Friday, May 6, 2016
RAR #13: RED WOLF (I)
Marvel Comics' first Native American superhero has a complicated lineage.
First, the label of "Number One" stems purely from historical placement. The first Red Wolf guest-starred in issues #80-81 of THE AVENGERS (1970), and he represents himself as a modern Indian named "Will Talltrees" whose family was slaughtered by the henchmen of Avengers-foe Cornelius Van Lunt. He claims to have been given the mission of becoming Red Wolf by a Native American spirit, but the hero boasts no overt super-powers, leaving open the possibility that his encounter with an Indian god was imaginary. Red Wolf does have a real wolf named "Lobo" that follows him around, but this too is given a naturalistic slant, in that Talltrees raised Lobo from cub-hood. Red Wolf joins the Avengers in attempting to bring Van Lunt to justice; Van Lunt disappears and Red Wolf is seen once more in his civilian identity as the story ends.
However, when a Red Wolf starring-feature appeared one year later, the powers that be at Marvel decided to devote it to a 19th-century predecessor of the Talltrees character. I'll address this character in a separate post.
After one tryout issue in MARVEL SPOTLIGHT and six issues of a RED WOLF comic book, the 19th-century version faded out in favor of a modern-day crusader. In the first two issues, written by Gardner Fox, this modern-day character is never decisively called "Will Talltrees," though nothing in the stories makes a correlation impossible.
In the final issue, RED WOLF #9. the letters-column asserts that the editors had been assessing fan-reaction, and that some fans had wanted a more supernatural version of the character. Thus in #9, the 20th-century Red Wolf takes on a new name, Thomas Thunderhead, courtesy of scripter Gary Friedrich (who had also written one issue of the 19th-century version). This Red Wolf believes that the Old West character is his ancestor, and wakes up from a nightmare to find that the wolf-spirit Owayodata has given him several gifts: the Red Wolf costume, the coup stick that the character uses as his primary weapon, and Lobo. Further, the character is made continuous with the previous two issues in that he confers with a character seen in the Fox stories, policewoman Jill Tomahawk-- and yet, the identity-less character of those stories had no real "supernatural" aspects. The Thunderhead version, for his one issue, finds that he can summon his coup stick to his hand across great distances, and that Lobo is now a spirit-wolf, who can shrug off a shotgun-blast to the face.
Such was the end of this version of Red Wolf as a featured character, but he continued to turn up as a guest-star. However, to confuse things further, some writers once more gave him the civilian identity of Will Talltrees, while keeping the supernatural abilities of the Thunderhead version. Not surprisingly, a 2016 version had debuted, and I'm given to understand that it doesn't attempt to dovetail with any of the previous versions. Given the confusing nature of the 20th-century version, this seems eminently practical.