A Tribute to the of

Hey! I nearly forgot to mention that after all this time, I finally got to see my name in Alter Ego! Granted, it was misspelled and poor Roy Thomas apologized for it (like he’d know how my first name is spelled), but talk about a long-held wish being fulfilled and I had no idea it was even coming.

When this edition of the Sage hits the web, issue #131 will be out, but if you get a chance to take a peek at issue #130 and check out the lead feature on the career of Dan Barry by Alberto Becattini, you’re in the right spot. The piece begins on page 3, which was where I initially discovered why I’d mysteriously received a copy in the mail, shortly after getting a digital one on December 14th. The introduction lists folks who have helped Alberto during his 20-year(!) research effort and it’s alphabetized and since I’m one of those anal-retentive types who read every segment of a piece I was dutifully going through it and…Brian D. Stroud is listed. “Is that me? I don’t recall chatting with anyone named Alberto Beccatini.” So I began to search through the essay and there it is 2 pages later at the end of the second column on page 5. A quote from my Sy Barry interview [Sage #274] and the footnote refers back to this feature. How cool!

As a matter of fact, Sy’s 87th birthday is on the 11th, so please join me in wishing him well.

I seem to have an Italian connection lately. In addition to this, I’ve been hit up in the recent past by two other Italians to use my interviews in pieces they’re writing and/or reprinting on Italian blogs, one by a well-known Italian letterer as he waxes about one of his heroes, Tom Orzechowski. At the risk of sounding egotistical, it’s all a bit gratifying that my work is being appreciated in other places.

Okay, enough back-patting. You didn’t come here to read all that did you?

Unless I’m simply overlooking something I don’t believe I have any of Dan Barry’s work in my collection, but I do still have a couple more stories where Sy served as inker, so how about “The Unmasking of Johnny Thunder!” from All-American Western #121. The publication date is August/September 1951 with a script by Bob Kanigher interpreted by Alex Toth and Sy Barry.

The setting, of course is the Old West and Johnny Thunder, our hero, has just polished off a meal at the local eatery when he notices trouble outside. Drawing twin six-shooters, he lets lead fly to liberate the sheriff from the Arroyo Gang.

Johnny cuts a pretty dashing figure in his buckskin shirt, Cavalry pants and dead cow head bolo tie. He takes out each member of the gang methodically until it’s down to just Arroyo himself and a stubborn gang member, the latter using the sheriff as a shield. Johnny advances fearlessly, even though one pistol is empty and the other is jammed. Just then the sheriff pulls a maneuver that flips that outlaw over him and into the fist of Johnny Thunder.

Once the excitement is over, even though Arroyo has escaped, the admiring townspeople remark on what a great team Sheriff Tane and Thunder make, like father and son. The sheriff remarks rather bitterly that he’d give anything if Thunder was his son, rather than the schoolmaster who bears his name. Little does the sheriff know…

Meanwhile, the Arroyo gang is hiding outside Mesa City and laying plans for more mischief. Elsewhere, Johnny Thunder is putting up his horse, Black Lightnin’, who is actually totally white in color, except for the mark on his forehead that looks like a black thunderbolt.

Johnny uses a secret underground passage to get to the school and changes his clothes, adds a pair of glasses and has light-colored hair instead of black. A true master of disguise. ;-)

Sheriff Tane arrives and asks his son to join him in meaningful work, enforcing the law, but John Tane says the work he is doing is important. His father scoffs and rides away, only to later discover Black Lightnin’ unattended and then the figure of Johnny Thunder face down under a tree. Stopping to investigate, sheriff Tane soon discovers it’s a trap set by Arroyo with a phony horse and a phony Thunder.

The next day, the sheriff’s badge, complete with bullet hole is posted in town over a wanted poster of Arroyo. When Johnny discovers it, he places the badge on himself and, grief-stricken, tells the townfolk that he is really Tane’s son [page 9 original art].

Before he can prove it to the skeptical citizens, however, the tombstone stage arrives and the wounded driver tells him that they were ambushed by Arroyo outside Vulture Canyon. Johnny jumps astride Black Lightnin’ and calls for a posse as he races to the canyon.

Despite the fact that it’s obviously an ambush, Johnny continues forward to mete out justice. He takes a fall after the lead begins to fly, hooked to Black Lightnin’ by a stirrup and being dragged, but he’d already told his horse that no matter what happened to keep going. I’m reminded of a comedy routine I heard once where every time little Johnny gets caught in the well, the loyal dog somehow knows to go get help. *eyeroll*

So, after a short drag, Johnny draws his peace-makers and begins to fire, instructing his mount to stop so he can get loose. *eyeroll again* Anyone out there ever fired a pistol? I have and I’m here to tell you it’s pretty tough to get an accurate shot fired off at a target at the range under ideal conditions. I’d call it next to impossible while being dragged along the canyon floor. But, this is just a story, right?

So, Johnny Thunder’s final move to rescue his father, er, the sheriff, is to continue to be dragged by his horse, but holding onto the stirrup with his hand this time and when he gets close enough, leaping free and cold-cocking Arroyo with a right cross.

Johnny discovers that Sheriff Tane is hurt, but still alive and gets him to some medical attention.

The last panels show a recuperating Tane, thanking Johnny for the ruse of saying he was his son because he thought the sheriff had gone to the last round-up. “You didn’t really think anyone would believe you, did you?” “N-no…I guess not…

So we have some familiar elements here from the superhero stories, of all things, with a thinly disguised man leading a double life as a meek milksop ala Clark Kent and a secret corral and underground passage to the school, which sure sounds a lot like the ol’ Batcave under Wayne Manor.

Sheriff Tane and the townspeople must have been total morons if a pair of glasses and lighter hair is all it takes to transform John Tane into Johnny Thunder, but after all, this is the Old West and they were probably too busy trying to survive to spend a lot of time doing amateur detective work.

Nice art from Toth and Barry and again, happy birthday, Sy! I hereby give it a 4 on the rating scale for this 12-page story of difficult to swallow Western adventure. This must have been one of those quantity over quality stories from the typewriter of Bob Kanigher.

Swing back by on the 15th of March for a new review and if you have anything on your mind, don’t hesitate to shoot me an e-mail: professor_the@hotmail.com.

See you next time and…

Long live the Silver Age!

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