Saturday, January 11, 2020

The Late Great Buck Henry

Buck Henry, who co-created Get Smart with Mel Brooks and adapted the novel The Graduate for the big screen, died on January 8 2020 at the age of 89. The cause was a heart attack.

Buck Henry was born Henry Zuckerman on December 9 1930 in New York City. His father was an Air Force brigadier general and stockbroker, while his mother was Ruth Taylor, a former Ziegfeld Follies performer and silent movie actress. He attended Dartmouth where he wrote for the campus humour magazine and took part in campus theatrical productions. After he graduated from Dartmouth he was drafted and served in the United States Army. In the Army he was initially a helicopter mechanic before being assigned to Special Services and toured military bases with the Seventh Army Repertory Company.

It was in the Sixties that Buck Henry joined the Premise, an off Broadway improvisational comedy troupe. He was also a regular on The New Steve Allen Show, and wrote two episodes. He went onto become one of the writers on The Garry Moore Show, as well as That Was the Week That Was. He co-created the hit TV series Get Smart with Mel Brooks and served for a time as its story editor. He also created the superhero parody series Captain Nice. He regularly appeared on That Was the Week That Was and appeared on such talk shows as The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, The Dick Cavett Show, and The Mike Douglas Show. Mr. Henry co-wrote the movie The Troublemaker (1964) with Theodore J. Flicker, The Graduate (1967) with Calder Willingham, Candy (1968), and Catch-22 (1970). He had cameos in the movies The Troublemaker, The Graduate, The Secret War of Harry Frigg (1968), Candy, Catch-22, and The Owl and the Pussycat (1970).

In the Seventies Buck Henry created the short-lived science fiction parody TV series Quark. He also appeared in one episode of the show. He continued to appear frequently on various talk shows, as well as the late night sketch comedy show Saturday Night Live. He wrote the screenplays for the movies What's Up, Doc? (1972), The Day of the Dolphin (1973), and First Family (1980). He appeared in the movies Taking Off (1971), Is There Sex After Death? (1971), The Day of the Dolphin, The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976), Heaven Can Wait (1978), Old Boyfriends (1979), Gloria (1980), and First Family (1980).

In the Eighties Buck Henry was a writer on the sketch comedy TV show The New Show. He wrote one episode of the new version of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Mr. Henry appeared on the TV shows The New Show, Falcon Crest, Murphy Brown, and Trying Times. He wrote the movie Protocol (1984). He wrote the movie Protocol (1984). He appeared in the movies Eating Raoul (1982), Aria (1987), Rude Awakening (1989), and Tune in Tomorrow (1990). He directed the movies Heaven Can Wait (1978) and First Family (1980).

In the Nineties Buck Henry guest starred on the TV show Tales from the Crypt. He was a guest voice on the animated series Eek! The Cat and Dilbert. He wrote the screenplay for the movie To Die For (1995). He appeared in the movies Defending Your Life (1991), The Linguini Incident (1991), Shakespeare's Plan 12 from Outer Space (1991), The Player (1992), The Lounge People (1992), Short Cuts (1993), Even Cowgirls Get the Blues (1993), Grumpy Old Men (1993), To Die For (1995), The Real Blonde (1997), 1999 (1997), I'm Losing You (1998), Curtain Call (1998), Breakfast of Champions (1999), and Lisa Picard Is Famous (2000).

From the Naughts to the Teens, Buck Henry wrote the screenplays for the movies Town & Country (2001), The Humbling (2014), and Babe West (2019). He appeared in the movies Town & Country, Serendipity (2001), The Last Shot (2004), and A Bird of the Air (2014). He appeared on the TV shows Will & Grace, 30 Rock, Hot in Cleveland, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, and Franklin & Bash.

