Saturday, March 19, 2016

The Short and Double Life of Private Strong

Even given the quirky history of comic books, The Double Life of Private Strong was an odd title.

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.


  1. Hmmm.Did Bobby Bell 1st appear here?

    1. He did, which explains his rather weird appearances later in the Fly title.

  2. Michael Uslan remarked:
    I just got back from San Diego Comic Con where I did a panel on the MLJ – Radio Comics – Mighty Comics – Red Circle Comics super-heroes and we talked at length about "The Double Life of Private Strong." While I was working for DC Comics in the early 1970s, I was assigned to clean out "The Closet" which was akin to the last scene of "Raiders of the Lost Ark." In there in shambles were the entire corporate files of DC Comics from the beginning, as well as many many other items. It was there that I read many of the legal files and the numerous cease and desist letters DC had sent out over the decades. I read the letter from DC to John Goldwater claiming that their new version of the shield in 1959 was now too close in looks and powers to Superman and demanding that they cease-and-desist publication immediately or face an expensive lawsuit. Without hesitation, John Goldwater ceased publication after issue number two, two issues before they would have had real sales figures. What I have noticed is something that has become commonplace in the comic book industry... a lack of internal communication and corporate continuity. Over the years as administrations change, files and directives simply get lost in the shuffle, and since this happens at almost every comic book company, there is a general inability to remember and to follow up. That is why after a number of years, Simon and Kirby's Shield did reappear in comics and there was no follow up by DC Which by then had no corporate recollection of this settlement. Another case in point came from DC's cease and desist letter to Marvel regarding Avengers #9 and its introduction of Wonder Man. That settlement was based on an agreement by Marvel to never again publish Wonder Man. But over the years, with regime changes and changes in legal departments, that settlement became forgotten. So when years later Marvel brought Wonder Man back, there was no one at Marvel who probably realized that there was an agreement not to publish that character again and there was probably nobody at DC Comics who knew or had available files that would prompt them to take action again.