Thursday, July 21, 2016

It's an Insult! It's a Train! It's Super Chief!

Steeped in stereotypes and yet intended to be innocuous, the politically incorrect Super Chief is one of the few super heroes you’ll probably never see revived, unless it’s ironically.
By 1961, the mainstream view of Native Americans was shifting from the villainous savages of the old westerns to the victimized peoples they actually had been. DC Comics’ Super Chief had a moccasin-clad foot in both camps.
Debuting in All Star Western 117 (March, 1961), Super Chief was secretly Flying Stag, a pre-Columbian Indian who prayed for peace to the Manitou and, apparently in answer, received a meteorite that, when fashioned into an amulet, gave him super powers.
“Wearing the amulet gave the newly superheroized man the strength of 1,000 bears, the speed of 1,000 deer and the leaping ability of 1,000 wolves — but only for one hour out of each 24,” noted comics historian Don Markstein. “Manitou gave him to understand that he’d have the power only as long as he kept his identity a secret; so he concealed it by wearing a hood made from the head of a black buffalo.”
“Like a proper superhero, Super Chief came equipped with a girlfriend (tribal maiden White Fawn) and a sidekick (her younger brother, Lightfoot). Of course, neither had any idea who he was.”
Ancient Indians, alien invaders and astounding feats all delivered in the same sleek, sunlit Carmine Infantino art that was also giving us the Flash, Adam Strange and Strange Adventures at that time. Gardner Fox penned the tales.
Comics historian Steven Thompson remarked, “I recall thinking him the weirdest-looking hero ever! I stand by that when I see this one in which our Native American protagonist meets up with aliens!”
Super Chief always reminds me of Mighty Mightor, Hanna-Barbera’s super-caveman hero whose animated adventures that ran on CBS from 1967 to 1969. Granted the power of flight and superhuman strength by his magical club, Mighty Mightor, like Super Chief, was one of those heroes who had to strain to find a reason to have a secret identity.
His name was a pun, by the way. The Super Chief was a famous passenger train, the flagship of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway, called the Train of the Stars because of the celebrated actors it carried between Chicago and Los Angeles. Just about every kid in 1961 would have known that, given the fact that we loved trains almost as much as we loved superheroes.

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