THE BLACK RIDERMedium: Comic books
Published by: Marvel Comics
First Appeared: 1948
Creators: unknown writer and Syd Shores (artist)
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A lot of comic book fans believe The Black Rider was the first western-genre comics hero put out by the company now known as Marvel Comics. This is because Stan Lee, half of the team that put Marvel on the comics map
in the 1960s with such properties as Fantastic Four and X-Men, once wrote that he was. But Lee's memory is notoriously unreliable for bibliographic purposes. Actually, their first western hero was The Masked Raider, no relation, who appeared in Marvel's very first comic book; and the one who actually sparked the trend that made the company America's most prolific publisher of westerns during the 1950s was The Two-Gun Kid.
Also, many comics fans seem to be under an impression the character was created by Jack Kirby, the other half of that team, who co-created (with Lee) The Incredible Hulk, The Mighty Thor and most of the other properties that put Marvel on the map. This is probably because Kirby illustrated Black Rider #1. But that title, a oneshot subtitled "Rides Again!", actually contained the last appearance of The Black Rider during the 1950s. Kirby had nothing at all to do with creating him.
The facts are, The Black Rider first appeared in All-Western Winners #2 (Winter, 1948-49). The name of his original writer hasn't been recorded, but the artist was Syd Shores (who handled a lot of Marvel characters in the '40s, including Captain America, The Vision and The Angel). He was an early jumper-on to the western bandwagon, but Two-Gun, Kid Colt and a couple of others were already in place. #2 was actually the first issue of All-Western Winners; #1 was titled All-Winners Comics, and cover-featured The Blonde Phantom — it was a revival of the one that had introduced the short-lived All Winners Squad a couple of years earlier.
The Black Rider's first monicker had been "The Cactus Kid", and he was wanted as an outlaw. His biggest act of outlawry had been to wipe out The Luke Davis Gang in a saloon shoot-out in Jezebel, Texas, just before turning himself in to the law. But since the law had been unable to stop Davis and his gang from taking over and exploiting the town, instead of being hanged, he was pardoned for that and all his past misdeeds in return for a promise to renounce violence. In a 1950 origin recap, it turned out the Davis gang had massacred his family when he was a youngster, and taking them out of the world had already been planned as the culmination of his life outside the law.
Not only was he pardoned — the governor even offered to sponsor him in the pursuit of an honest career. He chose medicine, and a few years later, was the kind and gentle Dr. Mathew (sometimes spelled with a double-T) Masters, setting up shop in the border town of Leadville. But his very first patient, Charlie Maddock, foreman for rancher Jim Lathrop, was gunned down right in front of him by Blast Burroughs, who was trying to intimidate Lathrop into giving up his land. The evil deed was witnessed by Lathrop, whose rheumatism was acting up, rendering it impossible for him to pull a trigger; and his daughter Marie, who branded Matt a coward for not going after Burroughs.
The former Cactus Kid was merely being true to his renunciation of violence. But he managed to rationalize a loophole, just as Johnny Thunder had done before him and Daredevil after. By creating a secret identity, he could commit all the violence he wanted, while publicly keeping his own hands clean. That way, The Black Rider was able to put Burroughs out of business, while Doc Masters stayed above all that yucky stuff. Marie retained the same attitude toward him as Lois Lane had toward Clark Kent, despite the fact that her kid brother, Bobby, was the only one who knew Doc Masters and The Black Rider were one and the same.
The Rider wasn't the only one in the series who maintained a secret identity. His horse, Ichabod, was a gentle, slow old nag when Doc rode him — but when the mask went on, Ichabod became the spirited and speedy Satan, a fit mount for a man such as The Black Rider.
The Black Rider remained a star in all three issues of All-Western Winners, and stayed in place when it was changed to Western Winners in 1949. He also appeared in Wild Western, Western Outlaws & Sheriffs, Ringo Kid, Two-Gun Western and several other genre titles in the early 1950s. In 1950, Western Winners was renamed Black Rider, so he also had his own comic during those years.
But apparently, he ran out of steam. As of #32 (December, 1955), his title (which by then was called Western Tales of The Black Rider) was changed to Gunsmoke Western, and The Black Rider was out. An attempt was made to bring him back, with Kirby's Black Rider #1 (September, 1957), but that quickly bit the dust.
The Black Rider wasn't seen again until the early 1970s, when some of his adventures were reprinted in Western Gunfighters, an anthology that also featured The Reno Kid, The Ghost Rider and other western stars. After that ended, a couple more decades went by before he, like The Rawhide Kid, The Two-Gun Kid and others, got incorporated into the Marvel Universe by guest-starring with The Avengers. His first appearance with them was in Avengers Forever #5 (April, 1999).
In 2006, he was actually revived in a new story. In Strange Westerns Starring The Black Rider, writer Steve Englehart and artist Marshall Rogers (who also collaborated on a critically-acclaimed Batman series during the 1970s) brought him to New York in pursuit of a crime ring that reached all the way into Texas. In that story, for unexplained reasons, Doc Masters's first name was changed to "Morris". He was more closely tied in with the superhero world by meeting a young version of The Ancient One, the Tibetan magic master who taught Dr. Strange about the mystic arts.
There's been some talk about continuing the revival, but no definite word as yet.