Despite the immensely popular Adventures of Superman TV show, the 1950s were kind of a desert for superheroes.
They were characters who’d had their heyday in the Great Depression and World War II, upheavals so vast they seemed to require superhuman champions to set things right. But afterward, with Americans in conformist retreat to the suburbs and wary of annihilation by a war between the actual super powers, superheroes’ colorfully costumed melodrama must have seemed out of place.
Like DC with the Flash and Green Lantern, Archie Comics caught the first wave of the coming Silver Age with its Adventures of the Fly in 1959. Tommy Troy was a boy magically transformed into an adult superhero, a winning concept that was going begging since Fawcett Comics had stopped publishing Captain Marvel five years before. Oddly, that angle was dropped after a couple of issues, and Tommy was rushed through law school to become an adult attorney.
In the first issue I bought, Adventures of the Fly 8 (Sept. 1960), I was delighted to find two superheroes for the price of one (then a dime). The Fly teamed up with the Shield to fight the Monster Gang. Movie monsters too! How good could this get?
I remember being puzzled by the fact that the Shield seemed to come from nowhere, because he had no title of his own. In fact, he did — The Double Life of Private Strong by Simon and Kirby, which lasted only two issues in 1959. The revamped Golden Age character now boasted flight, super-strength, invulnerability, super-vision and the ability to project lightning, and was the orphaned son of a scientist who’d given him his expanded-mind powers. Lancelot Strong had also been adopted and raised by a kindly farm couple.
Sound familiar? DC Comics thought so and threatened legal action, banishing the Shield to near-limbo. He did, however, show up for a couple of guest spots with the Fly. The same thing happened with the Black Hood, another Golden Age superhero I’d never heard of, despite the fact that he’d once had his own comic book, radio series and pulp magazine.