DC Comics History
DC Comics History: Pow-Wow Smith (1955 - 1959: Dawn of the Silver Age)
By Deejay Dayton
March 23, 2017 - 10:35

DC Comics


Pow-Wow Smith held the cover spot and lead story in Western Comics for almost the entire period 1955 – 1959: Dawn of the Silver Age.  Ohiyesa did gain his one and only recurring villain during these years, but despite this, and his prominence in the book, I cannot say this was a great period for the character. We rarely saw his tribe, and except for his colouring, in many of his tales he could just have easily have been a white sheriff.


In Western Comics 65 Pow-Wow Smith gets a story that is a literal cliffhanger. The story itself is kind of ridiculous, dealing with a mine that has two contracts for shipping its gold, so each delivery has to be done twice.  Hard to believe such a situation would be allowed to continue, rather than just settling the contractual mess.  But it does, and this allows the thieves two attempts to steal the gold.


Still, all of that is simply the background and set-up for the big scene, with Pow-Wow Smith almost falling to his death. Carmine Infantino does a great job with the page, building the suspense as the hero loses his grip.  Of course Smith survives, and we see how he managed to grab onto another ledge as he fell.


Hallucinogenic drugs at the core of the Pow-Wow Smith story in Western Comics 76. The tale begins with what appears to be a native thief with magical powers.


When Pow-Wow Smith goes in pursuit, the story gets even stranger, as Smith sees the man he is after reduced and bottled, then on a blade of grass, and then fired into the air.  The story now seems to be veering into the supernatural. But nope.  Everything gets explained by the use of hallucinogenic mushrooms! 


That's about the last thing I expected to come across in a comic from the 1950s, but Pow-Wow Smith is indeed tripping out and seeing whatever the shaman suggests to him.


There is some slight of hand towards the end, as Smith seems to invoke the Manitou to gain the power of flight, although this is shown to be a trick, he is simply being lifted up by men on a cliff.  As he is not able to withstand the power of the drugs, he needs to con the bad guys in order to defeat them.


There was an extremely significant development in the Pow-Wow Smith story in Western Comics 75, though it has little to do with the plot. A superstitious villain, Ace Wright, believes in a magic belt that will protect him. Ace goes to visit Pow-Wow Smith, hoping to acquire one of the leather thongs from Smith's jacket. 


In the scene, Wright makes mention of other famous western heroes whose property he has been collecting: Wild Bill Hickock, Buffalo Bill, Johnny Thunder and the Trigger Twins.  Up to this point, the various western series in the DC books had no cross-continuity.  No one had appeared in anyone else's strip, or even been mentioned.  This is the first time that the coherent DC Universe ventured in to the western books.  At first I thought the mention of the Trigger Twins was a poor choice, as no one knew they were working as a pair.  But then I realized this story is taking place many years after their adventures, so their secret could easily have come out by now.


 As for the Pow-Wow Smith story itself, shadows become the most significant element.  It's Smith's shadow that gives him away to Ace Wright at one point, almost causing his death.  And at the conclusion, it's a shadow that Smith uses to decoy Wright, and get the drop on him.


Pow-Wow Smith gets his first, and only, recurring villain, the Fadeaway Outlaw, in Western Comics 62. Despite being only 6 pages, this is a solid story.  Pow-Wow Smith meets a friendly travelling magician, who is unusually open about how he pulls off his tricks.  But then Smith goes up against a masked thief who uses similar diversions to seemingly vanish while being tracked. The robberies take place in the same towns that the magician is visiting, and it's easy to assume that the magician is really the criminal. 


But Smith does not fall for this, noting that the thief is left-handed, and the magician right-handed.  He figures out that the Fadeaway Outlaw is using tricks he has adapted from the magician's show, while attempting to divert suspicion onto the performer, by only robbing the towns he is visiting. An interesting villain and a good story, it's hardly surprising that the character would make a return.


Fadeaway Outlaw’s second round against Pow-Wow Smith appears in Western Comics 73. The story opens with the villain being carted off to jail after the end of his first outing against Smith, vowing vengeance.  Later, the story will spend a page recapping the tricks he used the first time.  Fortunately, the Fadeaway Outlaw has more deceptions up his sleeve, and the magician from the first tale is not used in this one.  There is a subplot about Smith's deputy wanting to get married, but that has no real bearing on the plot.


This time, the Outlaw has a double-faced outfit (and must have some extremely flexible limbs as well), so he pulls robberies with his own face, and then sits around in town with his mask disguising him.  It's brazen enough that it works for a while, until Smith catches on. The cover image is also the climax of the story, with a hollowed out tree serving as the Outlaw's hiding spot.  Smith uses the Outlaw's own tricks against him, hiding under a green blanket on the grass so that he can come up on the villain from behind and capture him.

Pow-Wow Smith continues in the next period, 1960 – 1964: the Silver Age.

Pow-Wow Smith: Western Comics 53 - 78 (Sept/Oct 55 – Nov/Dec 59)

Next up – Roy Raymond, TV Detective!

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