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Dudley Do-Right done right? – King of the Royal Mounted #20

October 24, 2014

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Canada’s Mounties certainly rank as one of the most easily parodied national constabularies. The red coats and flat brims and upright reputation are ever ripe for satire, whether it comes in the form of an aggressively-chinned boob like Dudley Do-Right (Nell!) or a long-forgotten professional wrestler most remembered for his “Loser Goes to Jail” match with the Big Boss Man. But the Royal Canadian Mounted Police have their paragon too, their fictional marble model by which all their numbers are judged. And that standard-setter is King of the Royal Mounted.

Dave King, like so many other characters of yore big and small, got his start in a newspapers strip, first entertaining readers in 1935 with his unique Canuck law enforcement prowess. And like all those characters, the success of the strip meant that he was destined to branch out into other media: movie serials, books and, of course, comics. King’s adventures were much more serious than Dudley’s, and he spent more time battling menaces along the lines of rogue trappers than the damsel-imperilling, mustache-twirling Snidely Whiplash. Apart from a spell in the 1940s when he battled many an Axis saboteur — everyone was battling Axis saboteurs in those days — his tales always had a flavor unique to the land north of the 49th parallel — fitting since they were of the Northern genre.

The comics are most significant today for their wonderful covers, always highlighting the brilliant red of King’s uniform and thus grabbing your attention as you flip through a bin of old books. But look inside and sometimes you find something else: a dash of racial paternalism that might raise an eyebrow or two in our hyper-sensitive times. Take today’s issue for instance, number 20 in King’s Dell run, which lasted until 1958. Not one but two stories have the honest, proud and oh so white King teaching some simple natives the error of their ways.

In the first, he and his partner bring modern medicine to the backward Indians, who are, of course, grateful for this gift from “The Great White Mother”:

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But, naturally, not everyone is happy. The shaman, seeing that this medicine threatens to usurp his venerated place in his community, tries to sabotage King’s efforts. He fails, and not only that, King actually winds up rescuing him from a bear attack using his dead-eye pistol skills (which will come into play even more spectacularly shortly) — oh the irony!:

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Maybe Captain Tootsie will come along and finish off the great beast.

When King sees that the shaman is wounded, he treats him with some of his antibiotics so the gash doesn’t get infected. This earns the shaman’s grateful respect, but he still fears for his place amongst his people. So he ropes King into a scheme whereby the Mounties have to sing while they inject the children of the village, so that it seems that it’s the song that’s doing the work — like the shaman’s songs — and not what’s coming out of the needle:

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(Just an aside, but that last panel image of Dunn, King’s partner on this expedition, looks like it comes straight out of an old Infantino/Anderson Flash comic. Make the hair blond and you have Barry Allen.)

The next tale once more has King battling the foolish superstitions of Native simpletons. When some missionaries pray for the deliverance of a famine-threatened village and a herd of deer appear the very next day, the hunters aren’t willing to let them go:

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So off King goes to rescue the missionaries and fight their ignorant captors. And fight them he does, with a dazzling display of sharpshooting — what good are spears when a bullet can chop them in twain?:

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And it goes on like that. In fairness to King and his comics, they weren’t all like this, but nevertheless this issue and its dose of White Man’s Burden exists. It’s the double whammy that makes it a little much.

King is pretty much forgotten today, and that’s not so great a loss to North American culture. We’ve survived. But his stories, for better and for worse, live on. If you relax and not let the social hypochondria of modernity take over — which looks for PC slights wherever they may be found and imagines them where they don’t exist — they can be fun in a snowy Jack London kind of way. Focus on that. That and the splendid red uniform.

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