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.


RAR #5: CHIEF IRON-HANDS




A fairly dynamic cover is all TOMAHAWK #114 has to offer..

The interior plot and art are not nearly so provocative. While Tomahawk and his Rangers seek to thwart a British attempt to logjam a river and hinder the American supply-lines, the Americans encounter an unnamed, nine-foot-tall Indian chief, The two parties part, more or less in peace, except that when the Rangers blow up the logjam, the river-torrent strikes the chief in his canoe. He survives, but his hands are mangled. The British find the chief, and they stoke his rage against the Rangers by outfitting the Indian with iron hands-- at which point he takes his titular sobriquet.

Iron-Hands goes after the Rangers, and scores a victory over their strongman member Big Anvil. Tomahawk manages to defeat the chief with a trick, but because he spares the chief's life while those rotten British try to wipe out both the chief and the Rangers, the iron-handed red man makes peace with his former opponents, and is never seen again.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

RAR #4: THE TOMAHAWK FAMILY

Since my ruminations on a TOMAHAWK story got me onto this path, this is a logical group of characters to spotlight.


Tomahawk, though patterned upon the idea of the frontiersman who "knows Indians," doesn't qualify as any sort of "White Indian," given that he only receives his tribal training when he's a full-grown man. Interestingly, the Tomahwak origin-tale intimates that he might have a romance going with one of the tribe's girls, though nothing comes of this. Some twenty years later, that motif was picked up again by having the hero marry a woman named Moon Fawn, seen below bound to a cross with her white-looking son Hawk (the functional tough guy of the series) and her Indian-looking, abominably cute younger son Little Bear.




Here's Moon Fawn when she was a bit more of a looker.


Tuesday, March 8, 2016

THE READING RHEUM: VAMPIRE$ (1990)



Continuing my tradition of writing quickie book-reviews here, I'll just say that I'd never heard anything good or bad about John Steakley's VAMPIRE$. I read it for no other reason than to draw comparisons to the John Carpenter film when I get around to it, even though I'd been informed that the movie takes almost nothing from the book's plot.

Having read it now, I can understand why: the book reads like a clumsy amalgam of Kenneth Robeson and Sam Peckinpah. The cadre of vampire hunters aren't much better drawn than the heroes of the Doc Savage adventures, but in theory one is supposed to care about them as they sit around boozing and regretting their pasts, as one sees so often in Peckinpah films like THE KILLER ELITE.
The story is episodically plotted and thus depends on the supposed charm of the characters-- meaning that it held no charms for me (though the opening scenes at least were pretty kick-ass).

I feel "vampirized" of my precious time for having bothered to read this one.

RAR #3: TONTO

There's no getting around the fact that Tonto, despite all the problems he presents for current readers, remains one of the best-known Real Americans in fiction.

Normally, I won't be covering characters who originated in media other than comics or cartoons, but Tonto does merit an exception by dint of his great fame, even if it did come about through association with You-Know-Who.

I've only read one of Dell's 1951-59 TONTO series, which lasted about 30 issues. Though this feature, like many Dell comics, sported beautiful painted covers, the only thing that struck me about the one issue I encountered was this: whenever Tonto was seen to converse with other Indians, his Indian-speak was translated as completely perfect English, as opposed to the pidgin English for which he's become known.




I believe Tonto is also the first "straight adventure" Indian character to appear in an animated cartoon. In 1966's British-produced LONE RANGER teleseries, Tonto not only appeared alongside the Ranger in two episodes per show, he also occupied his own solo spot in each show. There was a heavy blend of science-fiction in all of these stories, and Tonto got to fight such devious foes as mad scientist Professor Sumac and a few Indian villains with names like Yellow Snake and the Avenger. The standout episode was "The Legend of Cherokee Smith," in which Tonto sought to make peace between the white and red inhabitants of a fractious town, by taking the guise of an Indian wearing white men's garb, the titular Cherokee Smith.


Monday, March 7, 2016

RAR #2: THE MASK

One thing I hope to do with these posts is to chronicle "Real American" comics-characters of all types. One can find lists of Native American superheroes online, but little if any attention has been paid to villains and supporting characters.

Obviously, I'm not interested in stereotypical "good Indians" or "bad Indians." I'm looking for those that have at least some mythic potential, such as the following, almost completely forgotten character.





Despite the cover, showing the villain in his Indian-identity, the Mask was also an accomplished disguise-artist. I'm aware of only two stories featuring the villain, but he does have the distinction of being one of the few "Real American" villains not to be be defined by cultural tropes, like totem-poles, making rain, war dances, etc.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

RAR #1: THE BRONZE TERROR (1941)

Apache Jeff Dixon had the distinction of being the first Native American superhero in comic books, when he donned the costume of the Bronze Terror to fight evil, principally on the reservation. As an odd touch of irony, this Dick Briefer feature bore the title "REAL AMERICAN #1," though no one in the stories-- running in DAREDEVIL 2-11-- bears that name.


RATIONALE FOR "REAL AMERICAN ROUNDUP"




Largely as a result of this essay, I've been giving some thought to the unusual status of the Native American-- that is, all aboriginal inhabitants of the pre-Columbian Americas-- in popular fiction.

While the depictions of many other ethnic groups have been largely defined by stereotypes of no depth, even the simplest "good Indian-bad Indian" stereotypes seem to possess a greater mythic nuance. That is, the depictions may not be any deeper or more complex than those assigned to other groups-- but there's something that signals a different attitude.

For whatever time it lasts, this project will not compare stereotypical depictions to the Native Americans of the real world, as seems to be the case with this academic book. Even the least offensive depictions of "Real Americans" are generally spawned not by scholarship but by wild fantasy about the "racial other," provided almost entirely via the minds of European-descended Jewish and Christian artists.

I briefly considered seeing if I might prick some politically correct comic-book mentalities by giving the project an offensive name like, "Redskin Roundup."  Had I done so, it would have been to make the point that there should be nothing inherently demeaning about calling attention to the coloration of the characters being surveyed. But because the epithet can be used for the purpose of insult, I decided against it, while still retaining my low opinion of the politically correct.. In addition, not all of the characters I plan to survey necessarily have red skins. Some are "White Indians"-- e.g., those who have been raised in Indian culture. Others are hybrids of more than just the "red" race, and may or may not look red of skin.

So I'm calling it "Real American Roundup," in deference to one of the first Native American superheroes-- who will also provide my first mini-feature.


A NEW DREAM FOR THE OUROBOROS

I'm writing this at the same time that I re-examined the orientation of another of my marginal blogs, FEMMES FORMIDABLES.

OUROBOROS DREAMS has always been more of a catch-all blog than the two that receive most of my attention: THE ARCHETYPAL ARCHIVE and NATURALISTIC UNCANNY MARVELOUS  Sometimes OD has been a spot where I could post offhand remarks on my readings, without going into as much depth as I give my more formal AA essays. More recently I attempted to play around with the concept of crossovers, getting up to #57 before deciding that I really didn't have much to say about the others I'd planned to do.

As with FEMMES FORMIDABLES, I'm still casting about for some low-maintenance project that won't take a lot of time from my main blogs, but will keep OD from, er, flatlining.

My latest idea fot a project-- this time entirely related to comic books, comic strips, and cartoons-- may go the way of the crossover project when I get tired of it, but for now it seems like the way to go