Masked Raider and Talon the Eagle. Artist: Mike Sekowsky.

THE MASKED RAIDER

Medium: Comic Books
Published by: Charlton Comics
First Appeared: 1955
Creators: Unknown writer and Mike Sekowsky (artist)
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Western heroes proliferated in the 1950s, throughout all American media, but in comic books they seemed especially prolific. The Ringo Kid, The Cheyenne Kid, Pow Wow Smith … even the westerns from other media proliferated in comics, through Dell's

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… adaptations of movies and TV shows. But in comic books, a western hero sub-genre, the ones with secret identities, underwent a greater population explosion than they did in most places. They weren't a majority, by any means, but with Nighthawk, The Lemonade Kid, The Lone Rider and so many more all concealing their names while doing their good deeds, it seems almost as if the previous decade's superheroes hadn't gone away, but just traded in their Batmobiles and Star Rocket Racers for horses.

Charlton Comics (E-Man, Atomic Mouse) introduced its first secret identity western hero, The Masked Raider (no relation to a much earlier Marvel Comics character of the same name), with a cover date of June, 1955. He had at least one point in common with DC's Johnny Thunder, in that his rootin' tootin' he-man father was disappointed with his wimpiness. Les Wilcox was always being left behind when the posse set out to bring in an outlaw, because he'd rather bury his nose in one of those law books he was constantly studying. In both cases, little did Dad know, the son didn't need any posse to handle owlhoots, because he was secretly the he-manniest gunfighter in or around Douglas City.

What Johnny had, and the Raider lacked, was motivation. Johnny kept his secret because he'd promised his mother, on her deathbed, to renounce the he-manly violence of which he was so capable, and rationalized that if nobody knew who he was, it wasn't really "him" committing it. But if the Raider had any such reason for putting on the mask, it wasn't mentioned.

In his youth, Les had witnessed the murder of his Uncle Mort, who was in charge of him while Dad was away Injun-scouting for the Army. The murderer, Jud Holt (who wanted Mort's land) then attempted to eliminate the witness, wounding Les, who then high-tailed it to parts unknown. Holed up in a remote cave, Les made friends with a wounded eagle, whom he called Talon. When their wounds healed, the boy and the bird teamed up to take care of Holt. From then on, they were pals, defeating one bad guy after another. But Les never did say why he used the "Masked Raider" monicker instead of simply taking credit for his own heroism.

It's hard to pinpoint who created the character. The writer wasn't credited, but the artist on the first story, in which he dealt with a stagecoach robbery (introducing girlfriend Polly Garrett, daughter of Douglas City's sheriff), has been identified as Mike Sekowsky (Captain Flash, T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents). But the story of how he picked up with Talon was drawn by Jack Sparling (Secret Six, Pirana). Other talent handled the character over the years, including Rocke Mastroserio (Black Fury, Nature Boy), Charles Nicholas (Blue Beetle, All Winners Squad) and most prominently, Pete Morisi (Kid Montana, Thunderbolt).

It's also hard to pinpoint how many issues came out, since Charlton switched titles and numbering systems even more often with this series than it usually did. But one way or another, the final issue was designated #30, and dated June, 1961. By that time, they were publishing Gunmaster, so the tradition of western heroes with secret identities continued at Charlton.

— DDM

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Text ©2008 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Charlton Comics.