There can be no doubt that Buck Henry was a genius. He had a gift for off-kilter humour and hilarious, if entirely natural dialogue. This can be seen in the best of his films, from The Graduate to What's Up, Doc? to To Die For. It could be seen in his work on television as well: Get Smart, featuring an inept secret agent, and Quark, centred on the captain of a garbage scow. Not only was Buck Henry gifted as a writer, but as a performer as well. On Saturday Night Live he appeared as such diverse characters as the sadistic stunt coordinator Howard and Mr. Dantley, the customer always coming face to face with John Belushi's samurai at various businesses. He played a wide variety of roles on film as well, everything from patent attorney Oliver V. Farnsworth in The Man Who Fell to Earth to Jack Dawn, an accountant for the mob and husband of the title character in Gloria. The word "genius" is often used, but in Buck Henry's case it was perfectly applicable.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Marvel Comics Westerns Part Three: Riding Off into the Sunset

The heyday of Western comic books lasted from the late Forties to about the mid-Fifties. The late Fifties saw many comic book publishers cancelling their Western titles. The majority of Western comic books cancelled at the time were the many cowboy movie star titles, perhaps because Hollywood had largely stopped making B-Westerns in the early Fifties. That having been said, other Western titles were cancelled as well. Prize Western, Red Ryder, and Straight Arrow all ended their runs in 1956. DC Comics cancelled both of its Western titles, Western Comics and All-Star Western, in 1961. While the late Fifties saw the cancellation of many Western comic books, Westerns did not entirely disappear from newsstands and comic book racks in the Sixties. Charlton Comics continued publishing Western comic books well into the Seventies, and continued publishing their title Billy the Kid until 1983. While they would publish Westerns in fewer numbers than they had in the Fifties, Marvel would continue to publish Western comic books until the end of the Seventies.

Of course, what would become Marvel Comics would undergo changes in the early Sixties. It was with Journey into Mystery #69 (June 1961) and Patsy Walker #95 (June 1961) that the company began formally branding itself "Marvel Comics." With Fantastic Four #1 (November 1961)  Marvel Comics re-entered the field of superheroes. Not only would Marvel Comics' line be increasingly dominated by superheroes as the Sixties progressed, but by the end of the decade Marvel had become DC Comics' chief rival.

While Marvel's Western characters would be overshadowed by the company's superheroes starting in the Sixties, their Western characters would continue to be popular throughout the decade. In fact, Marvel Comics would introduce two significant new characters, although both used the name of older characters. It was with Rawhide Kid #17 (August 1960) that writer Stan Lee, penciller Jack Kirby, and inker Dick Ayers introduced a new version of The Rawhide Kid. This new Rawhide Kid was Johnny Clay (later changed to Johnny Bart), who, like many of Marvel's Western characters, was falsely accused of a crime and forced to go on the run. The new Rawhide Kid was a short, soft spoken redhead with a gift for the fast draw and brawling. At a time when Western titles at other publishers were being cancelled, Rawhide Kid proved to be a hit.

Following the introduction of a new Rawhide Kid, Marvel then introduced a new Two-Gun Kid. Two-Gun Kid having ended its run with no 59 (April 1961), Two-Gun Kid #60 (November 1961) saw the introduction of an entirely new character by that name. The new Two-Gun Kid was Matt Hawk, a lawyer who decided to fight crime after reading dime novels featuring Clay Harder, known as The Two-Gun Kid (Marvel Comics' original character of that name). Matt Hawk then donned a mask to become the crimefighter known as The Two-Gun Kid. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby had given the new Two-Gun Kid a dual identity so that he would closer resemble a superhero. Curiously, Marvel would sometimes reprint stories featuring the original Two-Gun Kid with the art redrawn so he resembled the new version.

While superheroes became increasingly popular as the Sixties progressed, Marvel's Western characters remained popular. According to sales figures from the website Comichron, Rawhide Kid ranked in the top-selling comic books for most of the decade, with Kid Colt, Outlaw also occasionally ranking. In the Sixties Marvel Comics may have been better known for their superheroes, but their Western characters were still selling well.

While superheroes dominated the early to mid-Sixties, by the late Sixties sales for superhero comic books were beginning to decline. Quite naturally, then, comic book publishers began to look to other genres. The horror genre was revitalised with such titles as DC Comics' The Witching Hour and Marvel's Chamber of Darkness. Before the revitalization of horror comic books, however, there was a slight resurgence in Western titles.

