January 1940 at a company known as MLJ a legend was born. At least to many fans
he is a legend. Though he has not had the longevity of his closest copycat he
was the first of his kind and holds a special place in the hearts of many. This
legend was the first patriotic American-flag-themed superhero, The Shield.
Shield was America’s first patriotic comic book hero, such an obvious and
original concept that he was much copied. Captain America, Fighting Yank, Flag
Man and many more, including one produced by MLJ themselves, Captain Flag, were
to follow. But this essay is not about them. It is about The Shield in his
various incarnations throughout the years, and most particularly the 1960s.
original run of the Shield ended in 1948. There was a revival of sorts in 1959.
This Shield was a different character that lasted only two issues of his own
magazine. In 1964, the Shield was again revived. This 1960s Shield was not the
original, but the son – or rather sons – of the original Shield. Yes – sons!
different people wear the Shield costume in the 1960s? Were they the twin sons
of the original Shield, named Bill Higgins and Joe Higgins?
purpose of this essay is to give evidence for the premise that two different men
wore the Shield uniform in the Archie Adventure/Mighty Comics run of the 1960s.
before we get to the Shield of the sixties let’s examine the background of the
original Shield and his immediate successor of the 1950s, Lancelot Strong.
original Shield burst onto the scene with powers akin to Superman. He had super
strength, and bullets bounced off of his chest in Superman-like fashion. He
could also leap tall buildings in a single bound. Unlike Superman, though, his
powers did not come from his birth on another planet. He was an all-American boy
born right here on Earth and his powers came from artificial means – a formula
invented by his father.
Rik Offenberger tells it in his article The Superman/Shield/Captain America
Connection: “The Shield is Joe Higgins, who suffered from a tragedy as a
child when his father, FBI Agent Tom Higgins is killed in an explosion set up by
one of his enemies. The dying Tom tells his son about an uncompleted formula he
had been working on. The formula was called S.H.I.E.L.D.: Sacrum, the spinal
center; Heart, the pump of the body; Innervation, the nervous system; Eyes,
power of sight; Lungs, control of respiration; Derma, the skin. Joe goes to
college and becomes a chemist. Joe completes his father’s formula. Before he can
make use of it and find out who killed his father, the killer comes after Joe.
He is beaten and then left at the site of another explosion. Joe goes back to
his lab, badly wounded, and applies the formula to his body. He seals himself
into a special fibro-metallic suit and then lies under "fluoroscopic rays" for
12 hours to allow his body to absorb the chemical. This alters his body and he
now has superpowers.”
Shield made his debut in Pep Comics #1 and stayed through Pep Comics #65,
January 1948 after which the strip was canceled. Along the way he lost and
regained his powers, and picked up a kid sidekick named Dusty. The Shield also
appeared in 13 issues of Shield-Wizard magazine between 1940 and 1944. This
version of the Shield was not to be seen again (except for occasional
flashbacks) until Archie re-launched their super hero line for the second time
in the 1980s. But that is another article unto itself.
the 1950s, June 1959 to be exact, another version of the Shield appeared on the
scene. This Shield, created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, who created Captain
America, made his debut in The Double Life of Private Strong #1, with the
above publication date, published by Archie Comics, as MLJ was now called. This
Shield, markedly different from the original, was an orphan who also gained his
powers by artificial means. He, however, had no connection to the original
Shield or the Shield to follow in the 60s.
come to the Shield of the 60s, the main subject of this article. We will outline
the appearances of the Shield and establish that two men actually wore the
costume of the Shield during this period. Both of them sons of the original
Shield, quite possibly, twin sons.
