I've started this thread for issue reviews of comics from the Silver and Bronze Ages that were by published companies other than Marvel and DC. Comics I currently have in mind to write about include issues of Charlton's Blue Beetle (pre-Ditko) and Son of Vulcan, Dell's Brain Boy, Kona and Space Man, Lightning Comics's Fatman the Human Flying Saucer, M.F. Enterprises's Captain Marvel, and Tower Comics's Undersea Agent. Please feel free to contribute your own reviews.

 

This post displaced The Grant Morrison Thread from the home page.

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Gunfighters #51 (Charlton, 1966)

This title only ran briefly. The GCD says its numbering was continued from Kid Montana.

The two issues are quite different. This one has a cover by Russ Jones and three non-series stories that are loosely connected. The GCD tentatively attributes the scripts to Joe Gill. The three stories read a lot more like his SF work than Cheyenne Kid #64 does, but the similarity is partly due to the art.

I mentioned that I can't always tell the cover artists from Charlton's Western of this period apart. Jones's cover is signed, but in the absence of signatures I would not have guessed #51's cover was by a different artist.

The two issues take the title literally. All their stories are about gunfighters, or people who get involved in gunfights. The stories are all 9 pages.

“Onions, No Gunfighter”

A farmer makes his sons pull his plough because he sold the mule to buy alcohol. One of the sons dies of consumption. The other is mentally limited and likes to eat onions. The farmer comes home roughed up and means to take revenge with a gun, but he gets drunk instead and falls and hits his head. Onions thinks he’s been shot, and heads into town with the gun…

This story is clumsily written and drawn, but it has an interesting horror story-like quality. The GCD doesn’t identify the artists.

The gunman at the end is identified as Chaw Peck from the next story. I think this was likely a change. The plot doesn't require him to be anyone other than one of the locals.

“Chaw Peck, Gunfighter”

A small rancher loses his family when the owner of a big spread has his homestead burned out to chase him off his property. He buys a rifle, and practises until he’s expert. Then he goes on the vengeance trail…

Up to page 6 this is a tale of a man’s vengeance. This part of the story is grim: he commits flat murder. When his enemies are dead Peck becomes a hired gunman. On the last two pages Peck meets Franklin Kane and talks him into going on an intimidation job.

Franklin Kane is drawn like the gunman on the cover, with buckskins and a moustache. My guess is the cover was done first - it’s a non-specific image - and Kane was drawn to match it. He has a heavy moustache in this story, and a pencil one in the third.

Spoiler warning. Kane’s portrayal in this story conflicts with his portrayal in the third, where he’s highly moral. Arguably he kills Peck to protect the farmers, but his explanation is men like Peck are bad for the profession, and he’s very casual about it.

“Franklin Kane, Reluctant Gunfighter”

After he kills a man in self-defence Kane becomes a hired gun…

Like the previous story this one doesn’t become a tale about a gunfighter until its last 3 pages. That’s also the point where Kane grows a moustache, but he wears buckskins from the start.

The story’s initial theme is the competition between Kane and his friend George. George disappears from the story after p.6. I think that has to mean the story’s third act was changed. The end of the story is clumsily written and abrupt.

In the gunman portion of the story Kane is written as only assisting the deserving, and afraid he’s going to become an amoral killer. Which is an interesting theme, so it’s a pity this part of the story is sloppily-written and rushed.

The story has art by Charles Nicholas and Vince Alascia. The art is uneven and their depiction of action isn't dynamic, but I like the art on p.7.

Gunfighters #52 (Charlton, 1967)


This issue's cover is signed by Rocco Mastroserio. It’s well-drawn, with the same level of quality as the previous issue's. You never know it was by the same artist as Space Adventure #45’s.


The issue has three non-series stories that show the better side of Charlton. According to the GCD they were all written by Steve Skeates.


“The Hero”

A man writes to his girlfriend to explain why he has been unable to return to her. When a general store was robbed the sheriff assumed he was the thief because he was the only stranger in town, and arrested him. Later the sheriff had a shoot-out with bank-robbers. He caught one, and put him in the same cell.

The narrator agreed to join the bank-robber in a breakout. They knocked the sheriff down and grabbed guns, but the bank-robber also grabbed a woman as a hostage.

As they were escaping the sheriff came after them with a rifle. The narrator realised he was going to fire through the hostage. He saw the sheriff’s finger tightening on the trigger. To save her, he drew his gun and fired…

The story puts the narrator in a strong dilemma, but is too gentle with him afterward. The art is by Luis Dominguez, the artist of Cheyenne Kid #64 (p.3).

“The Coward”

How a man became a bully and a killer, and his fate.

This one has art by Jim Aparo. It’s well-written, emphasising the psychology of the killer. The comeuppance end works and the story is good enough to have been published by 70s Marvel or DC.

“The Hired Gun”

The psychology of a hitman-gunfighter, and how he meets his fate.

