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American Eagle (Marvel Comics) with the Village People outfit

American Eagle

(Jason Strongbow) (Part #1 - 1980s)


Power Level:
Game system: DC Heroes Role-Playing Game

Context

American Eagle is a minor Marvel Comics superhero, first seen in 1981.

He didn’t appear much, so we originally wrote him up as a single entry. However, he also went through discrete stages of development. So upon further thought, three small profiles read better.

A.E. reflects evolving views of how to portray Native characters in media. Which in turn reflects the scarcity of indigenous voices in US comics. Exceptions include David A. Robertson  and Patti Laboucane-Benson .

The three American Eagle takes, and thus the three writeups, go :

  1. 1980s – Magical Earth Indian.
  2. .
  3. 2000s/2010s – Desert badass.

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Background

  • Real Name: Jason Strongbow.
  • Marital Status: Single.
  • Known Relatives: Ward (brother, deceased), a possibly mythical unnamed tribal chief (deceased), unnamed father (deceased).
  • Group Affiliation: None.
  • Base of Operations: Navaho Reservation, AZ.
  • Height: 6’3″ Weight: 240 lbs.
  • Note: Officially, Mr. Strongbow is 6′ and 200lbs. The numbers above are instead based on the art. For instance, he’s clearly taller than the Thing.
  • Eyes: Brown Hair: Black.


Powers & Abilities

Jason Strongbow described his powers as “strength, endurance, and senses sharpened to an acute degree”.

We can observe that :

  1. He’s established as being roughly as strong as the contemporary Thing (Ben Grimm). The Marvel handbooks listed him as “Class 15”, but that cannot be correct. From the material he conservatively has “Class 65” strength.
  2. He’s superhumanly durable, to the point of ignoring Ka-Zar’s blows. But this is much less pronounced against hard, piercing attacks such as bullets and dinosaur fangs. A bit like with Wonder Woman, I guess.
  3. His senses are sharper than Ka-Zar’s, though not massively so. This means that they’re slightly superhuman. His night vision in particular is superhuman.
  4. He’s a top-shelf fighter with extraordinary — possibly superhuman — reflexes, and a good tactician. The American Eagle can overcome even such elite pugilists as Ka-Zar (Kevin Plunder, LotHJ) or (later on) Bullseye.

Since he’s a Native American in a 1980s comic book, he’s by law a superb tracker and wilderness survival expert, with a highly developed intuition. That’s mandatory.


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Let’s bolt

When he became the American Eagle, Strongbow acquired both a patriotic costume and a special crossbow. He mentioned that he “devised” both, which likely means that he’s a capable bowyer.

Observation leads to the conclusion that the crossbow is semi-automatic. Or at least has an action that can quickly be worked with one hand. It also has to have some sort of integral magazine. Strongbow often uses blunt, non-lethal bolts that look a bit like a lollipop.

The bolts can also trail a rope, and anchor it upon impact. The American Eagle can thus swing around a bit like Spider-Man. He’ll shoot a rope into a surface, swing from it, release another crossbow bolt with his free hand, repeat. How the crossbow could possibly hold so many bolts and so much rope is unrevealed. Pym particles ?

Other assets

One gets the impression that Mr. Strongbow has military experience – perhaps airborne infantry. However, nothing of the sort is actually mentioned. Though he mentions that he didn’t go to college whereas his brother did. This may be when he enlisted.

He also had enough money on hand to charter a private jet to fly over unexplored Arctic lands. It thus seems likely that he has ample savings from a previous phase of his life.


Soundtrack

Off the top of my head, the most influential Native American musician is 1950s/60s Shawnee rocker Link Wray.

Mr. Wray’s groundbreaking use of the power chord and deliberate distortion inspired many 1960s/70s rockers (such as Iggy Pop or Pete Townshend), and paved the way for hard rock, metal and punk.

His biggest hit was “Rumble”, in 1958. This seminal instrumental was famously banned in some US cities for being too violent.

 

Available for download on amazon .


History

In the original story, Jason Strongbow belongs to an unspecified Native polity in “the Southwest”. The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe  later clarified that he’s from the Navaho reservation in Arizona.

(“Navaho” is a less common but more correct spelling  of “Navajo”. As often with tribal names in North America, “Navajo” is an exonym (“name given by outsiders”). The most common endonym for these folks is “Diné”. In modern practice, officials use the word Navajo .)

