Skip to content

Marvel Comics



CAPTAIN AMERICA #117 (cover art: GENE COLAN, pencils; JOE SINNOTT, inks; JOHN ROMITA, “Marvelization”)

Before the late 1960s, blacks in comic books were – if featured at all – stereotypical, token characters (usually used as thugs or for comedy relief). With the debut of T’Challa, the Black Panther (in FANTASTIC FOUR #52, cover-dated July 1966), the comics industry finally began to see beyond the limited scope of how a dwindling section of the American people looked at – not only blacks, but Asians, Latinos and so many more – the minority populace of this great melting pot of a society. Not to say that the change was immediate or without a few shortcomings. For quite a while, black heroes (and villains) were given names like the Black Racer (from Jack Kirby’s NEW GODS and Fourth World titles), Black Goliath (with Hank Pym and Clint Barton both abandoning the moniker and costume, why not just “Goliath?”) and Black Lightning. Marvel’s second major black character, the Falcon, premiered in CAPTAIN AMERICA number 117 in mid-1969.

CAPTAIN AMERICA #117, page 5 (written by STAN LEE, art by GENE COLAN and JOE SINNOTT)

Continuing a story arc that saw Cap fighting his nemesis, the Red Skull, and seemingly defeating him, Steve now finds himself trapped on a remote island in the Skull’s body by a transference (the Skull now occupying the body of Captain America) via the Cosmic Cube with everybody from local constabulary to SHIELD to the Avengers looking for the villain. As the Skull, Cap comes across a group of former Skull henchmen – skilled assassins and brilliant scientists, all – calling themselves the Exiles; as the good Captain finds himself up a tree (literally), he strains to overhear what the group is up to and, the victim of more Cosmic Cube chicanery, is uprooted from his surveillance point right into the pathway of the rogues. With murderous intent, the Exiles use their assassinating prowess on the Skull-shaped Captain America. Stunned and unprepared to fight the group, he is overwhelmed by the weapons of the lethal six before he is saved by a giant bird of prey… a falcon! And, all of that is in the first nine pages!

CAPTAIN AMERICA #117, page 14 (written by STAN LEE, art by GENE COLAN and JOE SINNOTT)

While the Skull is in the body of Captain America, he does some very un-Captain America things like saying that he has no need for a sidekick, something that will lead to traumatic circumstances for Rick Jones in a later issue. Back on the island, Cap suddenly remembers that the Red Skull’s frightful features are, in fact, merely a mask; he removes the ghastly face and ponders if the Exiles had ever seen the Skull’s real face. After applying some clay and remodeling his features (just in case), he comes across Redwing, the falcon, and his trainer. After a brief conversation (including, of course, an origin story for his character), the bird’s Harlem-born trainer (I’m sure you all know that man to be Sam Wilson, but he isn’t named until the next issue) – unknowingly in the presence of the Living Legend of World War II – suggests the pair team up to take down the septet of assassins even as he laments the fact that the island folk are too afraid to join a cause that would lead to their ultimate freedom. Steve tells the falconer that the islanders need a symbol to rally around… a figure in a costume. Our guerilla fighter’s reaction is… decidedly negative: “Me, a costumed clown? Don’t put me on, man!” However, with some light cajoling from the – as yet unknown – heroic figure before him and with the murderous Exiles breathing down their necks, he finally does acquiesce and, in the story’s final panel, the Falcon is born!

CAPTAIN AMERICA #117, page 19 (written by STAN LEE, art by GENE COLAN and JOE SINNOTT)

There is so much to like about this story (and a few cringe-worthy moments, as well), from the beautiful Gene Colan art – with embellishment by Joe Sinnott – to a nearly hyperbolic-free script from Stan Lee to the introduction of one of the most important (yeah, I said it!) new characters in the still-fledgling Marvel Comics stable. Thankfully, much like he did with the T’Challa character a few years earlier, Stan did not go for the stereotypical shuck-and-jive parlance of most black people in comics (and, indeed, in most popular media); nope, Sam Wilson was what one would (and should) expect: an educated, well-spoken member of the working class. This obviously became the norm… eventually, as the old stereotypes faded away. Unfortunately, this new comic book normal was brutally slow in taking place (“Sweet Christmas!,” anyone?), but the seeds planted with first, the Black Panther, and then, the Falcon, has had far-reaching consequences in comic books with creations like DC’s Jon Stewart and so many others. And, it wasn’t just characters: There was suddenly an influx of great artists and writers of color – again, not just black, but Asians and Hispanics, as well – leading to a sort of renaissance in the industry. But… back to the story! The arc ends (sort of) in issue 119, where 11 pages in, Sam finally realizes that his trainer and ally is actually Captain America! The Cosmic Cube subplot marches on, though, as MODOK and AIM become involved in the search for the Red Skull and the Cube.

