All-Star Western #119

ALL-STAR WESTERN ("starring JOHNNY THUNDER" on the cover logo) #119;
June-July 1961; DC Comics; Julius Schwartz, editor.  The cover blurb advertises,
"Featuring MADAME .44, Outlaw Queen-- in GHOST TOWN GUN-FIGHT!"  with an additional
blurb, "Amazing New Series-- SUPER-CHIEF-- Wonder Warrior of the Woodlands!" 
On the cover scene by Gil Kane and (I think) Joe Giella, Johnny Thunder and
the redheaded, white-clad, bandanna-masked Madame .44 are in the thick of the
advertised gunfight, directing fire at unseen adversaries.

Review by Bill Henley

At the beginning of 1951, superheroes were mostly "out" in comics, Westerns
(among other genres) were "in", and so, ALL-STAR COMICS, formerly the home of
the glorious Justice Society of America, suddenly converted with issue #58 to
ALL-STAR WESTERN, featuring such range-riders as the Trigger Twins, Foley of
the Fighting 5th (Cavalry), and (starting with issue #67) the double-identity
gunslinger Johnny Thunder, who swiped his name from the previous humorous
quasi-superhero of the JSA and launched his career by taking over the lead spot from
the original Green Lantern in ALL-AMERICAN COMICS/WESTERN. 

But by mid-1961, just over a decade later, the tables were turned. 
Superheroes were in again, Westerns were on the way out (at least at DC Comics-- the
horse operas would have a few more years of popularity on TV and at some other
comics publishers) and editor Julius Schwartz struggled to keep DC's two
surviving Western titles alive.  For the generically titled WESTERN COMICS, he tried
a lead feature that came as close as a Code-approved comic book could to the
gritty reality of Western life (see my review of WESTERN COMICS #77, featuring
Matt Savage, Trail Boss, which I think is still up on the Silver Age Reviews
website).  For ALL-STAR WESTERN , on the other hand, Schwartz seems to have
adopted the motto "If you can't beat the superheroes, join them", and not only
emphasized the more superhero-ish aspects of lead feature Johnny Thunder, but
brought forth one of the most bizarre cross-genre characters in comics history.

The Johnny Thunder tale is written, I think, by Gardner Fox, and drawn by
Kane and Giella.  The striking splash page depicts the bespectacled schoolmaster
John Tane and the primly dressed, long-skirted, blonde Jeanne Walker
confronting each other as, in the background, half-toned figures of their alter egos,
Johnny Thunder and Madame .44 face off with guns in hand.  "When an outlaw
queen meets the king of the lawmen, sparks are bound to fly!  And when each has a
telltale clue to the other's secret identity, the action and suspense pile
up!"  As the story begins, black-haired lawman Johnny Thunder is warned, "Freeze,
Johnny Thunder!  I'm going to SHOOT!"  But it's not quite what you think---
this time, Johnny faces not a gun but an early-model camera, wielded by lady
photographer Jeanne Walker.  Finding that  Johnny isn't keeping still enough for
his image to register on the crude camera equipment, Jeanne insists that he
use a "head-holder" to keep his face motionless.  But surreptitiously, as she
prepares Johnny for his photo sitting, she smears the back of his head with
"waterproof powdered silver".  By watching the townsmen of Mesa City for this
telltale mark, she hopes to ferret out Johnny Thunder's secret identity.  But as
Johnny assumes that secret identity by washing black dye out of his hair, he
has similar ideas in his mind, "I've eliminated the possibility of every girl
in Mesa City being Madame .44 - except one!", namely, photographer Jeanne
Walker herself.  He does not know that, even with his hair restored to its natural
blond color as teacher John Tane, the silver streak left by sneaky Jeanne

