For one thing, what other superhero comic was named after the protagonist’s secret identity? For another, why would a title created by two industry legends — a title that was launched at the perfect time to become popular — be killed after only two issues?
Created for Archie Comics by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby in June 1959, just ahead of the 1960s’ boom market for superheroes, the title took the route that had proven successful with DC’s the Flash (and would work well for Green Lantern the next month, in July 1959, and later for the Atom and Hawkman). In each case, a popular 1940s superhero was rebooted, updated and streamlined for the jet age.
Simon and Kirby’s most successful creation had been 1941’s Captain America, a Marvel character they essentially parodied for Prize Comics with 1954’s Fighting American. Ironically, in their third try at a star-spangled superman, they were revamping a character they might once have been accused of copying.
That’s because the first flag-costumed patriotic superhero had been the Shield, published in January 1940 by MLJ, which would become Archie. Joe Higgins, an FBI agent who possessed superhuman strength and durability, fought criminals and spies as the Shield until 1948 (although his super powers had faded by then).
In retooling the Shield, Simon and Kirby amped-up the superman factor, granting him flight, super-strength, invulnerability, super-vision and the ability to project lightning. The orphaned son of a scientist who’d given him his expanded-mind powers, Lancelot Strong was adopted and raised by a kindly farm couple.
All that was a bit too similar to Superman for DC, which promptly threatened legal action and ended the title after its second issue. However, this Shield would reappear once or twice more as a guest star in the second superhero title Simon and Kirby created for Archie, The Adventures of the Fly.
They made the Shield’s secret identity that of an Army private, perhaps because most young men were drafted in those days, and perhaps because their most successful character had also hidden his red, white and blue costume under the tan of an U.S. Army uniform.