I've been reading Steve Canyon strips from IDW's Library of American Comics collections, a month every day, for the last few weeks. I started with volume 2, since that's the volume I had. But now I'm flashing back to volume 1, and since there was some interest in a read-along, here goes!
This is a short month, as the strip began on January 13. Short synopsis: Rich vamp Copper "the Copperhead" Calhoun wants to hire Canyon's Horizons Unlimited air-transport business for a mysterious mission. Steve (and his secretary, Feeta-Feeta) are rude to Calhoun's underling, Mr. Dayzee. Calhoun tests Canyon's bravery and prowess b setting thugs on him, and then hires him, impressed. Dayzee plots with Calhoun's bodyguard, blackmailing him, to kill Canyon during the mission.
Elements of note:
I liked how Canyon isn't introduced until a week into the strip. Canniff spends a week with Feeta-Feeta being sassy to Mr. Dayzee as we wonder what the lead character is like. And then, on the first Sunday page, he appears... but not until after several incidental characters react to him while he's only partially on-panel.
Feeta-Feeta's unusual nickname is taken from the soldiers in American Samoa -- Fita is Samoan for soldier, and from what I can find online, the Fita Fita Guard was the Samoan Marine Reserve.
I like Copper Calhoun's hooded wrap -- it suggests cobra more than copperhead, but it definitely gets the idea of a snake across.
New Characters of Note:
Steve Canyon, Feeta-Feeta, Copper Calhoun, Mr. Dayzee, Kroom
Caniff's understanding of imperfect religious observance shows that he was ahead of his time, negating the earlier "Doodley-doodly" comment.
I was an excellent speller in school when nothing else was in my head. Today I double-check names and seldom-used words and have also been known to copy-and-paste. Pasting is also handy when names and words include punctuation that isn't readily available on my keyboard.
Oh, the number of times I've copied and pasted an umlaut!
Rob Staeger (Grodd Mod) said:
Oh, the number of times I've copied and pasted an umlaut!
That's why I have a character map on my menu bar.
I realize that back in February, we also saw the last of Feeta-Feeta for a while. Sometimes you don't know a character is stepping offstage until the strip veers in a different direction instead of coming home.
Fireball and Deen try to escape, but their captured by the opposition on a snowy mountain pass. And it's then that we learn with Deen that the leader of the opposition (in the spiral eyeglasses) has been disguising himself as Chief Izm, whose place he took years ago! The spymaster drugs Deen, and lets her wander the streets as if drunk, to discredit her. But then he pulls her back when there's a sudden challenge to his power... Chief Izm?
Actually, it's Steve, who also disguised himself as a chief to confuse the locals. Eventually Steve gets hold of the spymaster and gets into a fight with him on the mountains -- hitting him not just for what he did to Deen's professional reputation, but also for interfering in Steve's love life. A sniper draws a bead on Stev but Happy Easter takes him out. Then they use some oil to create a makeshift engine and sled down the hill toward the airplane. When they get there, Fireball has loaded Deen, still delirious, into the plane, and they're about to take off. Steve tells him to leave without he and Happy, they have one more thing to do. But before they can do it, they're headed off at the pass by the henchmen of Maid of Nine!
Elements of Note:
Steve likes using the full name for something named after a nickname. Here, it's Robertsledding.
Arrivals: The Maid of Nine! She's definitely intriguing!
Departures: Looks like we lose Deen & Fireball from the regular cast this week.
MILTON CANIFF ON…
THE MAID OF NINE: The Maid of Nine was hangover from the Crusades. There were eight recorded Crusades, and the ninth is questionable historically. I contended that she was a product of the Ninth Crusade. Either she had a Methuselah longevity, or she was a descendant. But what I really wanted to do was show a woman in armor.
Captured by the Maid of Nine and her bandits, Steve initially tries to pass Happy Easter off as American Royalty. It's good for a few gags, but what really stops the Maid from killing them is Steve's fraternity pin, modeled on a crusader's cross. See, Maid of Nine claims to be a descendant of the (probably mythical) Ninth Crusade.
Steve gets along with the Maid fine, but Happy decides to stir up trouble just for fun. He nearly gets hanged by her men when the opposition launches an attack! Steve has a daring plan -- since all the horses are tied together (and they're too valuable to both sides to shoot), Steve and Happy lead them toward the enemy's truck's, riding underneath them, and puncturing the truck tires with scimitars.
This puts both of them in the Maid's good graces. But when an air attack follows, she gets injured. She's unconscious, and Steve wants to take off her mask. But she wakes suddenly, and hints that he might recognize her face once he sees it.
Elements of Note.
More than anything else, the Maid of Nine reminds me of Iron Maiden from T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, wearing medieval style armor in modern times. Particularly since Caniff and Wally Wood aren't shy about making armored ladies so appealing. (Even though Steve complains that with the armor on, he had no idea what she looks like under there: "I'm all for nice packaging, but I'd like some guarantee of the quality of the contents!")
