By Milton Caniff (Checker Book Publishing Group)
After leaving the incredibly successful and world-renowned Terry and the Pirates newspaper strip Milton Caniff created another iconic comic hero in the demobbed World War II pilot Steve Canyon. The reasons for the move were basically rights and creative control, but it’s also easy to see another reason. Terry, set in a fabled Orient, even with the contemporary realism the author so captivatingly imparted, is a young man’s strip and limited by locale.
The worldly, if not war-weary, Canyon was a mature adventurer who could be sent literally anywhere and would appeal to the older, wiser readers of Atom-Age America, now a fully active, if perhaps reluctant, player on the world stage. Canyon also reflects an older creator who has seen so much more of human nature and frailty than even the mysterious Orient could provide. Put another way, William Shakespeare could write “Romeo and Juliet” as a young man, but needed more than passion and genius to produce “King Lear”.
Steve Canyon began on 13th January 1947, after a long period of public anticipation following a very conspicuous resignation from Terry. Always a master of suspense and adept at manipulating his reader’s attention, Caniff’s eponymous hero didn’t actually appear until January 16th (and then only in a ‘file photograph’). The public first met Stevenson Burton Canyon, bomber pilot, medal winning war-hero, Air-Force flight instructor and latterly, independent charter airline operator in the first Sunday colour page, on 19th January 1947.
By then eager readers had glimpsed his friends and future enemies, how acquaintances felt about him and even been introduced to ultra-rich and super-spoiled Copper Calhoun, the latest in a startlingly long line of devastating Femme Fatales created by Caniff to bedevil his heroes and captivate his audiences. And the magic promptly began.
This series of collections from Checker represents the strip in yearly segments and this one begins as Calhoun manoeuvres Canyon’s Horizons Unlimited charter line into flying her to countries where her pre-war holdings were disrupted, only to encounter deadly peril from both strangers and trusted employees. There’s also a goodly helping of old fashioned intrigue, jealousy and racketeering in the mix too.
The action and tragedy lead directly to an encounter with a couple of deadly female con-artists in ‘Delta’, and a gripping, yet light-hearted romp in the booming petroleum industry in ‘Easter’s Oil’ – which introduces the off-the-wall supporting character Happy Easter and the lascivious Madame Lynx, who would play such large and charismatic roles in the strip’s future.
The first volume ends with ‘Jewels of Africa’, a classic of suspense with the modern day pirate and Wrecker Herr Splitz falling foul of our heroes in a world rapidly becoming a hotbed of International tension. As Caniff’s strip became more and more a compass of geo-political adventure, his skill with human drama became increasingly mature and intense. This was comic strip noir that was still irresistible to a broad spectrum of readers. And that’s as true now as it was then. Steve Canyon is magnificent comic art at its two-fisted best.
© 2003, Checker Book Publishing Group, an authorized collection of works © Ester Parsons Caniff Estate 1947.
All characters and distinctive likenesses thereof are trademarks of the Ester Parsons Caniff Estate. All Rights Reserved.