Shield of the sixties made his debut in Adventures of the Fly #31 (May, 1964) in
a story entitled, “The Fly-Man's Partners in Peril”. Therein the Shield, along
with some of Archie’s other Golden Age MLJ heroes, Black Hood and the Comet,
aided the Fly against the villainous Spider. The Shield rescued a groggy Fly-Man
from the L-tracks where a train was bearing down upon him. It is evident here
that Shield's costume is bulletproof. Actually, according to one of the
Spider's henchmen the Shield is: "...able magnetically to attract bullets so
they glance harmlessly off his bullet-proof (sic) shield emblem". After Shield
puts the Spider's henchmen out of action Fly-Man questions him about where he's
been the intervening years. The Shield sidesteps the question then suddenly
disappears, revealing he has teleportation powers, also. There is no inkling in
this story as to the Shield's civilian identity. The impression is given that
he is the original Shield. Though as time passes it is revealed that he is the
son of the original Shield. As stated by Rik Offenberger: “Bill was the son of
Joe Higgins the Golden Age Shield. No one knew that Joe had a son. When one of
the Shield’s foes, the Eraser, turned Joe into a stone statue [As revealed in
Mighty Crusaders Vol. 1, #1 and Fly-Man #34.], Bill took his place as the Shield
without anyone being the wiser.”
next appeared in Fly-Man #32 wherein the Mighty Crusaders (though they haven't
quite decided upon that name yet) battle Eterno, the Tyrant. The Shield states
definitely here that the shield emblem on his uniform is invulnerable. He also
evidences teleportation powers in this story. He teleports here for the last
time when he takes the Crusaders with him to escape Eterno's chamber, explaining
that using maximum power will cause him to lose his power of teleportation. It
was never explained how Shield obtained this power. Shield does not appear here
in his civilian identity.
Fly-Man #33 Shield joins Fly and the others in a tale titled "Treacherous
Teammates" wherein they battle the Destructor and the villainous Hangman and
Wizard. There is no clue to Shield's civilian identity here either.
Shield next appeared in Mighty Crusaders #1. In the first story where the Mighty
Crusaders battle the Brain Emperor it is revealed that the Shield’s uniform
contains a utility belt, however there is no clue to his name in is civilian
identity. Nor is there one in the second story which presents the Shield’s
origin, though it is further confirmed that he is the original Shield’s son.
#34: Shield does not here appear in his civilian ID, but does reveal that his
father was turned into an iron statue by the Eraser, and vows to fight evil
using every resource he inherited from his father.
Crusaders #2: He does not appear here in his civilian identity.
#35: Again, there is no information as to his civilian identity.
Crusaders #3: Here we find that the Shield is Bill Higgins and that he has been
having trouble holding down a job because of his super-heroing.
#36: Bill Higgins tries his hand at Barber College -- and flunks out to become
the Shield. Shield faces Hangman and a Web imposter.
Crusaders #4: He is Bill Higgins here and he loses a job. Dusty who has been
transported from the past into the (then) present realizes that the man in the
Shield uniform is not Joe Higgins and confronts the Shield about it. But,
Zambini's spell is only temporary and Dusty vanishes before Shield reveals the
truth to him.
#37: He is called Bill Higgins.
Crusaders #5: Not seen in is civilian identity here.
Crusaders #6: Bill Higgins. Shield gets new accoutrements to his uniform in the
form of shooting stars from his costume's star design courtesy of T.R.I.U.M.P.H.
(The acronym was never explained.)
Crusaders #7: Again, no mention of his name in his civilian identity.
Comics #41: Shield is Bill Higgins here in the first story wherein an
unscrupulous movie producer mind controls Shield and Black Hood to fight each
other. Bill Higgins clearly states in one panel (panel four, page four) in this
story that he is the Shield that is in the Mighty Crusaders. "My pride prevents
me from letting the other Mighty Crusaders know how badly I need employment."
This story shows also that he has not yet found the services of the Zenith
Employment agency, but has been using various agencies, as one after another
rejects him because of his previous job failures.