CAPTAIN AMERICA #117, page 20 (written by STAN LEE, art by GENE COLAN and JOE SINNOTT)

This issue and the entire story arc are reprinted in various Marvel Silver Age collections, both hardcover and trade paperbacks; one of the most recent reprints was a 2022 facsimile edition of the original book. With the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Sam Wilson finally (and reluctantly) taking up the mantle, the shield and the name of Captain America (and CAPTAIN AMERICA: BRAVE NEW WORLD coming from Marvel Studios in 2025), it’s nice to look back at the humble origin story that brought the Falcon to the Earth-616 comic book universe 55 years ago.


(JACK KIRBY and others; 1535 pages; DC COMICS, 2017) A REVIEW FROM THE VAULT

Okay… I know that I’m approaching the precipice of sacrilege here but, I’ve never been a big fan of Jack Kirby’s style. I’m not disparaging what the man meant (and still means) in the creative realm of comic books; I mean, this is the guy that co-created Captain America and much of the Marvel Universe as we know it. Don’t get me wrong, I read all of those books and, believe it or not, the very first comic I bought – 1963… I was four or five years old – was purchased because of a Kirby cover image (a five year old issue of DC’s SHOWCASE starring CHALLENGERS OF THE UNKNOWN showing the heroes being menaced by a giant kraken). But, the artists that kept me interested in comics offered a more realistic vision (or, at least, as realistic as one can get depicting muscular men and women in brightly colored spandex beating the crap out of each other for twenty or so pages): Neal Adams and Gil Kane were always my favorites and, eventually, I came to appreciate the work of guys like John Buscema, Gene Colan, Jim Aparo and so many others. When Jack bolted from Marvel for DC Comics and more creative freedom in the early 1970s, I wasn’t into much of what DC was doing (other than the stuff that Kane and Adams were drawing) and had very little interest in Jack Kirby’s wildly confusing titles. A couple of years later, I started to get into what DC was doing and I even gave Kirby another look. MISTER MIRACLE (which was actually part of the Fourth World saga) was pretty cool and, by the time KAMANDI, THE LAST BOY ON EARTH and THE DEMON came along, I may not have been hooked but, I was reading them… actually READING them, rather than just looking at the “purdy pitchers.”

THE FOURTH WORLD OMNIBUS (First Issues: SUPERMAN’S PAL, JIMMY OLSEN #133, FOREVER PEOPLE #1, NEW GODS #1, MISTER MIRCALE #1) (Pencils by JACK KIRBY, inks and corrections by Various Artists)

Part of Kirby’s deal with DC was that he got to choose an ongoing title to take over working on. So, of course, he chose one of the biggies, right? Nope. He picked a title that was selling just enough copies to keep it form being canceled: SUPERMAN’S PAL, JIMMY OLSEN. He slowly started introducing the concept that would become known as the Fourth World in that title. He eventually expanded the idea to include three titles which he created, FOREVER PEOPLE, NEW GODS and the previously mentioned MISTER MIRACLE. My take on these titles at the time (based almost entirely on the covers in the spinner rack) was that an old dude was attempting (and failing) to be hip and cool with stories about hippies and communes and peace and love. What I did actually read of those titles kinda confirmed that assumption. So, then, why am I bothering to write about something that I summarily dismissed nearly fifty years ago? Well, for starters, what is probably the King’s greatest creation from that period in his career has gone on to be considered one of the ultimate villains in the entire DC Universe and was featured in one of the best story arcs in SUPERMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES; taking the concepts of the Fourth World and the consummate evil that is Darkseid, expanding and including them in a lot of the major series at DC (Superman, Justice League and others) prompted me to take another look at the original work. Plus… I got a really awesome deal on this monster of a collection!

