Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The Blue Phantom

Written and drawn by Fred Fredericks, The Blue Phantom (cover-dated June-August 1962) was a one-shot published by Dell Comics. It's a fun story--a well-researched and well-written saga from the War Between the States.

The protagonist is Rex Kingsbury, the son of a Virginia plantation owner. Rex and a band of 150 men have been out west working the gold fields. Now they're on their way home, with enough gold to make each of them wealthy.

But there's trouble afoot on the home front. Fort Sumter has been fired upon and all Brad's neighbors are eager to fight for the Confederacy. Rex's dad has passed away, but not before ticking everyone off by freeing his slaves. Rex's sister Jane thinks their father essentially died of a broken heart after being shunned by the community at large for his anti-slavery position.

Rex and Jane share the anti-slavery sentiments and also still feel loyalty to the Union. So when they throw a barbecue to try to mend fences with their neighbors--well, that doesn't end happily.

Rex's plantation ends up being burned to the ground. But remember the 150 men with whom Rex rode west? You don't go West, work in the gold mines and come back rich unless you are tougher than any two other men.  150 of them make one heck of a cavalry unit and, when Jane is hidden away in a remote cabin, Rex and his boys start making trouble for the Rebs.

By the way, those battles mentioned in the panel above are all real ones. Though this story is fiction, it is indeed well-researched and all the events involving Rex are nicely meshed with real-life history.

Anyway, Rex finds out about Rebel plans to attack the Northern army and delivers a warning. He realizes that the battle will overrun the plantation of Diana Rutherford, the love of Rex's life. Diana, though, is loyal to the South and their relationship has long since gone sour. So getting her out of the line of fire involves not simply warning her of the danger, but actually kidnapping her and dragging her away.

Rex stashes her away in the same cabin his sister is using. The two women, both strong-willed and both loyal to their respective causes, do not have a pleasant visit.

In the meantime, Rex joins in at the First Battle of Bull Run. Despite Rex's information, the Union Army is whipped, but the war goes on. Diana is returned to her only-partially ruined home and Rex rides off to continue to fight for the North.

With nearly four years of war still to go, there is plenty of room here for more stories involving Rex and his cavalry unit, as well as a continued examination of his relationship with Diana (who mostly claims she hates him, but has occasional second thoughts). For instance, having Rex encounter Diana's father or brother in battle would have made a powerful tale.

The climax of this story is open-ended enough to imply that later stories might have been at least tentatively planned. Perhaps the issue didn't sell well enough. Also, this was published the same year Dell broke away from Western Publishing (which started Gold Key Comics), so there may simply have been confusion among the staff as they scrambled to find their own footing and acquire rights to TV shows/movies/etc to replace those properties still owned by Western. For whatever reason, poor Rex was left in the dust of fictional history.

You can read The Blue Phantom online HERE.

Next week, we return to the Microverse to finish up our look at the first twelve issues of the Micronauts.

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