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A Different Kind of Western

April 10, 2009

For 25 years, DC Comics gave us a Western adventure series that perfectly reflected the changing tides of the DC Universe from the late '40s through the early '70s: Tomahawk. But, geographically speaking, Tomahawk wasn't your usual Western. It was a wild adventure series set not in the vast deserts of the nineteenth century Southwest, but in the dense forests of Revolutionary War-Era America. And instead of battling Indians and lawbreakers, Tomahawk spent his time fighting Indians and the British.

Tomahawk, born Tom Hawk, made his debut in 1947 in Star Spangled Comics #69. The very next year, he also began appearing in World's Finest Comics. Though he was created by Joe Samachson and Edmond Good, however, it was Revolutionary War guru Fred Ray who contributed most to Tomahawk's development over the years. With his coonskin cap and passion for freedom, Tomahawk spent the early years of his run, with his sidekick Dan Hunter close at hand, deciphering secret Indian maps, leading the occasional Wagon Train through Indian Territory and staying on the lookout for Redcoat spies.

Soon enough, in 1950, Tomahawk got his own title, though he continued to appear in World's Finest Comics. Of course, things were starting to change at DC, and the publishers took notice. Superheroes were starting to fade from popularity, and genre books were quickly gaining. Romance, Funny Animal, Hollywood and other uniquely themed books were becoming all the rage...including Westerns. So, Ray's winning combination of Western-style adventure and Revolutionary War action managed to keep Tomahawk on top through it all.

Then, as the '50s wore on and the '60s set in, Tomahawk's tales started to get more and more unusual - yet they perfectly reflected the trends of the times. When the world became fascinated with monsters, Tomahawk had an encounter with Frankenstein. When dinosaurs became popular, Tomahawk did battle against some angry, if out-of-place dinos. Then, with the superhero revival of the early-mid '60s, the American-flag clad Miss Liberty was introduced.

By the end of the '60s, Tomahawk was nearing the end of its run. The introduction of more characters helped keep him afloat for a few extra years, however, most notably those brave men of the Tomahawk Rangers. The Tomahawk Rangers were comprised of Big Anvil, Brass Buttons, Cannonball, Healer Randolph, Kaintuck Jones, Long-Rifle Morgan, Stovepipe, Suicide Simms and Wildcat - a team of colorful characters who would appear sporadically to assist in various sharp-shooting endeavors.

Of course, trends can be fickle. By the early '70s, superheroes were again dropping off and some thought the Western was posed for a big comeback. So for the final issues of Tomahawk, DC moved the time frame up a few decades and shifted their focus to Tomahawk's gun-totin' son. Appropriately, the series was re-titled Son of Tomahawk. That only lasted a brief while, however, and was ultimately cancelled in 1972. And though Tomahawk has rarely been heard from since, we commend him for what was an impressive 25-year run!

With the ongoing resurgence of Westerns, is it time to revisit this character?

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