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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Read This Too!

Welcome to a very special blog crossover!

Today's multi-blog event is called "Read This Too!" and is the brainchild of Kelson Vibber, of Speedforce. But this one is a little different--instead of focusing on every blog's usual subject matter (Aquaman, Firestorm, The Flash, etc.), Kelson asked us all to talk about another series that we think is really good and deserves some attention.

Originally, Kelson thought we'd only talk about current, ongoing series, but soon that expanded to any series, past or present, that each of us wanted to cover. That was a relief to me because I read very few current series and would have had a hard time finding one I wanted to make the effort to write a post about (most of the books I buy nowadays are kids comics). Once the door was opened to older series, I had a large list to pick from. I finally settled on one of my all-time favorites, DC's Son of Tomahawk.

Starting in 1950, Tomahawk was pretty much your standard western/historical action comic, featuring the titular frontier hero fighting Indians, British soldiers, and wild animals. Perfectly fine, Comics Code-approved adventure stories, but nothing too memorable one way or the other.

But by the time the late 1950s arrived, obviously plots were getting hard to come up with. Tomahawk started running into long-lost dinosaurs, robot indians, and even a "frontier chimp."

If you look at the Tomahawk covers by the mid-60s, almost every single one of them features Tomahawk (and his team of "Rip-Roaring Rangers") fighting some fantastical element. By the time he was meeting a "Frontier Frankenstein" (no, really), DC must have known something had to be done. The times, they were a-changin'.

At first they tried Neal Adams as the book's cover artist, and of course the legendary Mr. Adams delivered some real doozies. Much of the sci-fi/fantasy stuff got removed and a shot was made at more relevant, social issue-types of stories.

It must not have increased sales all that much, because by the time Tomahawk #131 hit the stands in September 1970, the series' readers were met with this:

With this issue, editor Murray Boltinoff was replaced by Joe Kubert, who delivered this outstanding grabber of a cover. But that wasn't the big change; no, all of a sudden, we were several decades in the future (Tomahawk's future, at least), and the original star of the book was now an old man, and it was his half-Indian son Hawk who was the main character!

With stories by Robert Kanigher and art by the incomparable Frank Thorne, Son of Tomahawk featured all-new adventures of the young hero, backed up by his wizened father, who was still able to throw a punch when he needed to. Here are a few of the covers and some the splash pages to get a sense of what these books were about:
I can't remember how I first came across these books--more than likely it was at the first ever comics shop I ever went to, El Dorado Comics in Cherry Hill, NJ. I was so fascinated by all these old comics I had never seen before that I would buy the cheapest books I could find; whatever they were, regardless of content or condition. I know I bought Tomahawk #131 and found it so gripping that as soon as I got back to the store I bought all the other "Son ofs" I could get my hands on.

I found the stories really compelling, fast-paced, exciting, and laced with light humor. Sure, the social messages were blunter than a stone axe (subtlety was never Robert Kanigher's strong suit), but for a kid weaned on superhero comics, any comic book that dealt with a real-life issue was kind of startling.

Some of the themes dealt with in these issues were racism, personal freedom, greed, loyalty, rural vs. city living, and finding your place in society. At a mere 17 pages each, these stories didn't have time for nuance; but their huge themes--brought to life by Thorne, whose timeless work fits these stories perfectly--make them read like an American version of ancient mythology.

Fan reaction was mostly positive once they got to see the quality of the stories; on the letters page editor Kubert counseled patience to those angry fans who wrote in wondering what happened to their favorite series. I guess the experiment was considered a commercial failure because as of Tomahawk #140 the book was canceled, never to return.

Tomahawk the character made an out-of-time cameo in Crisis on Infinite Earths, and he was given his own Vertigo one-shot in 1998, but other than that neither he or his son were comic book stars ever again.

For anyone interested in solid history-based comic book stories, you can't go wrong with Son of Tomahawk. They've never been collected in any trade, so if you want them you have to find the original comics. Luckily, they're still not all that expensive--you can find most of the books on eBay for around $5 each, which is a steal for any comic with interior art by Frank Thorne and covers by Joe Kubert.

Before I end this loooong post I do want to try and tie this in to Aquaman, somehow. So I thought I'd show, via covers, what the Sea King was doing while all this "Son of Tomahawk" stuff was going on. Turns out it was a turbulent time for Aquaman as well--here are the books he was in that were released during the run of Son of Tomahawk:
Yep, during this time Aquaman's original solo book was canceled (which I still consider to be the single worst blow dealt to the character in his almost 70 year existence) and his only "home" was Justice League of America. Tough times for the Sea King. I guess DC saw that Son of Tomahawk didn't set the world on fire and never considered Son of Aquaman.

Interested in reading more? Good! Check out the lesser-known titles reviewed in these other blogs and "Read Them, Too!":

Being Carter Hall
Fortress of Baileytude
Firestorm Fan
Girls Gone Geek
The Indigo Tribe
It's A Dan's World
K-Squared Ramblings
Mail It To Team-Up
My Greatest Adventure
Once Upon A Geek
Red Tornado's Path
Siskoid's Blog of Geekery


Siskoid said...

Son of Tomahawk had me at Joe Kubert.

Russell said...

Sounds cool! I'll look for it at the Mid-Ohio Con in November.

IADW said...

I hadn't heard about Son of Tomahawk till Read This Two started, now after seeing that art I deffinitly want to pick up what I can find. Those splash pages are amazing!!

Rick L. Phillips said...

I never cared for Tomahawk. But your love for his son shined through. I will have to keep an eye out for issues of his series.

Bubbashelby said...

These would be worth tracking down.

Luke said...

There are so many great Bronze Age DC "genre" books to choose from, and Son Of Tomahawk is definitely one of them. It seems like in and around the DC Explosion that they were willing to give just about anything a try, and while most of these books didn't last, they certainly produced some memorable comics... for those lucky enough to have found them!

Definitely adding this one to my hunting list. Thanks, rob!