Super-Chief steers an unusual missile downhill. Artist: Carmine Infantino.


Medium: Comic Books
Published by: DC Comics
First Appeared: 1961
Creators: Gardner Fox (writer) and Carmine Infantino (artist)
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In the late 1940s, westerns were among the genres comic book publishers used to replace the superheroes that had put the industry on the map and sustained it during its early years. At DC Comics, a majority of those western heroes appeared in the anthology titles Western Comics and All Star Western, which it …

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… published all during the 1950s and into the '60s, under the editorship of Julius Schwartz (Rex the Wonder Dog, Shazam!).

Schwartz was also the editor who spearheaded the superhero revival of the late 1950s and early '60s, starting with The Flash (1956) and Green Lantern (1959). Before long, they were crowding the westerns right off the stands. In fact, the last hero introduced in either title was a superhero — a pre-Columbian Indian named Flying Stag, whose superhero name was Saganowahna, loosely translated from an apparently made-up language as "Super-Chief".

Super-Chief started in All Star Western #117 (March, 1961), where Johnny Thunder was the cover-featured star. He replaced The Trigger Twins, a pair of characters who secretly functioned as a single hero. His stories, including the origin, were written by Gardner Fox (Moon Girl, Ghost Rider) and drawn by Carmine Infantino (Detective Chimp, The Phantom Stranger).

Flying Stag, beset by rivals, prayed to Manitou (the Algonquin word for God) for peace among the Iroquois people (who actually lived far to the East). A glowing meteorite landed nearby, which he interpreted as having been sent by Manitou in answer to his prayers. Flying Stag spent the night in the meteorite's presence, which turned him into a superhero; then made it into an amulet, which he called The Manitou Stone. All this happened right when, in another Schwartz-edited comic book, Hawkman, the third revival of a '40s hero, was arriving on Earth.

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. (Time units were couched in metaphors having to do with a normal man's speed and apparent movements of the Sun — these are how a modern reader would interpret them.) 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.

With the exception of overtly religious heroes like The Crusaders, direct references to God are rare in superhero origin stories. But apparently this is acceptable, provided The Great Spirit comes from a culture as exotic as Flying Stag's, and is called Manitou.

Super-Chief didn't go on to greatness, like the average DC superhero of the time. In fact, he starred in only three stories before All Star Western folded. The final issue was #119 (July, 1961). He never had another comic book adventure — nor, at any time, did he appear on a cover.

Years later, Elongated Man and Doctor Fate ran across him in the Happy Hunting Ground. In 1997, The Manitou Stone fell into the hands of a minor villain who was made short work of by Superman. More recently, a brutal, embittered guy named John Standing-Bear, who may or may not have been a descendant of Flying Stag, came into possession of it. He got killed, but you know how it is with superhero deaths. There have been hints that he may be brought back, to make Super-Chief an ongoing presence in the modern DC Universe.

Which is not all that surprising, considering how very rare it is for a DC superhero, even as complete a nonentity and ethnic mess as Super-Chief, to be truly left behind.


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