Gunmaster (and Bullet the Gun Boy!) #89

GUNMASTER Vol. 5 #89; Oct. 1967; Charlton Comics; Dick Giordano, managing
editor; featuring the Western masked hero Gunmaster and his teen sidekick Bullet
the Gun Boy (who gets a cover logo of his own nearly equal in size to that of
Gunmaster) in "Deadly Alliance!"  The cover is drawn and signed by "Rocke"
(Charlton regular Rocco Mastroserio) and depicts an Indian with an elaborate
hawk headdress leaping down from above to attack the mounted Gunmaster while
Bullet shouts a warning.  The same scene is depicted on the splash panel of
the interior story, which is credited to Joe Gill, writer, Bill Fraccio,
penciller, Frank McLaughlin, inker, and lettering by that famed Charlton
stalwart, "A. Machine".
Review by Bill Henley
Pursuant to my
occasional habit of reviewing a really obscure Silver Age title, here's
Gunmaster, a Charlton masked Western hero/quasi-superhero who first appeared
starting in 1960 as the lead feature in a Charlton Western title SIX-GUN HEROES,
and then got a title of  his own.  It ran four issues numbered #1-4
alongside SIX-GUN HEROES and then the GUNMASTER title assumed the numbering of
SIX-GUN HEROES.  But this issue numbered #89 was the last in the series
(and there was an oddity here, even for the weird and wonderful world of
Charlton issue numbering, which I'll get to later).  Gunmaster himself is
in normal life a wandering gunsmith named Clay Boone, who when danger threatens
the innocent, adopts the white leather costume and bandana mask of
Gunmaster.  As his name suggests, his approach to fighting crime is a basic
one, involving ordinary guns rather than the elaborate weapons and gimmicks used
by most contemporary superheroes.  Somewhere along the line, Gunmaster
picked up a sidekick named Bullet, whose real name is Bob Tellub (spell it
backwards).  I have to admit that I picked out an issue of this series (I
only own one or two) to review based partly on what by modern standards is the
bizarre aspect of having a firearm-wielding "Gun Boy" kid sidekick, now that
enlightened folks frown on kids having any involvement with
However, neither Gunmaster nor Bullet are seen (except in the
splash panel)  in the first few pages of this yarn, which are devoted to
the backstory of the issue's main adversary.  And quite a story it is; the
caption tells us, " incredible enough to be a legend... but it happened in
exactly this way..."  (Well, if you say so, guys, but personally I'd go
with "legend," or maybe "complete bird droppings"). It seems that, years ago, a
hawk swooped down and seized an Apache papoose lying on the ground in a
cradleboard, and carried the infant off to its nest.  "The baby did not
cry!  He was not afraid!", and, apparently impressed by this fortitude, the
mother hawk adopted the child into its brood of chicks instead of having him for
lunch.  "The child flourished in one of the strangest relationships in the
annals of man," until the kid outgrew the nest and mama hawk decided he had to
go.  She carried him back to the ground where he was found and recognized
by his original Apache parents.  He was named "Hawk" (what, after all that
you expected him to be named "Sparrow" or "Buzzard"?)  and grows up to be a
mighty warrior, skilled not only with knife and bow and arrow, but with the
firearms captured by the Apaches from their white enemies.  One day,
another Apache lays claim to a horse stolen from the tribe by a "hardcase" white
interloper, and the white man shoots down the unarmed Indian.  Hawk arrives
on the scene quickly, and he is not unarmed; when the white man draws his gun,
Hawk pulls and fires his pistol faster.
"Now Clay Boone, itinerant
gunsmith, entered the picture," finding the white man injured but still
alive.  While Bob Tellub stays to care for him, Clay dons his Gunmaster
costume and rides in pursuit of the Apache shooter.  When Gunmaster catches
up to Hawk, the Indian again resorts to his own firearm.  "The mighty
Apache didn't miss!  His slug smashed against Gunmaster's chest... and
Gunmaster kept coming!"  (I'm really not all that familiar with Gunmaster,
but I take it his outfit included an early model bulletproof vest.) 