Given they already published Western titles, it should come as no surprise that Marvel would publish the first title in this revival of Western comic books. Beginning in 1950, Magazine Enterprises had published a character called The Ghost Rider. The original Ghost Rider was Rex Fury, a masked crimefighter who often found himself facing supernatural menaces. Quite simply Magazine Enterprises' Ghost Rider may well have been the first Weird Western in the history of comic books. It was in 1967 that Marvel Comics took advantage of the lapsed trademark and created their own Ghost Rider. Marvel's Ghost Rider was Carter Slade, who donned a mask and a phosphorescent costume to fight crime. Unlike Magazine Enterprises' Ghost Rider, Marvel's Ghost Rider did not fight supernatural menaces. Instead, Ghost Rider was a fairly straightforward Western. Marvel's Ghost Rider debuted in Ghost Rider #1 (February 1967). Ghost Rider would only run for seven issues, but the character would later appear in the Western anthology Western Gunfighters.

The failure of Marvel's Ghost Rider did not sidetrack the revival of Western comic books in the late Sixties. It was over a year later that DC Comics introduced the character of Bat Lash in Showcase #76 (August 1968). Bat Lash received his own short-lived magazine with Bat Lash #1 (October/November 1968).  DC Did not let the failure of Bat Lash stop them from moving further into the field of Westerns. The company launched All-Star Western with issue #1 (September 1970). It was only a few months later that DC Comics changed the format of their Revolutionary War themed title Tomahawk to that of a Western, the covers now emblazoned Hawk, Son of Tomahawk. While Hawk, Son of Tomahawk would only last for nine issues, All-Star Western proved somewhat successful. With its tenth issue (February/March 1972) it introduced the character of Jonah Hex, the most successful Western character to emerge since the Sixties. All-Star Western would be rebranded Weird Western Tales starting with issue #12 and ultimately ran for seventy issues.

Of course, unlike DC Comics, Marvel had never abandoned the Western genre, continuing to publish various Westerns throughout the Sixties. In fact, Marvel's responded to the renewed interest in Western comic books by creating titles filled with reprints of their earlier work. The first of these was The Mighty Marvel Western, which launched with a cover date of October 1968. The Mighty Marvel Western featured reprints of Kid Colt, Rawhide Kid, and Two-Gun Kid stories, as well as occasional Matt Slade stories as well.

The Mighty Marvel Western would be followed by several more reprint titles. Ringo Kid reprinted old Ringo Kid stories and ran for 30 issues from January 1970 to November 1976. It was followed by Outlaw Kid, which ran for 30 issues from August 1970 to October 1975. Later in the Seventies Marvel would relaunch Wyatt Earp with issue #30 (October 1972), reprinting old Wyatt Earp stories. It ran for only for four issues, ending with #34 (June 1973).

Not every new Western title Marvel published in the Seventies featured exclusively reprints. While Western Gunfighters bore the title of an earlier Marvel Western anthology, it initially featured original material. Starting with issue #1 (August 1970), it featured such series as "Gunhawk," "Tales of Fort Rango," and "Renegades, " as well as new Ghost Rider stories. With issue #8 (April 1972) Western Gunfighters became a reprint title featuring old Black Rider, Outlaw Kid, Apache Kid, Matt Slade, and even Kid Colt stories.

It was with Avengers #80 (cover-dated Sept. 1970) that Marvel introduced a Native American superhero called Red Wolf. While this Red Wolf lived in the present day, Stan Lee wanted the character to be set in the Old West. It was then that the character was featured in Marvel's try-out magazine Marvel Spotlight starting with issue #1 (November 1971). Red Wolf was Johnny Wakely, a Cheyenne man who had been raised by white people. After stumbling upon the grave of a Cheyenne warrior known as Red Wolf, he was visited by a Native American spirit known as Owayodata and he became Red Wolf. Red Wolf received his own title with issue #1 (May 1972).  Red Wolf remained a Western only for six issues. With issue #7 (May 1973) it shifted to a modern day setting with someone else donning the mantle of Red Wolf. It only lasted two more issues.

