Fourth of July Tribute to My Favorite Americana Heroes

These are the top five pulp characters that represent my favorite parts of iconic American comics and culture through the years.

Pronunciation: \ə-ˌmer-ə-ˈkä-nə, -ˌmər-, -ˌme-rə-, -ˈka-nə\
Function: noun plural
Date: 1841

"Materials concerning or characteristic of America; a collection of symbols which represent the civilization, history, folklore and cultural heritage of the United States."

The Greek, Roman, and Norse cultures have their own immortal mythologies passed on through generations. Though America, as a country and people, is still young when compared to the history of the world, we have them as well. Not only do our comic books and pulp characters serve as entertainment for the audiences of their hay day, but they are a testament to the change in American ideals and culture through time. Below you'll find a list of the top five characters that, to me, embody the best and most interesting of their respective eras; as well as the medium they appeared in that will always be their truest form.

The Shadow

I doubt many people my age are familiar with the Detective Story Hour of the 1930s. Thanks to my dad, I became enamored with it. To this day, I can't find any medium that allowed an audience the freedom of constructive creativity that radio serials offered. The Shadow, a crime fighting master of hypnotism, was based on the character created for Detective Story Magazine and originally voiced on the air by James LaCurto and Frank Readick. But The Shadow's "voice" will always be associated with the great Orson Welles. He is the epitome of the detective Noir era. There have been five live-action films attributed to the character, the most famous starring Alec Baldwin in 1994. None truly captured the essence of the mysterious figure like the radio programs. Without the history of this cloaked night-avenger, popular characters like Batman would not be the same.

If you want to listen to dozens of radio episodes of The Shadow, just click HERE!

The Rocketeer

If Superman made me believe a man could fly, The Rocketeer made me believe that a man could fly with style. The idea of a crash-landing alien with great powers wasn't as fun to me as an every man who strapped a rocket on his back and kicked Nazi ass. There are many reasons why Superman appeals to me, but The Rocketeer was more of a realistic dream, just out of reach. As a character, The Rocketeer can be most closely compared to Marvel Comics' Captain America; or rather, his secret identity Steve Rogers. Not just the time frame of their initial popularity, but their ideals, toughness of character, and willingness to do the right thing in a situation plagued with wrong. The Rocketeer comics were a lot more adult oriented than most gave them credit, but it was the 1991 movie that really hit home and captured my attention. To this day, it is my favorite comic book adaptation.

The Lone Ranger/Clayton Moore

Jack Carlton Moore, known in Hollywood as Clayton Moore, was the embodiment of the ideal American actor. Stunt man, World War II veteran, and beloved by fans, Moore brought The Lone Ranger to life in 169 television episodes and two films. After his screen tenure as the "Masked Man" ended, Moore spent the next 40 years traveling the world making personal appearances, TV guest spots, and classic commercials; frequently joined by his co-star/sidekick Jay Silverheels/Tonto. To me, The Lone Ranger will always be Clayton Moore, because Clayton Moore is The Lone Ranger. He brought a new meaning to 'method acting.'

Captain America

Since Captain America made his debut in comics in 1941, the character has never been far from being represented in one form of media or another. There have been cartoons, television series, and films that go hand in hand with over seventy years of print material. Next summer, fans will see a new adaptation of Captain America when his first, big-budget feature film hits theaters. As much as I am looking forward to this film and its successors, the Captain America that will always ring as its true form to me is the one from the comics. Not because that is where he originated, but because I don't believe any other medium can capture the gravitas of the character as well.** He is a man out of his time, even for World War II. He can maintain being the toughest man in any room and a true gentleman. He is an ideal. He is hope for personal betterment. He is the America we should strive to be. Here are a few comic quotes that I believe make my point:

"I'm loyal to nothing...except the Dream."(Daredevil #233) -- "When the mob and the press and the whole world tell you to move, your job is to plant yourself like a tree beside the river of truth, and tell the whole world—'No. You move.'" (Amazing Spider-Man #537) -- "We must all live in the real world...and sometimes that world can be pretty grim. But it is the Dream...the hope...that makes the reality worth living. In the early 1940s, I made a personal pledge to uphold the Dream...and as long as the Dream remains even partially unfulfilled, I cannot abandon it." Captain America #250

Superman/Christopher Reeve

Captain America serves as the ideal of born-and-bread Americans, while Superman serves as the ideal for strangers in a new land that face the combined confusion of hopeful opportunity and necessary sacrifice. He is an immigrant to this country, albeit this world, that made himself a man by applying a strong work ethic, humility, heartland principles, and respect for others to his life. Of course, the phenomenal powers our little old sun offers him are a pleasant bonus. Over fifteen actors have suited up as the Man of Steel over the years, but when Christopher Reeve did it in Richard Donner's 1978 film the character had finally met his on screen counterpart. Can the movie's dated effects match up to today's modern tech? No. Is it possible to find an actor with a larger frame and more muscular build to portray the character? Sure. Has anyone come close to matching Reeve's charisma, old-world purity and an understanding of what brings the character to life besides the suit? Not a chance in hell.

I hope you enjoyed this look at some of my favorite, iconic characters. To sum up my thoughts, it takes more than a brightly colored costume or special nickname to make you a part of Americana; it takes a representation or reflection of our country that brings forth a connection to its people over many years. That connection to a culture is the stuff of legends. As George Herman Ruth once said, "Heroes are remembered, but legends never die."

** On a side note, the only actor who I believe can accurately bring Captain America to life is Robert Redford.

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