THE FOURTH WORLD OMNIBUS (JACK KIRBY and His Creations) (uncredited photo; self-portrait)

Beginning with SUPERMAN’S PAL, JIMMY OLSEN number 133, Kirby took control of the wheel, careening wildly across several genres, leaving behind – for the most part – the sophomoric gimmicks that most of the Superman titles (and, let’s be honest, a lot of DC’s super-hero books) had been subjected to for nearly twenty years. There was a problem with Jack’s work, though: His Superman didn’t look like Superman (in retrospect, I gotta say that his version of the Last Son of Krypton looked a whole lot like one of his Marvel creations, Wyatt Wingfoot). So, DC sicced their versions of Marvel’s John Romita (who was charged with giving the characters there a uniform look, no matter who the artist was), Al Plastino and Murphy Anderson, on Kirby’s Supes. The pair were charged with redrawing every image of Superman (and Clark Kent… even the book’s titular character) over every one of his appearances in a Jack Kirby book! There are examples of Kirby’s original pencils in a special section in the back of this tome and, yeah, they don’t look like the Superman that readers had become accustomed to for decades but (and I can’t believe I’m writing this), they weren’t as horrible as the powers-that-be at DC made them out to be… just different. Sometimes, the King’s swerves side-swiped a few other characters, as well. For instance, Boston Brand (Deadman) showed up in an issue or two of NEW GODS and looked nothing like the Neal Adams version that we’d all come to know and love; comedian Don Rickles guest-starred in a couple of issues of SUPERMAN’S PAL, JIMMY OLSEN. At times, it seemed that Kirby sorta got lost in his own storylines, taking a road less (or never) traveled and forcing his characters and his readers to adjust on the fly. It definitely made for a rather confusing, often bumpy, never boring ride.

THE FOURTH WORLD OMNIBUS (JACK KIRBY original Superman art next to AL PLASTINO and MURPHY ANDERSON corrections)

These stories were very much a product of their time and should be consumed as such. Like I mentioned earlier, they seemed very much like ol’ Jack was trying way too hard to be hip and relevant for the youngsters who read comic books in the early ‘70s. As with most of his work throughout his career, the Fourth World saga explored the eternal struggle of good versus evil, both externally (the New Gods of New Genesis versus Darkseid and his Apokolips minions) and internally (the conflicted natures of the main hero, Orion). There are definitely similarities between the early stories of Joe Simon and Jack’s star-spangled hero, Captain America, and his war against Adolph Hitler, with Darkseid the sadistic madman and dictator and Orion as the noble hero seeking to stamp out injustice and intolerance wherever it reared its ugly head. The artwork was the usual over-the-top variety of cartoony stuff that Kirby excelled at, with blunted fingers and large, wide-opened mouths and his take on “Mod” clothing styles. The plots, likewise, were over-the-top and infinitely more confusing than they needed to be while the writing was… well, the King coulda used some help with the dialogue. He really needed someone like Bob Haney or Gardner Fox to rein in some of the hipster slang and overwrought verbiage that his characters were spewing on a regular basis. Giving the man editorial reign over his own work may not have been the best idea to ever come out of the executive offices at 909 Third Avenue in New York. Even with those complaints – more like observations, actually – looking at the whole thing collected in one 1500 page book is impressive! One of Jack’s long-time Marvel inkers, Vince Coletta, began the wild ride with him. I always liked Coletta’s work, thin-lined and classy; most fans couldn’t stand him… especially over Jack Kirby. I sort of understand that because Kirby’s style is very strong, with thick lines and not a lot of intricacy. Somewhere along the line, Vince gave way to Mike Royer, who became the go-to inker on most of the King’s work from 1971 forward; according to Kirby’s production assistant, Mark Evanier, he (Evanier) was instrumental in the artist’s decision to move on from Coletta. It’s fairly apparent that Royer was a big fan and knew how to bring out the best in Kirby’s work, with thick lines and large patches of black.

THE FOURTH WORLD OMNIBUS (The incarnate, merciless evil of DARKSEID) (NEW GODS #7, page 5, panel 1; written by JACK KIRBY, art by JACK KIRBY and MIKE ROYER)