As Jeanne walks the streets of Mesa City looking for the man with the
telltale silver mark, she encounters John Tane and nearly discovers his secre then
and there-- but she is distracted by the arrival of a Cheyenne Indian girl, who
urges Jeanne to accompany her.  As the two ride off together, John Tane's
curiosity is sparked, and eventually he reassumes his Johnny Thunder identity to
trail them.  "All I keep thinking of is-- suppose Jeanne Walker is Madame .44? 
Right now-- she might be out robbing!"  Down the trail, Johnny discovers a
fallen man who says that Madame '44 stole "ten thousand iron men" (ie, dollars)
from him.  Leaving the man to be cared for by a passing stage driver, Johnny
rides in pursuit with his suspicions of Jeanne redoubled.  But as he approaches
the ghost town of Blackwater Gulch, he is observed from atop a ridge by the
Madame herself, who fears that as "the greatest tracker in the West", he will
discover the hiding place of the robbery booty she cached there.  She hurries
to pull the money out of its hiding place in a dry well, but too late, for
Johnny gets the drop on her and clicks handcuffs on her wrists.  Then he reaches
to pull down her bandanna mask and expose her identity-- but before he can do
so, a bullet zings between them, coming from a band of armed men led by the
man, Ab Jones, who Johnny just rescued.  "Why, it's that fellow you robbed!"  As
the two dive for cover, Madame insists, "I robbed him of money he stole from
the Cheyenne-- intending to give it back to them!"  The attackers are clearly
as willing to shoot Johnny as Madame '44, and so Johnny unlocks her cuffs and
gives her back her guns so that they can fight together.  Meanwhile, the Madame
explains that Ab Jones is a crooked Indian agent who got rich by taking
government money for supplies to the Indians and pocketing most of the money while
giving the Cheyenne "threadbare blankets and patched clothes".  As part of her
self-appointed mission to "help those the law can't punish", Madame .44
intends to give the proceeds of Jones' graft to the Indians.  Moreover, she claims,
Ab Jones is the leader of the "Green Hat Gang" Johnny and his father, Sheriff
Tane, have been hunting-- though "that's your affair-- not mine!" 

Agreeing to split up, Johnny climbs into a barn loft as Madame gives him
covering fire, and then leaps down as a "human battering ram" to subdue three
members of the gang.  Meanwhile, the Madame knocks out a fourth owlhoot and then
makes her own escape, with her secret identity intact but without the $10,000
that Johnny Thunder recovered.  As she schemes to get the money back, Johnny
has a bad day in court, as the four attackers escape justice by insisting that
they didn't recognize Johnny Thunder and, seeing him fighting alongside the
notorious Madame .44, thought he must be an outlaw like her.  In the absence of
any other evidence (an editor's note explains that Johnny can't repeat what
Madame told him about Ab Jones because it would be "hearsay evidence" and
inadmissible), the four are released and ride away.  Johnny is now determined to
catch Ab Jones with the goods, but he figures it will be less suspicious if he
trails them in his John Tane identity-- and even less suspicious-looking if he
has a "date" along.  (Did they talk about going on "dates" back in the 1880's?) 
Meanwhile, Madame .44 has decided to replace the lost loot by winning a
$10,000 reward for the capture of the Green Hat Gang, and she too decides to trail
the gang in her civilian guise and under the cover of an outing with a
gentleman acquaintance.  And so, John Tane and Jeanne Walker take a buggy ride
together... as each of them nurses suspicions that the other is not what he or she
seems.  The subterfuge saves their lives as the Green Hats spot them from
hiding, but hold their fire figuring there is no point shooting at a harmless
schoolteacher and his lady friend.  But each of the pair also spot the outlaws'
hiding place, and that night, after returning to town, Johnny Thunder and Madame
.44 both ride out again on the trail of the gang.  As they confront the
outlaws, they are as startled to see each other as the Green Hats are to see them,
and Johnny is nearly shot, but Madame .44 saves his life by knocking the
outlaw's gun hand aside.  Working as a team, Johnny and Madame .44 subdue the gang
with their stolen loot and graft earnings, and Madame urges Johnny to repay her
lifesaving aid by donating the $10,000 reward to the Cheyenne.  But in the
course of the fight, each acquired a telltale mark-- a powder burn on Madame
.44's wrist, and a bruise on Johnny's cheek.  The Madame makes her escape as
Johnny is securing the prisoners (presumably he didn't try too hard to hold her as
well) and the next day, John Tane and Jeanne Walker aproach each other on the
Mesa City street, each looking for the mark that will expose the other's
secret.  "Will Johnny Thunder uncover the secret identity of Madame .44?  Will the
outlaw queen solve a riddle at which so many others have failed?  Don't miss
the surprising sequel in the next issue of ALL-STAR WESTERN!"  But, alas, all
of the readers missed that surprising sequel, for there was no next issue of
ALL-STAR WESTERN (at least not until 1970, and then it didn't have either
Johnny Thunder or Madame .44 in it).  The title was cancelled with this issue. 
(And as if to symbolize that what goes around comes around, the next page of the
issue was a full-page house ad for issue #5 of JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA, the
hit title featuring the reincarnation of the JSA which had been evicted from
ALL-STAR a decade before.) 

