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Saturday, December 06, 2008

High Noon

Released by Prion Books on 6 October 2008. I'm especially proud of this one. Unlike the war volumes which I've edited this year, I've tried to highlight the work of a handful of artists in the pages of High Noon, so the contents are heavily biased towards Gerry Embleton, Jesus Blasco and Alberto Breccia, with 4 stories apiece from Embleton and Blasco and 3 by Breccia, plus a story apiece by Sergio Tarquinio and Jorge Macabich.

My thanks to Gary Dobbs for permission to reprint the review he wrote for his Tainted Archive blog.

Order your copy from Amazon.co.uk.

HIGH NOON
Reviewed by Garry Dobbs
(originally published at Tainted Archive)

I've been eager to get this book—I love comic books and it's been years and years since I've been able to buy a new western comic book, apart from the odd western centric Commando title of course. I visited Borders for this on the day of publication but they didn't have it. Strange when they had other titles from the publisher out the same day. Maybe they think western titles—even comic book ones—are out of fashion and won't sell with the graphic novel buying audience. If so they are fools: this book is aimed at the adult reader yearning for nostalgia and there are loads of us who'd want this book. As soon as I heard of plans for this book months ago I've been longing to get in into my hands.

Several more visits and still nothing and in the end I ordered from Amazon. I've got it now but am disappointed that it wasn't available in store. I really want this title to do well so there are more and more volumes.

The cover's a bit naff—the fellow with the yellow shirt looks like he's been badly photoshopped in and seem out of perspective with the rider on the reared horse behind. The yellow shirt guy is also on the spine but works better placed here. The back cover picture is okay and sums up the danger and excitement of the comic book wild west.

That's just a minor niggle but the cover doesn't come across as well deigned as Steve Holland's War Picture Library collections. With comic books the art is half the story after all. A more serious moan is that the book doesn't contain original publication dates nor artist and author details. I know the writers and artists were not credited in those days so perhaps the information was lost to time. I recognised some of the art as similar to that seen in both Battle and Warlord comics so the artists here must have been jobbing around a lot of publications.

There are 13 stories in all and following a great introduction from the editor we are thrown into the thick of the action with the first story, “Davy Crockett and the Paddleboat Pirates”.

To my mind this was the weakest story in the book as it's not western enough. Apart from the inclusion of Crockett, a western icon, the story is basically a naval battle tale. It's a good story but could have been left out in favour of a more traditional Crockett strip. Still I enjoyed it and it does add variety to the mix.

Next up, “The Gun Crew”, is excellent. Two brothers Fletcher and Martin Lane are part of a posse in pursuit of the vicious Keegan gang. The brothers have more reason than most for wanting to stop the gang as they were responsible for the death of their folks. When the posse are forced to turn back after the gang robbed their replacement horses, the brothers go on alone and are soon working for the Kansas Kid crew gathering cattle after learning that the gang are to rob the town bank after the cattle crews pay their money in at the end of the season.

This story is the traditional western in its perfect form and contains some great gunfights, stampedes and a final thrilling showdown in the Hollywood style. There are some evocative scenery shots and moody character scenes within the black and white frames. Shows how skilled UK comic book artists (who unlike their American counterparts didn't have colour to play with) were in using shadow and shading to create atmosphere. The writing style too is pacey and typical of the British writers of the period. I'm guessing these tales come from the mid to late Seventies as I recognise some of the styles and I was a voracious comic book reader back then.

“Kit Carson and The Man Who Hated Redskins” is the third offering. When the army captures Swift Arrow, son of Cherokee chief Many Clouds, Kit Carson says they should let the young brave go as they are on the verge of peace with the indians. However Colonel Dexter refuses and then his own son is kidnapped by the Cherokee. The Colonel is willing to deal a son for a son until a riverboat trader comes in and informs the colonel that his son is dead. Kit Carson doesn't trust the trader and feels he is provoking an Indian war for his own ends. Carson goes renegade and finds himself at odds with both the army and the indians as ne battles to avert a major indian war. This is another great all action story. The real Kit Carson is a legendary figure and his comic book adventures surely must equal anything the great man ever faced in reality.

Story number four is “The Kansas Kid and the Frisco Racketeers”. The Kansas Kid featured as a character in the second story, The Gun Crew. I'm thinking maybe that story was the character's first appearance and that he proved so popular that he was brought back as a titular character. This Kansas Kid adventure is once again excellent.

