Friday, July 4, 2014

Make A Stand For Liberty!

It probably goes without saying that, in the early 1940s, patriotism in the United States was on the rise, with Americans on the alert and keeping an eye out for enemy threats not only beyond the country's borders, but also within them. When it came to comic books being published at the time, it seemed even little kids weren't exempt from the patriotic fervor that appeared to be everywhere:

Timely Comics, the predecessor to Marvel, obviously had no qualms about tapping into that fervor, as well as the eagerness and enthusiasm of its young readers who would respond to calls to "serve" and "volunteer," even if that only meant joining a patriotic club and having a badge to show for it. Timely had a trio of patriotic stars in the Human Torch, the Sub-Mariner, and Captain America, but others were waiting in the wings. One of whom took the readily-available name of:

The Patriot, a/k/a Jeff Mace, reporter for Consolidated News, would later be known as the third Captain America in post-war America; but in the beginning of his career, he traded punches with any number of subversives and "fifth columnists," with tunnel vision that saw his duty to America clearly and unwaveringly. In his debut in Human Torch #4 (though mistakenly numbered on its cover), Mace hits the ground running by battling the "Yellowshirts," who move like lightning to strike at vulnerable areas of the country and paralyze Americans' will to fight:

"And they won't call us 'yellow' after we show them the color of our terror!" That's just superb writing by Ray Gill, whose story carries little subtlety or depth but cuts right to the chase in most cases. We meet Mace and his friend and future sidekick, Mary Morgan, simply taking a stroll when all hell breaks loose.

In these comics, panic is usually the order of the day when a crisis strikes. Fellow reporter Casey wastes no time stoking fear in the reader, reporting on simultaneous strikes all across the city and jumping to the conclusion that death is around the corner for all of them (or, if you read between the lines, all of us). And so the time is perfect to debut a new hero:

(Clearly, Mary cuts no slack for her friends, crisis or no crisis.)

The Patriot is a whirlwind of action, a one-man army who strong-arms the Yellowshirts wherever he finds them. But as we'll see, his main function is to act as inspiration for not only the other characters in the comic who are hard-pressed and even cowed by the opposition, but also for the story's readers.

Mace makes sure to clean out the Consolidated News offices first, but then heads to more visible areas of New York, making stands with his fellow civilians. Eventually, he's wrapping things up and settling up with the Yellowshirts' leader:

With the words "liberty," "freedom," "democracy," "country," and "defenders" virtually bursting out of that panel, it seems the Patriot is on his way to being a Timely mainstay for the duration of the war. Mary will be hanging around, too, though her mood doesn't seem to improve even when everything turns out all right:

Mary reminds me of how actress Noel Neill played Lois Lane in those old George Reeves Superman shows--the day is saved, but all Lois can do is chide Clark Kent for missing all the action. Maybe Lois took a leaf from Mary's book. If it ain't broke...

The Patriot also would have a brief cameo in the Kree-Skrull War, when Rick Jones summoned a simulacrum of him to battle a Kree death squad:

But when the Patriot took the place of the Spirit of '76--the first man to step in as Captain America, killed in the line of duty--his patriotic fervor was at odds with the changing times:

Lost to time and obscurity, Mace would encounter the original Cap one last time, on the verge of losing a battle that could claim even the most spirited of heroes:

So on this day, it seemed appropropriate to give a nod to a less celebrated version of Captain America, fighting for a country that won its battle for independence through the efforts of many such men and women who made a stand for liberty.

In the Patriot's own words, his very first adventure!

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