SARGE STEELMedium: Comic Books
Published by: Charlton Comics
First Appeared: 1964
Creator: Pat Masulli
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The spy/secret agent genre is a fixture in comic books. Often, such characters have their effectiveness enhanced with high-tech gimmicks (like Marvel Comics' Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. or Archie's The Man from R.I.V.E.R.D.A.L.E.) or even super powers (like Tower's T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents or Dell's Werewolf). Charlton comics tended to be cheap and unexciting, so all their biggest secret agent star had was a fist of steel and not even a jazzed-up one, like Harvey's Spyman had, either. His left
hand was just a hunk of dead metal that he could whop his adversaries with. (He'd lost the real one before his series began, in a battle with drug lords.)
There's a little confusion about the name. At first, he was said to have been a sergeant in the U.S. Army at one time; and tho he was eventually promoted past that rank, the nickname stuck with him. Later, it was posited that his actual first name was "Sargent", and he spent his entire Army career as an officer. If the former version is true (even to the extent that anything in comic book stories is "true"), then he doesn't seem to have a first name.
Either way, he's said by writer Max Allan Collins (Ms. Tree, Dick Tracy) to have been the very first civilian comic book character in fact, the first in detective or spy fiction of any medium to be a Vietnam veteran.
Sarge made his first appearance as a run-of-the-mill private detective, no more outstanding (except for the steel fist) than Sam Hill or Ken Shannon, in Charlton's Sarge Steel #1 (December, 1954), It was written by Charlton mainstay Joe Gill (Captain Atom, The Blue Beetle) and drawn by future DC Comics executive Dick Giordano (The Human Target, Nukla), but Giordano later credited editor Pat Masulli (Kid Montana, Son of Vulcan) with the character's creation. The team of Bill Montes and Ernie Bache (Konga, Fightin' Five) took over the artwork early on.
Sarge's private eye cases generally involved international intrigue. By the sixth issue (November, 1965) his status as a "special agent" of the U.S. government was noted on the cover. After three issues of this, the title was changed to Secret Agent despite the fact that, just about the same time, Gold Key launched a comic titled Secret Agent, adapted from the TV series of that name. The Charlton version was dropped from the schedule after a total of ten issues, the last dated October, 1967.
He also had a series in the back pages of Judomaster, starting at the very beginning, Special War Series #4 (November, 1965), where he narrated a few pages of martial arts instruction. His actual stories there started with Judomaster #91 (October, 1966) and ran through #98 (December, 1967). After that, the only use Charlton got out of the character was to reprint him in a couple of titles under its "Modern Comics" imprint. In the early 1980s, Charlton sold its superhero-related properties to DC.
DC already had a character, King Faraday, who was roughly analogous to Sarge. Still, a use was found for him, no less than a cabinet post, as Secretary of Metahuman Affairs (federal offices in a universe abounding in superheroes being not entirely like those of the real world), at least until being temporarily replaced by President Lex Luthor (election results being the same). This has gotten him involved with such government/superhero intersection points as The Suicide Squad.
Sarge has never had his own series at DC, and doesn't seem likely to have one in the future. As a series-less denizen of a superhero universe, he can expect to get involved with The OMAC Project, The Department of Scientific Investigation and other government affairs of interest to comic book readers, and to get killed off now and again.