It was a few months after Red Wolf received his own title that Marvel launched another Western title with Gunhawks #1 (October 1972). Gunhawks centred on Kid Cassidy, a Confederate veteran of the Civil War, and Reno Jones, a former African American slave. Together they became wandering gunslingers, searching for the woman Reno loved, Rachel Brown, who had been kidnapped. It was with Gunhawks #6 (August 1973) that Kid Cassidy was killed. Gunhawks was then retitled Reno Jones, Gunhawk with its next issue, #7 (October 1972). This made Reno Jones only the second African American character at Marvel, after Luke Cage, to have his own title. Unfortunately, this would be the final issue of the magazine.

By the mid-Seventies, Western comic books would once more be in decline. Following Gunhawks, Marvel debuted no new Western titles for the rest of the decade. Kid Colt, Outlaw had increasingly begun featuring reprints as far back as 1966. With issue #142 (January 1970)  it entirely became a reprint title. Two-Gun Kid began featuring reprints in 1970 and with #105 (July 1972) it became exclusively a reprint title. Rawhide Kid became exclusively a reprint title with issue #116 (October 1973).

Not only did Marvel's long-running Western titles begin printing reprints exclusively, but one by one the company began cancelling Western comic books. Western Gunfighters ended its run in 1975. The Mighty Marvel Western ended its run in 1976. Two-Gun Kid was cancelled the following year, in 1977. After over thirty years, Kid Colt, Outlaw ended with issue #229 (April 1979).  Rawhide Kid ended the following month with issue #151 (May 1979).

Before the Seventies were over, Marvel would make one last attempt at a Western. Caleb Hammer appeared in Marvel Premiere #54 (June 1980). Caleb Hammer was a Pinkerton detective in the Old West. For may years, his appearance in Marvel Premiere would be his only appearance.

Over the years Marvel would revive some of its better known Western characters. The Two-Gun Kid would even join Marvel's best-known superhero team The Avengers for a time. The 2000 mini-series Blaze of Glory featured several of Marvel's Western characters, including The Two-Gun Kid, Rawhide Kid, Kid Colt, Outlaw Kid, Reno Jones, Red Wolf, and Caleb Hammer. The Rawhide Kid starred in the 1985 mini-series The Rawhide Kid which featured the character in middle age. The 1995 mini-series The Two-Gun Kid: Sunset Killers featured the character of that name. In 2003 there was a controversial mini-series, Rawhide Kid: Slap Leather, which reinterpreted the character as gay. It was followed by Rawhide Kid: The Sensational Seven in 2010, which also featured Marvel characters Kid Colt, Red Wolf, and The Two-Gun Kid, as well as historical figures.  In between those two mini-series Marvel published issues under the title The Mighty Marvel Western. The year 2006 saw the publication of Kid Colt and The Arizona Girl (AKA Arizona Annie), Strange Westerns Starring The Black Rider, and The Two-Gun Kid.

Today it seems likely that only people of a certain age, as well as comic book historians and some comic book fans, even remember that Marvel published Western comic books. Despite this, Westerns played a large role in the history of Western comic books. Marvel saw more success with their Western titles than any other comic book publisher, and may well have published more Western titles than any other comic book publisher as well. In the dark days following the collapse of the distribution company American News Company and before the publication of Fantastic Four #1, it was largely their Western titles that allowed Marvel to survive. And while their Western titles would be overshadowed by their superhero titles in the Sixties, Marvel's Western comic books continued to be successful well into the Sixties. Indeed, Marvel Comics published Western comic books with nearly no interruption for over thirty years, from 1948 to 1979.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Marvel Comics Westerns Part Two: The Fifties

With superheroes in decline following World War II, the comic book industry began expanding into other genres, such as crime, romance, and horror. The ever popular Western was among the genres into which comic book publishers expanded. In 1948 there was a bumper crop of Western titles. Western comic books would be at their height from the late Forties to nearly the mid-Fifties.

Among the comic book companies that would capitalise on the boom in Western titles was the publishing empire of Martin Goodman, which I will simply refer to as "Marvel," however anachronistic that may be. Marvel entered the Western field with The Two-Gun Kid in 1948. They followed it up with a number of other titles, including the hit Kid Colt, Outlaw. Although today known for their superheroes, in the end Marvel would publish a number of Western comic books over the years. What is more, they published them well into the Seventies.

