Saturday, April 16, 2016

RAR #12: THE AMERICAN EAGLE



The original version of the American Eagle appeared in 1981's MARVEL TWO-IN-ONE ANNUAL #6, written by Doug Moench and drawn by Ron Wilson. A caption on the first page credits Wilson with sole creatorship, though given that the character only made sporadic appearances after this appearance, I imagine Marvel Comics owns this Real American superhero outright.

I would have to say that Eagle's design, with his colossal and counter-intuitive war-bonnet, strikes me as one of the worst-designed Native American superheroes ever. On his Wikipedia page, one author is quoted as liking the Eagle for not having his roots in Native American mythology, but I think that would have been better than what Moench and Wilson came up with.

In 1981 Jim Shooter ruled the Marvel roost, and he favored very static comics with lots of explanatory dialogue. Thus the story begins with the Thing of the Fantastic Four meeting with old buddy Wyatt Wingfoot to discuss the case of the American Eagle. Wingfoot originally tells a mythic story of two Native American brothers who fight over chieftainship of their tribe, both of whom assume superhuman status. Wingfoot apparently tells this myth-story as a prelude to his real story, regarding a falling-out between two contemporary Native American brothers. Jason Strongbow wants to defend the Navajo people's sacred mountain from a rapacious mining-company, and his thinly-drawn brother Ward wants to play by "the white man's rules." They get into a fight near a complex of machinery in the mine, for as it happens the super-villain Klaw is linked to the mining company. An explosion irradiates both brothers and turns them into superhumans. Only Jason takes a costumed identity, but he ends up fighting his super-powered brother again by the end of the Two-in-One tale, while the Thing, Wingfoot and guest-star Ka-Zar battle Klaw.

Apart from the Eagle's lame costume, I can see why he never inspired many creators. The mere fact that he owes his super-power to Klaw-- a regular punching-bag for the Fantastic Four, Ka-Zar, and the Black Panther-- means that there's no real chance that Klaw will ever really be a big part of the hero's mythos. The best origin-stories don't tie the heroes' beginnings to over-complicated continuity-events; they're at their most evocative when they keep in simple. So as routine as it might be for a Native American hero to get his powers from some supernatural spirit, it would still have worked better than this tawdry exercise in tedium.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

RAR #11: DAWNSTAR

The cover depicting the first appearance of the Legion's first Real American hero (SUPERBOY #226,  1977) is a pretty typical "dump on the new girl (or girl)" schtick.



I reread a handful of Dawnstar's early appearances, and my knee-jerk opinion is that her creator Paul Levitz didn't seem to have much of a story-arc for her, aside from making her the girlfriend to the already established Legion member Wildfire. It may be that Levitz had nothing more in mind than countering the "whitebread" look of the 1970s Legion, for Dawnstar's costume design is largely her best feature. She and her people, Earth-bred Amerindians who were transported to another planet and used in a bio-engineering experiment, hence the wings. In her first appearance she's said to be a mutant, though the later origin suggests that all the powers she possesses are held in common by her people. Her most stereotypical power, as far as her being Native American, is that she can track enemies across the depths of space.

At the time of her appearance, I thought she was largely a feeble attempt by DC to emulate Marvel's mystical-seeming Storm, who had debuted about two years previous. Here's a blogpost that cites some if not all of her major story-arcs; apparently she's no longer a member of whatever Legion exists today.


Wednesday, March 30, 2016

RAR #10: WYATT WINGFOOT AND REBECCA RAINBOW



Without a doubt Wyatt Wingfoot stands out as the best-known Real American sidekick, thanks to his prominent appearance in the Lee-Kirby FANTASTIC FOUR series of the Silver Age. His initial appearance in FF #50 occurs when Wingfoot meets and befriends Johnny Storm when both attend college together. Neither character spent much time in classes thereafter: rather, the broad-shouldered native of the fictional "Keewazi" tribe started following Johnny around as the fiery teenager (sometimes alongside his partners) encountered opponents as the Wanderer and the Black Panther. In fact, in the first appearance of the Panther, the Wakandan chieftain very nearly kicks the butts of the ill-prepared quartet, and it's Wingfoot who turns things around for the heroes.

As the above except should suggest, Lee and Kirby almost certainly based Wingfoot on real-life athlete and football star Jim Thorpe. One might argue that at times Wingfoot's creators made him a bit cliche-- he's taciturn; he can track really well-- but he always distinguished himself in terms of his bravery and strength. Following the Silver Age, Wingfoot made peripatetic appearances in Marvel Comics but never again became a major support-character, unless one counts the period in which he was boffing the She-Hulk.



I include Wyatt's fellow Keewazi tribe-member in this post because her history was too brief to justify a separate post. When the Fantastic Four briefly split up in 1978, Johnny Storm went to visit his old pal Wyatt on the reservation in issue #192. There Johnny gets a vivid reminder of his Silver Age history as an amateur race-car driver, a character point that had been shunted aside for many years-- for he meets Rebecca Rainbow, who shows off her skill as a driver and challenges him to compete in an upcoming race. Johnny accepts, but the race gets interrupted by a new super-character, spoiling for a fight with the Human Torch.

Rebecca, created by writer Len Wein and artist George Perez, was probably intended to provide a new romantic interest for Johnny, given the two characters' shared interest in fast cars. However, at the time of her last appearance, just one issue later, the script (by Wein, Bill Mantlo, and Keith Pollard) suggests that "Becky" is actually interested in Wyatt-- after which she disappears. The best explanation that occurs to me is that Wein knew he wasn't going to stay much longer with the series (MarvWolfman soon replaced Wein as regular scripter) and so provided a reason to write her character out, since it was unlikely that the new writer would choose to pursue Wein's plot-threads.

