BOYS RANCHMedium: Comic books
Published by: Harvey Comics
First Appeared: 1950
Creators: Joe Simon and Jack Kirby
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The team of Joe Simon and Jack Kirby was responsible for a great many comic book successes, including Captain America, Manhunter, Young Romance and lots, lots more. One of the areas in which they
excelled was making protagonists of gangs of kids, which they did in several genres — war stories (Boy Commandos), superheroes (Newsboy Legion), even hybrids between the two (Young Allies). When those genres both fell out of favor with the public, they tried doing the kid gang as a western.
Boys' Ranch #1 (October, 1950) came out from Harvey Comics (Captain Freedom, The Black Cat), which had already published Simon and Kirby's Stuntman and Boy Explorers, and would publish their Three Rocketeers a few years later. The issue opened with the chance meeting of a pair of young men called Dandy and Wabash, who had been on opposite sides of the recent conflict (Dandy wore a Union Army uniform, whereas Wabash was obviously of the Confederate persuasion) but with it over, quickly became friends and decided to head out West together.
Meanwhile, Indian scout Clay Duncan (qualified by having been raised as one of them — alongside Geronimo himself, who became a recurring foe) picked up with a young orphan who was called Angel because of his angelic good looks, but who had made himself an expert with guns and wasn't shy about using them. The four came together in the defense of a ranch belonging to Jason Harper, who, as his dying act, bequeathed the ranch to the youngsters for use as a shelter for homeless boys. Clay hired on as their foreman. Before the first issue was over, they'd been joined by Wee Willie Weehawken, who cited the technicality that the will didn't specify the maximum age to qualify as a "boy", despite the fact that he was probably about as old as the other four put together. (When Harper's traitorous son returned to claim the ranch, it turned out Willie had been a lawyer in his youth.)
Another adult, Palomino Sue (one of those westerm-genre women who are always being told to stay out of the way when the menfolk are settling their differences, but ignore those instructions and frequently wind up saving the day) came to live at the ranch in the second issue. The final member of the cast was an orphaned Indian boy they called Happy Face, who smiled a lot, never spoke, and was seldom even seen until the last issue, the only one in which he actually took part in a story.
Simon and Kirby considered Boys' Ranch to be among their best creations, and it certainly stood head and shoulders above Kid Colt, The Wyoming Kid and other longer-lasting comic book westerns. But high quality doesn't always translate into high sales, and Boys' Ranch ran only six issues. The last was dated August, 1951. In 1955 and '56, Harvey reprinted some of their stories in Witches' Western Tales and its continuation, Western Tales, but that was the last time the boy ranchers were seen for decades.
In 1991, Marvel Comics, fresh from reprinting another short-lived Simon and Kirby classic, Fighting American, from Prize Comics (Frankenstein), gathered the whole run together in a hardcover edition. That book is now out of print, but isn't too hard to find in the collector market. And it provides not just a look at comics excellence from another era — but also a fine reading experience for those who enjoy comic book adventure stories of all genres.