Tuesday, July 9, 2013

A Tale of Two Custers

General George Armstrong Custer and his pitiable Battle of Little Big Horn: it's a popular historical tale ripe for the improvement which can only be found through the pages of a Marvel western hero comic book. So it is I bring you "Massacre at Medicine Bend!" from Rawhide Kid#60 (1967) by Gary Friedrich, Dennis O'Neil and Dick Ayers.

The Rawhide Kid meets with a Sioux leader named Bald Eagle who wants to make peace with the army before things get out of hand; the Kid brings his request to General Custer himself, but the Kid has to conceal his own identity, being a wanted man.

Custer isn't particularly inclined to believe the Kid's tale, but if there's any chance of averting a massacre, decides it might not be a bad idea. Unfortunately, when Custer heads to the appointed meeting place some Sioux agitators (and a white man selling them guns) start a fight; Custer winds up thinking the Kid was part of a conspiracy to have him murdered.

Considering this, he's rather merciful, simply ordering the Kid to leave and not return. To set the timeframe for this tale, we learn in closing the infamous Battle of Little Big Horn occurred just one week later. This dangling subplot would eventually be picked up in Rawhide Kid#91 (1971), just 31 issues after (even in western comic books, Marvel-time applies). This time, we peer in on "The Outlaw, the General, and the Little Big Horn!" by Roy Thomas and Dick Ayers.

The Rawhide Kid has returned to the Black Hills to find his never-before-heard-of cousin, son of the Kid's uncle Ben who died in his origin story; the Kid somehow thinks his cousin's testimony could clear him of being an outlaw, even though his cousin wasn't present when the Kid's uncle died... and never mind the Kid becoming an outlaw had nothing to do with his uncle's death (a sheriff saw him shoot a cattle rustler and didn't understand the circumstances; the Kid refused to be arrested, fled the sheriff and thus became an outlaw).

In the week since they last met, Custer has been to his stylist to have his hair curled. Fortunately, he hasn't been taking his lithium and doesn't recognize the man he promised to try for treason just seven days earlier. The Rawhide Kid has two factors in his favour:

  1. He didn't give Custer his real name or alias last time.
  2. The colourist has camouflaged him by colouring his hair blond.

Custer hires Johnny Bart to be a scout for the army. Unfortunately...

...Yep, Custer woke up sober that day. Soon he'll be asking himself, "where was this wanted poster last week when I needed it?"

Thus it transpires that the Rawhide Kid is sent to the stockades; Custer rides out to Little Big Horn to meet his appointed massacre and the Kid's cousin is amongst those who perish. What a senseless waste. Of trees.

It's a good thing both stories were drawn by Dashin' Dick Ayers and edited by Smilin' Stan Lee or some continuity errors might have crept in!

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