Super Patriots

Category: Archetypes
Last article published: 17 June 2013
This is the 14th post under this label
The U.S. has a lot of them by virtue of being the main publishers of superhero comics: Captain America, the Shield, Uncle Sam, Agent Liberty, U.S.Agent, Liberty Belle, the Fighting Yank, Spirit of '76, Patriot, Miss America, Superpatriot, General Glory, the Fighting American, Yankee Poodle (to name but a fraction). Other countries are also represented by flag-wearing heroes: Captain Canuck, Guardian, Captain Britain, Jack Staff, Union Jack, Shamrock, Fleur-de-Lis (sic), Rising Sun, Kwezi, Sabra... Super Patriots. National Heroes. Flag Bearers. Call the trope what you will, today we're looking at the archetype and what it brings to comics.

Captain America is certainly the best known and most imitated of all National Heroes, but the Shield was actually the first. Both were born in America during the Second World War, at a time when nations had to take sides and proclaim what values they stood for. Cap punching Hitler in the face on his first cover is such a statement. Patriot heroes were an easy sell for troops having to go abroad, an important demographic when it came to early superhero comics adoption, and easy for them to identify with. It certainly helped, on the art side of things, that flags and other national regalia usually have strong design built in. Stars, stripes, a recognizable balance of colors that fills one with pride (for me it's red, white and the maple leaf), helped make these characters immediately recognizable. You knew what they were about and what they stood for, just as their rogues gallery were slathered in swastikas.

After war time, interest in National Heroes becomes less obvious. Instead of rallying figures, they may be used to comment on the state of any given country. A character like Cap can stay true to himself, and decry the problems facing his nation. A new Super Patriot (like the U.S.Agent) can actively reflect the nation he was born in (in that example, he was a more Right Wing, Reagan era hero. Patriotic heroes will usually fight enemies and problems, foreign and domestic, facing their nation, by means that may differ depending on what aspect of the "national character" the writer wants to expose, criticize, or celebrate. And so the Super Patriot will always be a useful superhero trope, even for readers outside the character's country who might embrace (ou reject, in the case of satire) the values they represent.

Unfortunately, a lot of non-American Flag Bearers are little more than stereotypes, shortcuts to populate the comic book world, but woefully limited to "what Americans (think they) know about another country". And so it is for the Global Guardians and the Contest of Champions heroes. Were comics actually produced in their home countries, the Flag Bearer would be just one of a group of diverse heroes and it wouldn't be a problem. Inherently political, how they are treated by creative teams makes a statement whether they intended to or not. And for international heroes, the effect is reductive, sometimes even offensive.

But what do you think of this archetype?


Anonymous said...

My suspicion is, super patriots will be done wrong unless by natives of their country. The central appeal to a super patriot is that he or she embodies the best traits of their countries and countries' peoples, yes? Outsiders are unlikely to see foreign countries the same way.

It's usually easy to tell whether it's an American writer or a United Kingdom writer who is scripting Captain America. American writers will make him principled and fair; UK writers will depict him as a "might makes right" type. And sadly, I have to say that there's truth to both perspectives. I think the "proper" Captain America is the Chris Evans type, but if we're looking at what America actually stands for, well, it's far from 100% good.

If Captain America were created in Europe somewhere, he'd wear a giant cowboy hat, use a gun constantly (though mostly absurd and unnecessary trick shots rather than lethal fire), and talk like a grizzled old prospector. In fact, somebody needs to do a comic like that IMMEDIATELY. That might be the best Marvel alternate universe.

Siskoid said...

Captain America has much less to worry about than heroes from other countries, since he's published by an American company in the U.S. You can imagine how it feels to come from somewhere else and see what DC and Marvel writers think of us.

Anonymous said...

I've seen Captain America condone torture, so I do worry about the guy. (I think it was written under Mark Millar.)

We know that Captain America is supposed to be about fairness and justice and so forth, and I would bet that every other nation's patriotic heroes would be that way too. That said, as a Canadian, you've already got an army of people in Jay Garrick costumes Maintaining The Right: if popular entertainment is any guide, every Mountie is practically a superhero already.

I think I've mentioned that, given my druthers, I'd cast Jay Garrick as a Canadian wearing modified RCMP serge. Would also redo Central City and Keystone City as Detroit and Windsor respectively.

American Hawkman said...

I'll note that the version of Cap joked about here EXISTS in the Marvel Universe... Le Cowboy of the French national superteam we met in Fantastic Four during Civil War. :)

I've always been partial to the flagsuit archetype.


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