Before the fifth story, “Buck Jones and the Apache Manhunt” there is a three page feature called Wild West Scrapbook which is a collection of facts—one entry says that John Chisum, the cattle king of New Mexico always slept on a blanket on the floor. His expensive bed was just for show and much too soft for the outdoors man. Another tells us of the danger gopher holes would present to the cowboys on the range and were responsible for a lot of horse's breaking their legs. These little snippets were originally intended as filler material but they often offer quite priceless snippets of trivia.

Which takes us into the fifth story—Buck Jones, Sheriff of Alkali City is dismayed to discover that a band of rustlers have been stealing cattle from the local Apache group. Worried that this will upset the fragile peace between the whites and the indians, Buck goes out to capture the rustlers before the indians start another war. The plot thickens though when the army sends out an assassin in the shape of old timer Virgil Salt to kill Black Knife who is leading Apache war parties in retaliation for the rustling.

This story is a thrilling adventure featuring outlaws and indians there is a sub-plot running through the narrative about growing old and becoming useless in a hostile land. This is another of the longer stories, split into chapters, and provides a great read.

There also indian trouble in the next story “Kit Carson and the Cheyenne War”. This one's sees a new commander come into the fort and Carson is dismayed to find that the man is an indian hater and wants to stir up a war so he can claim more indian scalps.

The strip unfolds in the usual pacey fashion and there is much action as Kit Carson goes between both sides in order to prevent a full scale Cheyenne war. As in evident from the images here the artwork is all incredibly detailed and yet the guy's drawing these pictures were jobbing artists who had to turn work out at supersonic rates in order to make ends meet. Quite often an artist would be working for two or three publications at the same time. The writing is also top knotch and the fact that the Cowboy Picture Library were the one story each issue spread over the entire digest sized book meant that there was room to tell a good story.

This story is surprisingly violent in sections. The scene where the army commander starts off a war by whipping an indian chief is a case in point.

In his introduction to the book editor, Steve Holland, talks about the days when Buck Jones, Tim Holt and Gene Autry were the western stars of the silver screen. And these tales are all of the ilk that could have fitted into the confines of those old B-westerns. There are never any shades of grey. The good guys wear the white hats and the bad guys the black. And a redskin could never win against a white and were made to do what the white man told them because he knew better. It may be simplistic by the standards of today but if the reader can get in the correct mind set then this book provides some thrilling western reading.

Next up the Kansas Kid returns for the “Brand of the Double D”. Unlike Buck Jones (played by Charles Gebhart in scores of movies) and Kit Carson and Davy Crockett, the Kansas Kid was a wholly fictional character created in the pages of Cowboy Comics which, for many years, was the most successful western comic in the UK.

Buck Jones returns in the next story “The Man from Montana”. Another all action story starring the silver screen's tough cow hand. I noticed from this story that the artwork is darker than the tone used in the rest of the book and on the art stakes it is one of the stand out storys.

This is followed by another of the Wild West scrapbook features. This time a four page section with some good, I didn't know that, snippets.

And then we are straight into the return of Davy Crockett and “the Duel with Danger”.

This is very much the Davy Crockett from the Walt Disney action movie, King of the Wild Frontier. A tall heroic man wearing a coonskin hat and carrying a musket and not the complicated and often cruel loner and patriot that he was in reality. Thankfully the setting for this story is much more traditional than the Crockett story that opened the book and, to my mind, works all the better for it.

If I want to read Crockett I want him out on the wild frontier, befriending good indians and taking on hostile ones, battling the dangers of nature, exposing crooked soldiers, prospectors etc and basically making sure all is right with the world. Thankfully this tale is of that ilk and provides a rollicking, boy's own adventure in the early days of the West.

The next story, “Kit Carson Indian Tamer”, gets my vote for the best art of the entire collection. Click on the image from this story to see the frames in full size and marvel at the incredible detail in the shading of the black and white images. Carson himself, in this story, looks like a world weary man and the entire tale has a very sombre tone.

The story sees the Tonto Apaches in a state of transition. The great chief, Yellow Shirt has died leaving the tribe leaderless. There are braves who want to take his place including Burning Lance, Yellow Shirt's son, who has a hatred of the whites and wants to see his people become warriors again. Most of the tribe think they need to make peace with the whites now that the great chief is dead but his son is furious and says that his father's war against the white invaders must continue.

Kicking off and it's another Buck Jones tale but this time the sheriff is a supporting character and the story centres on deputy Buck Armstrong. Again the artwork is brooding and the action fast and furious.

