Thursday, January 30, 2014

Western Comics Focus: SCALPHUNTER

Troy D. Smith

One of my favorite western comics in the late 70s was SCALPHUNTER. The character took over the lead role in Weird Western Tales when that title's previous star, Jonah Hex, got his own comic in 1977. The first time I became aware of Scalphunter was by seeing the ads promoting him. Even as a kid I was fascinated by Native American Indian culture, so I was especially excited to seen an Indian in a starring role.

Well, kinda.

See, I later discovered that Scalphunter was one of those ubiquitous "white Indians" (going back to the 1950s Frank Frazetta classic, White Indian, imagine that.) He was actually Brian Savage, a white man who had been captured by Kiowas as a young child. Like Richard Harris's character in A Man Called Horse, the child was initially a slave but was later adopted into the tribe. The Indians, in fact, called him Ke-Woh-No-Tay, "He who is less than human." Which is actually not far off base, historically; many tribes practiced "kinship slavery," in which captives were forced to be laborers until gradually they could potentially become full members of the tribe, and the Cherokee word for that class of people literally meant "not human."

As an adult, he continued to identify as an Indian, and dressed and acted accordingly. He became a bounty hunter, and it was whites who called him "Scalphunter." He was part of DC's stable of western stars, and as such often met up with Jonah Hex and Bat Lash. And like Jonah Hex, DC produced a story in which he was murdered in his middle-age, in Scalphunter's case in 1899 (making him around sixty.) Western heroes don't progress from hero to legend, it seems, unless we know they are ultimately backshot by a dastardly coward. (Bat Lash, by the way, was allowed to survive into old age.)

The character's legacy lived on. In the official timeline, it was revealed that DC's WWI flying ace hero, Lt. Stephen Savage, aka Balloon Buster (introduced 12 years before Scalphunter) was the son of the Kiowa-raised bounty hunter. There was also some esoteric stuff in which Star-man was Scalphunter's reincarnation.

In the last decade, DC's western heroes have seen a resurgence, especially Jonah Hex. Scalphunter still shows up from time to time, and I'm always glad to see him. I'm not aware of any bound collections of Scalphunter stories, though they may be out there.

I'll be talking about the character more in a future installment about Native Americans in comic books.


  1. Any comments about STRAIGHT ARROW coming in future segments?

  2. Troy,

    I don't know about this character. My favorite was PLASTIC MAN! Don't know who else liked him but me.

    When it rained hard in the summer, in the fifties, all the guys in the neighborhood would bring a box of comics. We would sit for hours and devour comic after comic after comic, hundreds and hundreds of them! Batman, Superman, and all the others of that time. How much would they be worth now?


  3. Guess I missed these in my first childhood. Nice to have somethings to look forward to and find. Doris

  4. Charlie- if they were in good shape, hundreds of dollars apiece. Well over a thousand for some.

  5. I had no idea that anyone else enjoyed Plastic Man. What a great character that was.

  6. I'm going back to the thrift store on Saturday with my son to look through those crates and crates of comics, Troy. Don't know what I'm looking for, but maybe I'll know it when I see it. Great post--I love these posts of yours. If it weren't for you, I wouldn't even know about the one comic I DID find on my last trip in there! LOL