- "Super-hero"? There's a phrase I haven't heard before. I'm sort of a guardian, I guess -- Yes, a Guardian of society, against your kind.
- -- Guardian src
Harper grew up on the streets. In the wake of the Great Depression, he had to fend for himself on the tough streets of Suicide Slum. Together with his best friend Leo, they took to petty theft to get food. One day, he was picked out by a man calling himself Nat Milligan, who offered him a way out of the slums. Milligan wanted to make Harper a world class athlete, and the boy trained under him for years. Milligan wanted the boy to make money as a champion.
Against his mentor's wishes, Jim returned to Suicide Slum to see how Leo had faired. But his old friend had never broken away from the wrong side of the law. Now a member of organized crime, Leo had to lay low after he killed a rival boss in New Jersey. At their reunion, Leo was himself murdered in a drive-by in retaliation. Not wanting the slum to make any more victims, Jim gave up his future in sports and broke off his ties with Milligan. He decided to join the police as the only adult who had ever treated him well was the local patrolman.
As a cop, Jim Harper learned to see Suicide Slum from a different angle. Not a beat would go by without someone throwing bricks or tomatoes at him, but he shrugged it all off. One night, after clocking off, hoodlums ambushed him in an alley. This proved the last straw. He needed to take action. Stumbling into a closed costume store, he picked a suit that allowed him both comfort and protection, and dutifully paid for it.
He had recognized one of the hoodlums' voice as a regular patron of a nearby pool hall. He busted the scene, and recognized that one of the goons had a bill in his wallet that matched one in the ransom of the Johnson kidnapping. He tied them all up and left before the police arrived. He decided to keep the costume just in case.
The next day, he stopped a group of newsies from robbing a grocer. He attended their trial, and stepped in to speak on their behalf. Fearing a stint in reform school would only worsen their situation, he bartered with the judge for leniency. He would get custody of the boys for a couple of months, in which he wanted to bring them on the straight and narrow. The boys wouldn't have it, and ran away from him as soon as they were free.
He met the boys again when they were performing tricks on the main street. What he didn't know was they were sent by their underground contact to gather a crowd at the scene, to allow cover for a robbery. Not wanting to hurt bystanders, he refrained from shooting. He did pick up the name of the boys' contact: Frankie the Fence. Donning his costume, he went ot the newsies' dive and confronted Frankie. Guardian trailed Frankie to the harbor, and the boys trailed Guardian. Frankie eventually stopped at a lighthouse to see his boss, Chips Carder. When Guardian arrived, he was ambushed. Quick thinking from Guardian after he spotted the newsies led to the arrival of the Coast Guard; Carder was shot and the rest arrested. It marked the first time the Guardian and the Newsboy Legion worked together, and though Harper tried desperately to pretend otherwise, the boys suspected it was him underneath the helmet from the start.
Harper's first meeting with other heroes came on his first night as a hero. As he rounded a corner after breaking up the pool hall, he was sucked into a mysterious glowing orb that tampered with his mind. It teleported him to a circus tent where the Justice Society was performing, and with a similarly brainwashed Wildcat and Atom, attacked Wonder Woman, Green Lantern and Flash. After overcoming their mind control, the three new heroes worked with the JSA to find out what caused the orbs to take them. Here, Harper learned that Nat Milligan was really Joe Morgan, who had also trained the other heroes. They discovered that a cosmic enemy known only as Evil was behind the plot. During the War, he became a member of the All-Star Squadron, though mostly as a reserve.
Retirement and death
Years later, Harper was graying, but he kept his body in shape. He gave up wearing the costume though. He remained friends with the Newsboy Legion, who in adult life had grown up to be successful scientists. The kids approached him for genetics testing and acquired some of his DNA. Harper was fed lies, and believed it was going to be used for medical research. However, as the boys could not betray their mentor and life-saver, they told him. How their employer, the DNA Project, had used his genetic material to create a clone of him.
Harper decided to don the costume again, and went inside the Project. He left a string of unconscious guards in his wake as he made his way to the chamber in which his clone was kept. He observed his clone, waiting for someone to stop him. Jonathan Drew, the chief of security, arrived at the scene, and explained the consequences of his actions. He killed Harper with a single bullet to the chest.
Harper's death proved problematic for the Project. Harper's genetics were perfect for cloning, and his death set the procedures back some ten years. Further clones would have to be made from the original clone, which were almost always imperfect. To cover the death, the directors created a story that Harper was killed in the line of duty. Few in the DNA Project knew the real story, but other than Drew and the scientists, Dubbilex was aware of it as well.
- Although this character was originally introduced during DC's Earth-Two era of publication, their existence following the events of the 1985–86 limited series Crisis on Infinite Earths remains intact. However, some elements of the character's Pre-Crisis history may have been altered or removed for Post-Crisis New Earth continuity, and no longer apply.
- Guardian's origin was originally told in Star-Spangled Comics #7, and his youth was elaborated on in All-Star Squadron Annual #1. These stories were combined and virtually unchanged post-Crisis in Secret Origins (Volume 2) #19.
- In the pre-Crisis Superman Family #192, Guardian was the uncle of Roy Harper, the son of Jim's brother Will Harper. To cope with the increasing years passed since the War, another generation was added between the two in Who's Who in the DC Universe.
- 111 Appearances of James Harper (New Earth)
- 14 Images featuring James Harper (New Earth)
- 3 Quotations by or about James Harper (New Earth)
- Character Gallery: James Harper (New Earth)
Superman Family member