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!

January 1947.

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

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I didn’t read any Steve Canyon last night, but I did flip through some backissues of Comics Revue.

The Milton Caniff/Steve Canyon cover of issue #8 was put together from a syndicate advertising package. The only cover drawn by Caniff specifically for Comics Revue appeared on issue #21. (It is also the only story in which Milton Caniff appears as a character.) Issue #30 was the Milton Caniff tribute issue. (The strips inside were from July 1986 through January 1987.)

Comics Revue featured the last 4½ years of Steve Canyon in issues #4-48. The strip returned in #77, picking up with the 1976 strips where The Menomonee Falls Gazette left off when it ceased publication. When Caniff was hospitalized toward the end of his life, he had trouble meeting his deadlines, forcing his syndicate to reprint a story from 1948 with a new framing sequence. That story ran from mid-March to early April 1988, and was reprinted in Comics Revue #46. Milton Caniff died on April 3 of that year, the final story ran from early April to early June, and the last strip was published on June 6, 1988. The story was reprinted in Comics Revue #47-48. Here’s what editor Rick Norwood had to say about it in issue #47.

“This issue begins the last Steve Canyon story. there are those who play down Milton Caniff’s contribution to comic art, pointing out that for most of his career he used assistants. So he did, and he never deniedit. But here we see a story produced almost entirely by assistants, as Milton Caniff was hospitalized with his final illness, and to those of us who have followed the strip for many years, the difference is unmistakable. At a glance, we can tell the art is by a different handeven though it is by the hand that had done Caniff’s pencil art for many years. And the story falters. For example, Caniff would never have left the little princess without a name.

Steve Canyon began in 1947, the last of the successful, great adventure strips. From that time to this, countless new adventure strips started and died. None of them come close to matching the 41-year run of Steve Canyon. There have been more than 160 Steve Canyon stories in daily and Sunday newspapers, and all but this one were written and drawn by Milton Caniff.”

You know, Jeff, what I love about seeing deep dives like this is the fact that there is SOOO much untapped material for us fans.

Thanks for doing this!

Thank Rob! He's the one doing the heavy lifting.

We're both doing it, Jeff! That's some great background material you're finding!

Whoops, Rob! Did not intend to slight your efforts at all. Great work.

Thanks, Sensei. Here's the latest!

September 1947. 

Using some clever methods, Steve & the crew track down Happy to where he'd been taken. Happy, meanwhile, has been put on truth serum in an effort to get him to spill secrets he doesn't know about US oil production. 

When the crew touches down, Steve goes to investigate on his own, and gets captured by the spies. Luckily, Madam Lynx has changed her stripes and saves him. Together, the free Happy while the crew, outside, calls in an airstrike. 

In another clever bit, Happy sabotages the spies' escape plane. It still flies alright, but it's now painted with some makeshift Japanese rising sun insignias, making it aircraft non grata in their home country. We're led to believe that they were shot down after their escape.

Meanehile, Steve & Co escape, but get blown off course by high winds... but they spot a runway at night to take the plane down to. But the runway is a sham -- there are lights rigged to stretch across a ravine, and Steve hits the brakes just in time!

Elements of Note:
I love Steve's detective work here. When Air Transport Command couldn't find the plane Happy was abducted on, Steve found it in the refueling logs -- and then, knowing the model of plane, calculated how far it could go on that amount of gas (making the assumption that it left it's home base with a full tank beforehand. They narrow it to 200 miles, and draw a circle on the map. 

Then Steve & crew fly in that circle, looking below. While they don't see the plane, (it's hidden inside the building) Steve has the crew drop soot from the sky, making the pattern of the plane's landing gear in the sand clear. Brilliant stuff. That, paired with Happy's sabotage mentioned above, makes this one of the cleverest Steve Canyon sequences so far. 

Arrivals:
Herr Splitz, a man with a red divided beard ("hair splits"), who's responsible for the phony runway.

Departures:
None, aside from Madam Lynx's shady superiors.  

In another clever bit, Happy sabotages the spies' escape plane. It still flies alright, but it's now painted with some makeshift Japanese rising son insignias, making it aircraft non grata in their home country. We're led to believe that they were shot down after their escape.

So over two years after Japan's surrender the "authorities" would just shoot down a plane with those markings without questioning it first?

Well, they weren't going back to the USA. Their destination is unspecified, but I get the impression it's Russia. 