(As long as I’m doing parentheticals, the story specifically credits the American Eagle character to Ron Wilson . Back then, Mr. Wilson was primarily known as the main artist on Marvel Two-in-One, and he’s indeed the penciller for this story.)

Two brothers

In 1981, a mining company came to the reservation to cleave a mountain open. The legality of this was murky, and tribal response was split.

The tribal representatives were the Strongbow brothers, Jason and Ward. Jason was bitterly opposed to the intrusion, and blamed Ward for having made a secret deal. Though Ward hotly denied this, Jason’s suspicions were correct.

Having both brothers act as representatives was likely based on tradition. One local legend was about the two sons of a great chief, who both claimed leadership of their people. With his last words, their father had sent them on a vision quest to consult an unspecified spirit.

But even the spirit couldn’t decide whom should be the leader. So he made both brothers into mighty giants. The two titans struggled, until one brother won. Now endowed with immense strength, this man became chief. He protected the people and the land. Eventually, he vanished as the spirit recalled him.

Deeper underground

Jason’s legal recourses did not work out. Furthermore, a company watchman shot a protester dead. To prevent a riot, Jason Strongbow ordered the activists back. Then he chased the murderer alone.

American Eagle (Marvel Comics) - Jason and Ward Strongbow

Jason (red headband) and Ward.

Strongbow thus discovered that the mine was actually a gleaming high-tech complex. It had all been a front by sonic villain Ulysses Klaw. The Strongbow brothers argued then fought, accidentally triggering a fire.

As the blaze spread, Klaw came in. He stunned the two Navaho, and he and his men left with an unconscious Ward. The complex was demolished by an accidental explosion, burying Jason.

Friends indeed

Jason eventually emerged from the rubble. He was now glowing and had an amplified physique. Though still dazed, he told his constituency that he would pursue the pillagers as far as needed.

The events were so reminiscent of the legend that there was controversy among the tribe about whether it was supernatural. As to Jason himself, he assumed that the combination of Klaw’s sonics, exploding experimental mining equipment and radiation from the ore are what gave him his powers.

The tribe sought to support Jason. A protester thus rushed to the Keewazi reservation to ask for Wyatt Wingfoot’s help. In turn, Wyatt enlisted his buddy the Thing (Ben Grimm) so they’d catch up with Mr. Strongbow.

From desert to jungle

Strongbow had determined that Klaw and his accomplices were creating a beachhead in the Savage Land , to mine vibranium  ore. He had chartered a small plane, then parachuted in. But as he stalked Klaw’s contractors, he ran into local hero Ka-Zar. Ka-Zar, Lord of the Hidden Jungle !

After a brief clash, the two allied. They were then joined by Mr. Wingfoot and Mr. Grimm.

While attacking the camp, Jason realised that Ward had been working for Klaw all along. Furthermore, he had gained the same powers as his brother.

As the brothers fought again, Ward was accidentally shot dead by the same gunman who had opened fire back in Arizona. The murderer and his colleagues fled from Strongbow, but were killed in a dinosaur stampede.

A background hero is something to be

From there, Mr. Strongbow largely was in comic book limbo . He was glimpsed in a few crowd scenes :

  • During the momentous Presidential pardon for the Hulk, as the gamma giant was now under Dr. Banner’s control.
  • During the Grandmaster’s Contest of Champions, though he wasn’t an active participant.
  • During the final stage of the war against the Dire Wraith, as Rom the Spaceknight united Earth’s forces to strike at the alien invaders/infiltrators.

In 1989, he also appeared in an embarrassingly terrible short story. Let’s stick to noting that :

  1. That activist journalist Jonna Cargill (no relation) once found refuge on Navajo reservation land. Maybe. It’s not clear.
  2. That Jason Strongbow moved to Washington, D.C. for a time to lobby for Native American causes. How that worked is unspecified.
  3. He also was active as a flippant, wise-cracking super-hero in DC for a short while (??). During that time his costume didn’t have the feather headdress.

The American Eagle would return in 1993, but with significant evolutions.


Description

See illustration.


Personality

A serious, determined, responsible man. He’s on the grim side, but uncommonly articulate. Sometimes even sententious, as per the quotes.

