Tuesday, January 17, 2012

April 1940: Shield-Wizard Comics #1

 Cover by Irv Novick

Archie/MLJ has moved into the venue of solo super-hero titles, but without a star on the level of Superman they've been forced to merge their two biggest names: the Shield and the Wizard.  I'm quite happy to be getting another comic that's exclusive to my favourite genre, and it helps that the material so far is quite good.

'The Shield, G-Man Extraordinary' (by Irv Novick): The Shield gets an origin story for the first time here. In his first appearance in Pep Comics #1 we learned that he was inspired to become the Shield after his father was killed in the infamous Black Tom explosions. That story is adhered to, but greatly expanded upon. The Shield's father, Lieut. Tom Higgins, was a chemist and an army intelligence agent. His death was arranged by German agents who were after his secret formula, but they were only able to discover half of it. His son Joe vows to avenge his father, and becomes a great chemist himself, determined to finish his father's research. He discovers the secret of the S-H-I-E-L-D formula, which is laid out in a great diagram, and after applying it to himself he becomes the eponymous super-hero.

The rest is a standard tale of the Shield rounding up the spies that killed his dad and gaining his revenge. It's amazing what a bit of backstory can do, though. Before this the Shield felt like just another generic hero, but now he has a history and a motivation, and feels like a genuine character.

'The Shield, G-Man Extraordinary' (by Irv Novick): This is the Shield's first adventure. After passing  the test to become an FBI agent with a perfect score, Joe Higgins takes his first assignment: a steel mill that has been taken over by crooks who have kidnapped the owner. There's some decent humour with the Shield's partner, Ju Ju Watson, who sincerely believes that Higgins needs his help to become a good agent. The setting is also made good use of, with a lot of action set pieces and molten ore being flung about.

There is one problem with the story, though. Early on the crooks throw Joe Higgins into a furnace, where he is presumably killed. He emerges as the Shield, and shows up later as Higgins again after the crooks are beaten. But nobody even wonders how he is still alive! They all saw him thrown in that furnace, and I was looking forward to seeing him explain how he survived. No such luck, as it's just ignored.

'The Shield, G-Man Extraordinary' (by Irv Novick): The Shield and Ju Ju investigate a string of murders, in which all the victims are potential witnesses against the alleged head of a murder syndicate. The Shield stops the murders and produces some more witnesses with little trouble. It's a mediocre story, but it's amazing what the addition of an inept comedy sidekick can do. Ju Ju Watson isn't an original character, but he's cut from a template that works, and he gives the Shield somebody to play off.

'The Vampire Murders' (by Writer Unknown): In this prose story, the Shield fights a vampire. This is textbook vampire slaying. Step 1) Punch its teeth out; Step 2) Shoot it with silver bullets; Step 3) Stake it through the heart. The Shield knows what he's doing, and I have to love a story that features J. Edgar Hoover seriously discussing the undead.

'The Wizard, the Man with the Super Brain' (by Harry Shorten and Edd Ashe): Whereas the Shield gains an origin story in this issue, the Wizard gains something else entirely: a legacy. This story is about the original Wizard, who was born in 1750 and fought in the American War of Independence. This version of the Wizard was born with exceptional powers, and used them to predict Indian raids and the British invasion. But eventually the eerily accurate predictions drew suspicion, and the Wizard's father was burned for witchcraft. The Wizard later fights in the war, using technology such as a glider and a rapid fire pistol. This is pretty rad. The historical setting gives it some authenticity, and the whole concept of the Wizard becomes much more interesting with the addition of a lineage. I'm sure that I'd enjoy it even more if I knew about American history.

'The Wizard, the Man with the Super Brain' (by Harry Shorten and Edd Ashe): It's another tale of the original Wizard, who is helping George Washington fight against the British. By attacking them on Christmas Eve, the bastard! Some hero.

'The Wizard, the Man with the Super Brain' (by Harry Shorten and Edd Ashe): More from the original Wizard, as he tries to capture Benedict Arnold, then helps America to ally with the French. Now I'm really sure that I need to know American history to fully appreciate this. References to people and places and battles are rife here, but they hold very little significance to me. At least I can enjoy seeing the Wizard blast English troops with an honest-to-god cannon tucked under his arm.

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