Super Chief appears

“The Crowning of Super-Chief!”

Our tale begins years before the white man set foot in America. The old Great Chief of the Nations has died and word goes out that a new chief must be chosen. Young Flying Stag, the greatest warrior of the Wolf Clan, decides to apply. His sweetheart, White Fawn, is pleased to think that she might soon be the “First Lady of the Nations!”

Flying Stag

Sadly, the chiefs of three rival clans have different ideas and determine to stop him any way they can. They dig a large pit as a trap, and, on his way to the contest, Flying Stag falls in. He finds himself trapped under a rock and calls to the Great Spirit, Manitou, to heed his pleas. Luckily, Manitou does just that, and sends a glowing meteor that crashes near Flying Stag.

The meteor crashes

When he awakes, Flying Stag hears a voice tell him that he now has great power. This quickly proves to be no dream as he easily moves the rock that trapped his leg and bounds free from the pit with but a single leap. The Manitou further tells him to secure a silver of the meteorite around his neck, and that his powers will last for just one hour. Flying Stag comes across the body of a black buffalo and fashions a mask from its skin, fur and horns. In this disguise, the Manitou tells him, he is to be known as Saganowahna, “Super-Chief”, and he must keep his identity secret from all.

The Manitou speaks

As Super-Chief, Stag attends the Great Chief of Nations contest and is allowed to enter. Using his great powers, he can out-shoot, out-run, and out-fight-a-cougar all his rivals, and is soon declared the new Great Chief of all the Nations. There is much rejoicing — except in the camp of the three rival clan chiefs. One tries to kill Super-Chief by burying him under a landslide of boulders, but our hero merely casts them aside. The second rival starts a huge fire that threatens to destroy Super-Chief, but he douses it by diverting a great river with his mighty strength.

The fire quenched

The third rival, a tad more cunning, engages the services of the war-like Algonkins. As a War Party approaches, Super-Chief’s powers fade away — his one hour is up. He figures that he won’t need his powers to defeat the Algonkin and gets his people to bend back saplings to use as makeshift catapults. Loaded with heavy boulders, the slingshots rain down upon the Algonkin and they flee.

The three rivals are brought before Super-Chief, and he banishes them from his land.

Back home, Flying Stag finds that he is shunned because he didn’t attend the contest. Even White Fawn is sad: her father has forbidden her to marry Flying Stag — he now wants her to marry Super-Chief instead! Stag curses silently that he can’t reveal his secret…

Great power, etc

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So. Super-Chief, eh? Not a name to conjure with, and one with which most would be unfamiliar. But that’s probably not all that surprising. Created by Gardner Fox and Carmine Infantino he only appeared in three stories, each back-ups in All-Star Western #117-119 (all 1961). After that, All-Star, a comic which had started out in the Golden Age as the home of the JSA, was cancelled. No word as to whether the less-than illustrious Super-Chief was to blame for the comic’s demise!

Super-Chief

You have to admit Super-Chief is a pretty silly sight prancing around with what amounts to a bison’s head on his, er, head. His origin, as you can see, has pretty much every comics cliché in the book. But, if Fox and Infantino were merely attempting a Native American riff on Superman, they succeeded brilliantly. Mind you, you have to wonder whether Stan Lee ever saw this stuff — Super-Chief”s run of bad luck in his secret identity is like a dry run for Peter Parker’s “with great power there must also come great responsibility.” Had the strip continued, I wonder if White Fang’s flame-haired best friend might have shown up to pursue Stag: “Face it, buffalo, you just hit the jackpot!” etc…

On the positive side, Gardner Fox scripts with his usual panache, and there are lots of his trademark ‘interesting facts’ squeezed in there in the form of footnotes. Reading a Fox script is often a way to increase your knowledge and/or fill your head with completely useless information (did you know an hour is equivalent to the time it takes a man to run 20,000 paces?). Infantino’s art is quite nice too. Actually, his layouts appear pretty modern given the year it was drawn. It goes to show how accomplished a layout man Infantino was — and how influential. Take another look at that panel where the meteor falls next to Flying Stag — it’s almost psychedelic, the sort of thing Neal Adams would be doing 7 or 8 years later.

I scanned these images from the reprint of the strip that appeared in Superman #245 (1971). What’s more, on the back cover, Curt Swan has a go at drawing Super-Chief, with predictably great results! Inks, of course, by the irrepressible Murphy Anderson.

Superman #245 back cover

Images ©2011 DC Comics