This is another well-written one, very EC-ish, with second-person narration. The GCD ascribes the art to Carl Hubbell. It's realistic, with a slight Jack Davis-like element.

“Magnus, Robot Fighter”, Magnus, Robot Fighter #1 (Western, 1963)


Magnus has been reared from childhood by the robot IA to be the champion of humanity against evil robots. He is highly trained, physically and mentally, and a superb physical fighter. He also has an implant that allows him to listen to communications between robots. 1A instructs him to keep this secret.
1A brings Magnus to North Am, “the incredible city that covers every habitable area of the North American continent”. His observation of the city confirms his belief in 1A’s teaching that humanity has become too dependent on robots.

He observes a robot destroy a book on history to prevent children reading it. The children destroy the robot, and police robots attempt to take them to Central-Rob. 1A has told Magnus that the humans who go there never come back. He smashes the robots to save the children.

As he leaves the scene Magnus “hears” a broadcast ordering all the polrobs in the sector to join the hunt for him. Then the polrob chief broadcasts that if he doesn’t surrender in 15 minutes, every human in the sector will die…


Russ Manning was created by Russ Manning, and he both wrote and drew this first issue. I’m an admirer of his work, and his art here is clean and attractive.

Manning was the title’s regular artist, but he didn’t always write. According to the introduction to the first Dark Horse collection he didn’t always have time to. I think that implies he had submit a script before drawing an issue.

Magnus is rather like Brendon Fraser in Blast from the Past: a man who has been reared apart from society, and is consequently a perfect man. He is a strong believer in 1A’s teaching about the danger of human dependence on machines.


The issue also introduced Leeja. She’s first seen as a speeding driver who won’t slow down because she’s tired of being dictated to by robots. She’s a standard girl character otherwise, so Magnus is the only strong personality in the issue, which I suppose is its biggest weakness. Leeja says she’s a senator’s daughter, but her father doesn’t appear.

North Am is a clean, ultramodern city of the future. I was reminded of Mega-City One from the Judge Dredd series, but North Am is actually much larger. An early Judge Dredd story had a robot revolt theme, so Magnus may have been an influence on the British feature.

Some of the robots just obey orders, but the polrob chief is self-directed, and so is 1A. The polrob chief says radiation from an atomic accident initiated an alteration in its brain circuits ("centuries ago", so it's apparently very old). At the end of the story Magnus is told there are other evil robots, some “evil by accident”, others that “seem to have been tampered with by men, for their personal gain”.

DC Indexes says the issue came out Nov. 1962. The Marvel Universe was still in its early stages: Amazing Spider-Man started, and Iron Man debuted, the following month. It’s a solidly-constructed story, which one can’t say about a lot of early Marvel tales.

Is it less imaginative? We get a city that occupies the entirety of North America, a civilisation dependent on robots, flying cars, moving walkways, and a computer made of the brains of human beings. I think it’s fair to say it’s less wild, and there’s no humour.

The story is 27 pages. That would’ve been more than book-length for Marvel or even DC, but the issue also carried a four page “The Aliens” story, also by Manning. Marvel’s only book-length title at this point was Fantastic Four.(1) DC was doing book-length stories regularly in Aquaman, Justice League of America, Rip Hunter… Time Master and Sea Devils,(2) and sometimes did them in other titles.


According to the GCD the cover of the issue was painted by George Wilson from a sketch by Manning. It also had a text item illustrated by Manning on North Am City, and another text item titled "The World of the Future" about Nostradamus.

(1) The Incredible Hulk was book-length for its first two issues, and for its final one; but this issue came out the same month as #5.
(2) Also in its licensed broad humour titles: The Adventures of Bob Hope, The Adventures of Jerry Lewis, The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis.

Wild Western Action #2 (Skywald, 1971)

I reviewed the first issue of this series p.2.

"The Bravados!": "Five Against the Guns of Diablo!"

The Bravados infiltrate Santana's stronghold by three routes…

This instalment concludes the Bravados’ origin. It’s a lot like a Howlers story. Santana names the heroes when he calls them bravados in the course of the action, and at the end they stay together because they've nowhere else to go.

The idea was evidently to do a series in the vein of The Magnificent Seven and other ensemble Westerns. I think this a good concept. The tale's weaknesses are the instalment is too short (10 pages) for the story it tells, and the heroes don't do anything really clever.

Gideon, the team's black member, is shown to be quick-thinking and capable. Reno is the team's idealist and leader. Drum is a professional gunman. His personality doesn't come through strongly. Charade, the Indian, can't speak. Unfortunately, that means he can't express his personality through dialogue when there isn't room for something else. Hellion is a fierce young woman.

The Bravados go in by three routes as the place is so difficult to get into, but Drum and Charade get in pretty easily by a rear entrance, so they could all have gone in that way.

Once again the story was by Len Wein, Syd Shores and Mike Esposito. The GCD ascribes the cover to Shores and Frank Giacoia.

