Welcome to Longbox Junk, the place to find comic reviews you never even knew you wanted!
So, I've been having a little fun just getting random with the Longbox Junk. I generate a number between 1-40 (the number of boxes I have in the comic cave) online and then close my eyes and grab a comic from the box.
This time out, I got my hand into one of my "A" boxes and pulled out ANOTHER Bronze Age Beauty! Thing is. . .it's not exactly Longbox JUNK. It's not the sort of comic you're gonna find in the bargain bin, and it DOES have some collector "value" to it.
But then again, this ain't a comic that's "valuable" enough to plan on selling it to finance a vacation to Disneyland, either (It won't even cover a single ticket, truth to tell). So it's not bargain bin and it's not top-tier. It's just a cool old comic in very nice condition that might be worth a few bucks. You know what? Let's just call it a Longbox Junk retro review and get 'er done!
Ready? Let's do it!
ALL-STAR WESTERN #3
COVER: Neal Adams
Is there ANY cover by the late, great Neal Adams that isn't good? I haven't seen one yet! Don't get me wrong, this isn't the BEST or most memorable cover by Adams, but it's still a darn good one.
El Diablo is one of my favorite western characters, and I'm a bit disappointed that Adams didn't put the spotlight on him a little more here. That said, the flowing cape of the mysterious hero, as well as the flying mane of his trusty steed as they leap into action are awesome details that grab the eye, even if they ARE crowded toward one side by big hunks of text. The flat green background is also very cool and provides a really interesting look for the whole cover.
Let's get inside this thing!
Three stories for your 1970 dime and nickel in here! You'll never hear ME say a Bronze Age comic doesn't give you your money's worth. Two comic stories and a one page text piece. Let's give 'em each their own turn, shall we? WE SHALL!
DEATH DEALS THE CARDS!
SCRIPT: Robert Kanigher
PENCILS: Gil Kane
INKS: Gil Kane
Rick Wilson is a young man that once had a lot of potential, but now rides the outlaw trail, pursued by his own father!
All his life, Rick wanted to follow in his father's footsteps as a Texas Ranger, and so he trained himself over the years to be the fastest gun around. But his father, Ranger Captain Sam Wilson, tried to discourage the young man, because being a lawman also means being a target.
Not realizing his father was just trying to keep his son safe, Rick rebelled against him and threw in with the Dix Gang, led by a ruthless gunman with a grudge against Captain Wilson.
When Captain Wilson's trusted deputy is killed in an ambush that seemed to have been set up by his outlaw son, he becomes more determined than ever to bring Rick to justice. In the meantime, the Dix gang plots to rob a train carrying a gold shipment. A train that will be guarded by Rick's own father.
As they pull off the daring train robbery, Dix tells Rick that he set the whole thing up in order to finally get his revenge on Captain Wilson. The rest of the gang draws their guns, ready to kill Rick. They never really trusted him, as the son of a lawman. But Rick turns the tables, fighting off the gang as Dix goes to kill his father!
Dix confronts Captain Wilson, but the Texas Ranger is a wily old veteran and manages to get the upper hand on the outlaw, pushing him off the train as the dynamite the criminal is carrying explodes! Rick, now done with the Dix Gang, calls his horse and makes his escape as his father shoots at him and swears to bring him to justice.
As he rides away, Rick wonders what the future will hold for him.
Not a bad little story. Unfortunately, it's the second chapter in a four part tale concluding in All-Star Western #5, so it's not the best place to jump into the story of Rick Wilson: Outlaw. But taken on its own, this was still a good read. Like Neal Adams' cover, it's hard to find a Robert Kanigher story that doesn't deliver. Even though this is just one part of the tale, Kanigher definitely makes me want to read the rest! It's just a good, solid western action tale.
And then there's the art. I'm gonna take some slings and arrows for this, but I've never been a fan of Gil Kane's earlier art on what many fans consider his best character. . .Green Lantern. Whoah! Settle down, folks! That said, I DO really like his later stuff, and this little story is a premium example. It's fluid and cinematic. I think (remember, just MY humble opinion) that the Kane art everyone loves most is stiff. THIS art seems to move across the page. The art is really the best part of this story.
AND THE SUN BEAT ON
SCRIPT: Mike Friedrich (One page text story)
An outlaw fleeing through the barren desert, doggedly pursued by the law following a train robbery, discovers that even the finest horse is no match for the searing heat of the Texas sun. Read the whole thing below. . .
Most of the time, these text pieces are just filler and not really worth much mention. But this one I found to be one of the best parts of the comic! It's not actually a story. . .more of a vignette. It starts in progress and doesn't really have an ending. But it has a quality to the writing that sticks in my head and makes me wish it could have been illustrated into a two page intermission. A very nice little surprise!
AND FINALLY. . .
CALL HIM SATAN. . .CALL HIM SAINT!
SCRIPT: Robert Kanigher
PENCILS: Gray Morrow
INKS: Gray Morrow
We begin our tale with a prologue. A miner, saved from an outlaw ambush by a mysterious black-clad and masked rider. The grateful miner tells the masked man that the outlaws are from the Hanged Man gang. . .a ruthless band roaming the area and responsible for several deaths already.