It was in 1951 that Martin Goodman formed his own distribution company, Atlas News Company, which would distribute both the comic books and other magazines published by his many shell companies. Both Martin Goodman's comic books and his other magazines would then bear an "Atlas" logo for the next several years. It is for this reason that comic books published by the companies that would become Marvel are known collectively as "Atlas Comics," even though it was only the name of Martin Goodman's distribution company.

Regardless of the changes in the distribution of Martin Goodman's publications, Marvel would continue to see success with their Western titles. Their very first Western character, the original Two-Gun Kid's own title had ended with its tenth issue (November 1949). That having been said, The Two-Gun Kid would continue to appear in Marvel's Western anthology titles and got his own title back with Two-Gun Kid #11, December 1953. This time it would prove more successful, lasting until issue #59, April 1961. Even after the second cancellation of Two-Gun Kid, it would not be the last readers would hear of a character by that name, even if it would be different character in the Sixties.

Marvel would follow the revival of The Two-Gun Kid's title with another Western anthology, Western Outlaws, in February 1954. The years 1954 and 1955 would see a boom in Marvel's Western comic books, with Marvel publishing several new titles. Even a small sampling of them makes for a long list. The first of these was Ringo Kid, the first issue of which was cover dated August 1954. The Ringo Kid was unusual among Western characters of the era in that he was half white, half Native American (although the tribe varied from story to story--at times given as Comanche and at times given as Cheyenne). Because he was half Native American, The Ringo Kid was an outcast in white society. Making matters worse, like a good number of Marvel's Western characters, he had been falsely accused of a crime. Ringo Kid proved successful, running 21 issues until September 1957.

The following month Outlaw Kid debuted. The Outlaw Kid was created by well-known illustrator Doug Wildey, who would later create the animated television series Jonny Quest. The Outlaw Kid was lawyer Lance Temple, he created the masked identity of "The Outlaw Kid" in order to right wrongs. Like Ringo Kid before it, Outlaw Kid proved successful, lasting for nineteen issues until September 1957.

Marvel Comics clearly liked characters with the word "Kid" in their name, as another they would add yet another "kid" to their stable later in 1954. Debuting in Western Kid #1, November 1954, The Western Kid was Tex Dawson. Unlike many of Marvel's Western characters, Dawson was never falsely convicted of a crime. It would seem that he just enjoyed travelling the West and doing good. Indeed, he was even respected by lawmen. Western Kid proved to be a success, lasting for 17 issues until August 1957.

While the Outlaw Kid and the Western Kid have largely been forgotten, the "Rawhide Kid" is a name that is still recognizable to comic book fans today. That having been said, the Rawhide Kid who debuted in Rawhide Kid #1 , March 1955 was a different character than the one most people are familiar with today. The original Rawhide Kid was an unnamed gunfighter who dressed in buckskin and used a whip and lasso as well as his gun. Although not as well known as the later incarnation of the Rawhide Kid, this version proved successful in his day. The title ran until September 1957.

Although it might seem as if every Western character published by Marvel had the word "kid" in his name, that wasn't the case. In fact, after having published an Annie Oakley title, Marvel would also publish a title dedicated to another historical figure. Wyatt Earp #1 was cover dated November 1955. This should come as no surprise, as Wyatt Earp, the historical marshal of Dodge City, Kansas and Tombstone, Arizona had already proven popular in media beyond comic books. By 1955 he had already been featured in three movies: Frontier Marshal (1934), Frontier Marshal (1939), and My Darling Clementine (1946). In September 1955 the television series The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp debuted on ABC. Wyatt Earp proved to be a success, running for 29 issues until November 1960.

Wyatt Earp was not the only lawman published by Marvel, although Matt Slade was a fictional creation. Matt Slade was a U.S. Marshal who eventually worked undercover among outlaws, using the nickname "Kid Slade." Matt Slade, Gunfighter #1 was cover dated May 1956. With #5, January 1957 the title was changed to Kid Slade. The title would not last much longer. It was cancelled with issue #8, July 1957.

By 1956 Marvel was publishing several Western titles, many of which were fairly successful. Unfortunately, events would unfold that would lead to the cancellation of many of those titles. In late 1956 Martin Goodman closed Atlas News Company and arranged for his comic books and other magazines to be distributed through American News Company. American News Company was the largest magazine, newspaper, book, and comic book distribution company in the United States, and distributed a lion's share of the comic books published in the country. Unfortunately, in 1952 the United States government had begun antitrust litigation against American News Company. The lawsuit would prove disastrous to American News Company, with major publishers beginning to leave the company. Ultimately, American News Company shut down in 1957.