I liked Happy looking for trouble, oblivious that trouble would find them soon enough.
As for the Maid of Nine's identity -- since she's a woman Steve might know -- my two main guesses would be Delta and Copper Calhoun. Delta is the lead contender for me, since she seems more likely to lead a gang of bandits than Copper, who'd be more likely to lead a gang of bankers.
Of course, in Jeff's Caniff quote, it sounds like she might be a totally new character after all!
Arrivals & Departures:
None this month!
Thanks to an air-drop of a bloody, bullet-riddled shirt, Maid of Nine is given information that leads her to assume her father has been killed. Her immediate inclination is to attack the opposition, but Steve talks her out of it, stressing the importance of getting her people to safety. But he agrees that he and Happy will help her on a smaller mission to avenge him.
While getting her troops to safety, they pass through a coastal town strangely deserted. They soon learn it's an ambush, as the opposition opens fire from every building. They manage to reach a defensible position, and evacuate the people on waiting barges. Then Main, Stev, and Happy slip back into a coastal town, hoping to catch a ride on a fishing boat. But it's a religious holiday, and no one is fishing. They try to hide, but in the morning some kids see the Americans and holler for baksheesh, a handout. The Maid disappears -- she can take her mask off and be any of the women in hijabs on the street -- but Steve and Happy are captured by soldiers. There's an attempt at an escape -- someone unseen drops a pot on one of their guards' heads -- but they eventually run right into the arms of more soliders
Steve tries to play it off like he and Happy were gangsters hired to deliver Maid of Nine to the opposition, and there's some question among the locals whether he's telling the truth. While he and Happy are in jail, they hire some urchins to help them bathe and clean up -- one girl hands him soap with a military patch of some sort -- a signal that something's up. (Reading a panel or two ahead, it's a Persian Gulf command shoulder patch from WWII.
Elements of Note:
In order to fit in in town, Maid of Nine took off her armor. We still haven't seen her face.
I like that Happy keeps giving her nicknames, like Miss Eye Ex.
That ambush scene is really gorgeous. I was a little confused about the business with the bus, though.
Arrivals and Departures.
I doubt we've seen the last of Maid of Nine, but she ditched Steve and Happy really quickly. I think her story here isn't done yet, though.
The girl who hands Steve the soap is most likely a new character of importance. We'll see!
“I’ve read up through September 1948 at this point, and… I can hardly wait until you meet… no, no… mustn’t get ahead of the discussion.”
“The girl who hands Steve the soap is most likely a new character of importance. We'll see!”
After wondering who the girl who gave him the patch might be, Steve and Happy get a "ready for takeoff" signal from her from the street... signalling that she's going to break them out of prison! Organizing some of her friends and using some smokepots, they make it seem like the prison has caught on fire, and hustle the guys out in the commotion.
It turns out their new friend is a young Persian girl nicknamed Convoy. She'd been befriended by some GIs during World War II, and when they left, they promised that an American serviceman would come back to marry her one day. And with Steve showing up, Convoy is convinced they were telling the truth!
So Steve's in a very on-brand jam for him -- he wants to stay on Convoy's good side, since she's helping him and Hap escape, but he also doesn't plan on marrying her. (She's still a young girl after all! And also, she's packing heat.)
Pursuing them is Figgo, a guy in a tall hat who runs the black market. Convoy has been pretty successful at outwitting him, too. He wants the key to an American storehouse that was left with Convoy. Steve pushes him off with another key, which he just discovers is not the one to the warehouse at the end of the month.
Elements of Note:
I love how clever Convoy is at getting Steve & Happy past guards, at one point telling them that she was carrying poisonous snakes, and another time suggesting that her passengers was extremely sick and contagious.
We've got Convoy now, and also Figgo. I bet Convoy will stick around longer.
Well, it's been a month and we haven't seen Maid of Nine. Maybe she's really gone for a while.
Arrgh -- forgot to mention (and the edit key isn't working) that Steve discovers a plot to bring prefab subs in pieces to the coast, where they're assembled in secret! So he's sticking around until he gets to the bottom of it!
Steve sends Convoy off with a letter to the US consulate, while he and Happy pose as inspectors at the underground submarine yard. Parting is such sweet sorrow. Yet when Happy and Steve arrive at the yard, they're greeted with guns -- Figgo warned them, the rat! -- and are held hostage by Captain Akoona, a female sub commander. ("Akoona" means shark in Russian; this marks the first time Steve officially has a Russian nemesis.)
Akoona's plan is to make a false top for her subs, making them seem like freighters from the top... but able to submerge and attack like submarines. Steve realizes this could create a naval attack with a surprise on the level of Pearl Harbor.