We then shift back in time. . .thirty days in the past.
We meet banker Lazarus Lane and his lady love Nora Hayes in the peaceful town of Puerta Del Sol, in southern California. But the town's peace is soon shattered by a rowdy gang of outlaws that assault Lane on the street in broad daylight. Later, they rob the bank where Lazarus works. He freezes, unable to draw a pistol and shoot as his friend is killed before his eyes!
Lane is labeled by the entire town as a coward and blamed for the death of his friend. Lazarus seeks solace in the company of his native American friend, Wise Owl, who tells Lane that the Great Spirit gives all men a chance to redeem themselves.
A week later, a country ride with Nora suddenly turns violent as the same gang attacks the two of them. As the outlaws taunt Lane for being a coward, he tries to fight back, but is mysteriously struck down by a bolt of lightning!
The terrified outlaws flee, leaving Lazarus for dead. Nora quickly brings him home, where Wise Owl cares for his friend while Nora rushes to get her father, the local doctor.
Nora and her father find Lane in some sort of coma. Alive, but nonresponsive, with Wise Owl chanting over him. The doctor is stumped as to how he can help and leaves Lazarus in the care of his native friend.
The days pass, Wise Owl chants and administers concoctions of herbs and roots until days later, Lane wakes from his coma. He tells Wise Owl that he dreamed that he is neither dead or alive now. His body is now host to a strange being that roams the earth while Lane sleeps. A shadow of vengeance and justice called. . .EL DIABLO!
That night, at the cabin of the miner saved from an ambush in the prologue, the Hanged Man gang. . .so named because their leader survived a hanging. . .has taken him and his family prisoner. The leader of the gang tells the miner that he is determined to kill everyone who was on the jury that condemned him to death. But in the darkness outside the cabin, the mysterious El Diablo is coming!
The outlaws slowly come to realize that something strange is happening. But by then, it's too late. El Diablo has fought his way through the guards posted and confronts the Hanged Man himself. The outlaw desperately tries to use the miner's daughter as a hostage, but El Diablo attacks with a bolo, wrapping it around the outlaw's neck and hanging him from a post.
The Hanged Man now dead and the miner's family safe, El Diablo silently rides away, back to the home of Lazarus Lane. Wise Owl sees the black rider and tells him that he cannot truly die until he pays what is owed to the Great Spirit. Without answering, El Diablo once again returns to the sleeping body of Lazarus Lane as Wise Owl chants.
Awww. . .Yeah! The second appearance and origin of El Diablo! What a great idea for a character. Combining gritty western storytelling with the supernatural makes such a fantastic combination, I love it! Once again, Robert Kanigher does not disappoint.
This story has just the right mix of the weird supernatural eeriness and the dirty western feel to hit a spot that not many characters can get to. I REALLY would have liked for this to be an entire issue, because it does seem a little rushed. But other than that, this is a nice little nugget of Longbox Junk gold.
On the art side of things, comic legend Gray Morrow gives this tale a dark, moody, gritty look that perfectly matches the story. There are some really great moments for the artist in these panels. . .moments that show why Morrow stands up there with just about any other Bronze Age artist you can think of. Like the first story, it's really the art that makes this special.
Neal Adams. Robert Kanigher. Gil Kane. Mike Friedrich. Gray Morrow. Just LOOK at those names. LOOK at the talent on this one single comic. How can it NOT be good? There's NO way this comic can't be good. There's Bronze Age greatness on EVERY SINGLE PAGE.
If you are looking for a great Bronze Age western comic, look no more. It's right here. More than that, this is just ONE issue of what I consider (in my humble opinion) to be one of the BEST Bronze Age comic series, period.
I have all the issues of All-Star Western (Yes, even the coveted first and second appearances of Jonah Hex in issues #10 and 11), and page for page, I say that it can stand right up there with ANY Bronze Age comic series in terms of story and talent. And when I say any, I mean ANY.
Once again, just look at the names behind this ONE issue. And THEN add in Carmine Infantino, Tony DeZuniga, Jim Aparo, Gardner Fox, Joe Kubert, Joe Orlando, Giordano, Gerry Conway, Frank Frazetta, Sergio Aragones, Denny O'Neil, and more! All in ELEVEN ISSUES!
If that's not pure comic gold, I don't know what is. If that's not pure comic gold, NOTHING is.
If you enjoy gritty western stories, then this entire short series (it was renamed Weird Western Tales and went on for 60 more issues) is for you. Some of the individual issues ARE a bit pricey and you're not gonna find these in the bargain bin (The mentioned #10 and #11, first and second appearances of Jonah Hex, are the most pricy of the bunch). Fortunately, all the issues have been reprinted in various Showcase editions.
Overall, great issue. Great series. Highly recommended.
Up Next. . .
It's almost time for the annual October Longbox Junk Halloween Horror festival! But not quite yet. There's still time for another random grab before I get into the spooky stuff.
Be there or be square!