Of course, this left Martin Goodman without a distributor for his publications. As Stan Lee explained in a 1988 interview with Comic Book Artist, "....we couldn't go back to distributing our own books because the fact that Martin quit doing it and went with American News had gotten the wholesalers very angry ...and it would have been impossible for Martin to just say, 'Okay, we'll go back to where we were and distribute our books.'" Martin Goodman then found himself in the unenviable position of having to make a deal with Independent News Co., the distribution company owned by rival DC Comics (then formally known as National Periodical Publications). Independent News restricted Marvel to only eight titles a month, this after years of having published over fifty titles a month.

As a result, many of Marvel's Western titles would end their runs in 1957. Only a few, such as Kid Colt, Outlaw; Two-Gun Kid; Wyatt Earp; and Gunsmoke Western survived. That having been said, while Marvel would publish fewer Western comic books in the Sixties, in some respects the best was yet to come for the company's Western characters.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Marvel Comics Westerns Part One: The Beginning

Today Marvel Comics is best known for such superheroes as Spider-Man, The Fantastic Four, and Iron Man. While Marvel's superheroes are a billion dollar business today, there was a time when the companies that would become Marvel Comics published a wide array of genres beyond superheroes. In fact, more so than superheroes, Marvel can lay claim to being the biggest publisher of Western comic books in the history of the medium. From the Forties to the Seventies, Marvel published more Western comic books than any other publisher. What is more, Marvel's Western characters had lasting power. The longest running Western character in comic book history is Kid Colt, whose title was published by Marvel from 1948 to 1979, nearly 31 years in all.

In some respects it should come as no surprise that Marvel Comics would publish so many Western titles in its history. Before Martin Goodman published comic books, he was an established publisher of pulp magazines. In 1932 he founded two companies, Mutual Magazine Distributors and Newsstand Publishers, with Louis Silberkleit (who would go onto found MLJ Comics, now Archie Comics, with Maurice Coyne and John L. Goldwater). Their first publication was Western Supernovel Magazine, cover dated May 1933. It would soon be retitled Complete Western Book Magazine and became Martin Goodman's longest running pulp magazine. Martin Goodman's publishing career then began with a Western pulp magazine.

It was in 1939 that Martin Goodman entered the burgeoning field of comic books with Marvel Comics #1, October 1939. As with his pulp magazines, Martin Goodman published his comic books through a number of shell companies, all of them operating from the same office. Among these shell companies were Animirth Comics, Zenith Publications, and even one called Marvel Comics (this well before the name was formally adopted in 1961). For simplicity's sake, I will simply refer to all of these shell companies as "Marvel," as anachronistic as that may be. Although today Marvel is regarded as one of the two big comic book companies, this was hardly the case during the Golden Age of Comic Books (roughly 1938 to 1949). Although  Marvel did respectively well in the Golden Age, it was outpaced by the companies that would become DC Comics and other companies such as Fawcett Publications (publisher of the original Captain Marvel) and Dell Comics. During the Golden Age, Marvel had only three truly popular superheroes (The Human Torch, The Sub-mariner, and Captain America) and published titles in a wide variety of other genres.

In fact, Marvel's earliest Western character appeared in that first issue of Marvel Comics, alongside The Human Torch and The Sub-Mariner. The Masker Raider was Jim Gardley, a cowhand who found himself framed for cattle rustling after he turned down a wealthy rancher's offer to work for him as a hired gun. Gardley then became The Masked Raider to get justice for himself and afterwards travelled round the West meting out justice to evil-doers. The Masked Raider would not prove to be particularly successful. He lasted for only twelve issues in Marvel Mystery Comics (as Marvel Comics had been renamed).