Richard Willis said:

In another clever bit, Happy sabotages the spies' escape plane. It still flies alright, but it's now painted with some makeshift Japanese rising sun insignias, making it aircraft non grata in their home country. We're led to believe that they were shot down after their escape.

So over two years after Japan's surrender the "authorities" would just shoot down a plane with those markings without questioning it first?

Here is some BACKGROUND INFORMATION ON STEVE CANYON written by Milton Caniff specifically for the first issue of KSP’s Steve Canyon Magazine. It is in the form of a letter (dated January 12, 1947) written by Steve Canyon (333 E. 43rd St., New York, NY) to one Norman Naylor (144 Somers St., Hillsboro, OH). Enjoy.

Dear Spike:

Your good letter made me realize that I have not kept you up to date on me—and certain other events leading to the present state of the nation.

I had a pretty good football season at Ohio State in 1941. I made my letter and was just about to really hit the books before December finals when the Japanese began to play for keeps.

I never quite got back to the Hallowed Halls. A crown of us enlisted on December 8th and didn’t evem pick up out laundry.

I had my eye on the Air Corps for a long time. Red Hot types such as Flip Corkin and Dude Hennick had come back to the campus from time to time and we couldn’t get a Roger Wilco out of any of the chicks for weeks after those two fly-guys had burned up the course. They had trained at Randolph and Kelly and all of us wingless wonders lusted to follow in their slipstreams.

Those early months are something of a fog in retrospect. Lots of patriotic goings-on; feeling good in uniform; thinking you were going the Save the World for Democracy single-handed—with perhaps a minor assist from the Army, Navy, coast guard (and even the Marines).

I took Primary training at Tulsa, after I had learned a few left-foot, right-foot fundamentals from those old Regular Army drill sergeants who were keeping the guns warm until ’41. My particular gadfly had been in World war One—in the German Army!

The Primary training aircraft had a one-way speaker tube from the instructor in the front, to the earphones of the dumbjohn in the rear seat. The cadet could only listen, never comment. If the teacher became really angry at the clod, he would hold his end of the line (gosport) out into the wind and blow the novice’s ears out his eyeballs.

Most of us were not afraid of flying as such, because we dreaded being washed-out and having to face the folks back in the home town. We lost some men right away through accidents and such—learning early not to form too close friendships—when every flight was hazard duty.

We who survived Basic went on to Randolf Field, where the war merely accelerated the program which had been in being long before Pearl Harbor. It was here that we stopped thinking of ourselves as transplanted civilians playing War Games. The reasons for things, and the awful potential of the airplane for dealing death and destruction, began to creep into our collective consciousness.

Advanced training and getting out wings became a blur in the jam to turn out pilots—because the war was going badly on every front.

At First I was disappointed at landing in multi-engine transport, but as a result of being a freight jock I was on remote bases around the world long enough to qualify in nearly every aircraft in Uncle sugar’s arsenal—as well as learning the real estate which was later to be the stomping ground for HORIZONS UNLIMITED.

I stopped some enemy ordnance (nothing compared to what happened to some of the guys), but it gave me the chance to use Bill Mauldin’s great line of the dogface saying to the officer passing out medals “Just give me some aspirin—I already have a Purple Heart!”

Well, it’s all over now (?) and I have rounded up members of my old crews to start a civilian air service to fly people or stuff anywhere in the world. We have a great gal named FEETA-FEEETA (which is what they call the U.S. Marine guard (all natives) in American Samoa) to mind the home office—while we go out and make transportation history. We expect to become rich overnight!

Now, if I can afford a stamp to get this letter off to you…

Warm Best,

Steve

Sorry guys, skipped a day. To be honest, when Caniff lays on the dialect really thick, it's sometimes hard to power through the month -- especially as I tend to read these late at night.

October 1947.

Well, THIS one hits pretty close to home. Steve & Co. are captured by Herr Splitz, a double-bearded shirtless fat man who causes airplane crashes and trades the scrap for diamonds. Splitz is interested in Madame Lynx, but he sentences Steve to be flogged. It looks like when the storm blew the plane off course, they wound up in Africa... Splitz's henchmen are all black men in fezzes and native garb. 

