Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Cheyenne Kid #87

Cheyenne Kid #87, 1978 (originally published in 1971), Modern Comics
writer: Joe Gill
artist: San Ho Kim
editor: Sal Gentile

Here comes the cavalry.

The Cheyenne Kid is an army scout that lives by his own rules. He disobeys orders, fraternizes with the enemy, and employs bizarre tactics to defeat his foes. I only wish this comic book was as cool as that abbreviated description. The Cheyenne Kid stars in two of the three reprinted tales in this issue, although why Modern Comics decided to repackage this material is beyond me. Their first printing should have been sufficient for anyone. But I digress.

These stories aren’t terrible. In fact, a few moments actually shine as clever and entertaining by this genre’s standards, but therein lies the trouble. The Cheyenne Kid may be an army scout, but the backdrop is early America, where Native Americans still obscure the road toward Manifest Destiny and patriotic morality, and where saloons are still bastions for gambling and gun-slinging justice. So, I don’t know if this is a western or a military comic book, and the attempted balance between the two made for a fairly disjointed reading experience.

Still, as I said, the Cheyenne Kid has his moments. In the first story, his commanding officer takes an Indian chief prisoner and plans to use his execution as an excuse to start a war with the tribe. As hard as the Kid tries to reason with both sides, he ultimately finds himself trapped between the ungrateful Indians and the ignorant army. Fortunately, the troop respects the Kid’s courage more than their colonial’s bloodlust and work with him to drive the Indians away to safety. His snippy exchange with the commander at the end of the conflict reveals that this Kid has all kinds of guts:

COLONIAL: You did it, Cheyenne, robbed me of my opportunity to make a reputation! I’d write charges against you but the men in this fort think you’re a hero!
CHEYENNE: They think you’re something too, Wiley . . . but I’m not sayin’ what it is!

Oh, snap!

In Cheyenne’s second adventure, he ventures to the Red-Eye Flats, “a town with ten buildings, seven of them saloons and gambling dens!” A veritable Las Vegas, by Old West standards. When Cheyenne calls out a hustler, the cheat shoots him in the chest, but like a square-jawed Clint Eastwood (or to a lesser degree, a dirt-smudged Marty McFly), Cheyenne stands seemingly unwounded and decks the shifty card player. Word spreads of the Kid’s invulnerability, but a gunman figures (correctly) that Cheyenne is “wearin’ steel under his shirt.” The gunman takes his shot at Cheyenne but the Kid inexplicably predicts his moves and lands the winning shot himself. Actually, the explanation is quite simple; counting on word traveling fast, Cheyenne concludes that his challengers will aim for the noggin to bypass the armor. “The body armor gives me an edge . . . even when I’m not wearing it!” You go, Kid.

The third tale is a bit more bizarre. Still a Western, its protagonist, simply named Wander, is a lost “celestial visitor” that “learned his English back in the time of Shakespeare.” Oh-kay. I’ve never heard a cowboy say something like, “Our departure was unhindered which causes suspicion to take shape!” Obviously, Wander isn’t meant for our primitive world, but fortunately, at the end of this short story, some of his brethren from Sirius V return for him. His cowpoke friends Jeb Dooley and Professor Phineas T. Bloat accompany him for the cosmic journey, “never again to be seen on planet Earth!” So long, gentlemen. I like comics and you were all a bit too strange for me. That’s saying something.

The lesson learned with these kinds of comics is that someone somewhere liked them. If they were made, they were read, and in this case, the Cheyenne Kid went twice around the bend. I’d be interested in a modern interpretation of the character, more modern than just the name of his publisher, anyway. I don’t have a taste for western or military comics, but if a writer can combine them on the shoulders of a likeably rebellious army cowboy, I’m listening. In the meantime, this book was something . . . “but I’m not sayin’ what it is!”

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