Kendra Steiner Editions

September 14, 2020

WYATT EARP : FRONTIER MARSHAL TREASURY, VOLUME FOUR (Gwandanaland Comics #1025)

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WYATT EARP : FRONTIER MARSHAL TREASURY, VOLUME FOUR (Gwandanaland Comics #1025)

Charlton Comics was always a major force in western comics, having (in my opinion) the strongest offerings in the field and staying with westerns until Charlton’s final days (in the last years of the early-mid 80’s, via re-prints….they certainly had enough content in the can from all those 50’s and 60’s comics to pump out re-print material for decades, had Charlton not folded….after all, it’s not like westerns date). Charlton was always ready to stick the ALL-NEW tag on the BILLY THE KID comics from the 70’s that actually were new because people were so used to recycled material—it was an event when you did get something new!

Charlton had its share of licensed western titles based on characters/real people such as Lash LaRue and Tex Ritter, characters with a pre-sold audience. Characters who were historical figures, such as Billy The Kid, a Charlton mainstay for decades, were also popular, but did not require any payment to anyone as they were in the public domain. In 1955, the TV series with Hugh O’Brian THE LIFE AND LEGEND OF WYATT EARP premiered and became a smash hit, running six seasons and generating a massive amount of merchandizing. It’s still being re-run today, and although Hugh O’Brian did a lot of other things later in his career (a favorite of mine is the Harry Alan Towers-produced 1966 remake of Agatha Christie’s TEN LITTLE INDIANS, with an outlandish cast including Shirley Eaton and Fabian, a film perhaps best known for having a gimmicky “whodunit break” right before its climactic reveal), he was never really able to go beyond the Wyatt Earp identity in the public mind, something I’m sure he eventually came to terms with. Someone at Charlton had the brilliant idea of piggybacking on the success on that show without having to pay anyone a license fee because Wyatt Earp was a public domain historical character. Change the title a bit, create a depiction of Wyatt that echoes Hugh O’Brian without looking too much like him, and you’ve got a western comic book that can ride the coattails of the TV series without costing a cent for licensing. That’s the kind of thinking I admire (and which I admire in the so-called “mockbuster” straight-to-video films of recent years which have a title echoing a hit film but just different enough to avoid a lawsuit—I’m a huge fan of the productions of THE ASYLUM and other mini-studios working in that vein).

Fortunately, Charlton’s artists and writers brought their A-game to the Wyatt Earp comic book, which ran for 61 issues, from 1956 to 1967. The plots are not as outlandish as those given to Billy The Kid, as the Earp persona in popular culture (the real Earp is a subject for another article) was always the “gentleman gunfighter,” and that identity is respected in these stories. Also, although Wyatt is a marshal, he is able to travel, to assist friends, and to be hired by those who need him elsewhere, so the stories can be set in any number of different locales and situations. It’s not like, say, the 1930’s Bob Steele films (which I love) where at least half the time (or so it seems) Bob is out for revenge after his father is killed.

I’ve read this collection twice (I probably read some of these issues in original copies way back when too), and it holds up very well. One reason I am reviewing it here is that it would be a good example of western comics for someone not into western comics to read. The five issues here run from 1960-61 (and as the cut-off for Public Domain status in comics such as this, where the copyright was not renewed, is 1963, Gwandanaland could potentially issue at least two, if not three, more WYATT EARP volumes of PD material—I hope they will!), and that was a Golden Age for the western. Dozens of comics were being published, hundreds of paperback-original western novels were being churned out and actively consumed, and westerns were dominating the TV airwaves. The pacing of these stories is excellent, there are colorful and interesting antagonists/villains as well as supporting characters, and the scenes are framed in a way that brings to mind some late 50’s B-western starring, say, Audie Murphy or Rory Calhoun or George Montgomery (to name three actors who were still working in that vein in the late 1950’s). Earp’s character is not only mature and somewhat realistic, but he’s actually somewhat cerebral and complex, no doubt echoing the qualities that Charlton saw as attractive about the Earp TV show.

I am at work while they are on, but I notice that ME-TV is running something like four hours of old-school 50’s and 60’s western TV shows, in black and white, every weekday, for retirees to relive their childhood days of watching GUNSMOKE and WAGON TRAIN. Personally, I’ll take the comic books over those TV shows, but if you are in the mood for, as the cover puts it “GUN-QUICK WESTERN ACTION” that’s well-paced, well-written, well-drawn, and features an interesting and somewhat complex main character, Gwandanaland’s collections of Charlton’s WYATT EARP, FRONTIER MARSHAL are a great buy with clearly presented and sharp scans of the original pages. No recoloring of the originals here—it’s like getting mint copies of these on the newsstand the day they were released, but on quality paper and bound into a book that won’t yellow and “roll” as the original comic would.

NOTE: Gwandanaland has three earlier volumes of Charlton Wyatt Earp…..AND a collection of the Dell Wyatt Earp comics, where ARE directly based on the TV show and licensed (Dell liked to do licensed adaptations of TV properties) from the producers of the Hugh O’Brian TV series. I have not read those yet, but I’m sure I’ll get around to them. Until then, the Gwandanaland Charltons are waiting. And as they remind you at the top of nearly every page,CHARLTON COMICS GIVE YOU MORE!

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