Steve manages not to be whipped (after a clever ploy by Happy and the crew) but when a tribal chief, Chief Bu-Ong, comes to visit Herr Splitz to trade diamonds, Steve & Happy are thrown into one jail, the crew into another. Madame Lynx steals a watch and some other things to trade and sneaks off to see the chief himself. She trades a watch for some diamonds, and then is pressured to sit down and have a meal with him. But the chief gets sick, and she leaves. (Bu-Ong soon dies.) She helps break Steve out of jail, trying to convince him to fly away with her. He'll have no part of her plan if it leaves his friends behind, and as they argue, she collapses. 

It turns out she's feverish... with cholera!

Steve and happy hadn't eaten that day, but the rest of the crew did, and all come down with it too, as Steve (and a weakening Two-way) try to get a signal out for assistance. But one of Splitz's men shoots the transmitter out of Steve's hands just as he finally gets a signal out. 

Steve argues with Splitz to get a doctor in, but Splitz won't hear it -- his close bodyguards aren't eating the tainted food, and he doesn't care who else gets it... he can always get more workers. That sounds familiar to Steve...and it sounds pretty familiar in the here and now, too. Here's a taste.

Meanwhile, Happy has painted "KOLERA HERE" on the roof of the longhouse as a signal to any rescue planes. And one's coming in... but getting shot at by Splitz's men as the month ends!

Elements of Note.
Hmmm... a plague moving  through the camp, as people unwittingly are contaminated? A callous leader who doesn't care who dies, as long as he gets his money? Pure fantasy!

I loved the Sunday page where Steve might get whipped. Splitz offers him a deal: He'll throw some dice, and Steve will guess the number on them. If he guesses right, he won't be whipped... but if he guesses wrong, the number Steve guesses will be added to the number on the dice. Happy keeps signalling to him what the number is "He'll be naturally cut to ribbons!" = natural 7. "May snakes bite my eyes out!" = snake eyes/2.  Happy mentions Decatur, Illonois, signalling an 8. Splitz shuts him up, but he signals five to the crew, and one cries out that he's getting a fever = 5. A great scene of high-stakes craps.

Arrivals: 
Herr Splitz really makes his presence known here. Also, Chief Bu-Ong.

Departures: 
Chief-Bu-Ong, we hardly knew ya. 

“Well, THIS one hits pretty close to home... a plague moving through the camp, as people unwittingly are contaminated? A callous leader who doesn't care who dies, as long as he gets his money? Pure fantasy!”

My thoughts exactly!

I’ve read up through September 1948 at this point, and I have a few “color commentary” posts already prepared. I can hardly wait until you meet… no, no… mustn’t get ahead of the discussion.

I've fallen behind a bit. Let's see if I can do two today.

November 1947.

The month starts as the medical plane lands, piloted by the goofy Fireball Feeney, and carrying the doctor... who Steve is astonished to discover is...A WOMAN! It's Deen Wilderness, making her debut. (Incidentally, Deen's assistant, a black man, is seen co-piloting the plane; I'm not sure if he ever gets a name, but at least he's given something to do.)

Steve collapses with exhaustion, and while he recuperates, we start to get a power struggle between Deen Wilderness and Herr Splitz, with Happy Easter giving Deen backup with his rifle. Eventually Deen is taken hostage (her assistant gives his life trying to help her escape) and Fireball is forced to fly her, Splitz, and Madame Lynx out of there... but Happy Easter stows away. 

Happy & Deen take care of Lynx -- whose cholera is relapsing --  and then Deen pretends to inject Splitz with cholera (it's really distilled water), so that he'll let Feeney land the plane. Once on the ground, Splitz and Lynx are taken by the authorities. Deen, Easter, and Feeney return to the camp, where Steve has recovered, and he and Deen discover a shared love of puns. And everyone discovers Splitz hid his diamonds in his top hat, which Feeney lifted from him after he was arrested! 

Finally, plans are a-brewing to make Deen move on from the camp into the Middle East... and Steve will be going with her, as a combination bodyguard and counterspy! (Sometimes Caniff plays the spy stuff so close to the vest, not wanting to name actual countries, that it's tough to figure out the underlying motivation for this stuff. But it's fun nonetheless!)

Elements of Note:
Steve and Deen really go hard, flirting with puns. Once there's no disease to cure, she's so much sillier and lighter-hearted than his other love interests. 

Fireball Feeney has a really goofy design, in a shirt that reads Washington across the chest. Is it college gear? I'm not sold on this guy yet. He seems a pale echo of Hotshot Charlie from Terry.

Arrivals:
Deen Wilderness, Fireball Feeney

Departures:
Madame Lynx, Herr Splitz (I'm not sorry to be rid of his accent!)


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