Showcase #72 (Top Gun)

SHOWCASE #72; Jan-Feb. 1968; DC Comics; Robert Kanigher, editor; featuring 
"Top Gun"-- a blanket title for reprints of Western stories from DC's 
1940's-50's Western line.  The cover by Russ Heath depicts gunslinging hero  Johnny
Thunder shooting a silhouetted bad guy at point blank range (and it looks  like
he's shooting him in the stomach, which is kind of nasty).  According  to the
cover blurb, "The Real Old West EXPLODES to Life Again!  Featuring  JOHNNY

Review by Bill Henley

By  the latter part of 1967, when this book appeared, the Silver Age of
Superhero  Comics was already showing signs of tarnish.  The BATMAN TV show was no 
longer a national craze and was heading towards cancellation in early '68.  
The smaller comics publishers that had jumped on the superhero bandwagon were 
jumping back off.  And even DC, which started it all, was taking another 
look at comics genres it had abandoned during the hero boom-- genres such as 
horror, teen humor....and Westerns.  I believe this SHOWCASE issue was DC's 
first attempt to test-market a Western revival, though I don't know if the 
issue's reprint content was an atttempt to do so on the cheap, or because (as 
sometmes happened with SHOWCASE) something else planned for the issue fell  through
at the last minute.

Even during the Western genre's comics heyday  in the 1950's, DC wasn't
really a major player compared to other publishers such  as Atlas-Marvel, Dell, and
ME (Magazine Enterprises).  DC had a few  licensed cowboy-star comics such as
DALE EVANS and JIMMY WAKELY in the late  40's, and HOPALONG CASSIDY (taken
over from Fawcett) in the mid to late  50's.  And there was TOMAHAWK, which ran
unbroken through the 50's and 60's  but wasn't really a conventional Western
(at least till the end; see my recent  review of SON OF TOMAHAWK #131).  But as
far as staright, original Western  titles were concerned, DC was limited to
three anthology titles, ALL-AMERICAN  WESTERN, which ran 1948-52 before
converting to a war book; ALL-STAR WESTERN,  which broke diehard superhero fans'
hearts when it went west and evicted the  JSA, and ran till 1961; and the
generically titled WESTERN COMICS, which ran  1948-61.  The stories reprinted in this
SHOWCASE come from the ALL-AMERICAN  and ALL-STAR titles.

First, we have the Trigger Twins, in "Sheriff on a  Spot!", originally
published in ALL-STAR WESTERN #101 from 1958.  The story  was written by Robert
Kanigher, pencilled by Carmine Infantino and inked by Joe  Giella.  (Incidentally,
credits and original publication dates in this  review are courtesy of the
Great Comic Book Database, which I finally figured  out how to access...though
the artistic credits, at least, are pretty  obvious.)  On the splash page,
Sheriff Walt Trigger is confronting a  shadowed gunman who is shooting at his feet
and warning, "Next shot-- I raise my  sights!", but though he has lost his
own gun, the sheriff refuses to retreat;  "Can't let the law fall-- before a
killer's guns!"