Gunmaster leaps and pulls Hawk off his horse, and the two engage in a
hand-to-hand battle.  "The fight was a classic... it raged for 30
minutes... and lesser men would've stopped from sheer exhaustion!"  At last
Gunmaster gets the upper hand over his Apache foe, who says defiantly, "I have
no weapon!  Go ahead-- kill me!"  Gunmaster has no intention of doing
that, but he does intend to take Hawk in to stand trial for the shooting he
committed.  "Indian no get fair trial!", Hawk says (probably accurately,
though Gunmaster insists otherwise).  Suddenly Hawk spots one of his
namesake birds, circling in the sky, and gives a call, "KREEGAHHH!"  That
used to be Tarzan's call for "beware," but I guess it means something different
in hawk language than ape language.  The hawk swoops down to attack
Gunmaster, and while our hero fends off the bird's talons, Hawk the Apache
seizes his chance to escape.  Gunmaster recognizes that Hawk will be future
trouble, but decides to resume his Clay Boone identity and check on his sidekick
and the injured man.  Even though the Indian who was originally shot and
wounded by the white man has corroborated Hawk's story that the white man was at
fault, Boone is determined to bring him in for trial; "He is waging his own
private war against the rest of the world!"  Once again suiting up as
Gunmaster, he rides again in pursuit of Hawk while advising Bullet to keep watch
for other Apache ambushers.  And now Hawk turns the tables, leaping on
Gunmaster from above and knocking him off his horse.  Another hand-to-hand
scuffle ensues, but Bullet settles it by shooting Hawk from the side.  The
defeated and wounded Indian faces trial and imprisonment, for "other crimes
against the U.S. Army and homesteaders" even if he got off on the charge of
shooting the man who shot his fellow Apache.  But nonetheless he swears
vengeance; "You are Hawk's enemy,  Gunmaster!  Some day, Hawk will
kill you!"  And so, sensibly, Gunmaster draws his gun and shoots Hawk
through the heart... no, not really; neither Gunmaster's heroic code of honor
nor the Comics Code would allow that.
Part II of the story, "The Alliance
Is Formed," indicate that Gunmaster doesn't only have  Hawk to worry about.
As he Indian is sentenced to two years at hard labor and arrives at the state
penitentiary (the state is unnamed), we find that the prison is the site of Old
Home Week for Gunmaster's old enemies.  They include Brains, an "evil
genius" who first appeared in the July 1965 issue of GUNMASTER and whose
"gargantuan body lives for vengeance against Gunmaster!"; Dr. Dynamite, whose
"explosive talents were first seen in SIX-GUN HEROES #80, Sept. 1964"; Prince
Kukov, whose "dreams of an empire on the North American continent" were foiled
by Gunmaster in issue #1, Sept. 1964, of GM's title; and The Barker, also from
GM #1, whose "hypnotic genius" was no match for Gunmaster, also in GM #1. 
When Hawk (still clad only in his Indian loincloth rather than prison greys) is
shoved into Brains' cell,  the "evil genius" is at first hostile to his new
Indian cellmate but then intrigued when he finds out they share a common foe in
Gunmaster.  Soon Brains sends out a message by prison grapevine; "We've got
the one man we need!"  He figures that once the fearsome foursome make
their escape from behind prison walls, Hawk will be able to lead them across the
desert to freedom.  Hawk insists, however, that killing Gunmaster is the
first priority; only after that can the "alliance" make their way to permanent
And so each of these bad hats puts his special talent to use in
the escape plan.  Dr. Dynamite utilizes his ability to "create exposives
from ordinary materials found anywhere!"  Prince Kukov arranges for horses
to be brought near the prison, using gold he had secretly stashed.  The
Barker is able to hypnotize an entranced guard into opening the cell doors, and
Dr. Dynamite's homemade explosive blows through the wall.  Prince Kukov, a
Russian Cossack, masters the skittish horses, and Hawk "deals with" the
remaining prison guards in an unspecified but presumably unpleasant way. 
The criminals ride off into the "trackless desert," but Hawk is able to locate
water and food for them with aid from his friendly hawks.  And Brains
reveals he has learned that Gunmaster and Bullet are "camped near Sundance,"
ripe for ambush before the heroes learn of their escape.
Those folks who
say that "kids and guns don't mix" may have a point, for the title of Part III
of this tale is "Bullet the Gunboy Dies!"  When the clanging of an alarm
bell warns that "something is wrong in town," Gunmaster rides to check out the
situation, leaving Bullet alone to guard their remote camp.  The Gun Boy is
suspicious of the large hawk which is circling the camp; "If I didn't know that
Apache is behind bars, I'd..."  In fact Hawk is a lot closer than he
thinks, and he emerges from hiding, decoying Bullet with a plea not to shoot,
only to summon his hawk-friend to savage the Gun Boy with its talons.  Then
"Brains", leader of the gang, puts a bullet in Bullet from the back!  The
others want to go on and kill Gunmaster, but "Brains" has a different and even
more cruel thought; "We have killed the boy and Gunmaster loved him like a
son!  This is worse than death to him... he will spend his life in grief,
knowing that we, his enemies, destroyed the life he valued most!"  As the
others agree that this is the perfect vengeance, Hawk notes that heavy rains are
coming which will wipe out their tracks and prevent Gunmaster from pursuing
them.  With the purpose of their "alliance" achieved, "Brains" orders, "All
of you take separate trails and we will never meet again!"
After learning
that the alarm bells warned of the escape of the "five evil men," Gunmaster
returns to camp to "smell death" and find Bullet lying seemingly lifeless on the
ground!  "The cowards... five of them against one boy... and every bullet
was in the back!"   Detecting a "faint heartbeat," Gunmaster takes the
Gun Boy back to town in his Clay Boone cart, though he has little hope for the
boy's survival. He resumes his Clay Boone civilian identity to leave Bullet in a
doctor's care, as he makes plans to ride after each of the guilty men. 
