Tuesday, January 29, 2019

COMIC BOOK REVIEW BY BILL SHUTE! THE RINGO KID #24 (Marvel Comics, November 1975)

I tend to associate comic reprints with Charlton (where you had to watch for the ALL-NEW tag at the top of the cover to avoid a reprint) or with bottom-feeding outfits such as Israel Waldman’s Super Comics/I.W. Publications empire. However, one of Marvel’s major Western lines in the 1970’s, THE RINGO KID, was totally made up of reprints, and at the time (before every detail about everything was documented on the internet) I didn’t even know that I was reading 20 year old comics....although with westerns, that is no problem and could even be a virtue.

Charlton, with their reprints, tended to have a copyright date of the original publication on the indica small-print at the bottom of the first page of reprint issues--so you knew you were getting 1957 war comics or 1963 horror comics in your 1981 comic book. Marvel, with this Ringo Kid book, does state it’s a reprint, but gives a 1970 copyright. The material in this book actually dates back to two issues from 1956. We’ve included for your viewing pleasure both the cover of the 70’s reprint under review (the one where the Kid is facing you, and which has a 25 cent cost) and one of the two 1956 issues (the one where the Kid has his back to you, and which has a 10 cent cost). Marvel put out 30 issues of THE RINGO KID in the 1970’s, and according to online sources, most of the material in those is reprinted from the 1950’s RINGO KID WESTERN series—and the stories that aren’t are either unpublished material in the Marvel can from that era or from other 1950’s Western lines that Marvel owned, such as TWO-GUN WESTERN. And speaking of re-use of material, one later issue from the 70’s reprint run uses the exact cover (with some re-coloring) of an earlier issue in that run....just a few years back. Clearly, the 1970’s run of THE RINGO KID was not one of Marvel’s prestige publications. It was cheap product. THE RINGO KID, 1970’s incarnation, was an inexpensive way for Marvel to pump out a “new” Western comic series with little expense in terms of material--only the covers were (usually) new, and even a bottom-rung outfit such as Super/I.W. Comics often had newly done covers.

The Ringo Kid name goes back to the character played by John Wayne in the 1939 classic STAGECOACH, though this character has no relation to that one....or to that film. It’s an evocative name that would sound exciting to a twelve-year-old looking for “action”--and it still sounds great to adult twelve-year-olds like me.

In the 70’s, when I acquired a lot of these, the majority of them were coverless, gotten for a nickel or whatever in dusty boxes under the book racks in the back of a used bookstore on West Colfax in Denver (not far from the hokey “Casa Bonita” faux-Mexican restaurant that featured acrobats flying around above you as you ate your frozen dinner-level enchiladas) that specialized in romance paperbacks. The lady who ran that place (a store that was always reeking of cat urine and cabbage soup, and whenever I approached the counter to pay for something, the raunchy smell of ass) must have given some drug store or newsstand employee a dollar a box for these things. The late Stan Lee would not have been happy. The particular issue under review here does have a cover, so it’s not one I got at that place.

Coverless comics are the true orphans of the publishing world. Unlike cut-out records or remaindered books, the sale of these was technically illegal, and most comics readers wouldn’t have taken them for free. Somehow unwanted coverless comics gotten from a dirty box in the back of a romance-novel bookstore that smelled like cabbage soup and ass is the perfect symbol for life in the mid-70’s....or today, for that matter (I won’t even mention that the proprietress would sometimes break wind in the store when I was the only customer, and when I heard that wet and muffled rip, I’d think to myself, “hell, I have to walk PAST THAT to get out of here”).

This particular issue struck me as being satisfying back in the day, and I still find it a solid piece of work….in the sense that one of those independent westerns of the late 50’s distributed by United Artists or Allied Artists starring someone like Jim Davis or George Montgomery delivers the basic goods with no big surprises, but it hits all the right notes and is made by professionals who can deliver a competently made piece of product. At the end of a long day or long work week, that’s what I want and that’s what I’m paying for. Sure, this comic book is essentially one cliché after another (and if I were a pretentious critic, I’d call them “archetypes” or “tropes” rather than being honest and admitting that they are clichés), but hey, isn’t that true of 60s garage-band rock and roll or 50’s small label rockabilly? Or pulp magazine detective or Foreign Legion stories or whatever? Or Michael Shayne detective novels? Or 1920’s silent comedy shorts from second-string (or third-string) comedians? The clichés actually give power to the product when they are delivered with gusto and style. When I watch a 1920’s comedy short from the portly trio A TON OF FUN, I KNOW the guys are going to fall on their rears repeatedly….I KNOW that they are going to get stuck going through doors….I KNOW that they will sit on things and those things will break….I KNOW that they will wear clothes that are too small. I don’t watch it for surprises….I watch it because routines I know and love will be delivered in a manner that entertains me. If I wanted the harrowing existential drama of Eugene O’Neill’s THE ICEMAN COMETH, I would re-read it…or watch the excellent filmed versions with Jason Robards (early 60’s) or Lee Marvin (early 70’s). Some days, I don’t want to be reminded of the painful absurdity of the human condition—hey, THAT’s already clear to me every waking hour! Some days, I want to get away from that--I want solid genre entertainment. THE RINGO KID delivers that.

The Kid is essentially a knock-off of another Kid…..BILLY THE KID, and Marvel surely saw how Billy The Kid continued to sell year after year, decade after decade, for Charlton. The “outlaw” with the heart of gold, the man who lives outside the law who is more moral than those who live inside the law—that’s the vein being mined here. The Ringo Kid does have an interesting backstory (he’s half white, half Indian, for instance), but frankly, that’s little exploited here and he’s kind of a generic Billy The Kid knock-off, but dark-haired, and not blond like Charlton’s Billy (or Billy as played by Peter Lee Lawrence in the 1967 Eurowestern THE MAN WHO KILLED BILLY THE KID). According to the Ringo Kid’s Wikipedia entry (you know you’re someone when you’ve got your own Wikipedia entry!), “He was treated as an outcast because of his mixed heritage, and on the run after being falsely accused of a crime. He traveled with his sidekick Dull Knife. Dull Knife was of the same heritage as his mother's people.” There’s no hint of that racial element in this particular issue, and even though Dull Knife makes an appearance in one story, he’s not treated as anyone special and we see no chemistry as you’d find between, say, The Lone Ranger and Tonto….or even the police partners on ADAM-12. Also, in three of the four stories, they don’t travel together and he does not even appear, and in the one story Dull Knife appears in, he just appears out of the blue. About the only particularizing element I found in the four stories in this mag is the Kid’s refusal to kill a female deer for food, instead going a lot farther afield for his game—the reason being, as he puts it, “I never kill the female of any species! You’re killing tomorrow’s game if you do!” We could have used more of that kind of telling detail here—something Charlton’s BILLY THE KID and WYATT EARP comics always had. I’m gradually re-reading the copies of RINGO that I own, and not in order, so I’ll eventually get through a dozen or so issues, and I may eventually check back in with you all with some further comments on the series.

You can still find a good quality copy of the 1970’s RINGO KID for under two dollars (and a lot less if you don’t mind it being coverless), and those so inclined will find it a satisfying read. I tend to prefer the Charlton Westerns to Marvel’s, but if I put up with B.O. and flatulence to score copies of THE RINGO KID for a nickel or a dime as a teenager, then I am fairly committed to The Kid.

1 comment:

Christopher Stigliano said...

The story about the store with the cat urine and cabbage soup smell not to mention the fresh farts really is helping me with my diet.