Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Weird Western Tales #49 "The Belle"

 Weird Western Tales #49 Nov 1978 

"The Belle"

Gerry Conway, story - Dick Ayers & Luis Dominguez, art - Luis Dominguez, cover

End of April, 1862. Fifty miles North of New Orleans, Louisiana.

First off, WWT goes monthly with this issue! Next we find Scalphunter sitting in a roadhouse, minding his own business when some yahoos start talking about an Injun being uppity and needing to teach him some manners. Needless to say, but I'm gonna say it anyway, this doesn't play out as the yahoos expected. Sure, they dump Scalphunter's soup in his lap and douse him with water. Sure, they get in several HAW HAW HAWs. But then they get thrown across the room, a broken arm, a chair across the head and then thrown over a table. 

When the dust settles the owner of the roadhouse pulls a shotgun and tells Scalphunter to just hold still until the railroad guards get there. Aaaaand THAT doesn't end up as intended when Scalphunter snatches the shotgun out of his hands. An older man dining at a nearby tables stands up, and tells the roadhouse owner that HE will vouch for Scalphunter and there is no need to get the authorities involved.

The man introduces himself as Judge Jeremiah Halleck and his wife Charity. The Judge invites Scalphunter to discuss some business on the train along with partaking of some tea. On the train, in the Judge's private car, the Judge explains that they are fleeing the Union soldiers that have overtaken New Orleans. He has converted all of his cash holdings into jewelry and placed it all in a lockbox. Their plan was to take the train to Montgomery but they have learned that several prisoners that the judge sentenced have escaped in the confusion of the occupation of New Orleans. The judge says the prisoners know of his wealth and he expects them to try to overtake the train and exact their revenge upon he and his wife. Of course, the judge can't seek military assistance and offers Scalphunter the job of bodyguard.

Scalphunter asks why the judge doesn't think that he will just kill the judge and take the jewels. The judge states that Scalphunter is a man of honor and the both know it. Scalphunter agrees, but only as far as Montgomery for he has business in Atlanta. The judge signals the engineer to get started.

That night, northeast of New Orleans, several escaped prisoners break into a plantation house and overpower the owner in his bed, knocking him out and taking his shotgun. Dutch, the leader, has the men search for other guns, food and horses while he takes care of 'other business' whilst he leers at the wife sitting in her bed.

The next day, Scalphunter is standing on the back of the train, watching the track vanish in the distance as they cut their way across southern Alabama. Charity comes out on the platform and comments that he is the strongest man she has ever seen. She asks what his name is, his Christian name. Scalphunter states that his father named him Brian but his real name is Ke-Who-No-Tey. Charity says that Brian is a wonderful name and it makes her weak inside, like a little girl. She starts to swoon and Scalphunter boldly asks "What do you WANT, woman?"

Charity cuts the act and explains that she is terribly unhappy, the judge is a beast and she feels so hopeless she could kill herself. Scalphunter asks if the judge mistreats her and she acknowledges that. He asks why she hasn't left and she explains that the judge gave her parents money to buy their plantation in exchange for her marrying the judge. She says that Brian is her only hope.

Then the train is making its way around a blind curve and ends up running into an avalanche. As the train topples over, Scalphunter is able to leap from the back of the train, grabbing Charity and taking her with him. He breaks her fall with his own body and then runs back to the train. 

He finds the judge, crushed in the private car. The judge explains that the jewels are for Charity and gives Scalphunter the box and the key. Scalphunter swears the box won't fall into the wrong hands.

As Scalphunter emerges from the wreckage, Charity calls out that she couldn't warn him but the prisoners have descended upon the wreckage. Dutch manages to knock Scalphunter out using his rifle butt and as he passes out, Scalphunter sees Dutch grab Charity and the box and ride off.

Hours later Scalphunter comes to and starts tracking the riders.

Later that night, by the campfire, Dutch explains that Charity's information regarding the train was so bad, they almost didn't find the right train. They were able to escape with her help of the knives she smuggled in and now Dutch is going to give her the share of the reward, as he grabs her and starts forcing a kiss on her. Just then the horses take off running and the men run off into the darkness to retrieve them, leaving Dutch and Charity to hear their horrific screams in the darkness.