The issue also has 28 pages of reprints, for a total of 38 comics pages. But the reprints aren't very good, so 1971 readers probably saw themselves as getting less for their money. At the time Marvels and DCs were 15c (but that changed later in the year).

"Batmen of Tombstone": "Johnny Ringo, Fearless Outlaw", from Badmen of Tombstone (Avon, 1950)

An account of the career of Johnny Ringo. From what I can tell it's partly fictionalised. The mystery about his death is noted. The GCD ascribes the art to Leo Morey.

"Scrapbook of the West": "Kit Carson"

"Scrapbook of the West": "Davy Crockett", both from Tex Taylor #7 (Marvel, 1949)

These are one page accounts, pin-up style, of their subjects' careers. They're not very informative. Carson is dressed in standard cowboy gear, and Crockett isn't shown in a coonskin hat. (The Disney-inspired Davy Crockett craze was several years in the future.) The GCD tentatively ascribes the pages' art to Mario DeMarco.

"The Durango Kid": "Flame's Revenge", from Charles Starrett as the Durango Kid #35 (ME, 1955)

An old miner has a loyal Collie. He strikes it rich and is killed when a trio steal his gold. The Collie loyally stays beside his body, and the Durango Kid comes upon them...

This is from the period when Fred Guardineer was the feature's regular artist. His art is stiff and naïve, but it can be visually striking and very pleasing. This story is unexceptional.

"Man-Hunt!", from Bill the Kid Adventure Magazine #24 (Toby, 1954)

An account of the crimes and end of Harry Tracy. The item reads like a crime comic story. It begins with a spectacular train robbery: Tracy and his accomplice blow up a tunnel just ahead of the Cannonball Express, causing it to crash. I think this part is wholly made up (it's not mentioned on Tracy's Wikipedia page, and you'd think it would be!) but the rest of the story seems based on real events, with a little fictionalisation (Merrill's sister betrays him to the police when she learns he killed her brother). Mention of his suicide to escape capture is omitted.

The GCD ascribes the pencils to John Forte, and the inks to him tentatively. I didn't recognise his style at all. I think I can see it in the figures on p.4.

"Billy Nevada": "The Doc's Daughter", from Billy the Kid Adventure Magazine #16 (Toby, 1953) (altered)

Outlaws force a doctor to go with them to tend their wounded partner. When he's finished they pay him off by shooting him. When Billy comes into town the doctor's daughter attempts to shoot him. She thinks he was one of the outlaws. When he denies it she says if it wasn't him it was one of his kind...

This is a standard Western story of the 50s that climaxes with a shootout. The sequence isn't bloody, but characters are killed. The hero was Billy the Kid originally. The GCD ascribes the art to Tom Gill.

My acknowledgements to the GCD for its information on the stories' first appearances.

Wild Western Action #3 (Skywald, 1971)


“The Bravados”: “Guns of the Iron Riders!”

Reno rescues a baby from a burning homestead while Drumm, Gideon and Charade chase down the thugs responsible and kill them in a gunfight. The locals tell them a railroad is trying to force them out because the town has underground springs and it wants to get the water without paying for the land.
Reno and Gideon go to see the operation’s boss, Nicholas Moon. He tells them he means to drive the farmers out and milk the railroad dry. He has the men seized and tied to the front of the train…

This is the most satisfactory instalment of this series as a story so far. It still suffers from being too short, but less so than the first two. The train’s run at the climax is treated as a potential calamity, but it’s hard to see why. I suppose the great danger is Moon will demonstrate the railway is a working proposition.


Once again the creative team was Len Wein, Syd Shores, and Mike Esposito. P.7 has a George Tuska look to me, so I wonder if Shores had help with this one. The GCD again credits the cover to Shores and Frank Giacoia.

Drumm's name has two m's this time.

“King of the Bad Men of Deadwood”: “Sam Bass-Deadwood’s First Stage Robber!”, from King of the Badmen of Deadwood (Avon, 1950)

This is a semi-fictionalised account of the career of Sam Bass, written like a crime comic story. When I check the sub-tales in these things I find there's often some kind of basis to them, but sometimes only a kernel. That's the case with most of the episodes here. The Bella Union episode is based on the death of Ed Shaughnessy. Bass's connection to it seems to be invented. I couldn't find the yellow raincoat story.

In the account's final part Bass and his gang commit a violent train robbery outside Deadwood in South Dakota and split up in the hills. Bass returns to Deadwood for a final visit. The last panel says he was afterwards spotted and shot dead by a Texas Ranger called Dick Ware. The Bass Gang gang did rob trains, but in Nebraska and Texas. Ware took part in the shootout in Round Rock, Texas in which Bass was fatally wounded, and was possibly the one who shot him.

The GCD credits the story to Paul S. Newman and John Forte.