In a scene highly (and  probably consciously) reminiscent of the classic
movie "High Noon", the assorted  townspeople of Rocky City hide inside buildings
as their sheriff, Walt Trigger,  waits for the arrival of a killer known as (no
kidding) Doc Doom on the 3:23 pm  train from Pecos.  Or *is* it Walt Trigger
waiting for the showdown?   Evidently not, for in back of the general store
owned by his brother Wayne  Trigger, the real sheriff thinks, "I've got to stop
that twin brother of mine  from being a bull's eye target for me!"  Dressed in
Wayne's civilian  clothes, Walt goes out on the street and tries to dissuade
Wayne, who is wearing  Walt's distinctive buckskin sheriff's outfit and badge,
from taking his place  yet again.  But Wayne insists; "The Sheriff of Rocky
City can't run from a  killer sworn to get him-- the moment he's released from
prison!"  "There is  no Sheriff of Rocky City, Wayne-- since I've resigned!",
Walt points out.   Not so; Wayne informs him; he tore up Walt's letter of
resignation before anyone  saw it, and now he, Wayne, is going to uphold Walt's
reputation as "a hero-- a  legend!"  "You know I'm a fumbler, Wayne!  You know
I'm just not good  enough to tackle Doc Doom!  I don't care about myself, but
it's not fit for  the law to fall before Doc's guns!", Walt says, explaining
why he isn't facing  the danger himself.  Walt goes on to recount past exploits
of "his" which  were actually made possible only by Wayne's secret help....
such as escaping  from a quicksand bog while under fire from the "Cactus Gang". 
Back in the  present on the Rocky City street, Walt is about to carry out his
threat to  resign publicly, when a young boy darts out to cheer him on; "No
badman can beat  you, Sheriff Walt!  All of us kids are going to be like you
when you grow  up!"  "Well, Walt?  Want to break a kid's heart by resigning?"  
his brother asks.  Apparently not, for Walt agrees to change clothes with 
Wayne again, and, clad in his official "uniform", take up the vigil for Doc Doom 

"And then, like a black shadow spreading its wings across the  prairie....the
3:53 FROM PECOS..."  "A lone figure gets off-- before whom  the prairie seems
to shrink... His face is the face of Doom (but no, it's not  covered by a
metal mask)....His hands are the hands of Doom... His steps  are...(well, you get
the idea).  As Doc advances on his target, unknown to  Walt, Wayne has
changed back into his duplicate sheriff's outfit, just in case  Walt needs some
behind-the-scenes help.  And it's a good thing, for Wayne  soon discovers why Doc
Doom is so confident of victory; he has a couple of gang  members backing him
up from hiding.  Not wanting to attract attention by  gunfire, Wayne allows
himself to be lassoed by the two gunmen, but then, "with a  mighty effort,"
yanks them off their horses with their own ropes and "hurtles  into them like a
twin-fisted thunderbolt," putting them out of action.  But  now, it is up to the
"fumbler" Walt to face Doc Doom himself.  And at first  he seems to justify
his own low opinion of himself, as his fast draw is too slow  and the Doc shoots
his twin guns out of his hands.  Doc shoots at the  ground by Walt's feet
and orders the now unarmed sheriff to "Dance!"  But  no dancing for Walt today;
instead, he advances steadily toward the outlaw,  repeating to himself
mentally, "Can't let the law fall-- before a killer's  guns--!"  Presumably all his
determination would be of little use if Doc  actually fired at point-blank
range, but he is so unnerved by the lawman's  fearless advance that he lets Walt
get close enough to take him out with a punch  to the jaw.  And so, Walt
justifies his young fan's confidence after all;  "I told you no gunman could stop
you, Sheriff Walt!"

Though the series  ran for nearly the whole run of ALL-STAR WESTERN, the
Trigger Twins had possibly  one of the silliest premises of any Western strip, or
indeed any kind of  strip.  It was an example of writer Robert Kanigher's
tendency to take a  premise and absolutely pound it into the ground.  It never was
clear why  the two brothers didn't do the sensible thing and exchange roles
permanently and  publicly, with the crack-shot Wayne taking on the job of
sheriff and the  well-meaning but inept Walt becoming a peaceable storekeeper. 
(Another  oddity was that when the series was cover-featured in ASW, the covers
invariably  featured both twins in their identical sheriff outfits-- even
though the whole  premise depended on their never being seen together in "uniform"!)

