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Save us, Hopalong! Save us from the Inju– Native Americans! – Hopalong Cassidy #9

November 8, 2011

There was a time not that long ago when Columbus Day was celebrated without irony, when the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria carried daring explorers, not brutal conquering Europeans who would enslave a darker-skinned continent. There was also a time when “Injun” could be uncorked in a comic book without any attendant shame, when a strapping, upright white man would stand alone against red warriors. His moral rectitude would be his greatest weapon against the tomahawks and arrows of marauding savages. It made him invincible.

Hopalong Cassidy was one such white man.

I sort of miss Columbus day (still get the day off, though), but we can all be glad that this kind of tale has gone by the wayside.

Cassidy, a fictional sheriff whose print adventures were adapted into very successful films in the 1930s, got his own comic book in the next decade. An olden days King of All Media. His adventures were the standard “stick up for the little guy” flavors that you would expect, as he battled crooks, gamblers, ne’er do wells and, yes dirty Injuns. The cover story in this issue is an illustrative little microcosm of the character’s guiding ethos and the racial mores of the time.

Let’s take a gander.

It doesn’t waste any time. “Injun” is unfurled on the very first page:

Hopalong follows the sound of the war drums, and then pleads with the riled up Indians to uphold the “paleface laws”:

Can’t argue with a savage…

Widow Walker is a fetching young lady with a disputed strip of land and charming little children. A damsel in distress! One with a brood! Like any virile young man given the chance to strut before a single broad (kids or no), Cassidy springs into action, barricading them inside her protective stockade. Before he can give her the Josey Wales “You gotta get mean!” lecture, the Indians attack. It’s touch and go as Hopalong sends one of the kids for help:

Unable to scale the walls or break down the door, the Indians resort to flaming arrows. This sets fire to the widow’s shelter, and it’s all Hopalong can do to get her and her son away from the flames. Their only choice is to flee the stockade, and just as Hopalong is about to make his heroic last stand, the cavalry shows up. When the renegade chief attempts to beat cheeks and regroup, Hopalong brings him down:

A new chief. An “honest injun,” I’m sure. THE END.

Remember the show-within-the-comic “Storm Saxon” in V for Vendetta? Sometimes this story feels like what you’d imagine that show to be like. Look at that (well-rendered and vibrantly colored, I must admit) cover, with the Aryan champion fending off the low brutes of the wilderness. Not easy to overlook. Taking another tack, you could also forge a revisionist interpretation of the story, with the “evil” chief simply reclaiming land that was likely stolen from him in one of the, oh, I don’t know, 2,846,301 broken treaties. It was probably swindled away from them for firewater.

It’s easy for one to get chagrined by stories like this one, but the modern, cloying reaction to tales in this vein is equally nauseating. The “Cherokee Hair Tampon” set grates just as much, and sometimes moral relativism (sorry, Ditko) can be a wonderful thing. I’ll take my cowboys and Indians each with some shades of gray, thank you very much. Wherefor art thou, Jonah Hex?

All that said, the art in this story — and on the cover — is solid. Sometimes Golden Age books can look a bit primitive, but the action scenes here have detail and energy. And to be fair in a broader sense, this “Injun” feature is one of several stories within (Golden Age value for your dollar), and none of the others have anything nearly as insulting.

A product of its time. An interesting one.

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