Monday, April 2, 2012

Book Review: The Shield, America's 1st Patriotic Comic Book Hero

Captain America may still be getting all the good press, but what the cover of this book says is true: The Shield was the first patriotic comic book hero. And oddly enough, he was created by the same company that created that lovable teenager, Archie Andrews.

Pep Comics was the second title put out by MLJ Publications, which would later become Archie Comics. Riding the wave of super-heroes that started with Superman in Action Comics and Batman in Detective Comics, the star of this comic book was a little bit of both. Joe Higgins used a scientific process and a star-spangled costume to make himself nearly invulnerable and took to the streets as the Shield, the "G-Man Extraordinary" who battled gangsters, mad men an Fifth Columnists alike.

The trade paperback reprints the first six appearances of this character, from Pep Comics #1-5 and Shield-Wizard Comics #1. The reproduction on these seventy-year-old stories are excellent; the colors are bright and the original artwork is very clear. There are even reproductions of advertisements for the Shield G-Men Club and its descendant, the Archie Fan Club.

The stories themselves are full of pre-war excitement, as the Shield battle svarious espionage agents and dictators trying to deprive America of valuable defenses and embroil it in the war currently ravaging Europe. There were apparently quite a lot of tin-plated despots with their own armies back in those days. By modern standards, these stories are definitely a few steps below the norm, but as pioneering Golden Age tales, they really shine. The artwork easily equals the output of DC Comics during the same period.

This particular trade retails for $12.95, but I'm certain you can find it for much less on eBay or Amazon Marketplace. I picked mine up at a flea market for five bucks. If you aren't a fan of golden age heroes, I would avoid it, because you probably won't enjoy reading it. But this is a great book for any fan of old super-heroes comics.

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