Tomahawk gives the British what-for. Artist: Fred Ray.


Medium: Comic books
Published by: DC Comics
First Appeared: 1947
Creators: Joe Samachson (writer) and Edmond Good (artist)
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Tomahawk was ostensibly a comic book series about a hero of the American Revolution. And it was — but it …

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… could also be seen as a barometer of trends at DC Comics, which published the buckskin-clad adventurer continuously from 1947-72.

The character was created by writer Joe Samachson (who also scripted the first J'onn J'onzz, Manhunter from Mars story) and artist Edmond Good (whose work also appeared at Quality and Fox) — but the man most closely associated with his development was Fred Ray, a cartoonist who was also a Revolutionary War buff. Tomahawk got his name from the fact that he was raised by Indians, thus absorbing their lore — a definite asset in the forest-based guerilla warfare he carried on against the British — combined with the fact that his name actually was Tom Hawk. Following a very common pattern among DC heroes of the 1940s and '50s (cf. Green Arrow, Black Pirate), Tomahawk had a young sidekick, Dan Hunter.

The pair first appeared in DC's Star Spangled Comics #69 (June, 1947). Star Spangled was one of those monthly anthologies anchored by a superhero or two, that dominated the comic book scene during a lot of the 1940s. In this case, the superhero on the cover was Robin, Batman's sidekick, off in a series of his own for the first time. But in the back pages, the superheroes were being replaced with more down-to-earth adventurers, e.g., Robotman by Captain Compass and Sargon the Sorcerer by Lady Danger; and Tomahawk began by replacing Liberty Belle. Superheroes fell even more out of favor; and with the 96th issue (September, 1949), Tomahawk ousted Robin from the cover.

Tomahawk remained on the Star Spangled cover until #121 (October, 1951), when he lost it to a new character named Ghost Buster, but even then, remained inside. With its 131st issue (August, 1952), Star Spangled Comics became Star Spangled War Stories, and all the ongoing characters were dropped — but by that time, Tomahawk was firmly ensconced in other venues. In 1948, he'd started appearing sporadically in World's Finest Comics, where the covers featured Superman and Batman. He became a regular in that title in '53, and the World's Finest gig lasted until 1959.

In the 1950s, there was a tendency for minor DC characters of various genres to appear in their own comics, rather than just in the back pages of anthologies (e.g., Peter Porkchops, Congo Bill). Tomahawk #1 was dated Sept-Oct, 1950. It was among the more successful of the lot, lasting until the 1970s.

Toward the latter part of the '50s, practically all DC comics ran aliens, monsters and other goofy sci-fi stuff on the covers, no matter how badly it clashed with the title's subject matter — even war comics often sported dinosaurs in that position. And so, all through the late 1950s and early to mid '60s, Tomahawk fought gigantic tree men, miraculously-surviving dinosaurs, mutated salamanders, and other menaces that seem somehow to have escaped the history books. There was even a giant gorilla among them, and putting a gorilla on the cover was also a contemporary trend at DC.

In 1960s DC comics, the superheroes were back — and lo and behold, one turned up in Tomahawk. Miss Liberty, who represented that segment of the superhero population which wrapped themselves in the American flag like a cheap politician (as did, for example, The Shield and Fighting American), debuted in #81 (August, 1962), and was a frequently-seen supporting character thereafter.

In the late '60s, the superhero furor seemed to be letting up a bit, and DC was again experimenting with various other genres. Tomahawk, again following suit, began to have more appropriate adventures. But after all those oddly-directed years, sales were flagging. In the early '70s, one of the genres that looked like it might be taking off was the western — so all of a sudden, the setting was moved forward several decades, and the focus of the series switched to Tomahawk's frontier-fightin' son, Hawk — not a perfect, fit, but close enough to be marketed as part of that category. But even that radical a departure wasn't enough to revive the series, which was canceled with its 140th issue (May-June, 1972).

Starting in the 1990s, DCs Vertigo imprint, which specializes in darker stories aimed at adults (e.g., Sandman and Hellblazer), has done quite a few brief, Vertigo-style revivals of DC titles such as Strange Adventures, Heart Throbs and House of Secrets. Vertigo put out a Tomahawk oneshot in 1998.

Other than that, Tomahawk hasn't been seen much in recent decades — which, since the tendency nowadays is for DC to publish nothing at all except superheroes, means that by lying dormant, Tomahawk is still following the trends at DC.


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