Boone directs the doctor, "Take care of the... the final rites, will you?", when
the inevitable happens, for he has a rite of his own to perform, a rite of
vengeance.  After Boone departs, the doctor reflects to his nurse that
though the gunsmith Clay Boone is known as a peace-loving man who "lets people
shove him around," "the glint I just saw in his eye... wasn't exactly
"Brains" seemingly has second thoughts about his strategy to
increase Gunmaster's suffering by leaving him alive.  Even though he hires
"the deadliest gunmen in the West to guard his corpulent cracass," "Brains"
shivers in fear of the thought that sooner or later Gunmaster will come for
him.  And indeed, as his bodyguards sit in the outer room of his hotel
suite, Gunmaster crashes into the bedroom through a window!  Gunmaster has
to use his guns only to disarm the two gunmen, for "Brains" himself screams and
faints at the first sight of the hero!  "Sheer fright!  I'd say he's
been living in fear quite a while!", a doctor explains.  Next on
Gunmaster's little list is The Barker, the hypotist.  As Clay Boone, he
tracks down the Barker doing his usual act of putting a sideshow crowd into
hypnosis in order to rob them of their valuables.  But by means of sheer
will, Boone resists the Barker's hypnosis, and while the villain is distracted
by rifling the audience, he makes his costume change to Gunmaster.  "I've
come about Bullet!"  He doesn't need his trademark guns, only his fists, to
defeat the Barker and turn him over to the law for "the murder of one Bob Tellub
and other crimes". 
"Ten days and a thousand miles south," it looks
like Gunmaster may not survive to finish his quest of vengeance, for he is lost
in the desert of Apache country without  water.  But when he spots a
hawk circling in the sky, he knows he will not die that way, for the hawk must
belong to the Apache renegade, who must be nearby-- and near a waterhole. 
Like "Brains," Hawk has been expecting Gunmaster to come after him, and the
Indian warrior sights his rifle and fires six shots-- but Gunmaster does not
fall!  "His medicine strong!  Hawk cannot kill!"  (You'd think a
mighty and crafty warrior might suspect a bulletproof vest and try for a head
shot.  But I guess not.)  Even driven by vengeance, Gunmaster does not
shoot to kill, but smashes a bullet through Hawk's gun arm and then leads the
injured and defeated Apache off to return to prison.  He doesn't even need
his guns to deal with the last two miscreants, Prince Kukov and Dr.
Dynamite.  They have fled to Mexico, but when Gunmaster finds them, they
blubber and beg for mercy and our hero snorts contemptuously, "You make me sick
to my stomach!  I'll let the courts deal with you!"
Returning to
the town of Sundance where he left the seemingly dying Bullet,  our hero
enters the hospital room-- masked and costumed as Gunmaster, even though he left
the boy in his Clay Boone guise-- and finds that the boy is still with us,
having taken an unexpected turn for the better.  Grateful for this miracle,
Clay Boone resolves to take up the peaceable life he previously only feigned,
and not keep on dragging his juvenile "Gun Boy" ward into gunfights that will
sooner or later really take his life!  Well, no, that's not really what
happens in this story.  But it might as well have.  This was the last
issue of GUNMASTER, and as far as I know the last apperance of the character in
a new story, though apparently he made a few reprint appearances in the 70's and
80's.  As I said, the numbering of this last issue is a bit screwy even for
a Charlton title.  The GUNMASTER comic had actually been cancelled by
Charlton over a year earlier, with issue #88, March-April 1966, and Charlton
passed on the numbering of GUNMASTER to the new JUDOMASTER title with issue
#89.  (Contrary to what you might suppose, this didn't involve Gunmaster
deciding to renounce lethal weaponry and take up martial arts instead. 
Judomaster was an entirely diffferent character, a costumed superhero operating
during World War II.)  But a year later Charlton decided to publish one
more GUNMASTER issue after all-- probably there was an inventory story to be
used up-- and so this issue was numbered GUNMASTER #89 even though #89 in the
series had already appeared under the JUDOMASTER title.
The issue
contained two short backup filler stories.  One, "The Hunter," is a
leftover tale of Black Fury, the wild stallion who was a member, along with
Trigger and Silver, of the elite stable of horses who had their own comic-book
titles for a time. (Black Fury's ran an impressive 57 issues from 1955-66. 
I own one issue, maybe I'll review it sometime.)  A spoiled kid mistreats
his horse to the point that the horse tries to kill the kid, but Black Fury
saves the kid from the horse and from a rattlesnake, and they make friends to
the point that the kid rides Black Fury and declares himself a "wild horse
tamer".  The four-page story ends so abruptly that I suspect somebody took
the first few pages of a longer inventory Black Fury story and dropped the
rest.  However, there is also a three page "Ray Deeto, Range Detective"
story, in which the sagebrush sleuth deduces that some bad guys are evil
ranchers posing as Indians, by the fact that there are horseshoe tracks and the
real Indians don't use horseshoes.  Duh.