It would be several years before Marvel would publish its next Western character. In the meantime, superheroes became phenomenally popular during World War II and then began a gradual decline as the war came to close. Comic book publishers soon turned to other genres beyond superheroes, among them crime, romance, and Westerns. In some respects it should come as no surprise that comic book publishers would begin mining the Western genre, as B-Westerns were popular children's fare in the Forties. As early as 1941 Fawcett Publications had published a Gene Autry title. It was in 1946 that Dell Comics began a successful run of Gene Autry comic books that would run until 1959. Fawcett Publications published a one-shot Hopalong Cassidy title in 1943 and then launched a continuing title in 1946. Like Gene Autry, the Hopalong Cassidy comic book would run until 1959. The late Forties would see yet more cowboys stars receive their own comic book titles. It was then only a matter of time before comic book publishers would begin creating their own Western heroes.

That year happened to be 1948. Western comic books proved to be a big trend in the industry, with several publishers launching their own Western titles. DC Comics launched the simply named Western Comics, the first issue titled dated January/February 1948. Prize Comics changed the format of its flagship title Prize Comics to the Western genre with Prize Western #68, May 1948. Dell Comics, know for publishing licensed properties, published their first issue of The Lone Ranger, cover dated January/February 1948.

More so than other comic book publishers, Marvel Comics in the late Forties well into the Fifties had a tendency to follow any trend that came along. Quite naturally, then, Marvel Comics also entered the field of Western comic books in 1948. Marvel's Western line would become part of their bread and butter for the next few decades. Indeed, Marvel published so many Western characters that to detail all of them would take a rather large book. They entered the field with Two-Gun Kid #1, March 1948.

The original Two-Gun Kid was Marvel's first major Western character. He was Clay Harder, who had been wrongly accused of murder and afterwards wandered the West on his horse Cyclone. The Two-Gun Kid differed from many other Western characters created in comic books in that he was a singing cowboy, much like Gene Autry or Roy Rogers. Not only did he travel the West with his two guns, but this guitar as well. The Two-Gun Kid initially did not prove overly successful. His title only lasted for a year and a half. That having been said, he continued as a back up feature in other titles and proved popular enough to get his own title back in 1953. This time it proved more successful, running until 1961.

Cover dated the same month as Two-Gun Kid #1 was a title very loosely based on a historical character. Annie Oakley ran for four issues, until November 1948. It was revived with issue #5, June 1955 and ran until issue #11, June 1956. Annie Oakley would not be the last historical figure upon which Marvel based a comic book.

Two-Gun Kid was soon followed by a Western anthology, Wild West, its first issue cover dated spring 1948. Wild West not only featured the Two Gun Kid, but such characters as Arizona Annie and Tex Taylor. While Arizona Annie would only have limited success, Tex Taylor would eventually get his own magazine. Tex Taylor launched with its first issue, cover dated September 1948, and ran for nine issues. As to the character of Tex Taylor himself, he was a vigilante who travelled the West righting wrongs. As to the anthology title Wild West, it was renamed Wild Western with its third issue and ran until 1957.

While some of the Western characters introduced by Marvel in 1948 saw only limited success, Kid Colt, Hero of the West #1, August 1948 introduced the company's most successful Western hero in terms of longevity. With issue #3, the title was changed to the more provocative Kid Colt, Outlaw. The origin of Kid Colt was one that Marvel had used for the original Two-Gun Kid and would use again and again for various Western characters. He was Blaine Colt, who was wrongly accused of murder and then went on the run, righting wrongs throughout the West as he did so. While Kid Colt's origin may not have been particularly original, the character proved very successful.  Kid Colt, Outlaw ran for 229 issues, from 1948 to 1979, longer than any other American Western comic book. The character of Kid Colt not only appeared in his own title, but also in the pages of Wild Western and later Gunsmoke Western.

While Kid Colt would see a good deal of success, the character of Blaze Carson would not. Unlike many of Marvel's Western characters, Blaze Carson was a lawman, a sheriff in the Old West. He first appeared in Blaze Carson #1, September 1948. The title only lasted for five issues. With issue #6 it was retitled Rex Hart, featuring the character of that name.