“Red Mask”: “Bait for Death!”, from Red Mask #47 (ME, 1955)

A courier has been trapped in an open position by the Sioux. He lights a signal fire in a bid for help. Five people see it and respond. One of them is Johnny Rogers, making his getaway from a bank robbery. Two more are Redmask and the Black Phantom, pursuing him…

This is a grim Indian war story with a high corpse count.

Reading “Bait for Death!” I wondered who the artist was, since it obviously wasn’t Frank Bolle. I was surprised to see his signature, effaced by Skywald, when I checked the original issue. Either he roughened his style deliberately or someone else was inking him.

Tim Holt became Red Mask with #42. Just before the transition the Black Phantom reformed and became the hero’s sidekick and Redmask switched to wearing a boring domino mask instead of his cool Durango Kid one.


In the original issue Redmask’s costume is red and the Black Phantom’s is blue. In the reprint the Black Phantom’s is red and Redmask’s costume is coloured like normal clothing. He still has a red mask, though.

The story was cover-featured on its first appearance, but it's a tepid cover.

“The Durango Kid”: “The Blazing Eyes of Muley Pike!”, from Charles Starrett as the Durango Kid #35 (ME, 1955)

Muley has ordered a book on hypnotism. He fancies he’ll be able to use his hypnotic power to become a super-crimefighter. A gang finds out what he’s up to and figures if they pretend to be hypnotised Muley will take them to the Durango Kid…

“Red Mask” and “The Durango Kid” were sometimes virtually the same feature, but the stories in this issue are completely different. This is a humorous instalment where Muley is the butt of the joke.

Once again Fred Guardineer drew. It’s a more entertaining story than the last issue’s, but not what I read Western comics for. The Durango Kid’s black outfit is highlighted using green rather than blue as originally.

The “Durango Kid” stories from Wild Western Action’s three issues were all taken from the same issue.

“Bat Masterson: Dodge City’s Outlaw Tamer!”, from Wild Bill Hickok #10 (Avon, 1952)

This is an account of Masterson’s early career and time as sheriff of Dodge City. It’s based on history for its first half and departs from it for its second. It starts off with Masterson’s fight with Melvin King and follows it up with the Second Battle of Adobe Walls, which preceded it. The leader of the Indians is said to be a Kiowa chief. The leaders were Comanches. Masterson and his brother Ed are depicted as having gotten their lawman jobs from Wyatt Earp. Masterson was an under-sheriff and he and his brother then won elections. The account of Ed’s death is based on history. The Lovell's cattle camp episode is based on an episode from history but Masterson didn’t make the capture alone and the details are changed. Al Updegraff was a real person but Masterson’s conflict with him was after his time as a sheriff and the details are false. t the story's end Masterson resigns as sheriff because he’s no longer needed. He lost an election.

The GCD doesn't have credits for this item.

On p.6 the opening caption has had two words relettered. The original text read "Al reaches". The relettered version reads "Al reached" (and doesn't match the tense of "snaps" later in the caption). In Comic Book Plus's version of the Avon issue "reaches" is a bit smudged, especially its s, which could almost be a d. My guess is Skywald was just trying to clear up some smudgy text.

 

In the text story a marshal tracks a murderer to a ghost town but his quarry gets the better of him. The marshal finds a way to turn the tables.

My acknowledgements to the GCD for its information on the stories' first appearances.

Kid Montana #39 (Charlton, 1963)


All the stories in this issue were drawn by Pete Morisi. The GCD tentatively ascribes the writing to Morisi as well.

The issue has two Kid Montana tales and a filler story. The cover was done by Dick Giordano, and is Giordano's version of one of the panels from "The Killer Apes".


“Kid Montana”: “The Avenging Idol”

Montana receives a request for help from a Pawnee chief called White Cloud. He finds White Cloud composed, but near death from bullet wounds.

White Cloud tells him he was shot by the trader Snake Morgan when Morgan stole the scroll that shows the location of the Pawnee War Idol. The idol was the symbol under which the Pawnee united for war. To end their war with the whites White Cloud placed it in a container and hid it in the Pawnee temple ruins.

Morgan is after it to restart the war, so he can profit from it. White Cloud wants Montana to destroy the idol so this will not happen. Montana agrees, and White Cloud dies. Montana immediately sets out for the temple, knowing he can’t waste any time as Morgan has a two day lead…

Both of the issue's Kid Montana stories commence with a letter requesting Montana's help, addressed "Gunfighter". Montana's hair is white at the temples and at the lower back of his head. He wears a jacket or heavy blue shirt and nothing underneath, and often leaves the front open.

In his obituary for Morisi Mark Evanier wrote he was influenced earlier in his career by the early George Tuska. I can see the influence here.

Instead of filling the action sequences with dialogue, thought balloons and sound effects he uses silent panels accompanied by heavy captions. This makes them quite different to read to Marvel's fights, and I like the effect. The use of this technique might be a sign Morisi was writing. I'll look out for it in future.


