I've started a thread on Golden Age comics before. My idea was to review runs or portions of runs, but that turned out to be difficult to do; Golden Age features sometimes changed direction in significant ways, so to get a full overview of a long-running feature one has to read a lot of stories. The result was I ended up only reviewing short-running series or one-shots.
So I thought I'd start a thread for reviews of individual issues instead. I mean to review comics from the 50s as well as the 30s and 40s. Please feel free to contribute your own reviews.
I've included the transition era in the scope of the thread so there need be no debate over when exactly the Golden Age ended. Any pre-Silver Age title is fair game. DC's Silver Age is usually regarded as starting with the Silver Age Flash's debut in Showcase #4, which went on sale in July 1956. The analogous event at Marvel was the appearance of Fantastic Four #1 in August 1961.
Best of the West #2 (ME, 1951)
This title featured four of ME’s Western features in each issue. Most featured the same line-up seen here: “Straight Arrow”, “The Durango Kid”, “Tim Holt” and “The Ghost Rider”. #1 had “Bobby Benson’s B-Bar-B Riders“ instead of “Tim Holt”, and the final issue, #12, had an Indian feature called “Red Hawk” rather than “Straight Arrow”.
“Straight Arrow” was licensed from a radio show, and the Durango Kid was a movie hero played by Charles Starrett. The character had a double identity, and the Durango Kid was the masked one. Tim Holt was a Western star. He played Bob Curtin in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. The Ghost Rider was ME’s own creation. His feature was the supporting feature in Tim Holt, and he also appeared in his own title.
ME portrayed Tim Holt as a man of the Old West of that name. At this stage he had a Hispanic sidekick named Chito who liked pursuing women. To spice up the stories ME gave Holt a costumed identity, Redmask, in Tim Holt #20. The Redmask costume was very similar to the Durango Kid’s, but red where the other’s was black, with the trousers tucked into the boots and a cavalry sword on the right hip.
“Straight Arrow” was about a Comanche brave who was raised by ranchers and maintained a double identity. So in fact, all the heroes in this issue had them. But Straight Arrow doesn’t use his Steve Adams identity, and his tale is wholly set among Indians. The Durango Kid and Tim Holt stories aren’t too similar. And the Ghost Rider spends most of his story as the Ghost Rider, and his story is more fantastic than the others. So the four features don’t come across as all the same.
The indicia gives the issue number as “BEST OF THE WEST No. 2 (A-1 No. 45)”. A lot of ME comics were double-numbered as A-1 issues like this.
“Straight Arrow”: “The Face of the Devil!”
An Apache man, a hunchbacked giant, is known as Devil-Face because of his ugly looks. Filled with anger, he leaves his tribe to live alone.
When he comes upon the Comanche he hates them and resolves to prey upon them. Soon a series of mysterious thefts begins. The thefts seem supernatural.
The Comanche discuss the thefts at a pow-wow. As the chief is speaking disembodied arms reach out of the night, grab him, and throw him down!...
All the stories in this issue have good art. This one was drawn by Fred Meagher, the feature’s regular artist. His art is slightly more naïve than the other artists’, but very detailed and pleasing to look at.
Straight Arrow enacts a scheme to expose the thief pp.4-5, and the story climaxes with a three-page fight. It has a twist end.
Spoiler warning. Devil-Face’s invisibility trick is basically the same as the Ghost Rider’s: he wears a dark robe that can’t be seen at night. The story treats the trick as a mystery, but his robe can be seen the first time he uses it.
“The Durango Kid”: “Never Say Die!”
Tom Barnes, heading west with his wife and son Davy, has inherited a fortune and doesn’t know it. His cousin means to murder him for it. He goes after the Barnes’s wagon with gunmen, but Tom makes a run for it and throws his son into a gully in the hope he’ll survive.
When Davy recovers he finds the burned-out wagon. He resolves to get the killers. His plan is to get the help of the Durango Kid.
By the time he reaches a town he’s very hungry. Steve and Muley spot him staring at people eating through a window and give him a meal. They ask after his folks and his situation. He replies he’s got a lot to tell, but will only tell the Durango Kid…
The GCD ascribes the art to Joe Certa. According to the GCD he drew the hero’s feature up to Charles Starret as the Durango Kid #18. Certa simplified his style in the Silver Age, but earlier on he drew a lot like Dan Barry, and that’s the style used here. The art is attractive, and the story looks (and mostly reads) like a 1950s DC one.
The Durango Kid was Steve in his other identity in the movies. His having a sidekick is also from the movies, but from what I can tell only the one in the comics was called Muley. Steve only becomes the Durango Kid on the last two pages, but his costumed identity is spoken of throughout the tale.
“Tim Holt”: “Peril on the Paddlewheeler!”
The Black Rider and his gang rob a bank. Holt attempts to stop them, but an accident fells him. As he recovers, he finds a hairpin.
The Black Rider is revealed to be a young woman. She and her gang seize control of a paddlewheeler. They rob and imprison the passengers, and force the crew to continue operating the ship. Their plan is to stay aboard until they’re close enough to the border to escape into Mexico…
The instalment was again drawn by the feature’s regular artist. This one’s was Frank Bolle, who used a beautiful clear, precise style. The splash panel has a particularly nice shot of the paddlewheeler, and the villainess is attractive.
The Black Rider’s identity as a woman is another of those mysteries-that-aren’t, as she’s depicted as a masked woman in the splash panel and one can tell the Black Rider p.2 is the same person. The story is somewhat like a Blackhawk one: you have a big criminal scheme, and a really ruthless woman behind it.
What's interesting is the Black Rider is virtually the same character as the Black Phantom, a recurring villainess from Tim Holt’s own title who later reformed. She debuted in Tim Holt #25 in 1951, the same year as this issue. The present issue's indicia gives no month so I can’t establish which story appeared first. My guess is this story came first and the editor decided to make the villainess a recurring one, but started over with a new name because the Black Rider name was already taken by a Marvel hero.
Holt only appears in his Redmask identity in the splash panel and on the last page. His second identity isn’t otherwise referred to, so this is less of a Redmask story than the previous one is a Durango Kid one.
“The Ghost Rider”: “The Monster in the Mist!”
A fire-breathing dragon haunts the bluff trail at night...
Once more the art was by the feature’s regular artist, this time Dick Ayers. Don Markstein described him as having "truly shone" on this feature, and it’s true. His style here is more exaggerated and dynamic than the other artists’.
ME’s Ghost Rider pretended to be a ghost to fight crime. He often encountered the apparently-supernatural, but in all the stories I’ve seen the phenomena turn out in the end to have mundane explanations. The trouble with this kind of story is when the fantastic stuff is fun the explanation is a let-down. The fantastic stuff is fun here. After the revelation we get a big fight, and - how is the Ghost Rider pulling those other manifestations? There’ll be an explanation, right? I mean, I expect it to be contrived, but there’ll be one. There WON’T?!
And there isn’t. I suppose they’re supposed to projections of the crooks’ imaginations in the smoke and flames, promoted by ventriloquism. But the narration neglects to say that.
Starting a big fire in a cave is a bad idea. GR is lucky he didn’t asphyxiate everyone.
The dragon is like the one from Dr. No. The novel didn't come out until 1958.