed emphasis. While it started out as a typical Red-baiting piece of jingoism, it rapidly evolved into a slapstick parody, with cartoonish villains and outlandish situations. Fighting American and his sidekick Speedboy played straight men to this nonsense, much as Plastic Man did in his own series. It was a novel and well-executed series–but one that wasn’t above borrowing ideas from elsewhere.

Just what possessed Simon and Kirby to base a Fighting American adventure on a random story from almost 15 years earlier from ADVENTURE COMICS and featuring Starman is anybody’s guess. I suppose inspiration is where you find it. Harry Mendryk, who first pointed out this lift, conjectured that either joe or Jack or both must have had a copy of this particular issue in their archives, given that the contributed Sandman and Manhunter stories to it, and did the cover.

The Starman episode in question concerns the return of the Astral Avenger’s most famous foe, the Mist, who was capable of invisibility. Simon and Kirby kept the basic thrust and events of the story intact, but they lampooned the thing while they were doing so, transforming the genuine villainy of the Mist into the zany malevolence of Invisible Irving, the Great Nothing.

The source material Starman story was written by Gardner Fox and illustrated by Jack Burnley, one of the most polished artists DC had at the time. The character was given a bg push with the expectation that he would become another Superman. But despite Burnley’s skill and some solid writing, there really wasn’t anything to differentiate Starman from the dozens of other would-be Supermen who were then clogging up the pages of newsstand racks, and he swiftly became an also-ran. The odds that anybody in 1954 when Simon and Kirby did their FIGHTING AMERICAN issue would recognize its origins was as close to nil as possible.

There really isn’t much more to say. As these things go, it’s pretty much a victimless crime. And the S & K version does serve to point out how outlandish the original Starman story is, and works as a piece unto itself.

As a bonus, here are the splash pages for the Manhunter and Sandman stories that Simon and Kirby provided for that issue of ADVENTURE COMICS.

2 thoughts on “Simon & Kirby: When Fighting American Stole From Starman

  1. Thanks for posting the Jack Burnley pages. Great to see them. I thought his Superman covers for different series were some of the best images of the character. I like the lush, ink brush finish over naturalist styles of artists like Burnley, Mac Raboy, and Wally Wood. Great sense of lighting, too. I’ve been aware of the Golden Age Starman since I was a kid in the 80’s, but I never read the moniker “Astral Avenger” until you used it here. Sounds like something Roy Thomas would’ve used in “All-Star Squadron”. And it’s similar to “astro”/”astra”- “star”. But thanks to Dr. Strange, I’ve associated “astral” with his “astral projections”, and the “astral plane”.

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  2. I wonder why the only Simon and kirby character DC has never reprinted in a volume is manhunter???

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