Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Montezuma's Pay-Off

I've never seen Tales of Wells Fargo, a 1957-1962 Western about a trouble-shooter for the famous stage line. When I was growing up, a number of old Westerns were shown in syndication on weekday afternoons. But this just didn't happen to be one of them. Even as an adult, I've never run across a re-run anywhere. There was a DVD release that includes an inexpensive "Best of..." disc, so I may rectify this failing soon.

It's a nifty premise for a Western, though. And Dell Comics, in seven issues of Four Color and a single one-shot, did some really good stories.

At least one of the Four Colors and the one-shot changed the name to Man from Wells Fargo--I'm not sure why, though these issues came out the year the show ended, so it might relate to word of the cancellation coming down from on high.

Four Color #1287 (Feb-April 1962) used the Man from... title.  That doesn't effect the quality, though. It was written by Gaylord DuBois, Dell's go-to guy for Westerns, and superbly drawn by Alberto Giolitti. That combination pretty much guarantees quality storytelling.

The first story is "Montezuma's Pay-Off." We find Jim Hardie--the protagonist--tracking stage robber Chris Demaray, who is rumored to have "gone Indian" and joined a tribe of Utes.

Jim is ambushed by the Utes and jumped by Demaray. But the criminal whispers a request to fake a good fight followed by Jim surrendering.

Jim complies. This sets up an interesting situation. Demaray has turned over a new leaf. He wants to live with the Utes, but he'd also go back with Jim to keep the tribe from being persecuted. But the Utes won't let him leave--he hasn't been with them long enough to completely earn their trust.

So he is going to have to escape with Jim. He comes up with a story that lets the two of them ride off, but a war party tales them to make sure Demaray returns.

Demaray still has ideas, though. What if he was able to give Jim enough gold to pay off what he stole?

He even knows where he can get the gold. There's a legend that Aztec warriors hid something nearby centuries ago. An Aztec symbol carved on a cliff-face shows where this might be. The Utes have never looked because its rumored to have ghostly guardians.  Demaray and Jim break in and they do find treasure, probably brought here for safe keeping when the Spaniards arrived.

But the Utes trailing them show up, forcing the two men to improvise. Demaray will pretend to kill Jim and leave his "body" in the treasure room. Jim can later leave with enough gold to pay off what Demaray stole.

A booby-trap nearly kills them both, but also convinces the Utes to run for it, leaving the two men safe and free. Jim, who never actually agreed to Demaray's deal, insists the former criminal come back with him, but still leaves him with hope that he'll be able to return to his people after paying back what he stole.

It's a very entertaining story, with an unusual premise and a plot that unfolds logically. There's a lot of small details that add to the story, such as the two men having to wait several minutes after breaking open the treasure room--the air at first is foul after the room has been sealed for three-and-a-half centuries. It's the sort of touch that Gaylord DuBois was always adding to his tales--a detail that isn't essential to the plot but still helps give it verisimilitude.

Giolitti's art is as strong and crisp as it always is, with the panels showing off the landscape being particularly magnificent.

The last panel, in particular, is downright beautiful--as purty a "riding into the sunset" scene as you'll ever see.

This comic is in the public domain, so if you want to read it, you'll find it HERE.

Next week, by the way, we'll leave the Old West for a trip into the future and a visit with space pirates on an airless asteroid.

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