Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Making a six-gun the star

In 1951, Jack Davis was working for EC Comics. In the March/April issue of Two-Fisted Tales (issue number 20) that year, Jack penciled a fun Western called “Army Revolver.”

It’s a story that centered on the titular pistol rather than any one character. A prospector uses the gun to back-shoot his partner. Later, he loses it to a saloon gambler.

Violent events continue, causing the gun to change hands several more times, until it ends up back in the hands of the prospector, who is now lost in the desert and dying of thirst. Fortunately, the revolver still has one bullet left in it…

It’s not the best of the Two-Fisted Tales stories, but it’s still a strong story. Tales took an issue or two to find its footing, but during its all-too-short run it regularly contained well-constructed adventure and war stories—usually ending with an ironic or unexpected twist. “Army Revolver” is a good example of this.

Now let’s jump ahead a decade or so. Jack Davis is doing some work for Marvel and is about to become the regular artist on Rawhide Kid.

Rawhide Kid usually featured two or three short tales involving the Kid and one random Western story. The random western in Rawhide Kid #30 (October 1962) featured a story called “This is… a Gun.” It revolves around the titular weapon rather than one single character.

A guy buys a high-quality six-gun. He figures the gun makes him a big man and becomes an outlaw, but the law soon catches up with him.

The gun is lost in the woods, where it’s found by a cowboy, who uses it as a useful tool and in legitimate self-defense while he works for a living. The moral, of course, is that a gun is a tool that can be used for good or evil depending on who owns it.

It’s not as strong a story as “Army Revolver” and the moral—though perfectly legitimate—comes across as a bit heavy-handed. All the same, it has a very strong thematic similarity to “Army Revolver.”

“This is… a Gun” was drawn by Dick Ayers, but Davis was already doing some work on Rawhide Kid and would be the regular artist by the next issue. It makes me wonder if he and Stan Lee weren’t trading ideas and perhaps Davis mentioned a Western he’d done for EC back in the day. Stan then may have used the general idea to craft a new story.

I have no idea if this is true. If you asked Stan Lee about it, I doubt he’d remember one minor story out of the literally hundreds of tales he churned out during the 1950s and 1960s. And, as usual, I don’t really have a point. It’s simply kind of fun to recognize the similarity in the two stories possibly linked together by Jack Davis. 

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