Wednesday, April 5, 2017
Stolen Trains, Burning Bridges and Hijacked Armored Cars
In a career that spanned a half-century, Roy Crane introduced the concept of a daily adventure strip with Wash Tubbs, then moved on to do the equally brilliant Buz Sawyer. Perhaps because I read Wash Tubbs reprints as a kid and didn't encounter Buz until I was older, I've always considered Wash to be my favorite of the two. But the recent reprints of Buz Sawyer are reminding me of just how wonderful that strip is. I'm getting to where I'm not sure I can choose a favorite.
A story arc from late 1949 and early 1950 is fine example of how great a strip Buz Sawyer could be.
Buz, who is working as a trouble-shooter for an oil company, is sent to a Central American country to investigate a long delay in getting the oil concessions there. He brings his wife Christy along, figuring the job is an easy one and he can enjoy a working vacation with her. That is actually a silly thing for him to do--Buz ought to know by know that any job he takes will result in danger and the constant threat of sudden death. It happens to him pretty much every time.
Upon arrival, he begins to get an obvious runaround from the oil company's local agent. Looking deeper into the situation, he befriends a local pilot named Pancho Del Rio and finds out that the company agent is helping to fun an impending revolution against the government.
Pancho is an inspired character, giving the story arc emotional depth that adds to the excitement of a great adventure story. Pancho had opposed the current president during the last election and still thinks a poor leader. In fact, that opposition has kept Pancho from getting the permission he needed to start his own airline.
But, by golly, the election was a fair one and Pancho will not support a revolution and will, in fact, fight as hard as he can to keep the legitimate government in power.
Buz and Pancho have several chances to trade off performing heroic deeds as the action leads up to them stealing a train containing the ammunition the rebel army needs. In what I think is one of the most well-paced and exciting sequences in the history of the newspaper comic strips, the next four weeks of strips follow Buz, Christy and Pancho has they try to escape the rebels with the train.
When the train is eventually wrecked, the chase continues afoot. Eventually, our heroes manage to steal a rebel jeep and arrive safely at the presidential palace--though not after there's a close call resulting in their failure to take the rebel flags off the jeep.
But there is no such thing as break time for heroes. There's still the necessity of destroying a bridge to cut off the rebels from reinforcements. Buz and Pancho end up with this job, blowing the bridge but getting captured soon afterwards.
This is yet another exciting sequence. Roy Crane really is at the top of his game here. The story moves along at lightning speed; the art is great; and Crane portrays the Buz/Pancho team-up as a perfect synergy of characters. Neither of the heroes is overshadowed by the other as they continue to work together in tandem. Having effective co-protagonists in an adventure story is not an easy balance for a writer to maintain, but Crane pulls it off.
Anyway, Buz and Pancho rather quickly hijack the armored car in which they had been imprisoned and make their escape. The rebellion collapses, Buz has made his company look good when future oil concessions are considered by the government and Pancho gets permission to start his airline. And we--the readers--come away with the intense pleasure of having experienced a master storyteller regale us with one of his best-ever yarns.
Next week, Turok and Andar have a Snow Day.