Okay… the question, then, is why did I ultimately choose to pick up this admittedly hefty tome (aside from the bargain price) and delve into something that I couldn’t get into in my youth? Obviously, Darkseid had a lot to do with it and, as I said, I was kinda digging MISTER MIRACLE as that title seemed to be (mostly) outside of the major Fourth World continuity. Of course, most of the characters eventually became integrated into the main DC Universe, even making appearances in those classic DC animated series of the ‘90s and aughts (BATMAN, SUPERMAN, JUSTICE LEAGUE and JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED). The animated versions are what really hooked me and nudged me to take another look at Kirby’s wild world. As influential as these titles have become, they really weren’t around too long: NEW GODS, which Jack envisioned as a limited series (a virtually unheard of concept in the early 1970s), lasted several issues longer than he had intended because the DC higher-ups wanted to ride the success train as long as possible, forcing Jack to bring in characters like Deadman to pad the story. With Kirby (and the readers) losing interest, the title was gone after eleven decidedly uneven issues. FOREVER PEOPLE, likewise, was gone after number 11; MISTER MIRACLE, a more traditional super-hero adventure book, hung around until issue 18. So, I guess the reason I decided to reevaluate my position on these titles may just be the fact that I had the whole saga piled together in one place. Don’t get me wrong, it is still a confusing mass (mess?) of cosmic proportions but, in the pantheon of regrettable comic book series, it hardly makes a blip. These books are more a product of a man with epic, sweeping ideas left pretty much to his own devices and, even after all this time, they simply cannot be ignored.


(Roy Thomas, foreword/Stan Lee, Al Feldstein, Joe Maneely, Jack Kirby and others; MARVEL PUBLISHING; 256 pages; 2009) A REVIEW FROM THE VAULT

Black Knight Yellow Claw

What we now know as Marvel Comics went through several permutations before they “Made Mine Marvel.” The publishing company started by Martin Goodman started as an outlet for pulp magazines before branching out into comics in 1939, as a way to profit from the popularity of the world’s first super-hero, Superman. The comics wing of Goodman’s “empire” was initially called Timely Comics (with several other companies under the larger umbrella of Timely). In 1951, Goodman hit the reset button as the Golden Age of Comic Book Super-Heroes came to an end, renamed the company Atlas and started throwing every genre of book against the wall to see what would stick. Ten years later, with DC Comics/National Publications again leading the way with a resurgence (and updates) of their super-hero line, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby ushered in the “Marvel Age of Comics” with the premiere issue of FANTASTIC FOUR.

BLACK KNIGHT #3, September 1955 interior panel (artwork by: JOE MANEELY)
BLACK KNIGHT #3, September 1955 interior panel (artwork by: JOE MANEELY)

Now, Marvel has begun to dip into that deep (if convoluted) history with hardbound reprints of, not only the Golden Age Timely books, but also the Atlas titles that straddled the Golden and Silver Ages. The “throw everything against the wall and let’s see what sticks” attitude of the publisher is certainly on display with this collection, which features the full (and, unfortunately, short) runs of two of the oddest titles ever scheduled by a front-line comics publisher: BLACK KNIGHT (five issues, beginning in 1955) and YELLOW CLAW (four issues, starting the following year). Now, let’s be clear here… “odd” doesn’t necessarily mean bad or unreadable, just… well… odd! And, as you know if you’ve ever picked up a comic book, characters and concepts never really die. The Yellow Claw character (based on Sax Rhomer’s pulp creation, Fu Manchu) made a comeback in the ’60s as a villainous foil for SHIELD and Captain America, among others. Black Knight was reincarnated as a villain (Nathan Garrett, a descendant of the original Knight, Sir Percy of Scandia) in the Giant Man strip in TALES TO ASTONISH, meeting his demise against Iron Man in TALES OF SUSPENSE.Garrett’s nephew, Dane Whitman, took up the mantle, restoring the heroic name by becoming a Defender and, eventually, a member-in-good-standing of the Avengers.

BLACK KNIGHT #1, May 1955 cover (artwork by: JOE MANEELY)
BLACK KNIGHT #1, May 1955 cover (artwork by: JOE MANEELY)

As was the standard during those days, comic books generally consisted of four or five stories with an average length of five pages, as well as a two-page “text” story (to give them some type of legitimacy to “grown-ups,” I assume). BLACK KNIGHT featured three Knight tales, alongside one story featuring a character called “The Crusader.” For the first three issues, every single page was lavishly illustrated by a man affectionately called Atlas’ “workhorse,” Joe Maneely. Maneely brought a depth to the medium that few artists of the day could duplicate. His work appeared in western, horror, science fiction, war, crime, satire and just about every other genre book of the time. And, without exception, each page was more beautiful than the last. He was also on hand for the first issue of YELLOW CLAW, drawing the three Claw stories there, before turning the pencil over to Jack Kirby.