Richard Willis notes here how out of place the idol and temple plot is a Plains Indians context. The idol has an Asian look. My guess is the plot was a recycled one, from a story set in Asia. There's a resemblance to The Mask of Fu Manchu, in which the arch-criminal seeks a mask he can use to inspire an Islamic revolt, but Morisi may have had a closer model.

“The Quiet Tenderfoot”

This is a three pager. Bullies at a stagecoach stop pick on the wrong coach passenger.

I don't think Morisi used a reference image to draw the sportsman, but I'm not entirely certain. There's a Hohenadel Beer ad that depicts him without his famous moustache. His face in the ad isn't completely like Morisi's version, but I can see some similarities. On the other hand, he apparently had black hair.

“Kid Montana”: “The Killer Apes”

Montana receives a request for help from a woman named Janet Crain. She asks Montana to meet her at the Panama Hotel (in Panama City, Florida).

Janet tells him her father disappeared ten years ago. He was a research scientist who sought a formula to produce bigger and strong livestock. He moved to Florida to continue his research after the outfit he worked for shut down the project. Janet has just left boarding school and wants Montana to help her find him.

Montana begins by visiting Seminole villages and questioning the inhabitants. An informant tells him a man came to the area with supplies and animals and settled on an island. Some years later there was a big fire with explosions, and the Seminoles now avoid the island, considering it “a place of evil, and death”.

The searchers take this to mean Janet’s father is dead, but she wants to see. They find a ruined bridge with charred timbers, and get across to the island in an abandoned canoe. When they land a shot rings out from a cabin. The shooter orders them to set their canoe adrift, and warns them they’re in great danger outside.

The shooter is Janet’s father, Professor Crain. He tells them he finally developed a working formula and used it on the baby apes he brought to the island as experimental animals. They grew in size, but went mad and broke free of their cages. He destroyed his laboratory himself.

The apes have multiplied. They attack the cabin regularly, and each time they grow in number. Another attack is about due...

I read the issue because of the cover. Giordano's apes aren't drawn very well. Morisi's vary, but in some places, such as the splash panel, they really are. Possibly he used apes from Hal Foster's Tarzan work for reference. On p.9 the apes have a Ditko look

The attack on the hut is an effective sequence. The outcome lets it down. Why did they attack so furiously, if that was all they were going to do?

Properly the apes are enlarged apes, not gorillas. But I still doubt Montana should be up to fighting one hand-to-hand.

The bit about the earth drum may have been borrowed from Tarzan of the Apes.

Montana communicates with the Seminoles "in the language of sign".

The text item is a “Sheriff Slidell” story. These appeared in various Charlton titles. This one is called “Hose House”. Hose Orgaz (spelled thus) obtains title to land that a cattle baron uses to move his cattle, and builds a house there. The cattle baron wants to force him out, but Orgaz and his brothers are determined to stay put, and it turns out he has a special reason for this.

Sheriff of Tombstone #17 (Charlton, 1961)


This comic was a surprise to me, because it’s seriously good-looking. The GCD ascribes the pencils on the two title feature stories to Jack Keller. He was the long-time artist of “Kid Colt”, but I’m not very familiar with his work.


On this issue he apparently had a heavy inker. The result is the storytelling is good, the panels lively, the pictures attractive. The GCD speculates the inker was Maurice Whitman.

The title’s hero is a fictional sheriff called Luke Spade. He’s a young guy and on the short side.


The scripts are tentatively attributed by the GCD to Joe Gill. The first one starts well and is an interesting, Stan Lee-ish story. The second one has a fantastic plot and fun imagery.

The GCD currently attributes the cover tentatively to Ernie Hart. The notes indicate the credit has been changed twice.

“Sheriff of Tombstone”: “He Came to Die”

A gunfighter known as the Undertaker gives up using guns and becomes Short’s deputy.

The Undertaker is an interesting supporting character who contrasts well with the sheriff. Unfortunately, this was the last issue.

“Never Kick a Dawg in Gulchtown”

This is the issue’s three-pager. Gulchtown is the kind of town that sides with bullies against the bullied. But Wild Bill Catsell makes a mistake that turns the town against him.

The GCD tentatively ascribes the script to Joe Gill, and assigns the art to Bill Molno and Vince Alascia.

“Sheriff of Tombstone”: “The Ruler of the Wolves”

Spade has been asked to help the representative of a European government find the missing nobleman who has inherited his country’s throne. They find he’s been busy breeding and training giant wolves.

This one begins in media res and is mostly action. The GCD thinks the villain looks like Vincent Price. I don’t think he does throughout, but he does p.4 panel 1.

The wolf on the opening page has a Steve Ditko look. I could believe he drew the splash page and someone else inked it heavily.

The text item is another Sheriff Slidell story. This one's a gold mine tale. Everyone in town who can invests in a new mine. Only...

Special War Series #4 (Charlton, 1965)

I reviewed #3 of this series p.1. This issue featured Judomaster.