Davy Crockett returns in “Ricaree”. Crockett is on the trail of Josiah Cannon, an arms trader who has been selling arms to the indians. When Crockett catches up with the desperado he is sheltering with the Ricaree indians. Crockett is friendly with the tribe but since Cannon has married a Ricaree squaw he is now a Ricaree himself and the indians will only hand him over to another Ricaree. Not fancying the idea of marrying a squaw, Crockett instead elects to take the endurance test to see himself become a Ricaree which will enable him to capture Cannon without provoking an all out war. Crockett starts out on a series of tasks, each more dangerous than the one before. These involve being thrown into a torrential river with one's hands bound, racing two horses while bound between them and scaling a deadly mountain in order to get an eagle's feather.

It's all very exciting and keeps up the high standard set by the rest of this collection .

Kit Carson rounds off the book with the final tale, “The Trail of Treachery” in which Kit finds himself pitted against Gilt Halliday and Rod Clanton as he tries to help a wagon trail through hostile indian territory.

This is a perfect story to end the collection since it contains all of the ingredients so important to a truly classic traditional western. It's all here—buffalo hunts, bush fires, full scale indian attacks and at one point Carson is captured by the indians who blame the people of the wagon train for killing the chief's son.

All in all High Noon is a brilliant collection, all the better for how rare it is that these old western tales are printed. One of the comments on an earlier part of this review said: now we can read the comics our father's used to read.

And isn't that just wonderful!

High Noon is a great collection of 13 tales drawn from the dim and distant past—reprinted larger than their original size they can once again shine. And boy do they illuminate a brilliance in retro storytelling of the mythical wild west we all grew up with.

In conclusion I love this book and the selection of stories cover pretty much all of the genre conventions remembered from the B-movies and pulp novels. When these stories were originally written the second world war was not that far gone, Television was in its infancy, John Wayne, Gary Cooper and Roy Rogers were cinema stars, much of the once wild west was as it had been back in the day and that's incredible. This book is not only great entertainment for anyone wanting a nostalgic view of the western but essential for anyone wanting to know more about the history of the comic book.

I stated that I had problems finding the book instore but it is available at Amazon for a price cheaper than the cover price.

So buy it—you'll be glad you did.

Order your copy from Amazon.co.uk.

Contents

Davy Crockett & the Paddleboat Pirates (CPL 323, Sep 1959) Art: Gerry Embleton.
The Gun Crew (CPL 439, Feb 1962) Art: Alberto Breccia.
Kit Carson and the Man Who Hated Redskins (CPL 353, May 1960) Art: Jesus Blasco.
Kansas Kid and the 'Frisco Racketeers (CPL 396, Mar 1961) Art: Gerry Embleton.
Buck Jones and the Apache Manhunt (CPL 402, May 1961) Art: Alberto Breccia.
Kit Carson and the Cheyenne War (CPL 389, Feb 1961) Art: Jesus Blasco.
Kansas Kid and the Brand of the Double-D (CPL 332, Nov 1959) Art: Jorge Macabich.
Buck Jones and the Man from Montana (CPL 386, Jan 1961) Art: Jesus Blasco.
Davy Crockett and the Duel With Danger (CPL 331, Nov 1959) Art: Sergio Tarquinio.
Kit CarsonIndian Tamer (CPL 349, Apr 1960) Art: Gerry Embleton.
The Hunter (Buck Jones) (CPL 410, Jul 1961) Art: Alberto Breccia.
Davy CrockettRicaree! (CPL 339, Jan 1960) Art: Gerry Embleton.
The Trail of Treachery (Kit Carson) (CPL 401, May 1961) Art: Jesus Blasco.

Synopsis

Whooping Injuns, wandering cowpokes, grizzled prospectors, mysterious hombres in sombreros and masked outlaws—this is the untamed West of our childhoods, where the heroes are rugged and honest, the villains are yellow-bellied cowards and only the toughest survive. From the Great Plains to dusty Texan trails and lawless prospecting towns, every thrilling story in this book is jam packed with gunfights, jaw busting saloon punch ups, racing stagecoaches and tomahawk throwing varmints. So saddle up partner, grab your six-gun and prepare to ride into town.

Publicity

full bleed, front & back covers

Promo cover for Carlton sales catalogue

Reviews

Links to Gary's original review at The Tainted Archive (part 1, part 2, part 3)

4 comments:

ARCHAVIST said...

can't wait for this one.

Lew Stringer said...

A great collection Steve. I bought this book the other day and I'm thoroughly enjoying it. I rarely looked at the Fleetway libraries as a kid so these books are a revelation. The artwork is stunning.

Steve said...

Hi Lew,

Glad you enjoyed it. And glad especially that you liked the artwork as it's all by some of my favourite artists.

ARCHAVIST said...

That promo cover for the book is far better than the one used.