YELLOW CLAW #2, December 1956 cover (artwork by JOHN SEVERIN)
YELLOW CLAW #2, December 1956 cover (artwork by JOHN SEVERIN)

The debut issues of both titles are as famous for the writers (who were rarely given due credit at Atlas) as for the artists, or for that matter, the characters. Joe Maneely always signed the splash panel of his work and, if you check closely on BLACK KNIGHT #1, you’ll see that someone else signed his name above: Stan Lee. Before comics began printing full credits, Stan was making a name for himself by letting the reader know who was responsible for what they were reading. Check out some of those Atlas monster books: Stan’s name is right there with Ditko, Ayers and Kirby (and sometimes, if the artist didn’t sign, Stan’s was the only name there). YELLOW CLAW #1 was written by Al Feldstein, a writer and artist from the glory days of EC Comics. His stories were always dark and didn’t always have a happy ending. This made the menace of the Claw’s character almost palpable and the chance that evil would ultimately triumph over good a very real possibility. Where the Black Knight stories dealt with the Arthurian legends of Camelot and the Knights of the Round Table, Yellow Claw walked a fine line between horror and Cold War espionage (leaning heavily on the latter in the first issue). So… enough of the preliminaries, eh? Let’s get into the specifics about this MARVEL MASTERWORKS edition.

BLACK KNIGHT #3, September 1955 interior splash page (artwork by: JOE MANEELY)
BLACK KNIGHT #3, September 1955 interior splash page (artwork by: JOE MANEELY)

The first part of the book (after an insightful and entertaining foreword by the legendary comic book creator, Roy Thomas) covers BLACK KNIGHT. The Knight tales are enjoyable stories filled with swords and sorcery, lances and horses and, of course, damsels in distress. In the first story (a long, 10-page origin story), Sir Percy is chosen by King Arthur’s confidant and mage, Merlin, to become the Black Knight, a protector of King and Realm. Every good hero should have a secret identity and the Knight is no exception. In true Clark Kent fashion, Percy is portrayed as a somewhat bumbling coward. His appearance at Court is more of a foppish boob than anything else, allowing himself to be laughed at and pushed around by the evil Mordred and his loyal minions. Of course, the Knight proves his worth in battle against the evil Mordred and is knighted by Arthur. In the second story (this one runs eight pages), the Knight’s sword is empowered by the magic of Merlin… as long as he wields the “Black Blade” only in service of the King. The third story is an origin story of sorts for the Crusader, a character fighting the Saracens in the Holy Land during… what else?… the Crusades. While the length (five pages) doesn’t allow much in the way of character development or plot (or action, or story or a whole lot of anything else), it does kinda whet the appetite for future installments.

BLACK KNIGHT #4, November 1955 interior splash page for The Crusader (artwork by: JOHN ROMITA)
BLACK KNIGHT #4, November 1955 interior splash page for The Crusader (artwork by: JOHN ROMITA)

With issue number two, the stories return to the mean… nothing spectacular outside of the beautiful Maneely artwork. Each issue now features three 6-page Knight tales plus the five-page Crusader piece. For what it’s worth, the Crusader, with its continuing storyline, offers a bit more with each new episode. Does this mean that Stan Lee was only responsible for penning the first issue? It would seem to be the case, even though he may have stayed around for the Crusader. I bring up that possibility only because of the linear story-telling throughout the series’ run. By the fourth issue, Joe Maneely was gone. The Black Knight stories were now illustrated by Fred Kida; the Crusader has some great, stylized work from John Romita. Kida’s art is actually pretty good; his shortcoming – compared to Maneely – is more in composition and layout. Romita is… well… Romita! Number five has another new artist, Syd Shores. Again, Syd’s work is serviceable, maybe a step or two down from Kida. Part of the problem could be – at least on the Knight stories – is the fact that another artist, Christopher Rule, inked Shores’ pencils. On the Crusader, Syd inked himself and attempted to maintain the more stylish work of Romita’s story from the previous issue.

