Tomahawk #54, "Lost Tribe of Tiny Warriors!"

TOMAHAWK #54; February 1958; DC Comics (National Comics Publications); Jack Schiff, actual editor, with Murray Boltinoff and George Kashdan as assistants (Whitney Ellsworth still credited as editor in the indicia at this point); cover-featuring "The Lost Tribe of Tiny Warriors!"  The cover drawn by Bob Brown (best remembered for his long run drawing CHALLENGERS OF THE UNKNOWN and later Batman) depicts Tomahawk playing the role of Gulliver, as he is tied down to the ground and threatened with arrows and spears by a swarm of miniature Native Americans.   Youthful sidekick Dan Hunter, hiding in the tall grass nearby, looks on with amazemant and alarm.

Review by Bill Henley

A recent discussion on the SAR list has gone into how some science fiction stories in various media have resembled Westerns, with ray-guns substituting for six-shooters, marauding aliens in place of hostile Indians, etc.  But the influence also ran the other way-- especially at DC comics in the late 50's and early 60's.  Julius Schwartz, handed a couple of fading Western titles to edit along with his beloved science-fiction books and resurgent superheroes, sometimes snuck sci-fi elements into them, especially in the Pow-Wow Smith series in WESTERN COMICS.  And then there was editor Jack Schiff, who notoriously inserted fanciful sci-fi elements into virtually everything he edited during this period, including Batman, Blackhawk-- and TOMAHAWK, the once-popular quasi-Western series about a Daniel Boone-like frontiersman during the Revolutionary War era.  (Schiff later claimed that he was pressured by DC higher management into including the sci-fi stuff in his books.)  I was looking recently at an online DC history/timeline (google DC HISTORY-1 to take a look at it-- it's a neat site)  which cited this issue of TOMAHAWK as the first example of the title's turn to the weird and wonderful.  I happen to own the issue, so here's a review.

"Lost Tribe of Tiny Warriors" is actually the last story in the issue (Schiff often placed the cover-featured story in that position) but I'll review it first since it is the main item of interest.  The Grand Comic-Book Database has no record of the writer of this or the other stories in this issue, but identifies the artist on "Tiny Warriors" as Bob Brown.  The splash panel shows an astonished Tomahawk holding a miniature Indian chief literally in the palm of his hand.  The chief (who is wearing a Plains Indian type headdress and carrying a shield, accoutrements that were anachronistic even for the full-sized Eastern Woodland Indians Tomahawk normally hung out with) proclaims, "O mighty giant, I am Chief TALL OAK!   I fear you not-- and challenge you to battle!"  As the story begins, Tomahawk and sidekick Dan Hunter are somewhere on the American coastline scouting out a "secret fort" being built by the British Redcoats to launch "surprise attacks on the colonists"  But the dynamic duo of the 1700's (early DC house ads sometimes referred to them as "Batman and Robin in buckskins"-- later, after the Rangers were introduced in 1962, they were more like the Blackhawks or Easy Company in buckskins) are ambushed and outnumbered by a squad of British soldiers.  The typically arrogant Redcoat officer in charge orders them to be taken alive and placed on a British ship.  His plan is to haul Tomahawk and Dan back to England, where the capture of the "once-great Tomahawk" will eliminate "a thorn in the side of the Crown" and boost British home-front morale.  Far out to sea, however, the ship is buffeted by a violent storm.  The mainmast falls and a hole is knocked in the side of the ship, enabling Tomahawk and Dan to escape and leap into a handy lifeboat.  Unfortunately for them, the boat is already occupied by an armed Brit who makes them again prisoners in the small boat.

Eventually, the boat smashes into the rocks of an unknown shore and Tomahawk is knocked unconscious.  He is washed ashore and awakens lying on the ground, wondering what has become of Dan and the "enemy agent".  Dan is in fact nearby but is astonished, as is Tomahawk himself, to discover the position the senior frontiersman is in.  Like Gulliver (whose travels written by Jonathan Swift, Tomahawk and Dan might well have read, since the book was published back in 1726), has been tied down to the ground by miniature men.  But instead of Lilliputians, these are mini-Indians.  Tomahawk gets loose with Dan's help, and most of the Indians flee.  But one of them still confronts the giants whom he takes for enemies; "You are large, I am small... but I, chief TALL OAK (a name presumably chosen for irony) challenge you to a fair battle!"  Since Tall Oak and his tribe speak an Indian dialect that Tomahawk knows, he is able to explain that he and Dan have no wish to be the enemies of Tall Oak's tribe.  But Tall Oak replies that the other "giant" who has appeared from the sea-- the Redcoat--  is indeed an enemy, having made common cause with Running Dog, an evil medicine man who is leading a portion of the tribe in rebellion against the true chief.  Tomahawk agrees that he and Dan must help the tiny tribe, but "Somehow we must let Tall Oak win his OWN fight!  That's the way he can bring his tribe together!" 

When Tall Oak mentions that his people are sometimes threatened by giant waves that threatened to inundate their coastal habitat (it's not clear if it's supposed to be an island or just a remote stretch of shoreline), Tomahawk wonders why the tiny tribe doesn't move somewhere safer.  Tall Oak explains that the "outside world"  is even more dangerous for them.  for the animal and plant life in their homeland is built on the same scale they are, but outside of it, every other form of life, even small rabbits, are bigger than they are.  "Instead of chancing life among such great giants, our people chose to return here and take our risks against the sea alone!"    Meanwhile, the rascally Redcoat, declaring that he has "feasted nicely," (apparently he's eaten most of the dissdent band's food supply), he is now prepared to help Running Dog defeat Tall Oak's loyalists.  Towering over the miniature trees of this freak landscape, he can see everything that happens and warn his allies of danger.  But Tall Oak also has outsized allies.  When Running Dog's warriors attack by canoe, Tomahwak and Dan reach down to scoop out the bottom of the small, shallow stream and create currents to overturn the canoes.  When the Redcoat pushes down pebbles to create a "landslide" to bury Tall Oak's band, our heroes respond by pulling up trees to form a protective barrier. 

