Return of Courage in a Frightening Time
(originally published in the Spring,
2002 issue of Once Upon A Dime)
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,
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
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.
later issue, after Liberty Lass appeared...
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
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.