The  next, short (3 page) feature is "Panhandle Terror!",  an "Epic of the
Texas  Rangers!", originally from ALL-AMERICAN WESTERN #125 published in 1951.  
The artist-- and according to the GCD, the scripter as well-- is Joe  Kubert.
On the splash panel,  the figure of outlaw Joe Freitas stands  with smoking
gun atop a symbolic outline of the state of Texas, shaking his fist  and
warning, "I OWN TEXAS!  And if anybody tries to stop me from collectin'  my
rightful tribute-- I'LL KILL 'IM!"  Freitas, it seems, may not have  dominated the
whole state of Texas, but he cut a swathe in the Panhandle  section.  shooting
dead a prospector who refused him a share of his fiind,  and burning the house
and barn of a recalcitrant rancher.  The Texas  Rangers', the state's
legendary police force, are out to get Freitas, since  local lawmen have been unable
to bring him to book due to the reluctance of  local witnesses to testify
against him.  One Ranger promises he has a plan  to bring Freitas in within two
weeks.  "Several days later, along the Red  River in the panhandle," Freitas
spots a prospector who looks like he has a good  haul of gold nuggets.  He accosts
the prospector, demanding, "I see you've  done well on MY LAND... I'm here to
collect MY RENT!"  When the prospector  protests that the area is United
States territory, not "his" land, Freitas  expresses his resentment; "IT'S MY
LAND!  i tilled this Texas soil for  years and it yielded me NOTHING!  Now I'm
collecting for my labor...WITH  INTEREST!"  Suddenly, the prospector-- who is, of
course, the Ranger going  undercover-- hurls the pebbles from his gold sluice
pan into Freitas' face;  Here's PART of your land...CATCH!"  Freitas's shot
goes wild and then, "in  a blind rage," he rushes at the Ranger without his
gun; "I'LL TEAR YOU APART  WITH MY BARE HANDS!" only to be taken out by a punch
from the Ranger; "You're  not so much a terror when the odds are EVEN, are you,
Freitas?"  "And so  ended the reign of the Panhandle's terror... Ranger John
Kelson brought in his  man, and Freitas paid his penalty-- IN FULL!"  (This is
presented as if it  were a true story, but I don't know if it actually is or

Finally,  we have a tale of Johnny Thunder-- the double-identity Western
gunslinger, of  course, not the earlier dimwit JSA'er with the magic Thunderbolt. 
The  story is "Unseen Allies!" from ALL-AMERICAN WESTERN #104, 1948 (just a
couple of  issues after that title went all-Western and dumped Green Lantern),
written by  Kanigher and drawn by Alex Toth.  The splash page is a generic
shot of  Johnny riding to the rescue on his horse Black Lightning, with gun  bla
zing.  "Raze Ruin and his gang thought they could make an outlaw  paradise of
Mesa City!  One man stood in their way-- JOHNNY THUNDER!   When they trapped
him, they thought they had won!  But they didn't know  until the battle at Blind
Man's Canyon of Johnny Thunder's UNSEEN ALLIES!"   (Incidentally, one thing
making me think that last Texas Ranger story may be  true is the bad guy having
the mundane name of Joe Freitas rather than something  overtly villainous
like Raze Ruin or Doc Doom.) 

