Scott's Classic Comics Corner: Ned Kelly's Impact on Western Comics

After re-reading Peter Carey’s excellent, True Story of the Kelly Gang, I decided to look up Australia’s notorious 19th Century outlaw on Wikipedia. I learned that a new Batman villain, the Swagman has a design based on Kelly gang’s armor. That’s all fine and dandy, but we should not forget the earlier impact of the iron wearing outlaw on the funny books of yesteryear.

Iron helmets and/or masks are fairly common in comic books, as The Man in the Iron Mask has also been used quite often as a springboard for a story (see Blackhawk #72 and Wonder Woman #80), but those are a story for another day. The specific Ned Kelly influence is typically seen in western comics, although I did make one exception. Here are a few examples.

The Iron Mask is probably the best candidate for Kid Colt’s archenemy. He made a few appearances in a genre renowned for its ‘one and done’ villains. His armor on the cover to Kid Colt Outlaw #114 is much more in line with the bulky Kelly gang armor than the mere mask and lightweight armor his wore for his initial appearance in issue Kid Colt #110. He kept the body armor for his third appearance in Kid Colt #127, but it seemed less bulky, by which time he had become leader of the western version of the Circus of Crime.

Marvel proclaimed itself to be the House of Ideas in the 60s, but some of those ideas were borrowed. A villain named Iron Mask first appeared in Magazine Enterprises Tim Holt #32 (October-November, 1952), more than a decade before the Kid Colt villain. I really dig this period of Tim Holt, as he (and the other heroes featured in the title) faced a variety of colorful villains, serving as a template for much of what Marvel would do with the various ‘Kids’ in the 60s. I also like these Frank Bolle covers, as it is always fun looking for he initials.

The cover to Hillman’s Dead Eye Western Volume 1 #11(August-September, 1950) seems to be an homage to the confrontation between the Kelly Gang and police at Glengowan. I cannot quite place who drew this cover, but it is very well rendered. Hillman Periodicals employed a number of terrific artists including Berni Krigstein, Al Williamson and Bob Fujitani. This series, along with Western Fighters are some of the best westerns put out during this period and they are relatively inexpensive as compared to Marvel and DC westerns.

Finally, I’m going to step into the Code crime genre here with the ‘Killer in the Iron Mask’ from Mr. District Attorney #24 (November-December 1951). Howard Purcell was responsible for a lot of stylish cover at DC during the 50s and 60s and this one is no exception. The story doesn’t really have much of a connection to the Ned Kelly premise, but it’s a bad guy with an iron mask. I’ll use any excuse to discuss Mr. District Attorney. It's a shame that you don’t see double breasted yellow suits anymore.

I am actually surprised that, as far as I can tell, the Ned Kelly story has not been used more often in comic books, as it is such a stunning visual. I reviewed many ‘true’ and ‘real fact’ titles from the Golden Age, and didn’t see him come up at all. I should mention two Australian newspaper strips from the 70s. Ned Kelly was a fairly straightforward telling to the outlaw’s story, whereas Iron Outlaw, a satirical strip that used the iron helmet as a launching pad. A good summary of these strips can be found at this site: Iron Outlaw - Comics

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