Marvel Comics’ shield-slinging Captain America is, bar none, the most famous of the star-spangled freedom fighters known as the superpatriots. But he was not the first superhero to wear the colors of Old Glory.
The Shield was the first superpatriot. Pep Comics #1 (January 1940) introduced Joe Higgins, a man who avenges his father’s murder by applying dad’s secret formula “SHIELD” (an acronym for Sacrum, Heart, Innveration, Eyes, Lungs, and Derma) to his skin. The formula is activated when Higgins wears a specially designed outfit—which just happens to be star-spangled—that boosts his strength, speed, and stamina, making him the Axis-busting superhero, the Shield. The Eagle promptly parroted the Shield by flying into print in Science #1 (February 1940). Secretly Bill Powers, the Eagle, dressed in a blue suit with a golden eagle chest logo and red-and-white striped cape, fights the Nazis and their American sympathizers. Manowar, a superpatriot android, also premiered in February 1940, in Target Comics #1.
Uncle Sam—the Uncle Sam, the top-hat-wearing, white-goateed icon painted by James Montgomery Flagg in his immortal military recruitment poster—became a superhero in National Comics #1 (July 1940), in a tale by Will Eisner, creator of The Spirit. Imbued with patriotism-induced super-strength, Sam is more than a match for Nazis and saboteurs. Uncle Sam, a 1997 miniseries published under DC Comics’ Vertigo imprint, features a dispirited Sam, muttering madly as the America he once knew has fallen apart.
Private Jack Weston was a true patriot, but not a superpowered one, which did not deter his zeal: In a red-and-white-striped shirt with blue sleeves dotted with white stars, he blazes onto the frontlines as Minute-Man, the “One Man Army,” in Master Comics #11 (February 1941). One month later, in March 1941, comic book readers witnessed two flag-furled firsts: Captain America #1, by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, and Feature Comics #42’s USA—”the Spirit of Old Glory”—the first star-spangled superheroine. Both debuted nine months before the United States entered World War II.