Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Renegade Rifles

Cover Artist unidentified

Two weeks ago, we looked at the first of two stories that appeared in Four Color #904 (May 1958). We'll now finish the all-too-brief careers of Lee Hunter and Reb Stuart with an examination of the second story from this issue. The writer is uncredited and the Grand Comics Database identifies the author as Ray Bailey.

The premise of the story is hardly original--somebody is supplying Indians with rifles, who ambush some of the troopers from Fort Defiance. Somebody has to find the source of those rifles and cut off the supplies. It's probably impossible to count how many Westerns in various media have used a similar plot.

I'm not discounting the importance of originality, but sometimes an old story idea can be given life by good characters and good storytelling. We certainly have that here. Lee and Reb's antagonistic relationship makes them interesting, while the story itself unfolds in an exciting manner.

Lee and Reb capture an Indian for questioning. When the Indian refuses to talk, they let him go and give him back his rifle, but without his ammunition. Then its a matter a following him to see where he goes to get more bullets.

The Indian leads Lee and Reb to a remote trading post, but when they discover the owner is a Southerner, Reb instantly decides he must be innocent. No Southern Gentleman would sink to the level of telling fibs!

I enjoy the Lee & Reb stories a lot and I wish the two had spun off into their own regular series. That being said, this is one of several occurrences in their four stories together in which Reb gets stubborn and comes to a frankly stupid conclusion just to highlight his antagonism against the North in general and Lee Hunter in particular. That antagonism is a legitimate part of his character, but allowing it to so blatantly override the intelligence and courage he exhibits in other scenes makes for moments of awkward characterization. These scenes aren't enough to spoil otherwise good stories, but they are nonetheless awkward moments.

Lee searches the trading post on his own, finding a stash of rifles. The trader wounds him and runs off.

But the wound isn't serious. The bad guy is trailed to an Indian village, where Lee comes up with an effective tactic that allows the troopers to flank the rifle-armed Indians and when a short, sharp fight. Reb, annoyed by the idea that a fellow Southerner lied to him, manages to catch the villain and bring him to justice. Lee manages to get in one last dig at the former Rebel as the story ends.

And sadly, that's all there is for Lee Hunter and Reb Stuart. After this issue, the two faded into Comic Book Limbo and haven't been seen since. That's too bad. Despite a few minor complaints, I found their four stories together to be well-written and entertaining Westerns. These stories came out at a time when there was a glut of Western comic books, novels, TV shows and movies, so perhaps Lee and Reb were simply lost in the shuffle. But you can never have too many comic book heroes. There would have been room for them.

This issue is available online HERE.

Next week, the Batman meets the Penguin for the first time.

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