In the second story the Shield fights
the Knave. It is revealed that the man in the costume is Joe Higgins. In this
story the Shield meets the heiress, Tina Winslow on her father's yacht the Sea
Sprite, which the Shield prevents from being destroyed by the Knave. So, this is
the first appearance of the Shield with a different civilian identity. No
fanfare was made. It was just shown in the story that the Shield was Joe
Mighty Comics #43: There is no clue as
to the Shield's civilian ID.
we come to Mighty Comics #44. Notice some interesting developments.
Here Shield appears in a three-page
vignette "The Menace From P.E.R.I.L. (Personified Evil Ruthlessness Iniquity and
Larceny) wherein he battles the Alligator and Dragonfly. Nancy Zenith,
the owner of the Zenith Employment Agency is introduced in this story. She is
seen reproving Joe Higgins over his lack of being able to hold down a
job. She wonders why he can't be more like the Shield, and (get this) says
that she is saying this: "... only because I care for you Joe." This indicates
there is a relationship or the beginning of a relationship between Joe Higgins
and Nancy Zenith. The first panel on page two of the vignette backs this
up. Nancy kisses Joe on the cheek and says: "Don't delay another sec,
Darling! Rush to the interview I've arranged for you at the Sheckley Rubber
Stamp Company! Mr. Sheckley hates tardiness!" Then: "Let me give you a good
luck kiss first!" In the next panel Joe Higgins muses: “Great gal! I'd marry
her in a flash if it wasn't for my extreme shortage of cash!"
also notes that this Shield is Joe Higgins in his Mighty Comics index as witness
On his way to a job interview, Joe Higgins has to become the Shield to fight two
costumed agents of PERIL.”
However, he surprisingly lists it
matter-of-factly and makes no comment on it even though it is rather significant
since most of the other places up to this point, the Shield, in his civilian
identity (where named) had been referred to as Bill Higgins (except for Mighty
Comics #41, second story). Plus, DarkMark’s index is for the Bill Higgins Shield
last panel of this vignette re-introduces the players in the story and sets the
stage for the next and future issues. Shield, Nancy Zenith, Dragonfly and the
Alligator are aligned as headshots from left to right respectively. Under each
headshot are the following:
Shield: “The Shield, mighty ultra hero
who is secretly Joe Higgins, (get that?) the world’s most unsuccessful
Nancy Zenith: “Cute, bright employment
agency owner who does her adoring best for Joe, while comparing him unfavorably
to the Shield.”
Dragonfly: “Exotically, dangerous
operative of P.E.R.I.L., who can’t decide whether to kiss or kill the colorfully
attired heroic Shield.”
The Alligator: “One of P.E.R.I.L.’s
yech-type deadly agents! And he’s Simon-Pure compared to most of P.E.R.I.L.’s
even more despicable evil-doers (sic.).
Underneath all of this is a final
them all, plus a galaxy of even more startling characters in the next issue when
Mighty Comics presents The Shield.”
So, Mighty Comics #44 presents the
Shield as Joe Higgins, establishes a relationship between Joe Higgins and Nancy
Zenith and previews the appearance of Shield as Joe Higgins in the next issue.
Mighty #45: Still called Joe
Higgins. He has gone to work at Zenith Employment Agency as Nancy's assistant.
She mentions here that she is "the girl who adores" him. So as a follow-up from
last issue, this is still Joe Higgins and he has a relationship with Nancy
Zenith. He is also the Shield. No Bill Higgins in sight. In a bit of irony, in
panel three of the last page of the story, Nancy meets the Shield (Joe
Higgins). She tells Shield about her boyfriend, Joe Higgins, and asks the
Shield if he can help him find a job.
