Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Tales of the Pony Express, Part 4

cover art by Sam Savitt
 It's really too bad that the last of the four stories featuring Pony Express rider Craig Garrett is the weakest of the four. Craig is about to vanish into Pop Culture Limbo, never again to ride into an adventure. It would have been nice if he had gone out on a high note.

But the story is still a good one when taken on its own. Written by Eric Freiwald and Robert Schaefer, it features effective art by Nicolas Firfires that helps move the story along at a brisk pace.

Appearing in Four Color #942 (October 1958), the story  opens with Craig discovering that a particularly fast horse--named the Colonel--has gotten over a bout of illness and is ready to ride again. Craig is determined to use the horse to make a run across the desert in record time.

But a pair of outlaws interfere with Craig's plan. They lure him off his saddle and slug him unconscious. When Craig regains his wits, he finds his saddle and the mail pouch left behind, but the Colonel is gone.

Craig tries to walk to safety, keeping possession of the mail pouch he is responsible for. He can't make it to safety on his own, but a search party finds him before its too late.

Craig heals up and then immediately requests a leave-of-absence to track down the horse thieves. A clue might be the fact that a horse race with big cash prizes is being held nearby. The thieves left the saddle and mail pouches behind, so it's clear that their motivation was the need for a fast horse. That they might be planning on running in the race.

 So far, the story has been great. Firfires' artwork, especially the desert landscapes, has been strong and Craig's deductions about the thieves is perfectly sound. But once Craig gets to town, we run into a painfully contrived situation.

Craig just happens to run into a father and daughter who had paid the ten dollar entrance fee to get into the race, but their horse has since gone lame. This is particularly bad, because the man's wife is sick and they needed the prize money for an operation.

I'm often first in line to defend the use of cliches and literary tropes as often legitimate ways to move a story along. But this is not an effective or proper use of a cliche. This is contrived to the point of being painful and its inclusion in the story is simply annoying. It is meant to serve a legitimate purpose--to give Craig an excuse to eventually include his horse in the race and to show him to be a compassionate man willing to help those in need. But, by golly, it is awkward and brings the story to a screeching halt for a page or so.

Fortunately, things pick up again when Craig finds the Colonel. When confronted, the horse thieves claim the horse is theirs and Craig has no immediate proof that the Colonel belongs to the Pony Express. But when Craig gets into a fist fight with one of the thieves, the Colonel loyally defends his true master. The thieves are panicked into confessing. Craig allows the Dad to ride the Colonel in the race, winning the money needed for the operation.

So the cliched middle is book-ended by a strong start and a strong finish. Overall, Craig Garrett's brief career as a Pony Express rider within the pages of Dell Comics was an honorable and satisfying one. It's a pity he's not better remembered than he is.

You can read this issue online HERE.

Next week, we'll take a look at Superman teaming up with... Superman?


  1. Great cover. May try to find this issue now. I love the Gold and silver age western comics.

    1. I just updated the post with a link to where you can read this online. Here it is again:


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