My strange fascination with DC’s Tomahawk

Tom Hawk — Revolutionary War scout, “Indian fighter” and “America’s favorite frontier hero” intrigues the hell out of me. Not that I have a burning urge to buy up some back issues or that I lie awake at night wishing for DC to release the Tomahawk Omnibus. From the little I’ve read of the series, the content seems, like most of Tales of the Unexpected or My Greatest Adventure before the debut of the Doom Patrol, to be mediocre. The art is largely forgettable and editor Jack Schiff was no Julie Schwartz. That said, when I look at the covers, it’s fascinating to see how much variety the series encompassed, like a 1950s/Silver Age time capsule.

We start out with the first issue (cover by Fred Ray) which establishes Tomahawk (who’d been appearing in Star-Spangled Comics since 1947) as a Davy Crockett-type, though operating in the Revolutionary War. I used to think he was inspired by Fess Parker’s groundbreaking TV turn as Davy Crockett, but when I actually looked up the dates, he was way too early. So we have a Revolutionary War freedom fighter/frontier scout, aided by trusty sidekick Dan Hunter. Early issues highlighted battles with Native Americans, as you can see (covers by Curt Swan, then Bruno Premiani).

Later the book introduces Tomahawk’s trusty sidekicks, the “rip-roaring Rangers” (cover by Bob Brown) and it’s presented as a kind of war comic, with the Rangers as “The GIs of 1775.” From what I’ve read about them online, they seem to be the same kind of oddball crew as the combat-happy joes of Easy Company or the Howling Commandos, though adjusted for the era (e.g., the Ranger nicknamed Stovepipe wore a stovepipe hat).And because it was Silver Age DC, to no surprise there were monsters courtesy of Dick Dillin, then Bob Brown.Including, of course, a giant gorilla. What’s more emblematic of Silver Age DC than the fabled gorilla cover (Brown again)?By 1962 superheroes were back in vogue, so we got America’s first superhero, Miss Liberty (cover by Fred Ray)—And, of course, supervillains (Brown, Brown, Dillin)The Hood, if you’re curious, is the sister of the British government’s master of disguise, Lord Shilling, determined to succeed where her brother failed.

Near the end of the run they seem to be trying for darker stuff and questioning the original premise — though that may just be the Neal Adams and Joe Kubert covers.

Like I said, I can’t pretend I have a burning urge to read any of these (okay, the totem pole story, maybe), but taken as a whole that’s quite a crazy ride. Though only to be expected of a B-list series that ran for 22 years in a shifting comics landscape.

#SFWAPro.

13 Comments

  1. Edo Bosnar

    Well, if DC ever decides to go the omnibus route with Tomahawk, it would still require several volumes: besides the 140 issues of his titular series, the character was also featured – as you noted – in Star-Spangled Comics from 1947 through 1952 and in World’s Finest from 1948 through 1959. Even though I’m sure there were occasional reprints thrown in there, that’s a ton of material. It also means that for a few years in the early 1950s, he was appearing in three different books. So if that’s any indication, he was apparently a pretty popular character.
    Personally, I’m mostly curious about the last stretch of the regular series from the late ’60s to its cancellation in 1972 – most of the stories were written by Bob Kanigher, with art by Frank Thorne. Also, I recall reading somewhere that the last ten issues in particular, featuring the “Son of Tomahawk” had some pretty solid stories.

  2. David107

    Edo: I have read Son Of Tomahawk. It was good, solid stuff, albeit very heavy on the social issues front. Here’s and example: http://bronzeageofblogs.blogspot.com/2017/04/hawk-son-of-tomahawk.html

    Le Messor and frasersherman: Jonah Hex went all supernatural when Joe Lansdale and Tim Truman did some mini series featuring him. https://www.comicsreview.co.uk/nowreadthis/2018/10/10/jonah-hex-shadows-west/

    Everybody: According to the Time Masters mini series by Bob Wayne and Lewis Shiner Tomahawk’s sidekick Dan Hunter was a time travelling relative of Rip Hunter who was sent back to the eighteenth century to battle some sort of bad guy time agent, then liked it so much that he stayed there. This can, I think, safely be ignored as nonsense.

    1. I remember Time Masters but wish I didn’t. Not only did it suffer from the idiotic post-Crisis time travel rules (you can only travel in time once using any one method because Marv Wolfman said so!) but it was just poorly written (author Lewis Shiner’s time-travel novel Glimpses didn’t work any better).

  3. Jeff Nettleton

    The genesis of Tomahawk lies in author Kenneth Roberts’ Northwest Passage, published in 1937. It tells the story of Rogers’ Rangers, a frontier fighting force during the French & Indian War, that preceded the American Revolution. Rogers’ Rangers was a real fighting unit; but, the novel tells a fictional account, through the eyes of young Langdon Towne, a budding artist, who was kicked out of Harvard after a visit by friends led to a prank. The story sees the men live hard and move fast across the frontier, in battles with opposing native and French forces and in an exploration to find a Northwest Passage, to the Pacific.

    The work was serialized in the Saturday Evening Post and the novel was second only to Gone With the Wind, in sales. It was optioned for film for a “record sum” and released in 1940, starring Spencer Tracy and Robert Young.

    Around the same time was another popular novel, Drums Along the Mohawk, by Walter Edmonds. It features the story of Gil and Lana Martin, settlers in the Mohawk Valley, including battles in the area during the Revolution. It was adapted into film in 1939, directed by John Ford and starring Henry Fonda.

    These novels and films helped stir a fascination with frontier life, which led to the Disney Davy Crockett, and the later Daniel Boone tv series. Tomahawk was DC jumping on that bandwagon, as you can see by the Rangers and such.

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