YELLOW CLAW #1, October 1956 interior splash page (artwork by: JOE MANEELY)
YELLOW CLAW #1, October 1956 interior splash page (artwork by: JOE MANEELY)

YELLOW CLAW is a completely different beast but, you find yourself immediately drawn in by that beautiful Joe Maneely art. The Yellow Claw is a 150 year old – possibly other-worldly (check the pointy ears) – scientific genius with great powers of suggestion. For whatever reason, he has a mad on for the good ol’ US of… and, seeking to overthrow all of Western civilization, comes up against FBI operative Jimmy Woo. A warning for the Politically Correct among you: all of the Asian and German (the Claw’s second-in-command is a Nazi war criminal) characters are stereotypical 1950s depictions; my suggestion: Get over it and enjoy these stories for what they are. What they are, at least in the first issue, is Cold War spy stuff with the Communists looking for ways to gain control of the American government, utilizing the nefarious Claw and his minions to accomplish that goal. The fact that they also have supernatural elements – due, no doubt, to Al Feldstein’s creative writing – only adds to the fun. The first issue features three Yellow Claw/Jimmy Woo stories (two 6-pagers and one 7-pager) and an unrelated four-page “foreign intrigue” tale, with art by Werner Roth.

YELLOW CLAW #4, April 1957 interior splash page (artwork by: JACK KIRBY, pencils and JOHN SEVERIN, inks)
YELLOW CLAW #4, April 1957 interior splash page (artwork by: JACK KIRBY, pencils and JOHN SEVERIN, inks)

If the entire concept of YELLOW CLAW was something completely different, the final three issues were something else altogether. Before the second installment of the book came out, Feldstein was offered and accepted the editorial reins of EC’s MAD, leading to the entire creative team being replaced by the immortal Jack Kirby. Now, for me, Kirby has always been hit and miss… especially his writing (I enjoyed a lot of his 1970s DC Comics stuff, particularly THE DEMON, but could not get behind his run on the Losers). Anyway, Kirby quickly turned the series in a more sci-fi direction. The stories were shorter (the second issue featured three 5-page tales and one 4-page piece), the art panels larger (partially to highlight Kirby’s pencil work, partially – and this is conjecture on my part – to hide his script-writing shortcomings) and the stereotypes intensified. “Footsteps In the Dark” is a four page stand-alone, totally uncredited spy story that kinda sticks out amidst the over-the-top Kirby pages. The final two issues follow suit, page-wise. The non-Claw tales are, respectively, “The Trap” (art by George Roussos) and “The Locked Room” (with weird, Ditko-like art from Manny Stallman). What may have been an attempt to rein in Kirby’s bizarre style resulted in the final issue being inked by John Severin. In my humble opinion, inking Kirby’s pencils takes a special type of artist; these artists are few and far between… Vince Coletta on Thor and Mike Royer on a lot of his ’70s DC output come to mind. Severin over Kirby was an absolutely genius pairing. Unfortunately, I think this may be the only time this combination worked together. As a bonus to Severin fans, he was also responsible (pencils and inks) for the covers of issues two and four. Sub-Mariner creator Bill Everett produced a beautiful cover for number three, by the way.

Artist Joe Maneely, circa 1945 (uncredited photo)
Artist Joe Maneely, circa 1945 (uncredited photo)

As the incredible artwork of Joe Maneely served as a focal point to this collection, there is also a 12-page essay by comics historian, Doctor Michael J Vassallo, called “Joe Maneely: Adventure Comics,” as business cards for Maneely’s studio were printed. It is an in-depth examination of the man, his work and his life, which was cut far too short, at the age of 32, in a 1958 commuter train accident. His is one of the great “What if… ” stories in Marvel Comics history. Add this special feature to the nine issues worth of comics and this is definitely a collection worth owning.


(Doug Moench and Various; 448 pages; DC COMICS, 2011)

Showcase Doc Savage

Publisher Henry W Ralston with an assist from editor John L Nanovic (they of publishing house Street and Smith) created what was, for all intents and purpose, the first “super” hero, Doc Savage. Lester Dent brought the character to life in the pages of DOC SAVAGE MAGAZINE beginning in 1933. Since then, Doc and his aides (later to be dubbed the Fabulous Five) have appeared in just about every medium imaginable: radio, film, several reprint series in book form (Bantam Books began publishing paperback versions in 1966) and, of course, comic books (there were even two attempts to launch daily newspaper comic strips, the first written by Dent).