At this point American Eagle sticks to the “Honourable And Good Native Wise Man Who Understands The Earth and Fate Too” vintage cliché. Look, it was the 1980s. The *early* 1980s. He will often talk about nature, harmony, protecting the Earth from exploiters, building a better world, all that stuff. He even calls White people “white one” on occasion.

(Part of the difficulty here is that most Native philosophical discourses were pilfered for decades by New Age-ish marketing pitches. So even if you have some familiarity with the actual ideas, it’s right difficult not to sound like Goop ad copy. Since that’s what most people know.)

Jason is more of an isolationist. The problems on the res are hard enough to solve without having to deal with outside elements. Historically, the latter haven’t been exactly helpful.

Though several aspects of the character are of course dated, in-universe one could always blame youth. Decades later, Mr. Strongbow considered his 1980s costume with amused embarrassment. That he was a young man trying too hard to fit the role of what he imagined a great leader to be could provide some cover for the well-meaning but dated writing.


Quotes

“If it is madness to strike down evil, White one… then let madness crush you into the earth you have defiled !”

“Land is land, all part of the same Earth which knows none of man’s false boundaries.”

“I am Jason Strongbow, now known as the American Eagle. I accept your offer of help and friendship… and extend to you mine.”

“If it is what a man does which determines his worth… then what you have done, my brother, earns you nothing but a position of dishonour and disgrace ! Above the clouds, our father must be hanging his head in shame ! And for that, I cannot allow you to continue the path of evil !”


DC Universe History

It seems inevitable that he would be descended from the old West adventurer Strongbow.


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Game Stats — DC Heroes RPG Print Friendly

Tell me more about the game stats

American Eagle (1980s)

Dex: 09 Str: 14 Bod: 10 Motivation: Seeking Justice
Int: 07 Wil: 05 Min: 05 Occupation: Tribal leader
Inf: 06 Aur: 05 Spi: 05 Wealth: 005
Init: 026 HP: 035

Powers:
Extended hearing: 03, Telescopic vision: 02, Ultra-vision: 03

Bonuses and Limitations:
Ultra-vision is Night Vision only.

Skills:
Acrobatics: 07, Gadgetry: 05, Martial Artist: 09, Military science (Tracking, camouflage, survival): 06, Vehicles (Land): 05, Weaponry (Crossbow)*: 09

Bonuses and Limitations:
Gadgetry is limited to bows, crossbows and arrow guns.

Advantages:
Expertise (Navajo lore), Familiarity (Parachuting), Language (Navajo), Lightning Reflexes, Sharp Eye.

Connections:
Navajo tribal authority (Low).

Drawbacks:
Authority figure, MIA toward protecting the Earth and traditions, Partial Attack Vulnerability (-2CS RV vs. Ballistic, Piercing, Slashing Descriptors).

Equipment:
Crossbow [BODY 04, Projectile weapon: 06, Bonus: Projectile Weapons can both trail a rope and serve as a piton].


Design Notes

The Vulnerability toward Slashing isn’t demonstrated, but likely. I suppose you could reduce it to 1 CS as a compromise.

Mr. Strongbow’s STR at this point could be a 15 or 16 – likely scores for Mr. Grimm in 1981. There’s one clear demonstration of this as they armwrestle. But generally we look for consistent patterns or, more realistically, a median estimate. Slightly lowballing his score also acknowledges to a small degree his impossibly low OHOTMU estimate.

Said estimate may stem from his fight against Ka-Zar. But American Eagle is clearly pulling his blows (EV 08 or so) since he can see that Ka-Zar isn’t superhuman durable.

The impression that he has military experience is too faint to be added to the stats.

Martial Artist doesn’t play much of a role at this point of A.E.’s Character Advancement.

No Ammo whatsoever for the crossbow. It’s a manifestly impossible, Silver Age -style, four-colour  weapon

In one story he mentions that his super-senses allow him to determine that semi-autos held by opponents aren’t loaded. I have no idea of how that could possibly work. The magazines… smell lighter ? He can hear the absence of bullets ? So I left it out.

By Sébastien Andrivet.

Source of Character: Primarily Marvel Two-in-One Annual #6.

Helper(s): Darci, Pufnstuff.

Writeup completed on the 29th of September, 2019.

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