Riding with his  gang into the vicinity of Mesa City, "the only law west of
the Pecos,"  (I  thought that was Judge Roy Bean), one-eyed Raze Ruin reflects
how the town would  make a perfect base of operations if it weren't for the
town's pesky sheriff and  his even peskier unofficial aide, Johnny Thunder.  But
Raze has a plan to  neutralize them.  "We'll KIDNAP SOMEONE SPECIAL from Mesa
City and leave an  easy trail t'foller!"-- and then lure the sheriff and
Johnny into an  ambush.  Meanwhile, in town, Sheriff Tane is engaged in an old
argument  with his blond, bespectacled son John.  The Sheriff wants John to
abandon  "this woman's work o' teachin' kids" and join him as a lawman.  But John 
insists, "If these kids learn to keep law and order in schoo, it'll stay with 
them all their lives!  Sometimes WORDS are STRONGER than bullets,  Dad!" 
Unimpressed, the sheriff rides away snorting, "BAH!  You're not  fit to bear the
name of Tane!"  Some time later, while preparing lessons  for his class, the
schoolmaster is captured by Raze Ruin's mob.  He puts up  a better fight than
the gang expects-- "He mus' think HE'S JOHNNY THUNDER  instead of a sissy
schoolmaster!" but is subdued and dragged along.  Along  the way, Tane keeps
whistling loudly, though "Whistlin' for help won't do yuh no  good!  Who'd yuh
expect to ride up... JOHNNY THUNDER?"  Leaving John  Tane tied up and under guard
in Dead Man's Canyon, Raze and his gang ride back  to make sure the Sheriff and
Johnny Thunder are riding into their trap.   The lone guard with a sadistic
streak removes John's gag to hear him "squeal for  mercy", but instead of
squealing, he hears more whistling.  And then, a  fiery horse with the speed of, wait a minute, that's somebody else's  horse.  But anyway, a white
horse gallops up and head-butts the guard into  unconsciousness.  "I knew you'd
hear my whistle, Black Lightnin'"   (Why is the horse Black Lightnin' if he's
white?  Because of a black  lightning-shaped blaze on his forehead.)  "Now
you've got to untie my ropes  before that owlhoot comes to!", and, in an animal
feat worthy of Rex the Wonder  Dog, the horse does so.  Leaving the guard
bound and blindfolded, John Tane  assumes his other guise of Johnny Thunder-- for,
of course, Raze and gang never  knew they had already captured one of the men
they sought to trap.  Back in  Mesa City, the gang attaches a taunting note
to the sheriff's office challenging  the lawman to follow the trail and rescue
his son.  Despite his lack of  regard for his offspring, and the absence of
Johnny Thunder, Sheriff Tane sets  off immediately; "'Tain't my son that's been
kidnapped, but the PEACE!  The  law's been challenged, and I'm hittin' back
for it!"  Atop a high bluff,  Johnny spots his father riding into ambush, but he
is too far away to help--  until he and Black Lightnin' take a long leap into
the river below.   Surfacing safely, they join the sheriff, and Johnny tells
Tane that he has  already freed his son (true, in a manner of speaking) but
now they both are  caught in Raze Ruin's ambush.  The Sheriff is shot from his
horse and  Johnny is also thrown when Black Lightnin' takes a bullet.  Firing
at the  gang, Johnny gets one of them but falls to the ground himself.  Two of
the  outlaws approach him, only to find that he is playing possum and shoots
them  down.  Those are his last two bullets, though, and Raze Ruin himself
faces  an unarmed foe; "Johnny Thunder's cold meat when he ain't got lead to 
throw!"  But, getting to his feet, Johnny advances boldly in the face of  Raze's
loaded guns, haranguing him; "YOU CAN'T KILL ME, RAZE!  I'M NOT A  PERSON, I'M
PLACE!  BUT MEN LIKE YOU-- ARE ALONE!"   The discombobulated Raze finally
fires, but misses at point blank range, and is  felled by Johnny's punch. 
(Curiously, *all three* of the stories in this  book involve the hero psyching the
bad-guy gunman out from using his gun in  time, rather than outshooting the bad
guy.  This doesn't exactly encourage  the idea that good always wins over evil.
It more suggests that good wins  over evil only when evil is too dumb to
shoot while it has the chance.) As  Johnny patches the wounds of the Sheriff (and
his horse), the Sheriff gripes  that he's going to have to apologize to his
son when he sees him.  "He said  WORDS CAN BE MIGHTIER THAN BULLETS -- 'n YOU

There were  no further SHOWCASE issues of "Top Gun", though a few years
later, in 1971, DC  published several "Super DC Giant" and "DC Special" issues of
Western reprints,  and a couple of them carried the logo "Top Guns of the
West".  And in 1973,  there was a three-issue JOHNNY THUNDER  reprint series and a
TRIGGER TWINS  one-shot.  But in the meantime, in issue #76, SHOWCASE did go
west again  with an all-new feature, BAT LASH.  That led to a series of its
own, which  is regarded by many fans (including me) as a classic, but only lasted
seven  issues.  It took the grim'n'gritty Jonah Hex, starting in 1972, for DC
to  find a Western star who was a long-term success.  (And he *wasn't* in the
habit of facing down gunmen armed only with his sense of moral  superiority.)