From 1975 through 1977, Marvel Comics printed an out-size black and white magazine version of their moderately successful color book. Both the books were canceled in 1977, Marvel having lost the comic book publishing rights to the character. DC Comics obtained the comic book rights in 2010, no doubt smelling the same kind of money that Marvel sniffed in the ’70s: a movie tie-in! Though the movie is still in production, DC went ahead with several titles starring Doc (a one-shot with Batman, a mini-series called FIRST WAVE and his own title, which lasted ’til mid-2012). Apparently, the publishing rights included previous comic book versions, including the ’70s Marvel books. And so, here we are, examining this SHOWCASE PRESENTS… collection of the eight-issue black and white series.

I remember buying these mags (and the color book, too) back in the day when I bought everything with a Marvel or DC logo on it. I bought, but very rarely read. Sure, I gave a cursory look at the innards of the books, perusing the art and scanning the word balloons for the mere basic plot, but I almost never read an entire issue of anything outside THE AVENGERS or TOMB OF DRACULA. Okay… that was a long-winded way of me telling you that though I’m familiar with the material, this is the first time I’ve actually read the things from front to back. I gotta say that, for the most part, I like what I’m reading. The artwork is all over the place, with most of it tied together by the inks of Tony DeZuniga, whose guazy, thin-lined approach was much in demand at DC (where, as both penciller and inker, he co-created Jonah Hex with writer John Albano) through-out the 1970s. He, obviously, also did a smattering of work for Marvel.

DOC SAVAGE #5, page 14, panel 3 (script by DOUG MOENCH, artwork by TONY DEZUNIGA)
DOC SAVAGE #5, page 14, panel 3 (script by DOUG MOENCH, artwork by TONY DEZUNIGA)

Doug Moench, who got his start in the 1960s at Warren Publishing (doing horror for CREEPY, EERIE and VAMPIRELLA) and created the Deathlok and Moon Knight characters while at Marvel, wrote the stories. They were all originals featuring Doc and other characters created in the ’30s and ’40s by Lester Dent or his surrogates. Moench’s work is faithful to the pulp adventures and are generally fun to read. He was given the chance to develop character and plot a little bit more than a standard 20 page comic, as most of the stories are over 50 pages in length. My favorite of the nine yarns presented here is the second, “Hell-Reapers At the Heart of Paradise.” Featuring Vikings, pirates, a mysterious blond and a cavern at the center of the Earth inhabited by ticked-off lizard people, and great art with pencils and inks by DeZuniga, what’s not to love? Other highlights include the John Buscema-drawn (except for, oddly, one page penciled by John Romita) first issue feature, “ The Doom On Thunder Isle”; “A Most Singular Writ of Habeas Corpus,” a solo tale from issue #3 featuring Doc’s specialist in chemistry, Andrew Blodgett Mayfair (Monk, as the others call him), with art by Rico Rival; and “The Mayan Mutations,” again featuring the art of Tony DeZuniga, from issue #7. While DeZuniga is responsible for most of the artwork, there are others who contribute, some more admirably than others. Buscema returns for the lead story in #3, the wonderful Marie Severin pencils the first eight pages of “Ghost-Pirates From the Beyond” for the fourth issue, and the usually solid Ernie Chan offers a less-than-stellar job on the final issue’s tale, “The Crimson Plague.” Chan’s art isn’t offensive enough to totally wreck the story, though, as it holds up as well as the others.

I am a huge fan of DC’s SHOWCASE PRESENTS… archival reprint series. The books, while all are printed in black and white, are almost all over 500 pages and offer a chronological look at most of the strips from the Silver (and a few from the Bronze) Age of DC Comics. They are a great way to collect some old favorites or familiarize yourself with titles and characters you may not recognize. Reprint agreements between DC and the writers and artists in later years has, unfortunately, rendered some titles unavailable but – I’ll take what I can get… they are that good! This one, though, is a bit odd since they were originally published by Marvel, is no exception.


(Ron Zimmerman/John Severin; MARVEL COMICS FIRST EDITION Hard Cover, 2010 – collecting RAWHIDE KID Volume 3, Issues 1-5, 2003) A REVIEW FROM THE VAULTS


The Rawhide Kid debuted in 1955, a time when parents (and a few United States Congressmen) were worried that the horror and crime comics of the day were seriously warping the fragile minds of America’s youth (much like the thought Nazis decried the violence in the Looney Tunes cartoons and forced all of the best parts to be edited out for television viewing during the ’80s). But I digress. Comic historians have debated who actually created and wrote those early issues, but betting men usually cite either the legendary Marvel mastermind, Stan Lee or his brother, Larry Lieber. We do know that as Atlas Comics was becoming Marvel Comics, Stan and artist Jack Kirby relaunched the Kid, giving him something he hadn’t had in the previous 16-issue run: a background story (an origin, if you will… or at least as much of one as a western gunslinger can have).