It was the success of Marvel's Western titles that would lead the company to switch their superhero anthology series All Winners (volume 2) to a Western format. With the second issue of volume 2, winter 1948, it became All Western Winners. The character of The Black Rider was introduced in that issue. The Black Rider was Matthew Masters, a former criminal known as The Cactus Kid who eventually reformed and still later took the mantle of The Black Rider to fight crime. After All Western Winners became simply Western Winners with issue #5 June 1949, the title was again retitled Black Rider with its eighth issue, March 1950. Black Rider proved somewhat successful, and the character remained its star until it became the anthology title Gunsmoke Western with issue #32, December 1955. Gunsmoke Western starred Kid Colt, and also featured the original Two-Gun Kid, The Ringo Kid, and others.

One notable thing about Marvel's Western comic books is that the company did not publish cowboy star comic books the way that other companies did. For instance, Fawcett published comic books devoted to Hopalong Cassidy, Gabby Hayes, Lash LaRue, Monte Hale, and Rocky Lane. Dell published titles devoted to Gene Autry, Rex Allen, and Johnny Mack Brown.  In contrast, Marvel  published only two. Reno Browne was an actress and equestrian who starred in 14 B-Westerns in her career. It was with issue #50, April 1950 that Marvel retitled its teen humour title Margie, Reno Browne Hollywood's Greatest Cowgirl. Reno Browne lasted for three issues before the cowgirl star lost her title to The Apache Kid with no. 53, December 1950. Whip Wilson starred in B-Westerns made by Poverty Row studio Monogram Pictures. Not counting uncredited roles, he appeared in a total of 23 movies. Whip Wilson took over the numbering of Rex Hart, beginning with #9, April 1950. The title did not prove very successful, as it lasted only until #11, September 1950. Afterwards the title was renamed Gunhawk and taken over by the character of that name.

As to The Apache Kid, he first appeared in Two-Gun Western #5, November 1950. The Apache Kid was a white man who had been raised by the Apache after he had been orphaned. While The Apache Kid had taken over the numbering of Reno Browne, the title switched to #2 with its second issue. The Apache Kid proved somewhat successful, running until issue #10, January 1952. It was revived with issue no. 11, December 1954 and ran until no. 19, April 1956.

By the end of the Forties, Marvel was well established as a publisher of Western comic books. It even had one of the big hits of the era to its credit, Kid Colt, Outlaw. In the Fifties, Marvel would establish itself as the foremost publisher of Westerns, even as the survival of the company was an uncertainty.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Natalie Trundy Passes On

Natalie Trundy, who appeared in all four sequels to Planet of the Apes (1968), died on December 5 2019 at the age of 79.

Natalie Trundy was born on August 5 1940 in Boston, Massachusetts. She became an actress as a child and appeared in small roles on television before having a significant role in the TV production Lincoln's Little Correspondent in 1953. That same year he appeared on Broadway in A Girl Can Tell in 1953. During the Fifties she guest starred on the shows The Alcoa Hour, The Philco Television Playhouse, Goodyear Television Playhouse, Matinee Theatre, Studio One, Climax!, New York Confidential, Pony Express, Thriller, and Bonanza. She appeared in the films Montecarlo (1956), The Careless Years (1957), and Walk Like a Dragon (1960).

In the Sixties, Miss Trundy guest starred on such TV shows as The Blue Angels, The Asphalt Jungle, The New Breed, The Dakotas, The Twilight Zone, The Eleventh Hour, Wagon Train, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, 77 Sunset Strip, Perry Mason, Judd for the Defense, The Felony Squad, and The Silent Force. She appeared in the films Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation (1968) and Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970). 

In 1968 Natalie Trundy married producer Arthur P. Jacobs. Mr. Jacobs produced the phenomenally successful Planet of the Apes (1968). Miss Trundy expressed a desire to appear in the first sequel to the movie. As a result she appeared as one of the telepathic mutants, Albina, in Beneath the Planet of the Apes. She appeared in every sequel afterwards, playing Dr. Stephanie Branton in Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971), the chimpanzee Lisa in Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972), and the chimpanzee Lisa in Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973). She fully chalked up her casting to nepotism and said that she mainly did the movies for fun. In the Seventies, she also appeared in the musical Huckleberry Finn (1974). She appeared on television in the TV movie The Great American Tragedy and guest starred on the TV show Qunicy, M.E. In 1973, following the death of Arthur P. Jacobs, she assumed control of his production company APJAC Productions.