Native American superheroes are pretty rare today. But did you know that for a brief period in the early 1950s there were actually five of them and all published by an obscure publisher named Youthful. While not exactly politically correct, it is still a rather unique and largely unheralded happenstance. It is worth taking a look at this quintet of heroes and how they all were pretty damn effective each in their own way.
Western Costumed Heroes in the Fifties
A little bit of context first. Superhero comic books began to lose sales as the 1940s wound to a close. Western comic books, along with Crime and Horror comic books fairly quickly began to fill the void. However, the publishers of comic books continued to use the same writers and artists who had faithfully labored in telling the stories of all those recently retired superheroes.
It can be forgiven if those writers and artists had a hard time casting off the costumed hero plotlines. A number of masked and costumed cowboy heroes began to appear in the 1950s. The most notable of these were published by Magazine Enterprises, with successful runs for characters like Ghost Rider, Red Mask, and Durango Kid. It also must be remembered that the Lone Ranger comic book was just taking off in the 1950s. A whole raft of masked Lone Ranger wannabees were soon filling Western comic books. Its not surprising that some Indian superheroes might make their debut. What was surprising was that almost all of them appeared in the comic books of one decidedly second tier comic book publisher.
The Home of Native American Superheroes
Youthful Publications was an unlikely home for the affirmation of ethnic minorities. Dell Publications in the 1950s was far more progressive. In addition to publishing Donald Duck and Bugs Bunny, Dell was home to adventure titles like Tarzan, The Lone Ranger, and even Tonto. All three series made every effort to treat Africans and Native American respectively with dignity. The efforts were rather earnest, however, and Dell editors turned up their noses at the perceived violence of traditional superheroes.
On that score, the editors over at Youthful had few such compunctions. The publishers there were making most of their money in under the table sexy girl magazines. Comic books were just a side venture, but–as it turned out, a pretty intriguing side venture at that.
Despite the unfortunate name, “Redskin” had a unique premise for the fifties. Western comic books had literally dozens of orphaned white boys raised by Indians and living as one. This allowed the presumed white reader to enjoy the adventures of an “Indian” hero while still being able to identify with him, or so comic book editors of the era assumed. But Redskin was the only western hero of the period to have been an orphaned Indian boy raised by a white family…
Appearances: Redskin 1-12, Famous Western Badmen 13 (9/50-12/52)diverse heroes
Youthful shouldn’t be given too much credit for the premise. Redskin’s title also regularly featured the adventures of Flaming Arrow, the classic orphaned white boy grown strong while raised by the Arapahoes. He was something of a superhero himself, having the ability to shoot, well, flaming arrows. But Youthful carved a niche for itself in primarily featuring Western superheroes. Another Indian one would join Redskin in later issues of his own title.
Grey Wolf was described in breathless terms as a “son of nature and king to all wild creatures.” The “fighting champion of the Kiowas, Grey Wolf had the agility of a wolf and was able to command animals to do his bidding. He was accompanied by a wolf named Lobo, who seemed untroubled that his companion wore a wolf skin headdress. Grey Wolf, in his two appearances, made a point of rescuing his sweetheart, White Dove, a “Kiowa princess” on a regular basis.
Appearances: Redskin 10-11 (6/52-8/52)
A companion comic book published by Youthful was titled Indian Fighter. The editors appeared to want readers to be able to interpret the title as either a book about white guys who fought Indians or Indians who were fighters. Both were to be found in its pages. Also to be found were two more Indian superheroes!
Appearances: Indian Fighter 3-11 (9/50-1/52)
Appearances: Indian Fighter 3, 5-11 (9/50-1/52)
Appearances: Gunsmoke 11 (2/51)
An Old West Team of Native American Superheroes?
Its fun to imagine these five heroes teaming up to form an inter-tribal super team. It might have been enough to make the American government honor a few more of its treaties. But despite groups like the Justice Society over at DC, the forties and fifties were not that much about super teams, least of all in the Old West. All of these characters are in the public domain so perhaps some enterprising contemporary publisher will take a chance. Or look ME up. I would be more than happy to write it with my husband!