The main story is the hero's 20 page origin. This is credited as created and drawn by Frank McLaughlin and scripted by Joe Gill, but McLaughlin is very clear in this interview (hat-tip: the GCD) that he did all the writing himself. Gill "approved the script, and suggested a few minor changes".

The issue also has a three-page "Sport of Judo" supporting feature by McLaughlin that knowledgeably introduces judo, aikido, karate and kendo.

McLaughlin's respect for and knowledge of Japanese martial arts is very evident in both stories. The origin story emphasises the hero's instruction in Judo, but the cover refers to "karate jiu-jitsu judo", implying he's an expert at them all.

The back-up item is narrated by Sarge Steel. McLaughlin did similar "Sport of Judo" and self-defence supporting items for Steel's own series before and after this. The one in Sarge Steel #6 was presented by Judomaster.(1)

"Judomaster": "Introducing Rip Jagger... Judomaster"

Synopsis (complete): It is June 1943. Sgt Rip Jagger's infantry unit is defending an island in the South Pacific. A nervous soldier shoots a figure in the dark. Jagger hears the figure calling for help and isn't sure it's a soldier. As he crawls towards it a flare lights the night up and the Japanese spot him. He grabs the casualty and flees, but the Japanese corner him. Suddenly the approaching soldiers are attacked and overcome by locals in traditional Japanese dress using swords.(2) Jagger is jumped from behind and knocked out after a short fight.

He awakens in a cave and is taken to the guerilla group's leader, who is addressed as "Sensei". He thanks Jagger for rescuing his granddaughter and tells him while he was unconscious the Japanese finished overrunning the island. Jagger is the only American left.

The guerilla group trains its recruits in judo. Jagger is at first skeptical of its value, but learns quickly. He is naturally very fast and becomes a black belt in a short period of time. A guerilla exploit makes Jagger a symbol of freedom to the islanders. The Sensei builds on this by creating for him the identity of Judomaster.

Jagger commences fighting the Japanese as Judomaster. He's so effective the Japanese send extra troops to the island. Judomaster sends the Japanese commander a letter declaring he'll destroy the oil depot, the naval ammunition sheds, and the troop barracks. He makes good the first two boasts, and calls in American planes by radio to bomb the barracks.

The story depicts the wartime Japanese as villainous, but the people of the island are clearly Japanese too. However, they don't speak of themselves that way.

Jagger is told Judo was brought to the island by a disciple of Kano, judo's founder, and the locals "have developed it here to greater heights than it had reached even in Japan".

Judomaster's black belt forms part of his costume. His cowl "pennant" is a lock of long hair. At the end we learn - spoiler warning - that the hero's costume is woven of "special nylon mesh" and makes him invulnerable to bullets.

A caption tells us Judomaster's "only weapon" is a length of bamboo, but he's not shown using it, or carrying it, in the action scenes. It's described as "light, short" on p.15, but it looks as long as a leg there and even more substantial in the splash panel. Springer calls it a yawara stick. From what I can see that term is usually applied to a short weapon not much wider than a hand.

Don Markstein's article on the feature at Toonopedia stresses the similarity of Judomaster's costume to "the Japanese flag". The net tells me the sun disk flag has been Japan's national flag since the 19th century, but during WWII the navy and army used rayed flags with 16 rays. The navy flag is still used. The modern Ground Self-Defence Force flag has 8 rays. Judomaster's costume resembles these flags, with the difference that the sun is yellow on a red background instead of red on a white background. It has 8 rays.(3) In-story his costume is based on a flag in the guerillas' cave seen p.6, 10, 13, 14, although this is not spelt out. Presumably this is the islanders' flag. On pp.6, 13, the flag's sun is yellow and the background red. On p.10, 14 the sun is white and the background red.

The Japanese naval flag is shown (with the number of rays reduced) on a tank p.7. The national flag appears in the "Sport of Judo" instalment on p.1.

McLaughlin's style is similar to Dick Giordano's in the same period, with the same feeling of realism. But the level of the art varies. At times it's awkward, as with the figures on the splash page. At the other extreme there are panels with a pleasing photorealism, like the final panel p.4 and several panels in the back-up feature. His biggest weakness is a tendency to underdraw backgrounds. The depictions of judo look very authentic.

I like the way the character concept, the war in the Pacific setting, and Springer's realism add together. Marvel had been running war-set Captain America adventures in Tales of Suspense, but if this issue came out in Sep. it coincided with the beginning of the Sleeper story in Tales of Suspense #72, which returned his feature to the present. Karate Kid didn't debut until the next year.

The text item is an espionage story about a plot to give a Soviet scientist a chance to defect.

(1) Toonopedia and the interview call this the character's second appearance. But DC Indexes says Sarge Steel #6 came out Sep. 1, and Special War Series #4 Nov. 1. If that's correct Sarge Steel #6 was the hero's debut, but issues were both dated for Nov., so my guess is DC Indexes's Nov. 1 release date is a mistake and the issues came out simultaneously.

