Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Horse No One Could Tame!

 There were quite a few comic books starring animals during the Golden and Silver Ages. Many of them were published by Dell--Silver, Champion, Trigger, Rin Tin Tin and Lassie were among that crowd.

cover art tentatively credited to Dick Giordano

But other publishers jumped aboard the animal-as-star bandwagon. Charlton, for instance, gave us Black Fury #1 in May 1955. The ebony horse had a 57 issue run, with the final issue coming out in 1966.

Making a horse the star of a Western fits the stories into a relatively narrow template in terms of characterization--the horse is always stronger, faster and smarter than the average horse, showing pretty much human intelligence in his actions. Everything that happens in any one story is predicated on that being true.  But within that template, a good writer could come up with a fair amount of variety.

Black Fury's deal was that he hated humans. In fact, according to a caption in his first story, he's "consumed with a burning hatred for man." But, as it turns out, he is willing to make temporary alliances and he's quite capable of feeling gratitude towards a man or woman who helps him out. Just don't expect him to wear a saddle permanently.

Fury's premiere story opens when a saddle tramp named Cliff is lassoed and captured by a masked gunman.  The gunman ties Cliff to a tree, rides off on Cliff's horse, then returns an hour later to give Cliff his own horse back.

An attentive reader will probably figure out what's going on quicker than poor Cliff does. The outlaw used Cliff's horse to rob a bank, so the pursuing posse is now looking for that horse rather than the one the bad guy gets back. It's not a bad plan and Cliff soon finds himself captured by the posse.

Cliff makes a break for it and does the old "jump-off-a-cliff-into-a-river" trick to get away.  Later, he joins up with a group who are trying to capture a famous wild horse named Black Fury.

Shenanigans follow, as Black Fury keeps outrunning or just plain outsmarting the men. Finally, Cliff comes up with a plan that allows them to finally catch the horse. But he soon learns the group he's fallen in with won't win any ASPCA awards. When Black Fury refuses to be ridden, one of the men starts to whip him. Cliff objects to that, only to then find out the leader of the group is the outlaw who framed him for robbing a bank.

Cliff is about to be lynched, but Black Fury (freed by Cliff ) doubles back to save him. Cliff and Fury then team up long enough to run the leader down, who by now is so terrified of the horse that he confesses his guilt regarding the bank robbery. The story ends with Cliff setting Fury free to run wild once more.

 The writer is not credited (the art is tentatively credited to Stan Campbell). But whomever wrote it knew what he was doing.  I'm impressed by how well constructed and paced the story is. A lot of stuff happens over the course of just 11 pages. The tale is essentially divided into three acts--Cliff getting framed and escaping from posse; Cliff and the others trying to capture Black Fury; Cliff and Fury teaming up to save each other and capture the bad guys.

But the events never seem rushed, with one act flowing smoothly into the next. Though the outlaw leader's confession is a bit contrived, the script and the art otherwise meld together nicely into a fast-moving and satisfying tale. Black Fury isn't as famous as Silver, Trigger or Champion, but he earned the right to hold his head high while riding alongside them.

 You can read Black Fury #1 online HERE.

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