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‘The EC Archives: Gunfighter Volume 1’ (review)

Written by Ed Wheelan, Gardner Fox 
Art by Ed Wheelan, Graham Ingels, Henry Kiefer,
Johnny Craig, Sheldon Moldoff 

Foreword by Jimmy Palmiotti
Published by Dark Horse Comics


Choke! Gasp! It’s EC cowboys!

I managed to purchase all of the EC New Trend box sets from Russ Cochran back in the day, but stopped with the New Direction sets.

Thus, I never ended up with any of the Pre-Trend stories like those in the new Dark Horse collection of Gunfighter, Vol. 1—collecting issues #5-9.

Let me just say up front that these stories, although several are credited to revered and prolific comics writer Gardner Fox, are no great shakes.

Typical cowboy movie and pulp clichés, and there were scores just like them coming out from a lot of companies back then.

In fact, while we tend to think of horror comics as the big boom after superheroes initially faded, the western genre was probably the bigger trend, beginning in the mid-1940s and continuing throughout most of the 1950s.

A couple of times I’ve tried unsuccessfully to interest publishers in doing a collection of westerns from 1950s comics as a huge amount of them are interesting, if only for their artists. And that’s really the attraction with Gunfighter as well.

EC Comics, of course, is even today rightly lionized as having had the single most impressive bullpen of amazing comic book artists ever to work for any one company all at the same time. Since EC didn’t just magically appear overnight, a number of those great horror and science-fiction artists cut their teeth on the EC Pre-Trend titles.

Thus we see here early and little-seen work by Al Feldstein, Johnny Craig, and Graham Ingels, along with H.C. Kiefer and Sheldon Moldoff, two artists more recognizable for their comics work elsewhere.

Moldoff—best remembered as Bob Kane’s Batman ghost for many years— is seen here in several western stories featuring EC’s only superhero—Moon Girl. This was news to me as I had no idea the character popped up in several issues of Gunfighter, borrowed from her own title.

Actually, though, there are several continuing characters involved here. In fact, Gunfighter is not just the title of the book itself but also a fairly generic drifting cowboy character who toplines each issue, as drawn by Ingels. The Buckskin Kid is a white boy raised by Native Americans to a certain age and then by real-life frontiersman Kit Carson. Fox and Kiefer handle his adventures.

All of these are beautifully printed and fun to look at even if they’re no great shakes as entertainment. If there’s a fault, it’s that the modern digital recoloring, although impressively done, seems almost absurdly out of place on these pulpy, sweaty cowboy stories.

All in all, Dark Horse’s Gunfighter Vol. 1 serves as a nice introduction to western comics of the 1950s, as well as a nice addition to the collection of any EC Comics fan who cares about more than just spa fon, squa tront, and “Good lord!”

Booksteve recommends.


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