A pity, because Johnny could have used a stronger girlfriend than the next one to appear on his radar-- and because female Native American characters remain in fairly short supply even today.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

RAR #9: CHIEF COBWEB




I'll probably forswear devoting any more posts to the DC title TOMAHAWK for the next month or so, but I had to include what may be the silliest Real American villain conceived in comics' Silver Age.

For several pages, Tomahawk's Rangers find themselves bedeviled by an Indian who controls three gigantic arthropods: a hornet, a firefly (able to blind people with his dazzling posterior) and a spider. In addition, Chief Cobweb-- called "King Cobweb" only on the cover, which was probably his name before someone remembered that Native Americans didn't have kings-- bites Spider-Man's style by devising a gun that can shoot spider-webs, as shown on the cover. I suppose he didn't just allow his big spider to do the same thing because then the artist would've had to show the giant bug spinning webs from its butt.

When Tomahawk and his buddies finally corner the Chief in his cave-hideout, they see lots of glass cases full of normal-sized bugs. The Chief tells the heroes how he trained himself to "talk to the animals" with various devices, though he never explains how he manages to make his really big bugs. The Chief also reveals that he's been conspiring with a British agent, and that he planned to use more giant insects to take over the country, with Cobweb ruling all Indians and the agent becoming king of the white men. The agent shows up and tries to betray his partner, which helps provide a distraction so that the Rangers can overcome the two villains.

The story is a pretty oddball take on the familiar trope of Native Americans being able to commune with nature, but on the scale of disposable fun-reading, it's probably a five out of ten.

RAR #8: THE HORNED BEAR




As I noted with an earlier TOMAHAWK issue, the best thing about this comic is the forbidding cover, depicting a three-headed totem pole and a cloudy-featured Indian chief menacing a bunch of Caucasian tourists.

"Legend of the Totem," credited on the GCD to scripter Arnold Drake and artist Jack Sparling, is typical of the lazy work that usually appeared in Gold Key's BORIS KARLOFF title in the 1970s, as against the relatively sharp work seen in the 1960s.

The tourists of the story, the Kelly family, visit a reservation billed as the "home of the last of the redmen." Maybe Drake didn't want to bestow that dubious honor on any real Indian tribe, for he calls his made-up tribe the "Zaquis." The name probably derives from the tribe of the Yaquis, whose stomping-grounds were Mexico and the American Southwest, and thus not exactly coeval with the Pacific Northwest tribes that made the greatest use of totem poles. No place-names are cited in the eight-page story, but Sparling does make the surroundings suggestive of northern North America.

At the reservation the three tourists-- a mom, a dad, and a grade-school boy-- listen to the legend of the Horned Bear, related by a jive-talking Zaqui who calls himself "Zaqui Zeke." The evil chief of a neighboring tribe once sent a demonic lizard to steal away a beautiful Zaqui maiden. Her betrothed prayed to "Yolakata," and the god sent his demon-bear to destroy the lizard. Zeke finishes by showing the tourists his tribe's totem pole, which depicts (as shown on the cover), the human head of Yolakata on top, his demon-bear emissary in the middle, and the vanquished lizard on the bottom.

Short story even shorter: the tourists stumble across the burial grounds of the Zaqui lovers of the story, and the Horned Bear appears to kill him. The smarty-pants kid uses a touristy replica of the totem to pray to Yolakata, and the Indian deity obligingly manifests as a cloudy shape and tells his buddy the bear to lay off the tourists. And before the reader has time to say "so what?," that's the end of the story.




Thursday, March 17, 2016

RAR #7: STRAIGHT ARROW



An acquaintance put me onto Straight Arrow, who originated as a radio show but is probably  best remembered for the comic-book series that followed, if only because the comic lasted a few years longer than the radio program. There was also a Straight Arrow comic strip, but I've no more info on it than I have on the original radio show.

Straight Arrow was a reversal on the familiar trope of the "White Indian," in that he was an orphan from a Comanche tribe raised by a Caucasian family and given the name "Steve Adams." I've read the first six issues of the comic book online, and when the character is in his regular identity of local rancher Adams, he's drawn with Caucasian coloration. When he assumes the identity of Straight Arrow, he dons full Comanche regalia and goes forth to fight injustice with the help of his golden steed Fury and his golden arrows. (I assume someone was making a very conscious attempt to mine the "treasure-tropes" established by the LONE RANGER mythos.) He also seems to "redden up" as Straight Arrow, but the comics-stories I've read so far, mostly written by Gardner Fox, don't specify whether or not he reddens his skin in addition to his war-paint.

The comics-stories are pretty formulaic but one tale gives the hero an "opposite number" in a villain called Black Feather, who shoots black arrows and is actually a white guy masquerading as an Indian.

Monday, March 14, 2016

RAR #6: MANITOU

Will Eisner does a little better with Real Americans than the majority of his contemporaries.



"A Legend" deals with the hard-nosed crimefighter, the Spirit, having a close encounter with what appear to be a Native American spirit named "manitou" and his towering mortal servant, with the odd name of "Iriquois,"  The story may revolve around standard ethnic tropes-- as shown here, Manitou appears able to control the rain-- but it's a cute, inoffensive tale.