When the good Indians are frightened by "thunder from a clear sky," which is actually the Redcoat firing off his pistols (which he somehow kept dry and functional when the boat capsized), Tomahawk takes the Brit on directly and puts him out of action with a mighty punch; "I reckon these tiny people can fight their own battles!"  And indeed, with the British "giant" out of the picture, Tall Oak is able to rally his tribesmen to defeat Running Dog's faction and reuinite the tribe.  The Indians help Tomahawk and Dan construct a new boat in which they and the captive Brit can return to the outside world, in time to warn the Colonial leaders about the secret British fort.  As they sail away, Dan Hunter looks back and wonders where the tiny Indians came from.  Tomahawk replies, "Who knows?  It's simply one of nature's strange quirks!  Maybe one day science may explain their existence-- unless a tidal wave wipes out all sign of them!"  (Actually, science says you're wrong if you believe that there could be tiny humans with the shape and all the abilities of full-sized people.  If nothing else, they couldn't have enough brain mass to maintain human mental functions. There's a reason why talking, sentient mice appear only in cartoons. As for the business about the tidal wave, presumably the writer put that in there as a pre-emptive explanation of why the tiny Indians weren't in fact discovered and explained by science at a later date.  Though the knowledge that Tall Oak and his people are ultimately doomed to vanish without a trace, kind of puts a damper on Tomahawk's victory.)

Though the tiny Indians weren't seen again, there were certainly plenty of other incredible Indians and off-trail phenomena to be found in future TOMAHAWK stories.  Just looking at the GCD cover gallery for Tomahawk, I see that a giant Indian appeared in #64 and another one in #75.   Dinosaurs appeared on the cover of TOMAHAWK #58 and again on #67, 74, 82 and others.  A kind of giant robot Indian appeared in #67, and a tribe of green-skinned "alien Indians" in #79.  And of course, TOMAHAWK had to have its share of gorilla covers, on #86, 93 and probably others.   

This issue contains two other stories which are more mundane frontier adventures.  (This seems to have been the usual pattern for future issues of TOMAHAWK.  The cover story contained the far-out elements, while the backup stories were somewhat closer to reality-- though almost no Tomahawk stories really closely reflected real history.)  I'll cover the other stories briefly.  The issue leads off with "The Mystery of the 13 Arrows!"  As noted the writer is unknown (at least to me and the GCD) but the art is by regular Tomahawk artist Fred Ray.  (I wonder if Ray, who did serious historical artwork in addition to drawing TOMAHAWK, balked at drawing the weird sci-fi stuff, so Schiff assigned it to other artists like Bob Brown?)  Tomahawk and Dan encounter an old prospector friend of theirs who has been attacked and left for dead by Cherokee Indians (normal-sized ones).  In typical fashion, the trapper urges Tomahawk to "stop the 13 arrows!", but expires before he can explain exactly what the "13 arrows" are.  (When I see a scene like this in a comic book, I'm always reminded of the scene in Harvey Kurtzman's Blackhawk parody for MAD comics where the dying man mutters, "The secret is... is... and so on for about 20 more "is"s and then dies before actually revealing the secret.)   Another convenient comic-book cliches comes along later in the story when the hostile Cherokees capture Tomahawk and Dan, but instead of killing them the Indians tie our heroes up and leave them unattended in a cave from which they are able to contrive an escape.  Eventually Tomahawk learns that the "13 arrows" are a code reference to a planned simultaneous attack on 13 frontier forts,  but of course Tomahawk and Dan are able to disrupt and forestall the attack.

The remaining story is "The League of Tomahawk Haters!", also by an unknown writer and Fred Ray.  The idea of a group of villains who band together for the specific purpose of defeating the series hero was fairly common in comics.  There was the Superman Revenge Squad, the "League Against Batman" in a 50's story, and then there was that Charlton Gunmaster story I reviewed a while ago where part of the plot involved a bunch of Gunmaster's old foes being sent to the same prison and escaping to team up against him.  Here, the Tomahawk Haters include a trapper who "had a settlement at (his) mercy" until Tomahawk defeated and jailed him; a renegade Indian named Lightfoot who was thwarted by Tomahawk from taking control of his tribe from the rightful chief (there was a lot of that going around); and a highwayman who terroized the roadways untl Tomahawk smashed his gang.  Now the three of them meet and join hands in a pledge that one of them will eliminate their buckskin-clad nemesis.

But the revenge plot doesn't go as planned.  The trapper catches Tomahawk in a trap, but Tomahawk cuts himself free, and then the foes find themselves battling together against a sudden attack by hostile Indians who want to kill both white men.  Then, instead of spying on the Americans as Tomahawk suspected, the trapper helps lead British soldiers into a trap.  Lightfoot the renegade Indian warrior also finds himself fighting on the same side as Tomahawk when the Redcoats attack his former tribe, who are allies of the Americans.  Lightfoot promises to "abandon this renegade life" when Tomahawk intercedes to get him accepted back into his tribe.  Finally the highwayman takes his turn at Tomahawk, but when the robber collapses suddenly while they are wrestling, Tomahawk diagnoses a case of "swamp fever" and provides an Indian herbal remedy which saves his life.  Later, the three men meet together, along with Tomahawk himself, and join hands in a new pledge to become the "League of Tomahawk Brothers" rather than the "League of Tomahawk Haters".  (If this story sounds familiar, it may be because it was reprinted in a much later issue of TOMAHAWK, #113.)