Thursday, August 13, 2015

All-Star Western #2

All-Star Western #2 (On Sale: August 4, 1970) has a wonderful cover by Neal Adams. Finally this month, something to crow about! I remember the day I bought this book and brought it home. That cover is just a classic: the foreshortened hands ready for action, the billowing shirt, that wonderful back-lighting. I was hooked before I opened the cover.

This is a month of change for DC and nowhere is it more evident than here. DC is back in the western business and this time (unlike with Bat Lash), they mean it.

We open with the new series Outlaw by Robert Kanigher and Tony DeZuniga. Though some may have missed Tony's American penciling debut in House of Mystery last month, it was hard to miss him here. Little did we know that very shortly we would be inundated with Filipino comic talent, that Tony was only the first of many to come.

In "Draw Death" when Rick Wilson was a young boy he wanted to be a Texas Ranger just like his father, Samuel Wilson. During their time together they rescued and took in a young Mexican girl named Paloma. As Rick grew older, he soon became resentful of his father who would deny his requests to join the Texas Rangers. He befriended an eagle, which he keep as a pet. 

Eventually Rick's resentment of being treated as a boy caused him to run away from his father. He started hanging out with shady characters, like the Fenton Gang. Rick agrees to help the Fentons rob a stagecoach with the understanding that nobody will be hurt. However the Fentons kill some of the coach riders and Rick is recognized. His father has no choice but to hunt down his son.

Sam finally catches up to Rick, but in a showdown Rick shoots his own father, wounding him and making his escape. Rick is conflicted and decides to bring in the Fentons. On the way back to their hideout Rick is confronted by a masked rider, El Diablo, who warns Rick that the Fentons intend to betray him.

Thanks to El Diablo's warning, Rick manages to get the drop on the Fenton Gang and in a massive shootout is the only one to come out alive. Still wanted for the stagecoach robbery Rick is forced to flee, determined to prove himself a man in his own way. The story ends with Sam Wilson putting up wanted poster for his own son, the Outlaw

For my money, the real prize in this book is the introduction of El Diablo. Some think of him as DC's answer to Zorro, but El Diablo is a much more layered character than Zorro, though I will admit that there are some striking similarities in the appearance of both characters.

Up till this point, Gray Morrow had been relegated to horror and romance stories at DC, so this was our first opportunity to see Gray strut his stuff in an action story, and "The Devil Has Two Faces!"  by Robert Kanigher and Gray Morrow has a lot of action. It begins in the middle of a stagecoach robbery (apparently Kanigher was very big on stagecoach robberies) and the appearance of "A satanic figure in black on a horse with eyes like blazing coals."

You have to check out Morrow's bandits in panel three, from front to back we have Dick Giordano, Angelo Torres and Al Williamson! Fun if you knew who these guy were.

El Diablo kills one of the men (looks like Al Williamson to me), and the others run off. El Diablo returns to the coach to find a beautiful woman (does Gray know of any other kind?), a woman about to give birth, and a reluctant doctor played by the dashing Gil Kane.

The woman and the doctor are traveling together, running from an unhappy past and looking for a new beginning. The doctor had lost his wife and child in childbirth due, he thinks, to his lack of skill. The woman is a prostitute, looking for a new beginning with a man she could care for, but fate has dealt her a different hand.

El Diablo extols the doctor to redeem himself, "Use those same hands to bring life into this world! You have sworn a sacred oath as a physician! You can do it." But while El Diablo checks on the pregnant woman, the doctor takes one of the bandits horses (most likely Al's) and rides off, unable to face his demons and his doubt.

El Diablo tells the prostitute that she must now step up and do the doctor's job, "Pride and prejudice have no place here! Two lives are at stake!" Hours later the cry of a baby fills the night.

El Diablo takes the reigns of the stagecoach and drives it into town, but on their way the rest of the bandits return for another shot at the stagecoach. El Diablo jumps on his horse and once again becomes a dealer of death.

Once the gang is killed they find the body of the doctor, who had apparently run right into the gang in his break from duty. "Poor Doc! Poor, lonely Doc. Now he won't have to run away."

Later in town the sheriff (played by Phil Seuling) asks the woman who the stranger was, that the mother might want to name her child after him.

"She's grateful, yes, but she wouldn't use his name--the name of El Diablo!"

Man, I was hooked. Really just stunning artwork with some amazingly moody coloring, some inside jokes int he form of character references, and a hint of something supernatural. The story ends with a promise that next issue, we will learn who, or what, this strange masked man really is.

What a great book. Two new series and two artists doing their first action work for DC. I was so waiting for the next issue, and disappointment was not an option.

Edited by the head bandito, Dick Giordano. 

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