Monday, July 03, 2006

Fighting American: Rules of the Game #1

Fighting American: Rules of the Game #1, November 1997, Awesome Entertainment
writer: Jeph Loeb
pencils: Ed McGuinness
inks: Nathan Massengill & Marlo Alquiza
colors: Brett Evans & Donald Skinner
lettering: Richard Starkings & ComiCraft
editor: Eric Stephenson

To celebrate our extended holiday weekend, my girlfriend Sara and I ventured to Los Angeles, and I picked up a hearty stack of comics from both Hollywood’s Meltdown Comics and Jay and Silent Bob’s Secret Stash in Westwood. My initial stack from the antique shop still has a few offerings left, too, so I should be in good shape well into the middle of July.

To further honor Independence Day, I sought comics inspired by its creators’ and characters’ raw patriotic power. In Meltdown’s quarter bin (what will be the saving grace of the ACAD challenge, I reckon), I found the perfect issue, featuring a Kirby-created, red-white-and-blue-clad, shield-wielding super-soldier that, although in a foreign time, cannot deny the world’s never-ending need for a champion for the American Way. Captain America? Nope. The Fighting American.

A very brief bit of research revealed that Jack Kirby and Joe Simon created the Fighting American over a decade after Captain America’s premiere, I assume in response to another company’s/creative team’s use of the flagship super-soldier. The characters are damn near interchangeable, through all of the characteristics I teased earlier, and the use of a kid sidekick, in FA’s case, named Speedboy. (Too easy.) “Rules of the Game” seems to be one of many miniseries starring the Fighting American in the late ‘90s, revived by Jeph Loeb on the cusp of his rise to stardom with DC Comics, and Rob Liefeld, long after his stardom fizzled out. McGuinness seems caught in the crossfire, and his pencils are as crisp and exciting as ever. In fact, almost a decade later, his superhero work has hardly changed, for better or for worse. Weird.

As for this issue, the Fighting American is another casualty of the mid-90s let’s-start-our-own-company boom. As Awesome’s front man, Liefeld proposes a pretentious essay about the company’s launch, its differences from Image (merely five years younger at the time), and its rebellion against Marvel, dubbed as “a bankrupt” establishment. If the Fighting American embodies Awesome’s potential, it’s no wonder I’ve never heard of it, and why I’m sure it isn’t around anymore. The story is the same old ‘90s trite: a thin plot of self-conscious heroes, leapfrogging from explosion to explosion, featuring static villains with nothing more than cool names, and a poorly veiled subplot involving the shadowed mystery mastermind behind it all. I don’t care if it’s Kirby-inspired; in fact, even more so then, it’s unoriginal. Repetitive. Ultimately, lost in the quarter bin.

Makes me wonder: were these efforts in “independent” comics publishing worth it? What are the forefathers of the movement up to nowadays? McFarlane has little to do with the creative process of Spawn, Jim Lee is Frank Miller’s bitch on the Batman and Robin All-Star comic, and Liefeld is . . . is he still alive? Erik Larsen and Jim Valentino are still active with Image, but most of the comics published by those “young industry rebel rousers” bear little resemblance to Image’s original material. In fact, most Image books are just as diverse as the other publishers' libraries: some superheroes, some crime/adventure, some indie/emo flair. Perhaps, like its readership, Image simply sought to come of age, complete with the selfish rebellion expected from aimless youth. So what of that early ‘90s renaissance? Did it really offer the market anything more than a flood of comic book clones? Well, among the books I uncovered in the quarter bin, plenty of copies of Image #0, a compilation of those early flagship titles. I guess that answers my question. Such is the price of freedom.

Tomorrow, in the second part of my patriotic review, I’ll read the latest issue of Captain America, the first “current” comic to breach the ACAD challenge. I hope Cap puts up a better fight for the American Way, and his reputation, than the Fighting American.

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