The Return of Courage in a Frightening Time
(originally published in the Spring, 2002 issue of Once Upon A Dime)

When the first issue of Codename: Courage appeared in comic shops, nobody expected the success that it would become. Peter David had yet to become embroiled in other controversies, and Nathan Kane was just a fan making a dream come true; now, of course, he's a household name. At least in some households.

The guys down at my regular comic shop, Such Books As Dreams Are Made On, naturally wanted to know what I thought about these upstarts reimagining my hero for a new era. I gave it a few issues before weighing in, wanting to be fair, and definitely not wanting to unduly influence the masses.

Like it mattered. By the time I got around to reviewing the title, circulation had topped 250,000 copies. Nothing I could do or say would dent or boost the book's reputation. Still, as a matter of maintaining my own reputation, I had to write something.

In the Spring 2002 issue of Once Upon a Dime, the following review ran. And shortly thereafter, the suits at Timely Studios realized that they had ended up with the rights to Commander Courage in a mass buyout of other properties four years ago.

Though Amazing Invisible Publications technically had no right to publish David and Kane's book, Timely's parent company chose not to sue them. Instead, they showed corporate class, let the book's reputation grow, and prepared to ride the free wave of publicity when they announced their upcoming film adaptation.

Of course, the fact that I had given my seal of approval to the book helped me land a little publicity, too, leading to Timely's hiring of me as Technical Advisor for the film. It's an honor, a dream come true, and I owe a debt of gratitude to those plucky kids who put their rage to paper. And of course, Jackson Whitney.

Here's that review:

In the roaring heart of the crucible, a cry for vengeance has been forged. It is at such times that we can all be grateful for comic books and the four-color reassurance they afford us. Trapped as we are in gray times, heroes such as Jackson Whitney's immortal Commander Courage show us that morality can be simply black and white.

And yet, right now it can't be so simple, can it? As we stare at the smoking ruins of what was once a paean to the American spirit and global commerce, no one would argue that in our heart of hearts, we want violence to be met with violence. Could even Commander Courage guide us to a higher justice than the one for which our blood sings?

Evidently not, as the recent unauthorized but still viscerally effective revamping of the character proves. Under the guidance of creators Peter David (writer) and Nathan Kane (newcomer artist - and an assured debut), the good Commander has emerged in a bleaker time as something darker than Jackson might ever have imagined.

For those readers who have been living under a rock, I am, of course, referring to the independent comics sensation from Amazing Invisible Publications, Codename: Courage. Created as a gut reaction to the events of 9/11, it has taken an unsuspecting industry by storm in a way we haven't seen since Eastman and Laird decided that sprinkling a little magic Claremont dust on skilled fighting terrapins might be good for a laugh.

Gone is the heritage. Gone is the supporting cast that various creators have built over the decades. Gone (perhaps) is the identity of Jefferson Dale. Heck, even gone are the earth tones that showed Commander Courage to be in harmony with nature.

We can't see nature anymore; all we see now are black billowing clouds of shadowy terror. And so Courage blends in with that darkness.

Even in darkness, Courage is true blue American. Right now, of course, all he wants, exists to do, is avenge the tragedy that happened at the World Trade Center. David and Kane's portrayal of the terrorists is simplistic at best, and yes, bordering on racist.

A later issue, after Liberty Lass appeared...
But in this they hearken back to the origins of the character in the early days of World War II; who could forget that classic cover with Commander Courage throwing Hirohito into a live volcano? David and Kane clearly couldn't; within the pages of the first issue that image repeats when Courage hurls initial villain Kahlid Ibn-Samman into the smoking pit that he himself had wrought. Grim justice, indeed.

Owing as much to earlier pulp characters as to Commander Courage himself, this new black avenger pulls strength and resources from a variety of operatives. Like The Shadow's operatives, they come from all walks of life. Whatever special skill Courage may lack, he can find in one of the multitude that share his thirst for reparation.

Some of these operatives look like they could become regulars in the series, almost calling to mind DC's Secret Six, with Courage as a far more active Mockingbird. However, a hero like Courage may not want to form too many real attachments lest they compromise his solitary single-mindedness.

The promised introduction of Liberty Lass (?) into the book may completely change his plans.

And it is here that I have to stop my guarded praise. Though not Jackson's creation, Liberty Lad was from his introduction an essential ingredient in the feature's success. No matter what critics from outside the medium may have insinuated, the relationship between Commander Courage and Liberty Lad was that of teacher and student, mentor and novice - not something rife with sexual tension.

It appears that in the twenty-first century, things have changed. Something must be wrong with a chaste hero; books can no longer simply be about men and women doing the right thing. Call me old-fashioned if you must, but I was raised to believe that you just don't mess around with your sidekick. It only leads to trouble.

But enough of the rantings of an old-time comic book fan. This is a new world, and somewhat of a scary one, too. Though it's somewhat uncomfortable to admit it, Codename: Courage fits the time. David, of course, would be celebrated even without it, and in time, maybe even in spite of it. But Kane definitely has his best work ahead of him, and I look forward to it.

In a few years we may look back on this book with the same embarrassment as Marvel fans who bought the entire run of Dazzler. (Not guilty here!) We can pray for such a day when the uneasiness and uncertainty of these times give way to clear-headedness and a remembrance that deep down, all men are brothers.

That's what Commander Courage would want.

--Donald Swan

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