Amazingly enough, however, the Johnny Thunder tale at long last did have its
sequel , in perhaps the longest-continued story in comics history.  In DC
COMICS PRESENTS #28, Dec. 1980 (whose lead feature was a Superman/Supergirl
team-up vs. Mongul), fan writer Mike Tiefenbacher teamed up with Gil Kane, artist of
the original story, to tell "Whatever Happened to Lawman Johnny Thunder?" 
Picking up where they left off so long ago, John Tane and Jeanne Walker approach
each other, still looking for the telltale clue-- when once again they are
interrupted by the attack of the bank-robbing Silk Black, an outlaw with a
special mad-on for Johnny Thunder.  As each of the couple run off the change
identity, Johnny muses on how he got started in the double-identity business, in
order to get out of a family double bind with a sheriff father who wanted him to
follow in his footsteps as a lawman, and a deceased mother whose last wish was
that her son would lead a peaceful life as a teacher..  As Johnny gets his
mind back on the present and starts shooting it out with Silk Black, he is
winged in the shoulder.  Madame .44 rides to the rescue, only to be targeted by
Sheriff Tane (Johnny's father) who knows her only as an out-and-out outlaw.  He
doesn't know, as Johnny now does, that "Despite her unlawful methods, Madame
.44 wants JUSTICE as badly as I do!"  Johnny tries to stop his father from
gunning down the Madame, but blacks out from his wound.  When he comes to, Silk
Black, the Madame and the Sheriff have all disappeared, and a storm is blowing
up.  Riding on their trail, Johnny reunites with Madame .44, and working
together they manage to survive an avalanche, a fall into a raging river and a
climactic battle with Silk Black-- but in the process, their secret identities are
thoroughly exposed to each other as the pouring rain washes out the hair dye
each one uses.  Johnny brings the Madame to the Sheriff's custody, but arranges
for a full pardon for her, and shortly after they are married-- and we learn
that all this is a family story being told to their children, one of whom is
named Chuck-- presumably meant to be a very distant ancestor of Bouncing Boy of
the Legion of Super-Heroes.

