July 21, 2024

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Slightly Misplaced Comic Book Heroes Case File #113: Uncle Sam

The embodiment of America has been a superhero, too.

Uncle Sam has been an iconic figure for the United States for years.  The image of the older, goateed man in the red, white, and blue suit, saying he wanted the person he was pointing to (that’d be you), has been used as an image to represent America for ages and is easily a recognizable figure even for Americans who have never picked up a comic book.

He was also a superhero.

Stand tall, Sam.

Uncle Sam the superhero first came around in 1940 from writer/artist Will Eisner.  Eisner’s one of the all-time greats for the field, but aside from The Spirit, his superhero work isn’t as well-known as his pioneering work with the graphic novel.  But he did a bit of work for Quality Comics in a title appropriated called National Comics.  Personally, making a superhero out of a well-known icon seems lazy to me, like making Santa and the Easter Bunny part of a superhero team like the Justice League of Holiday Personifications, but what do I know?  Besides, Sam was just another of the popular patriotic heroes that popped up all the time back then, though interestingly, he predates Captain America by almost a year.

This Sam was a spiritual manifestation that came into being whenever the country was in danger.  Believed to be the spirit of an unknown soldier who died during the Revolutionary War, Sam returned when the United States needed him the most with the usual array of powers such as superhuman strength and resistance to injury, but he could also increase his size because why not?  Heck, he even had a sidekick in the early days in the form of a blandly-named boy named Buddy Smith.

As it is, Quality Comics folded and their characters disappeared.  Sam was one of many such characters.

Some of those many.

As it is, DC bought out the company’s characters and soon just stuck a bunch of them on an alternate Earth, Earth-X, where the Nazis won World War II and the Freedom Fighters were the last remaining heroes to oppose them as an underground guerrilla group.  Uncle Sam was their leader and other members include previous Misplaced Heroes Phantom Lady (another Eisner creation), the Human Bomb, and the original version of the Ray.

There’s something a bit depressing about a world where the Nazis won and the fighting never stopped, but the Crisis on Infinite Earths put a stop to that by merging Earth-X with the other surviving worlds.  Now the Freedom Fighters were just another World War II era team like the Justice Society, and the original members were still around, but they, for the most part, got old.

Uncle Sam was their representative at the Crisis talks.

Of course, a bit of retconning goes into effect when that sort of thing happens, and Sam’s backstory was expanded upon a bit in the pages of John Ostrander and Tom Mandrake’s run of The Spectre.  There, it came out that Uncle Sam had existed since the earliest days under a variety of names, even splitting into two opposing forces during the Civil War (the American one, not either of the Marvel ones).  They even attempted to update Uncle Sam into a new character.  See, the thing with that series was embodiments like Sam and the Spectre needed to be tied to a mortal soul to walk the Earth.  Uncle Sam was then tied to a bunch of souls including an alien artificial intelligence of some sort that all embodied the modern concept of America and became the Patriot.

Yeah, I can’t imagine why this look didn’t last.

The first chance another creator had, Patriot reverted back to the regular Uncle Sam.  Then the Infinite Crisis happened and Sam was forced to witness the deaths of many of the latest batch of Freedom Fighters.  Newer teams with more cynical motives have appeared since, but even in the unrelated Vertigo series Alex Ross drew, Uncle Sam is basically an idealistic character representing what is supposed to be the best parts of the United States of America.  Maybe in the 21st century that doesn’t fly as well as it did in the 1940s.

As it is, Grant Morrison in the pages of his Multiveristy event series recast Sam and the Freedom Fighters back on a world where the Nazis won World War II and the Justice League was made up of Nazi-types.  So, yeah, back to square one.

Pictured: Square One.