(2) A caption refers to "wooden sticks", but they look like swords in the art and they're referred to as "ancient samurai swords" on p.6.

(3) Their placement differs from the Ground Defence Force's and closely resembles the masthead pennant's

The Blue Phantom (Dell, 1962)

A large group of Virginian men returns home after striking it rich in the west. Their leader is Rex Kingsbury, and they have been away ten years. It is the eve of the Civil War, and their hometown is awash with secession fever.

Kingsbury's family home is being auctioned. He bids and wins. He finds his sister inside. She tells him their father has died. While he was away their father freed his slaves. The community responded with anger, and she believes his broken heart caused his death.

Kingsbury goes to see his old girlfriend, Diana, at her family's plantation. Her father and brother have joined the Confederate army, and she wants him to join up too.

Kingsbury holds a big party. A group of Confederate soldiers express their hatred of the North. When he expresses anti-secessionist sentiments they begin smashing things and he and his friends fight them. Diana calls him a traitor.

Kingsbury means to resume planting, but while he is away the Confederates set fire to his property and attempt to shoot those fleeing the fire. His associates overcome them, but the house is destroyed.

Kingsbury and his friends form a Unionist militia with a secret base in the hills. The militia is welcomed by Lincoln, and takes part in the early fighting.

Kingsbury spies on General Beauregard's camp and learns he is planning an attack on Washington. He takes word to General McDowell. This sets the stage for the First Battle of Bull Run...

Comic Book Plus's page with the issue notes the feature's similarity to a 1957-58 TV show called The Gray Ghost, about the Confederate militia leader John S. Mosby. The issue appeared at a point when Dell was still publishing comics produced by Western but also beginning to produce its own features, such as Kona. It's my guess this was one of them. This was the only issue, and I think the fact that wasn't numbered as part of the Four Color series is a tell.

 

The art was by Fred Fredericks. According to the GCD he wrote the issue as well. It looks and reads like a Dell or Western movie adaptation: solidly done, but unexciting.

The story's politics are strongly Unionist. The fierceness of the South's anti-Union feeling in the lead-up to the war is depicted well. However, there's an element of Southern sympathy: the hero and his followers are Southern, his commitment is to the Union rather than the anti-slavery cause, and we're supposed to think Diana wrong but not hate her, even though her family are slaveholding planters. Black people only appear as walk-on characters.

The issue also has one page historical items on the inside covers and back cover. These were also by Fredericks. The inside front cover is about Grant; the inside back cover is about Lee; and the back cover is about Lincoln.

Idaho #1 (Dell, 1963)


"Idaho": "Showdown at Ramrod"

Three men separately make their way into a small town called Ramrod and rob the bank. They escape on horses a confederate has left out the back. The sheriff is killed in the shootout as they flee the town.
Idaho and his pal Frazzle are on their way to Ramrod. They have stumbled on a cave that’s been outfitted as a bunkhouse. Idaho knows it’s a hideout and means to tell the sheriff.

The three bank-robbers meet them on the road. One of the gang’s horses has lost a shoe. The rider tries to buy Idaho’s horse Phantom, but he won’t sell, so the robbers steal him. They leave Idaho and Frazzle knocked out and tied up.

When they wake up they free themselves and head into Ramrod. Idaho uses the horse with the missing shoe. One of the locals spots it as the horse one of the robbers used. The bank manager levels a gun on them and takes them prisoner. The locals converge, and quickly become an angry mob…

Idaho is an interesting character: young, easy-going and smart. He might be modelled after a TV cowboy I don’t know. Frazzle is in his 50s or 60s.

The story is book-length. According to the GCD the script was by Carl Memling. The plot is familiar Western stuff, but it maintains its interest and I liked Idaho’s characterisation and the way he gets out of being hanged, so I thought it well-written. There’s a Howard Hawks bit where Idaho is about to give chase and Frazzle tosses him a rifle.

The issue is a bit dully-drawn, but I suppose no more so than a lesser Silver Age Marvel story. GCD ascribes the art to Maurice Whitman and Vince Colletta. I'm sure it's right about Colletta, but it credits the pencils from the second issue to Bob Jenney and to my eyes the two issues look pencilled by the same person.(1) I'm not in a position to say whether this was Whitman or Jenny. Colletta's presence complicates the issue, since he imposed a Colletta style on what he inked.


Phantom apparently doesn’t make trouble while Idaho and Frazzle are knocked out and tied up. Would a horse behave like that? A dog wouldn’t.


The cover has a painting by an artist the GCD doesn’t identify. Its rugged, weathered cowboy doesn’t match Idaho at all. But it's pretty good.


The inside front cover has an informative one pager about cowboy equipment. The inside back one is about how horses came to America.