Scalphunter steps out of the black and demands Dutch release Charity. Dutch pulls his rifle and Scalphunter charges with his knife. The two tumble into the campfire, battling it out and in the end, Scalphunter and Charity walk away.

The next morning in Magnolia, Mississippi (more on that later), Scalphunter is explaining the entire story to the local sheriff. The Sheriff wants to know how the convicts knew the location of a private train. Scalphunter explains that Charity was working with the convicts. Charity denies it and says that Scalphunter betrayed her husband and killed the judge. The sheriff pulls his pistol and Scalphunter knocks him out and runs out the door, dropping the key to the lock box. Charity picks it up, grabs the lock box next to her and opens it up.... to find the jewels gone!

On the road to Atlanta, Scalphunter stops by a stream and tosses the jewels into the water, fulfilling his promise to the judge that the jewels will not fall into the wrong hands.

Statistics for this issue
Men Killed by Scalphunter - Four
Running Total - 95
Compared to Jonah Hex - 11th appearance and Scalphunter has 95 vs Jonah's 65
Scalps Taken - 0
Running Total - 14
Injuries - Knocked out
Timeline - Three days. First day to meet the judge, second day to travel, and the third day to get to the sheriff. So we are very close to the end of April.

This one was pretty good. The cover promises a lot and delivers on every bit of it, the train wreck, the jewels, the prisoners. I actually laughed when Scalphunter said "What do you WANT, woman?" seeing through her charade and not having any of it. The artwork was gritty and well done, showing the action very well. 

Now about geography, They start fifty miles north of New Orleans which would have put them just north of Lake Pontchatrain, probably near Hammond, Louisiana. The test tells us they are heading across southern Mississippi. This all makes sense as they would have to head east, cross Mississippi, then into Alabama to get to Montgomery. Now the detour to Magnolia, Mississippi, THAT's the problem. Magnolia is due north of Hammond, LA and it is barely within Mississippi (just 13 miles across the state line), not enough for them to have been traveling across 'Southern Mississippi'. I guess you could argue that the geography is correct, but it didn't strike me that they would be heading due north to get to Montgomery to the northeast. ANYway!!!

The issue was rounded out with another eight page Cinnamon backup feature. 

Next Issue: The 50th issue, Scalphunter makes it to Atlanta, finds his sister, gets fitted for a suit, and gets sentenced to HANG!!!

Saturday, June 18, 2022

Weird Western Tales #48 "Slaveboat"

 Weird Western Tales #48 Sept/Oct 1978 

Gerry Conway, story - Dick Ayers & George Evans, art - James Sherman & Dick Giordano, cover

Wednesday, April 23rd, 1862. New Orleans, Louisiana.

Scalphunter has been captured by Reginald Ashe and is bound in chains aboard the slaveboat (hence the title) Swanee Dawn. The slave master is whipping Scalphunter, berating him for being a white man in warpaint making him a savage. Scalphunter grabs the end of the whip and jerks the slave master down into the hold. Even in chains Scalphunter is a force of nature and he quickly cracks the man's neck. (notice how I didn't make any mention of the word 'Cracker'? Such restraint!)

  The slaves are worried what will become of them once this is discovered. Scalphunter says that together they can free themselves.

  We see that Mademoiselle Magarit is speaking with Reginald Ashe aboard ship. She warns him about keeping Scalphunter on board but Ashe is having none of it. He has paid for Magarit's girls to be on board and he expects them to be more 'friendly'. She reminds him that this was all her plan and he plants a big wet smacker on her. They are interrupted by General St. Samuels.

  The two men retire to Ashe's quarters where the General reveals that his spies downriver that Admiral Farragut has breached the the Confederate blockade of the Mississippi and that Farragut is planning on getting past the two Confederate forts guarding New Orleans and will land troops before dawn. He says they have to cast off immediately in order to get the slaves delivered else they shall have to kill them all. Ashe says he'll get the ship underway, but what could possibly go wrong. 