Comics #48: Now this one starts off with Bill Higgins in the Zenith Employment
office. The caption on the first panel of the story reads: "In the office of
the Zenith Employment Agency, it's (sic) lovely owner speaks to her unemployed
boyfriend, Bill Higgins." In this story Nancy gives Bill a job of distributing
flyers advertising the opening of a new toy store, but he has to be dressed in
the Shield masquerade uniform she provides to do the job. The story progresses
to where P.E.R.I.L. attacks him by sending their creation the Amoeba Man after
him while Bill is wearing the Shield costume. Naturally, Nancy feels guilty
about putting him in danger as he battles the villain. On page seven of this
story P.E.R.I.L. taunts the trapped Shield with a scene of him clobbering the
Wizard. Shield thinks to himself: "The devils! Now that I'm in this hopeless
trap they're taunting me with my past triumphs." This is a clue that this
really is the Bill Higgins Shield and not Joe Higgins, since Joe Higgins never
fought the Wizard in any of his recorded adventures (Bill Higgins being the
Shield who was a member of the Mighty Crusaders). In the closing panels of the
story Nancy and Bill Higgins (still in his Shield uniform) have a touching scene
as Nancy is relieved that he is all right because she felt responsible for the
trouble he got into wearing the uniform, not realizing that he actually is the
Shield. So, apparently there is some fondness there, though there was nothing
overt between the characters to show that they are having a serious
was the final appearance of the sixties Shield in that era. So, what have we
established? It is clear from the references above that two men, both sons of
the original Shield, Joe Higgins, wore the Shield costume in the 1960s. One son,
named Bill Higgins seemed to have been the primary Shield, having had the most
adventures. He was also a charter member of the Mighty Crusaders. Both had red
hair and features similar enough as to be indistinguishable (at least to the
unknowing) behind the mask. This is proved by the fact that P.E.R.I.L. launched
an attack against the Shield on three different occasions thinking that he was
the same man, even though in two of the encounters it was Joe Higgins behind the
mask. The two brothers appeared to look so much alike that they might have been
twins with Bill Higgins being the older twin.
Furthermore, both brothers had a hard
time holding down a job because of their being the ultra hero. Eventually, both
used Zenith Employment Agency as a way of finding employment. Nancy Zenith knew
both of them well, but had a serious relationship with Joe who wanted to marry
her but felt unworthy because of his inability to keep a job. This is proven by
the fact that when Joe and Nancy were together there was an intimacy between
them, notably Nancy kissing Joe and calling him darling and such; whereas, her
dealings with Bill, though friendly and caring, were not so intimate. Despite
the caption on the top of the first panel of the story in Mighty Comics #48,
Bill Higgins was not the boyfriend of Nancy Zenith in the sense that most would
consider boyfriend and girlfriend.
It seems pretty clear cut for a
two-son (possibly twins) 60s Shield. That is, both of the Shield's sons wore
the costume during the 60s, alternating depending on who was where when what
menace struck. (And quite possibly both fighting a menace at the same time in
two different places; the two stories in Mighty Comics #41 possibly happening
simultaneously.) Since there were more references to Bill Higgins it appears
that he was the primary Shield during that time, with his brother taking up the
slack. Bill Higgins was the Shield who was a member of the Mighty Crusaders.
what happen to these two brothers who were the Shield. Apparently once the
original Shield was freed by the Comet from his iron-statue state (as shown in
Mighty Crusaders Vol. 2 #9), both of the brothers hung up their uniforms and let
their father take his rightful place as the Shield. He, of course, was the
Shield who appeared with the Mighty Crusaders in the 1980s. It is noted in that
same issue, that Bill Higgins joined the Armed Forces (DarkMark states the Air
Force). But, what about his brother, Joe Higgins, Jr., what happened to him?
It seems that once his father, the
original Shield retired, Joe, Jr. again put on the costume and became the
Shield. This was the Shield who had appearances in Archie’s Weird Mysteries and
Sonic. There has not been much background presented on Joe, Jr. Perhaps he
finally found steady work and finally married, Nancy Zenith. Only time will
So, in summary it would appear that
Joe Higgins, the original Shield, had two sons, Joe Jr. and Bill. Bill was the
Shield who was in the Mighty Crusaders during the 1960s not Joe Jr., but both
were replacing Joe Sr. as the Shield during that time.
Since, though, the Joe, Jr. Shield has
joined the Mighty Crusaders, along with all of the other main MLJ/Archie