Cover of Captain Flag's introductory issue. Artist: Sam Cooper.


Medium: Comic Books
Published by: MLJ Comics
First Appeared: 1941
Creators: Joe Blair (writer) and Lin Streeter (artist)
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Comic book superheroes first became popular in the days leading up to World War II; and consistent with the times, one of that genre's most popular subsets consisted of …

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… superheroes wearing costumes based on the American flag. MLJ Comics was the first to introduce such a character — The Shield, in fact, appeared about two years before Pearl Harbor. But few comics publishers of the time were content with just one. By the time America entered the war, MLJ was also publishing the adventures of Captain Flag.

Captain Flag appeared in MLJ's Blue Ribbon Comics, where Mr. Justice had for several months been the sole cover feature. That changed with Cap's first appearance, which occurred in the 16th issue (September, 1941). After that, the two shared covers for a couple of issues. As of #19, Cap and his faithful bird companion, Yank the Eagle, had the covers all to themselves.

Cap's origin story was improbable even by superhero standards, tho it did eschew the improbability of conferring super powers on him. He was originally an effete, dissolute playboy named Tom Townsend, whose father's wealth as a famous inventor had made it unnecessary for Tom to do anything useful with his own life. A criminal called The Black Hand tried to get hold of the elder Townsend's latest invention by kidnapping him and trying to torture the information out of him. Of course, Tom, who had been grabbed along with him, tried to stop the proceedings, but being effete and dissolute, failed miserably. In fact, his father was murdered right before his eyes, still bravely withholding the secret. Before Tom could do anything about it, even in his effete, dissolute manner, an eagle crashed through the window and carried him off.

The eagle took him to its aerie, where it fed and nursed him just as if he'd hatched from its own egg. In fact, the eagle's care, combined with the healthy mountain air, turned him into a physical marvel. One day, the eagle brought home an American flag. Tom took this as an omen, and (using who-knows-what for needle and thread, finding his seamstress skills who-knows-where, and converting the field of stars into one big star for a chest emblem who-knows-how) altered the flag into a costume. Then he and Yank (as he named the eagle) returned to civilization, brought The Black Hand to justice, and launched their career of fighting crime and/or evil.

The story was written by Joe Blair, a regular at MLJ Comics, who also had a hand in the company's Madam Satan, Inferno and Hangman. It was drawn by Lin Streeter, also a regular there, who worked on less well-known features such as "Danny in Wonderland" and "Rocket & the Queen of Diamonds" for MLJ and another flag wearer, Pat Patriot, for Lev Gleason. During the 1950s, Streeter drew a lot of horror stories for The American Comics Group.

Captain Flag's evil-bashing career lasted all of seven issues, as Blue Ribbon Comics folded with #22 (March, 1942). He wasn't seen again until 1966, when Archie Comics (the company had re-named itself after its most popular character a couple of years after Blue Ribbon's demise) brought back the majority of its old costumed crime fighters for a walk-on with The Mighty Crusaders. Cap got more prominent treatment than most, as he allied himself with The Web and The Fox to form a competing super-group called The Ultra-Men.

But not all that prominent. Cap's career with The Ultra-Men was even briefer than the one he'd had back in Blue Ribbon Comics. In fact, announcing its existence was all the team ever did.

Archie Comics doesn't make much use of its superheroes anymore, but they do turn up from time to time. When they do, Captain Flag usually isn't among them, but you never know — maybe he'll be there next time they're seen.


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Text ©2004-09 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Archie Comics.