But back to ASW #119, for there is one story left before the title closes up
for good-- the third and last tale of Super-Chief, super-powered hero of an
Indian tribe "in the days before the white man came".  (Earlier in the run of
ASW, one of its features was Strong Bow, another warrior of the pre-Columbian
era, though without super-powers.  Apparently DC didn't mind having Indian
heroes as headlines, but was antsy about having them operate in historical times
when they might get into conflict with white people.)  The story is by Gardner
Fox with pencils and inks by Carmine Infantino, and on the splash page of "The
Sky People!" Super-Chief holds himself aloft in the sky by whirling a tree
branch like a propeller, as green men using similar whirling devices shoot
ray-guns at him.  As the story begins, Flying Stag, "mightiest hunter of The Nations
tribe", fires an arrow at a deer, only to see the deer dodge his arrow by
floating into the air.  "By Manitou!  Some great magic steals my dinner right
from under my eyes!"  Meanwhile, "his sweetheart White Fawn" prepares food for
the two of them and her mischievous young brother Lightfoot, but when Lightfoot
plays a prank on her she says with exasperation, "Ohhh-- I wish Manitou would
come and carry you off, sometimes!"  Be careful what you ask for, for
Lightfoot floats off into the air-- crying "Save me!  I didn't mean it!"-- as if her
wish had been granted.  When the panicky White Fawn tells Flying Stag what has
happened, he concludes that "I can best investigate this mystery as--
Super-Chief!"  Seeking out his secret cache, Stag reflects that "For one hour out of
every 24, Manitou has granted me super-powers!  Mine is the strength of 1000
bears, the speed of 1000 deer, the leaping prowess of 1000 wolves!"  He dons his
"costume", which consists of a buffalo-head mask, black leggings and the
amulet which grants him his powers, and takes giant leaps through the air hoping
to spot Lightfoot and other living things that have been snatched into the sky.
"Meanwhile, young Lightfoot finds himself in a great room facing creatures
the like of which he has never imagined"-- green humanoids who are studying
Earth life-forms before beginning their hunt for the valuable mineral "carasote"
(aka aluminum).   Rather than being cowed by his close encounter with alien
life, however, Lightfoot is determined to repay them for "treating him quite
arrogantly"  He fells them momentarily with sneezing powder from his parfleche
bag, and seizes a control rod, hoping to snap it off to use as a war club.  The
rod doesn't break, but it does cause the space vehicle they are in to crash to
the ground.  After making the forced landing and subduing Lightfoot, the
aliens decide to start their "carasote" mining operation while repairing the
damage to the ship.  (Hasn't all this taken longer than the hour Super-Chief keeps
his powers?  For that matter, did pre-Columbian Indians really keep time in
terms of hours?)  Super-Chief is alerted by animals fleeing from the noisy
mining machine, and, reaching the scene,  leaps into the air lifting the mining
engine and lets it crash to the ground and smash.  He then uses his super-speed
to disarm the alien guards (apparently recognizing their weapons as a threat,
even though he has no experience with regular guns, let alone ray-guns).  Some
hunters of "the Nations" then arrive on the scene, but so does the spaceship
(apparently repaired already, or maybe a second ship, it's not altogether
clear).  The aliens descend from the ship hanging from whirling propeller devices
and fire their stun-guns at the Indian tribesemen.  Dodging the blasts,
Super-Chief converts a tree trunk into an imitation of the propeller devices and uses
his powers to spin it at super-speed and lift him into the air.  while
praying, "Great Spirit, give me the strength to overcome these sky creatures!" 
Though he knows that his allotted hour of power is almost up, he manages to
destroy the aliens' stun-guns and knock them out of the air, causing his tribesmen
below to shout, "Only Super-Chief could have defeated these men who fly like
birds!  Aieee!  He is the greatest of all chiefs!"  But then, as his hour
expires, Super-Chief realizes that little Lightfoot is still a prisoner in the
"skyship" above.  Quickly coming up with a plan, (non)Super-Chief directs his
braves to create a giant bow and arrow by bending back trees and using a log as the
"arrow"-- to which Super-Chief himself clings as it shoots skyward.  The
"arrow" falls short, but Super-Chief manages to catch a fin of the spaceship with
his rope, and then the Indians on the ground grab the other end of the rope
and pull on the ship, forcing it to land.  An unhurt Lightfoot is released and
reunited with White Fawn, and the aliens emerge to bargain with the Indians
using telepathy.  In return for permission to mine the "carasote" which the tribe
has no use for, the aliens present Super-Chief with a jeweled necklace (an
allusion to the story of Indians trading Manhattan for $24 worth of trinkets?) 
and Super-Chief presents it to White Fawn.  But Super-Chief only gets
super-grief as a reward, for when he resumes his "civilian" identity as Flying Stag,
Fawn only complains, "Why don't YOU ever win a pretty necklace for me, the way
Super-Chief did?"  "I can't tell her it was I who won it-- without betraying
my secret identity!  But this is a sacrifice I must make!  In order to obtain
my super-powers, I vowed never to let anyone know who I really am!  I'm my own
worst rival!"  The closing caption promises, "Another startling adventure with
Super-Chief in the next issue!", but, again, it was a promise that was
broken.  And no one ever got around to doing a story of "Whatever Happened to
Super-Chief?" (though someone should have in that DC PRESENTS series, it would have
been a hoot).  Indeed, as far as I'm aware, Super-Chief has never appeared
again except for a reprint of his first story in a 1970's SUPERMAN 100 PAGE
SPECTACULAR.  (I reviewed ASW #117 featuring that story and also the debut
appearance of Madame .44, years ago on the list in the pre-Yahoo days...but I lost
that review in a hard drive crash.  I don't suppose anyone has that review, or
others of mine, saved somewhere?)