MLJ’s hero The Shield was the first supehero to dress in an American flag, predating Captain America by over a year. He was FBI man Joe Higgins, and his identity was known only to J. Edgar Hoover, who appears in many of the stories, sending him on his missions. The artist who created the character was Irv Novick, though there is nothing about the art that resembles his later work. A variety of artists would work on the series, which ran in Pep Comics, as well as Shield-Wizard, which he shared with the other hero, but the only one to shine on it was Jack Kirby, and even then only his earliest issues reflect his talent.
At the beginning, the Shield’s powers are ill-defined, but part of the costume. This changed in the first issue of Shield-Wizard, in which we learn that Joe’s father was a scientist killed by foreign agents to prevent him from developing his Shield serum. This boosted the powers of the Sacrum, Heart, Innervation, Eyes, Lungs and Derma. Joe’s costume resembled the badge-style of American shield, with red and white stripes running vertically down the torso, and a blue band with horizontal stars along the upper chest. A blue mask and tights complete his outfit.
It would take a while for the Shield to get a supporting cast. His girlfriend Betty was the first recurring character. She would eventually become a private investigator, in Shield-Wizard 4, but not much was ever done with her, and of course she never figured out Joe was the Shield.
JuJu Watson became his sidekick in the extended origin story in Shield-Wizard 1, joining the FBI at the same time, and becoming buddies, though again unaware of his identity. JuJu appeared older than Joe, and definitely not as intelligent. He would also get a girlfriend, Mamie, in Shield-Wizard 3.
At the beginning, the Shield fought mostly foreign spies of fictional countries. The Wizard appears in Pep Comics 4, a story that falls between the Shield’s two appearances in his series in Top-Notch. The Wizard just gives the Shield some information on the Mosconians, setting up the story in which they both battle them.
The Shield gets two recurring villains in these early days, both foreign agents, Dr. Wang and the Vulture. The Vulture has unexplained green skin and pointy ears. It may be a mask or make-up, but no one ever questions it.
In Pep Comics 11 the Shield adopts an orphan boy, Dusty, and trains and costumes him as his sidekick, Dusty. Neither Betty, JuJu nor Mamie ever figure out that Dusty is really Dusty. Sigh.
With Pep Comics 27, and Shield-Wizard 7, Jack Kirby takes control of the art, and the series just takes off. OK, well, it doesn’t get amazing, but it ceases to become a chore to read. Kirby’s art improves with each issue at first, and it is fascinating to see him develop his style. The Shield and Dusty are pitted against wonderfully grotesque German agents, The Strangler and The Hun. The Hun even gets an entire story in Shield-Wizard 8 on his origin, which parallels that of the Shield. Amidst this, the Shield’s powers simply wear off in Pep Comics 29, and he cannot get them back. He bemoans this for a number of issues, but does not let it stop him. This makes the stories in which he battles, defeats and kills the Hun more effective, as the Hun is actually more powerful than the Shield.
The Hun story was clearly popular enough that the Son of the Hun (not called that, but I couldn’t resist) appears in Shield-Wizard 10.
By Pep Comics 30 the supporting cast aside from Dusty was basically dropped. Even J. Edgar Hoover had stopped appearing. But after the first few power packed Kirby issues, the stories turned back to crime tales, lots of haunted houses that turn out to be hoodlum hideouts.
As the series continues to the end of this era, there are some stories that clearly are not Kirby, but many that look sort of like him, but also not. I am not sure if this is Novick back on the series and trying to duplicate Kirby, or some of his rushed work before he went off into the army, or if the work itself is part Kirby, part someone else.
The Shield continues in the Late Golden Age.
The Shield: Pep Comics 1 – 49 (Jan 40 – July 44)
Shield-Wizard 1 – 13 (Summer 40 – Spring 44)