Welcome back to My Hero, where we put names to the faces of the custom action figures in the collection of the same name! This week’s focus on Private Lancelot Strong, the secret identity of the second Archie Comics hero known as The Shield!
A Short-Lived Revival
In 1959, the superhero market in American comic books was just starting to make a comeback: the Comics Code Authority was in and genres like True Crime and Horror were largely toothless shadows of their former selves. DC Comics (who’d never stopped publishing superheroes) had just launched their new Flash series and was on the eve of launching a new Green Lantern. It is in this environment that Archie Comics hired legendary Captain America co-creators Joe Simon and Jack Kirby to kickstart a new superhero line for them. Like DC Comics, this included a brand new character under a very familiar name.
Some years ago, Dr. Malcolm Flemming was engaging in a dubiously ethical, experiential method of raising his son Roger. Fleeing his colleagues promise to sick Child Protective Services on him, Flemming’s mobile lab is run off of a mountain road by communist agents and, unbeknownst to the reds, the experiments on little Roger allow him to survive the crash. He makes his way to the farm of Abel and Martha Strong, who take him in and raise him as their own.
As a teen, Lancelot Strong (which is a much better name than Roger Flemming) discovers the wreckage of the mobile lab that had been his childhood home out in the woods. Donning the patriotic costume in it, he discovers himself in command of a whole host of “natural” special abilities (enhanced speed & strength, control over his body’s temperature such that he can thaw himself out of a block of ice, and the power to shoot lightning from his fingers) that he uses on an alien monster rampaging across the countryside. Dubbing himself The Shield, he quickly regains his lost childhood memories and knows that it is destiny to be a hero.
All this happens just in time for him to get his draft notice for the U.S. army! Inducted at Fort Patton, he settles into battling communist spies and mad scientists as The Shield while Private Lancelot Strong is seen as a gangly hayseed with a hopeless crush on the base commander’s niece Georgia. In all, a very nice set up for a Silver Age superhero comics. Which is a shame, because The Double Life of Private Strong ended after issue two.
Private Strong’s sister series, The Adventures of the Fly, would prove much more successful and the basis for the Archie Comics mid-60s superhero revival. With the 31st issue, the series was renamed “Fly-Man” and brought back a host of Golden Age heroes as Archie’s version of the Justice League or Avengers known as The Mighty Crusades. This included a version of the original Shield, relegating Lancelot Strong to total obscurity until 1983.
Which is where I met the character! I wasn’t alive to be reading Mighty Crusaders in 1983, but that series was the bulk of the back issue library offered by Archie Comics extremely short-lived New Crusaders app in the spring of 2012. I was able to read the character complete Silver Age adventures in the Simon and Kirby Superheroes hardcover that Christmas, and he has been a personal favorite every since. Of the numerous Captain America clones created by Jack Kirby (with or without Joe Simon) over the decades, Private Strong is undoubtedly the most interesting – unique powers, an interesting origin story, and a most unusual double life. His lack of development over the years is eternally frustrating and hishttp://www.ebaystores.com/Back-To-The-Past-Collectibles/Custom-Figures-/_i.html?_fsub=16330833015&_sid=6913265&_trksid=p4634.c0.m322 complicated ownership only makes him tougher to use, necessitating a custom figure be made and ensuring him a spot as My Hero this week!