Monday, March 23, 2015
Silver Age Marvel's western line quickly followed the pattern established by the superhero line of the early sixties. Thus mundane cowboy protagonists began meeting costumed crooks with names like the Red Raven and Iron Mask, and many of the characters began crossing over into each other's adventures. Usually the crossovers were limited to Marvel's Big Three-- the Rawhide Kid, the Two-Gun Kid, and Kid Colt-- though even in the early 1970s, when the western line was petering out, one could still come across oddball meetings like the Ghost Rider and the Gunhawk.
Unfortunately, though Marvel's western riders had their share of good-to-fair solo adventures, the crossovers were never as epic as one might have wished. All too often, the writers seemed to spend all their energies finding some excuse to have Kid Colt and Rawhide-- the two most frequent crossover-subjects-- to meet one another. But they usually only encountered mediocre villains-- routine owlhoots or rampaging Indians. On one occasion, the two Kids met a disguise-using criminal named the Masquerader, but I for one would rather have seen some variation on the old "rogues' galleries of different heroes band together" to fight the heroes. Unfortunately, the closest fans ever got to this setup occurred long after the western heroes had all been reduced to reprint status, when they guested in AVENGERS #142. That story bring together the three above named Kids, the 1960s Ghost Rider (under the new sobriquet "Night Rider"), and the Ringo Kid, who hadn't appeared in a comic book since the late 1950s. For good measure the story also included a handful of Western super-villains like the aforementioned Iron Mask and Red Raven. For fans of the colorful, entirely escapist cowboy crusaders, this would be the closest thing they would get to an "epic western crossover."
The 2000 four-issue miniseries BLAZE OF GLORY. while it substantially rewrites several character-histories, does succeed in putting across the aura of western epic. The small town of Wonderment, founded by black ex-slaves who fled the South, is besieged by masked bandits called "Nightriders," who are determined to scatter the town's inhabitants to the four winds. One of the inhabitants, however, has his own heroic history, for he is Reno Jones, who co-starred in Marvel's first "salt-and-pepper" team-title, GUNHAWKS (1972-73). Jones goes looking for his own "magnificent seven" and manages to corral three fighting cowboys--the Rawhide Kid, Kid Colt, and the Outlaw Kid. In addition Reno's ally, a fellow named Fournier, attempts to get the Two-Gun Kid to come out of retirement, and eventually succeeds. However, Colt is being pursued by the bounty hunter Gunhawk and the Pinkerton enforcer Caleb Hammer. The Gunhawk was, as mentioned above, a short-lived hero of the early 1970s, while Hammer enjoyed just one spotlighted appearance in a 1980 issue of MARVEL PREMIERE. In addition, the Indian hero Red Wolf, another 1970s creation, is hanging about, as is what appears to be a reborn version of the Ghost Rider.
The story by John Ostrander is at least bracing if not strikingly original, but its primary virtue is in bringing together so many of Marvel's cowpoke crusaders, even though Ostrander and artist Leonardo Manco re-imagine all of the old clean-cut heroes as scruffy "spaghetti western" types. I like spaghetti westerns as much as the next western fan, but despite copious references to racial injustice, the script doesn't manage to sell its concept of "the Real Wild West," and Manco's rendition of western action is entirely too painterly. Still, BLAZE OF GLORY remains a pleasing salute to Marvel's history with the western genre, whose moribund state is perhaps signified by the fact that two of the oldest Marvel heroes end up on Boot Hill.