HISTORY: My Brother the Shield
My Brother the Shield
Two, Two Shields in One.
By John Packer
In 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.
The 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.
The 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!
Did two different people wear the Shield costume in the 1960s? Were they the twin sons of the original Shield, named Bill Higgins and Joe Higgins?
The main 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.
But, 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.
The 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.
As 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.”
The 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.
In 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.
Now we 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.
The 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.”
Shield 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.
In 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.
The 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.
Fly-Man #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.
Mighty Crusaders #2: He does not appear here in his civilian identity.
Fly-Man #35: Again, there is no information as to his civilian identity.
Mighty 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.
Fly-Man #36: Bill Higgins tries his hand at Barber College — and flunks out to become the Shield. Shield faces Hangman and a Web imposter.
Mighty 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.
Fly-Man #37: He is called Bill Higgins.
Mighty Crusaders #5: Not seen in is civilian identity here.
Mighty 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.)
Mighty Crusaders #7: Again, no mention of his name in his civilian identity.
Mighty 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 Higgins.
Mighty Comics #43: There is no clue as to the Shield’s civilian ID.
Now 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!”
DarkMark also notes that this Shield is Joe Higgins in his Mighty Comics index as witness below:
“Synopsis: 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 appearances.
The 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 job-hunter!”
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 blurb:
“Meet 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.
Mighty 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 relationship.
This 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.
So 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 tell.
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 ultra-hero gang.