UNCLE SAMMedium: Comic books
Published by: Quality Comics
First Appeared: 1940
Creator: Will Eisner
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As World War II spread through Europe, patriotic fervor spread through America. Even before the U.S. entered the war, comic books were responding with superheroes decked out in stars and stripes, such as Marvel Comics' Captain America, MLJ Comics' Shield and Harvey Comics'
Captain Freedom. But it was Quality Comics that staked out a claim to the most famous red, white and blue character of all — they named and patterned their flag-draped hero after Uncle Sam himself.
The Quality Comics version of Uncle Sam was originally a white-haired soldier (named Sam, of course), killed in the Revolutionary War. As he lay dying, he envisioned American freedom so strongly, his soul, instead of moving on, merged with the Spirit of Liberty, and remained on Earth to fight for that cause. As history sped by, Uncle Sam manifest himself repeatedly, lending his strength whenever his country needed him.
More than a year before Pearl Harbor, at the behest of would-be dictator Andel Cobra (no relation), a fascist group called The Purple Shirts was already working to undermine America's defenses. They were opposed by a patriot named Ezra Smith, who got himself killed for his efforts. Ezra's young son, Buddy, ran off, despondent and desperately wishing there were someone to defend America from these saboteurs. Uncle Sam appeared to him, then proceeded to mop the floor with The Purple Shirts. After that, Sam and Buddy were partners in America's struggle against the Nazis, Fascists and Japs.
Quality's Uncle Sam first appeared in National Comics #1 (July, 1940). The story was written and drawn by Will Eisner, the creative genius behind such diverse characters as Hawks of the Seas and Lady Luck, and best known for The Spirit. Eisner's studio continued to produce the feature throughout its run, both in National and in Sam's own quarterly comic, the first issue of which was dated Autumn, 1941. Individual studio employees who worked on it include such stellar names as Lou Fine (The Black Condor), Dave Berg (Mad magazine), George Tuska (Buck Rogers) and Reed Crandall (EC Comics).
Uncle Sam's comics apparently sold fairly well during the first couple of years of the war, but even the most sure-fire concepts don't necessarily stay in print forever. After its Fall, 1943 issue, Uncle Sam Quarterly was replaced with Blackhawk. And in National Comics #42 (May, 1944), Sam lost his cover spot to a feature about a circus man, called The Barker. Three issues later, he was removed altogether in favor of a less serious character called Intellectual Amos. Quality Comics never used him again.
Quality Comics folded in 1956, and its characters were acquired by DC, the publisher of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. It was years before the new owner used this particular one, tho. That first happened in Justice League of America #107 (October, 1973), when the Justice League and its earlier counterpart, The Justice Society of America, teamed up to explore a parallel world in which the Nazis won World War II. There, they found Uncle Sam leading a group of Freedom Fighters that included several other Quality Comics superheroes who hadn't been seen in years — The Human Bomb, The Ray, Phantom Lady, The Black Condor and Doll Man. From 1976-78, The Freedom Fighters, after moving to the JLA's world, had their own comic.
Since then Sam, like most denizens of the DC Universe, pops up from time to time. His most recent major use was in a graphic novel by writer Steve Darnall (Empty Love Stories) and fully painted by artist Alex Ross (Kingdom Come), which was first published in 1997 as a mini-series under DC's Vertigo imprint. Here, Sam is depicted not as a cheerful, go-get-'em war hero, but as a profoundly sad old man, suffering intensely from past injustices committed in his name. Which shows that the personification of the United States, just like the country itself, can be seen in many different ways.