  On shore we see a dark hooded figure slide from the wharf into the water and make their way on board the Swanee Dawn. The figure slips into the stateroom of Mademoiselle Magarit and reveals himself to be Wakwame!!! Wakwame explains that he knows places on the body where a knife can go that will cause no serious injury. He managed to position himself at the right time so that Scalphunter's thrust did not cause death and that his 'death' was merely an illusion of magic. Since Ashe's men thought him dead, they tossed him aside and ignored him.

  Shortly thereafter, the Swanee Dawn casts off and makes its way north. Down in the hold we learn that the slaves have freed themselves from being chained to the ship, though they still have chains on their hands (it is unknown how they actually did it). They make their way through back passages in the hold, finding a concealed door. Scalphunter slowly opens the door and knocks out the guard that was napping on the other side. Scalphunter tells the slaves they now have a knife and a gun and fire but the slaves say that without the key to the shackles, they are unable to swim to shore. Scalphunter assures them he knows who holds the key...Reginald Ashe!

  A dozen miles downriver at Fort Jackson, lookouts realize that the U.S.S. Hartford, Brooklyn and Varuna are slipping past the fort. The alarm is sounded and the fort opens fire upon the ships. However, the ships are able make their way past the fort at 03:40, making their way to New Orleans.

  Back on the Swanee Dawn, the door to the bridge opens and Scalphunter grabs Ashe by the throat, dragging him out. Scalphunter demands the key to the shackles and Ashe tosses the key down to the slaves on deck. Scalphunter then demands to know what happened to Samantha Savage. She said she loved Ashe and was going to be his wife. Ashe says he sent her east to Atlanta. He says Samantha wanted to be married but not to him, so he had Mademoiselle Magarit take Samantha to a business partner of the Madam. Scalphunter asked if Samantha worked for Mademoiselle Magarit and Ashe starts to say she was the most promising...BAM! Scalphunter knocks him out cold.

  Scalphunter tells the slaves that he needs to find Mademoiselle Magarit and the slaves proceed to take over the Swanee Dawn. Scalphunter battles Confederate guards, searching for the woman and the ship is now engulfed in flame. Scalphunter grabs Ashe once again, demanding to know where his quarry is. In a fit of rage, Scalphunter grabs Ashe and pushes both of them over the railing into the Mississippi. 

The General and others on board attempt to follow suit but find themselves entangled in chains that formerly bound their cargo. Enmeshed in the iron, everyone on board is dragged to the bottom of the river.

On the shore, Reginald Ashe is horrified at the carnage and death but Scalphunter demands to know where his sister in located in Atlanta. Ashe says she is with a woman named Maxwell but he doesn't know the address. Scalphunter turns to leave into the dark as Ashe swears he will pay for what he has done to Ashe.

 That day, at an undisclosed location, Mademoiselle Magarit is riding is a carriage driven by Wakwame. Mademoiselle Magarit says they were very fortunate to have left the Swanee Dawn prior to its departure and Wakwame says he only wants to find his brothers in Atlanta. She says that will be no trouble because they are being hidden by a woman named Maxwell.

Statistics for this Issue
Men Killed by Scalphunter - Wow, this one is tough. We see Scalphunter kill four guards but we can't really count the entire passenger list of the boat on him since the fire was started from 'spilled torches'. Were these caused by the slaves rioting? The shelling from the Union boats? I'm gonna keep it at four but it's probably a lot more
Running Total - 91
Compared to Jonah Hex- Ten appearances in and Scalp has 91 vs Jonah's 56
Scalps Taken - 0
Running Total- 14
Injuries - Whipped. 
Timeline - One day, Wednesday, April 23rd, 1862.

I enjoyed this one. More intrigue with Mademoiselle Magarit, Wakwame returns and an entire boatload of Confederates get an ironic death, and Scalphunter gets one step closer to finding his sister. This issue was part of the DC Explosion and had an 8 page backup introducing Cinnamon, a character that started off wonderfully but.... timelines and all that. I'll be giving her separate posts because I think there was a lot of potential there

Next Issue: A rocky train ride and nobody judges another man's Charity.