(1) Idaho has more of a standard handsome face the second time out, but that might be due to Colletta. He looks like the Idaho from the first issue p.30 panel 2. #1 p.9 panel 6 and #2 p.31 panel 4 are similar. Bandon's derringer and hook nose in that latter panel are paralleled in #1 p.12 panel 3 and p.28 panel 1 respectively.

Idaho #2 (Dell, 1963)

This issue has linked stories set around a town called Pioneer.

"Idaho": "The Man with the Lash!" 

A farmer chases away a cowhand who is trying to cut a fence. The cowhand works for a cattle baron called Skinner Duncan, and his boss shoots up Pioneer with his men to teach the farmers a lesson. A town bigwig called Major Bandon telegrams to Abilene for two gunmen. But the message is passed to Duncan, and he and his men wait by the trail for the gunmen. Two men come in sight, and Duncan assumes they're the gunmen. In fact, they're Idaho and Frazzle...

"Idaho": "A Town Full of Fear!"

Idaho and Frazzle reach Pioneer. Bandon thinks they're his killers, but Idaho tells him they aren't and the ranchers want to make peace. The locals like the sound of that, but Bandon wants a conflict and has his three strong-arm men intimidate his opponents. The thugs accost Idaho and Frazzle as they're eating and a fight results. The pair win and escort them to jail. But Bandon means to maintain his control the town, and he's willing to kill...

Duncan's death is a surprising one for the period.

The GCD doesn't have a script credit for this issue, and credits the art to Bob Jenney and Vince Colletta. (See my remarks above.) It's less-well put together than the first, but puts me even more in mind of Marvel: Duncan is a whip fighter, and he Duncan and Idaho have a big fight; Bandon's three thugs have colourful designs, and Idaho bests them with Marvel-like tricks.

I don't see how Duncan could expect to get away with shooting up the town and killing people when it's Bandon who controls the sheriff.

In his shoot-out with Idaho Bandon uses a single-barrel derringer. The two men shoot nearly simultaneously, and it's not clear which shot first. If it was Bandon, Idaho technically shoots a man with an empty gun.

The inside front cover has a one pager on the origin of the term "maverick". The GCD notes the cover was painted and signed by the Western artist Tom Ryan.

Buffalo Bill Jr. #13 (Dell, 1959)

This was a licensed title, from a TV show. The GCD tells me the feature appeared in 6 issues of Four Color and 7 issues of its own title. The title character and his sister were orphaned in an Indian attack on a wagon train, taken in by a judge, and renamed for Buffalo Bill and Calamity Jane. The actor who played the title role was in the second half of his 20s when the show was made, but the character in the comics looks younger, not yet a full adult.

The issue has two "Buffalo Bill Jr." stories and a second feature called "The Buffalo Hunter". All three stories are credited by the GCD to Gaylord Du Bois, Mike Sekowsky and Mike Peppe.

"Buffalo Bill Jr.": "The "Monster" Horse"

Bill and Calamity come upon an Indian fleeing a monster horse. It turns he's seen a pair of escaped camels, a parent and a youngling. Bill ropes the parent and he and Calamity commence leading them to the Judge Wiley's place. They don't take the short route through Sycamore Basin because the judge has a herd there and the camels would stampede it.

Night falls. Rustlers rope the man guarding the judge's herd. Then they lead the herd through a gap, only it's to the pass Bill and Calamity are using...

"The Buffalo Hunter": "The Buffalo Hunter and the Hide Thieves"

The protagonists of this short feature are a young man called Sandy Hill and his Indian partner Wise Knife (who speaks in Indian pidgin). The pair are breaking camp when some men ride up and ask them if they can use their fire. They're really out to steal the duo's load of buffalo hides, and when the two men turn their backs they pull out guns and tie them up. It starts raining. The thieves take cover in the wagon, but the water also stretches the rawhide the duo have been tied with. As they free themselves Wise Knife hears another sound through the rain - a buffalo stampede...

"Buffalo Bill Jr." "Buffalo Bill Jr. and the Fair Exchange"

Calamity excitedly reports that eggs from the henhouse have been taken and turquoise stones left as payment. Bill has heard of similar incidents. The "thieves" always pay with turquoise or gold, and have become known as Big Foot and Little Foot (from their footprints presumably, but it's not spelt out). At Calamity's suggestion she and Bill track them using her dog, Cubby. A pair of crooked locals follow them...

Although Sekowsky did the art this comic doesn't read like a DC one because of its different plotting style. In each story amiable heroes overcome dangerous thieves without much trouble.

Reading the issue I assumed Sekowsky inked himself. The art reminds me of his late Silver Age work, which was stylised and a bit ugly. Only here, the art is stylised but attractive. There's an Alex Toth influence in the art that shows up particularly in the lighting effects and use of silhouettes.

In the text story two men are hunting for meat for their camp, and come upon a herd of buffalo. The younger man is eager to kill a couple, but the older man used to be a buffalo hunter and is concerned the buffalo are dying out. Then they spot Comanche smoke signals...

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