Now, writer Ron Zimmerman has taken that back story, fleshed it out and, in doing so, has given us a much different Johnny Bart than we’ve ever seen! I’d seen a couple of news stories and read a couple of reviews about this “revision” of the Rawhide Kid character when the strip was first announced in 2003. Apparently, there were some folk who were more than a bit upset about the character’s sexual orientation. What? The Rawhide Kid was gay?

I wasn’t too sure how I felt about that. Not that I cared one way or the other if a writer from the HOWARD STERN SHOW had taken a relatively minor (and presumed hetero-sexual) comic book character and “turned” him or “outed” him or however you wanna phrase it; it just reeked of that bastion of capitalists the world over – exploitation! Just one more character being transformed or revisioned for the sake of change or for the shock value. Maybe managing editor Joe Quesada knew that the Marvel brand may take a hit for this one, so when Zimmerman brought the idea to the powers-that-be, they foisted a third-stringer in the Marvel Universe on him to try it out. I don’t know. And, to be perfectly honest, I really didn’t care all that much. The Rawhide Kid – gay, straight, celibate (which, I guess, he seemed to be in all of his previous incarnations) – was never high on my list of must-read books.

Anyway… I wrote all of that so I could get to this: Nearly ten years after the fact, I decided to check out the hard cover collection (published in 2010), partly because I’d remembered reading something about the series and primarily because it was in the 80% off rack (which made the final price somewhere south of five dollars American). I wasn’t expecting much, aside from amazing artwork from the legendary John Severin. Boy, was I wrong! Not only is Mister Severin’s art exactly what I expected, but SLAP LEATHER is one fun-filled ride from first to last! Yeah… it is a bit cringe-worthy in spots (the Kid in blue speedos, the Kid in buttless chaps and trap-door long johns… you get the idea), but the story is also filled with enough gun-totin’ action and over-the-top, laugh-out-loud comic moments to excuse those. Some of the asides regarding the Kid’s style sense reminds me of the hilarious (and sadly overlooked) 1985 Tom Berenger movie, RUSTLER’S RHAPSODY.

Rawhide Kid: Slap Leather, issue 2, page 20 (art by JOHN SEVERIN, story by RON ZIMMERMAN)
Rawhide Kid: Slap Leather, issue 2, page 20 (art by JOHN SEVERIN, story by RON ZIMMERMAN)

Built around a solid plot with a great message, SLAP LEATHER, takes the Rawhide Kid mythos (if such a vague thing actually existed before) and fleshes out the Stan Lee “origin” story, to show a young Johnny Bart as a harassed and bullied “sissy,” both at home by his drunken father and at school by the bigger boys. Obviously, the diminutive young lad, having taken all that he could stand, finally took matters into his own hand and a legend was born.

Fast forward to… uh… I don’t know, somewhere between the early 1870s and the late 1880s or so. The sleepy little town of Wells Junction has been set upon by an ornery gang of desperadoes and ne’er do wells, with only a single, untried sheriff to stand up to them. Obviously, things don’t go well for Sheriff Morgan, much to the dismay of his young son, Toby. Of course, as in any good Western yarn, in rides our hero. Always dapper and well-dressed, the Kid really just wants to have a nice hot bath, a good meal and a few drinks. He doesn’t want to get involved and only does so when he’s provoked by the villainous horde of marauders riding roughshod over the town-folk (and making fun of the Kid’s clothes). The story is enhanced by the inclusion of several very recognizable characters, drawn from such classic TV shows as BONANZA (Michael Landon and Dan Blocker as Little Joe and Hoss in one of the funniest sequences in the whole book), GUNSMOKE (Milburn Stone as Doc), BAT MASTERSON (Gene Berry) and an unlikely LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE storyline (Melissa Gilbert’s Laura Ingalls). Heck, Zimmerman even throws in Don Knotts’ character from THE SHAKIEST GUN IN THE WEST!

So, if ya ain’t read this’n yet, saddle up, pardners, there’s a laugh-riot goin’ on down ta Wells Junction and you don’t wanna miss the fun! I understand that there’s a sequel out there somewhere and if I ever see it, I will own it! I might not even wait for it to hit the 80% off rack!