Marvel Spotlight #1 (Red Wolf, 1971)

Writer: Gardner F. Fox
Artist: Syd Shores

The Marvel anthology titles of the 70’s are potentially the greatest things in the History of Comics. Simply because every few issues would result in a FIRST ISSUE– as a new lead character or storyline would debut. So if you subscribed to this title, you had the potential to have 12 “FIRST” issues a year (or maybe 6 if it was bi-monthly… but who cares about facts). Thus, it’s tough for me to correctly recall all the “Marvel _____” titles that featured characters like Black Widow, Moon Knight, the Falcon, or even newer guys like the Son of Satan and ol’ Red Wolf, here

Much has been made of Marvel’s attempts at diversity in the early 70’s. We’ve already covered the Cat and talked about Luke Cage, but one character that usually flies under the radar is Red Wolf. Following in the footsteps of characters like Tonto, Chief Wild Eagle of F-Troop, or the Go Go Gophers, Red Wolf is Marvel’s attempt at establishing a Native-American or “Indian” character (yes, he beats “Apache Chief” by a few years). I don’t want to delve into the whole stereotype/caricature thing, because it makes sense that not all super heroes would be white guys from New York. It’d probably be more admirable if somebody like, say, Iron Man or Spider-Man just happened to have been Native-American, but that was not the case. I’m still deciding if Red Wolf could be considered offensive or if he’s progressively promoting knowledge of Native-American cultures.

Anyways, this issue is the first chronological appearance of Red Wolf. Yet, the character actually made his first appearance in Avengers #80. However, the character in “Avengers” was the modern Red Wolf, William Talltrees. This is actually the “old west Red Wolf”, Johnny Wakely. He fits into the Marvel western stories, with guys like the Rawhide Kid or the Two-Gun Kid (admittedly, that’s one Marvel line that I’ve NEVER had the urge to jump into). I’m guessing there was eventually a backstory connecting Wakely to Talltrees, and others, as they were all revealed to have been vessels of the same Owayodata wolf spirit, in a lineage dating back hundreds of years. But I’m getting a little ahead of myself in this slow-moving Winnebago of an article.

We open with Red Wolf trying to get the “sacred white buffalo hide to Fort Rango”. In case that was tough to read, here’s the same thing, in illustrated form, with a more details than a T-16 Skyhopper Manual:

Red Wolf then, literally, runs into a cliff-hanger by page 5, having “his life flash before his eyes”, which cues up the ol’ “Origin Flashback”. Born to an un-named Indian tribe, Red Wolf’s family was slaughtered by the US Calvary, when he was still a kid. The soldiers have some level of morality, as they spare lil’ Red Wolf’s life and give him to the Wakelys– a couple on their way to the Northwest. They adopt him, naming him “Johnny Wakely” and he lives with them for a good deal of years, learning how to farm, while still practicing his skill from “the old ways”. Yet, sometime in his late teens, Johnny’s adopted family is also slaughtered– this time by a group of renegade Indians. While a good deal of superheroes are orphans, Johnny Wakely may have them all beat, since he’s been orphaned TWICE. That’s just cruel. Yet Johnny decides that he belongs to “neither world– red nor white” and will do his best to help both sides live in peace.

Johnny soon gets a job as a scout for the US stockade Fort Rango. The Commanding officer of the joint, Brett Sabre (sort of the 1800’s Marvel version of Nick Fury) agrees to work with Johnny. All seems well, until Johnny’s out scouting, one night, and comes upon a Cheyenne wardance, where Burning Tree is inciting his people to rise up and attack Fort Rango. Those clowns stole the tribe’s scared white buffalo hide! Johnny tries to sneak away but, in a scene similar to the cinematic “Conan the Barbarian”, falls into a pit where he enters the hidden lair of the Owayadata– the Red Wolf!

The Owayadata has been around for awhile and imbues upon Johnny all the powers of the ancient Red Wolf spirit. It’s somewhat similar to the origins of both Moon Knight and Thor (Donald Blake version). Johnny also meets his new best buddy– an injured wolf whom he names “Lobo”.

Now officially the Red Wolf, Johnny sets out to resolve the pending Rango/Cheyenne conflict. He finds out that Burning Tree arranged for the white-buffalo hide to be stolen by some greedy gold prospectors. Tree wanted to start a war, so the tribe could be wiped out and he’d profit from it by getting his share of the gold and…oh, heck, I’m just regurgitating the comic panel, again:

Red Wolf exposes the whole thing and saves the day. While peace is agreed upon, Red Wolf still thinks to himself: “why do I still feel as a stranger to both the white man and red”? Gotta’ say…as a reader, this is some good pathos to hook ya’ in. Red Wolf then sets off to become the “masked avengers of the western plains!” Which…to bring up a snarky question: what would happen if/when Red Wolf’s adventures take him out of the plains? Will he not chase a bad guy into the mountains? Would he not cross over into the eastern side of the Mississippi? I mean, this guy has designated himself as an avenger for a certain type of geography. So don’t come running to him if you’re on the East Coast, or living in a desert, or living in a swamp, or…. okay, joke officially beaten into the ground.

With the exception of Brett Sabre, all the soldiers Red Wolf meets are kinda’ jerks. Same for the various Indians. However, I do find it humorous that the soldiers all wear blue uniforms with yellow scarves; similar to John Ford’s famous “Cavalry Trilogy” with John Wayne.

Garden Fox really put some effort into this, as it could’ve gone south quickly. Red Wolf doesn’t come off like a caricature. I’m unable to determine if all the “Indian” words Fox drops in are legitimate, or if he just made them up. There are quite a few. Considering that my knowledge of any Native American tongue begins and ends with what I learned from Alice Cooper in “Wayne’s World”. So, seriously, if you know, please add a comment.

In the end, you can’t help but like Johnny Wakely/Red Wolf. He’d been given a pretty crappy hand with the double orphan thing, but was able to overcome it. He also has a fairly cool costume, is something of a bad-ass and really bears no ill will toward anybody. On top of it all, he’s also an animal lover. I think Red Wolf may be my Most Favoritest Marvel Western Character.

Summary: Red Wolf falls into a cave, gets a cool wolf hat, makes a friend and prevents war on the plains.
Cover Price: 15 cents
Rating: $1.50

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