Even worse, Steve's backup plan -- the letter Convoy is carrying -- has been foiled, as they're handed the bloody & torn letter, intercepted by Akoona's men. (No word on what happened to Convoy, but Steve fears the worst.)
Akoona takes him and Happy aboard the sub, and they do a trial submersion. Akoona needs Steve to help get her into an American port, and if he doesn't do what she says.... Akoona brings out a hostage Convoy. The blood on the letter was from where she bit one of her captors! Steve tries to escape with Convoy, but they're cornered!
Elements of Note:
Convoy is still trying to convince Steve to marry her. At one point, Steve says "Married people sometimes fight -- it's better just to be pals." But Convoy is so committed to marriage that she runs off to the Army Surplus storehouse in search of boxing gloves. She's willing to fight if it means marrying Steve!
Capt. Akoona, an excellent new villain for the strip. She's ruthless, leaving one crewmember to die because he was too slow getting below deck before the submersion. Steve's an American airman; Akoona's a female Russian sub commander. A real battle of opposites there.
Pretty sure we've seen the last of Figgo, whose hat really makes more of an impression than he does. He departs the strip on the toe of Happy's boot.
MILTON CANIFF ON…
CONVOY: As always, with the introduction of a good character I may find myself with another paragon. Until this character is in the scene, I haven’t got a sounding board to play back from. If they do grab, I’ll pull them out of the picture for a while, and then the second time around they’re better. Readers are glad to see them because an impression was made. It’s the second time around that builds the difference in a character, good or bad.
In looking for a trick word to use as a name for an unlikely person, Convoy came to me because of the connection with the Persian Gulf command or World War II. The Persian Gulf had the only warn water port available for feeding supplies to Russia through the “back door” during our Lend-Lease deal and so it was an extremely important convoy route. It was a supply command primarily and the Axis had nobody to throw against this strategic operation. I doubt if a half a dozen shots were fired. The Murmansk River was the more famous of the two convoy routes because there the Allies lost ships like peanuts. This command got a lot of attention after the war. When I finally caught up to it myself, I knew that the kids from that region would become deeply attached to the GI’s stationed there. Convoy was a kid who spoke as a kid who encounter GI’s always do—Korean kids, Japanese kids, Vietnam kids—all of them pick up the American slang. It was cute hearing them speak that way.
[Spoiler Warning—In this paragraph, Milton Caniff freely discusses specific plot points from The Gumps (1927), Terry and the Pirates (1941) and Steve Canyon (1979).]
I like Convoy quite a bit. In Steve Canyon she has appeared as a young girl, and older person, an intellectual and then as a lawyer, the strong leader of the Black Widows. This latter role occurred during the period that women of Middle Eastern countries were allowed to become doctors and lawyers. When these countries went back to the veilas part of the campaign to reject Western influences several years ago, Women who had become well-known intellectuals were just murdered. Prostitution and intellect were the two things that could get them shot. I read in the newspapers how these women were trapped in this situation. The Black widows thing grew out of this. It’s the old Mark of Zorro theme with these woman killing and then moving away in those black outfits. It’s still good if you can bring it off. So in a 1979 Canyon sequence I staged, Convoy is kidnapped and tortured by Madame Lynx. I did it to bring out the Molly Picher in Convoy, show her really in command without a consort. I was developing her for a major role. She could be another Dragon Lady, but it caused a lot of annoyance. It caused the Des Moines Register Tribune, for example, to cancel. I knew this might happen, but I didn’t want to pussyfoot. I thought it was gutsy. There were a lot of letters against the torture, but every opposing letter you get means that lots of people who don’t write letters are looking at it. All I wanted was a shot in the arm, as sometimes occurs in plays and movies, where things are predictable, and then all of a sudden someone like Mary Gold [The Gumps, 1927] or Raven Sherman [Terry and the Pirates, 1941] is killed off. We cartoonists do those things deliberately! There wasn’t anything unusual about the torture, but people talk about that part were Convoy was hung up by her hair. I based that from research on a Ringling Bros.-Barnum and Baily circus act. I ave pictures of it. And when I would receive a really nasty letter, I’d runn off a Xerox copy and send it t the offended person pointing out that: “It improves your hair—strengthens the roots!”
CAPTAIN AKOOLA: Captain Akoola is the first real Russian operative to appear in Steve Canyon. “Akoola” means shark in Russian. Now the Russians have always made a big noise about their women doing various things, as well they should, so why not make one a commander of a submarine? In 1948 the idea was unheard of, but now that the United States and Russia have put women in space, maybe a female sub commander isn’t so far-fetched. The fact that she’s a pretty woman operative helps. The Mata Hari scene grows out of that. I modelled Captain Akoola after my wife Bunny, but then Bunny has been the model for most of my female characters at one time or another. She’s here. The price is right. But Captain Akoola returns later. I used her again. And the second appearance is always better than the first.