Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Trading Goods and Mountain Lions

Arguably, the 1950s were the true Golden Age for comic books. First, there was some really magnificent storytelling in the medium at that time. Second, there was probably more variety in terms of different genres during the 1950s than any other time in the history of the medium.

The superhero craze of the 1940s had died away and would not reemerge until the late '50s. DC still published Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman comics, but superheroes were otherwise a small drop in the bucket. Instead, we had science fiction and war stories and westerns and.... well, pretty much a zillion
other things.

My personal favorite characters from the decade were Scrooge McDuck and Turok (now that'd be a bizarre team-up, wouldn't it?). But there were many, many characters who left their mark.

Ben Bowie and His Mountain Men, for instance. He first appeared a half-dozen issues of Dell Comics' Four Color, then got his own title. His book took the six Four Color appearances into account and began with #7 and ran through #17.

Ben was active in the 18th Century American wilderness, around the time of the French and Indian War. He and his band (young protege Jim, old-timer Zeke and Indian guide Nakah) would travel about to trade goods to Indian tribes for skins. They'd get involved in various adventures along the way.

Ben Bowie #16 (Aug-Oct 1958) includes the story "The Forgotten Tribe." Ben and his men are canoeing along a river when they are attacked by a tribe of Indians they hadn't seen before. They eventually learn that this tribe had a rather unpleasant experience with early French settlers some years ago, then moved into the deep woods to avoid further contact with white men.

Ben tries to make friends, but that doesn't go well. He's about to pull up stakes and leave when he has an opportunity to save one of the locals from a mountain lion. This earns enough good will to open up trade with the tribe.

This is undeniably a cliche and a weaker story might have used this as its conclusion. But "The Forgotten Tribe" isn't done yet. When Ben's initial stash of trade goods is gone, a chief orders that Ben and Zeke be held hostage until more goods are brought. This leaves Nakah and Jim with the job of retrieving a cache of goods they had hidden earlier in the story--but to also get back with those goods without being robbed by some pursuers. It's a plot twist that effectively and economically takes the story in an unexpected direction.

The early American frontier is a great setting for an adventure series and the storytelling in Ben Bowie is consistently solid and entertaining. Ben's adventures are available to read online here.

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