The Gunmaster in a street shoot-out. Artists: Charles Nicholas and Vince Alascia.


Medium: Comic Books
Published by: Charlton Comics
First Appeared: 1960
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Western heroes who wear masks to conceal their identities, like The Lone Ranger, predate comic books — but as the genre grew to prominence in comics, following the drop in popularity of once-dominant superheroes, cowboy heroes with secret identities proliferated in comics like they never had elsewhere, perhaps because that story element had become so familiar to writers that they had an …

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… easy time constructing stories around it. Thus, by the end of the 1940s, Johnny Thunder, The Ghost Rider and more were sporting that superhero trope, with more coming as long as westerns retained their position in the field.

In fact, even in the early '60s, when westerns had pretty much run their course in comics and were giving way to a resurgence of superheroes, new ones such as DC's Super-Chief (1961) and Marvel's Two-Gun Kid (1962) were still coming out. Charlton Comics, many of whose westerns still had a few years of life left in them, introduced The Gunmaster in Six-Gun Heroes #57, dated June, 1960.

The name "Gunmaster" itself sounds like an attempt to use the terminology of westerns in making a word sort of like something a late-model superhero might call himself. The company's existing secret-identity western hero, The Masked Raider, who was only a year away from cancellation, sounded more like one an actual western character might use, so maybe Gunmaster was a response to the already-evident superhero revival — Captain Atom, Charlton's first actual '60s superhero, had been out three months at the time. In any case, The Gunmaster replaced Wild Bill Hickock (whose unrelated Saturday morning TV series had gone off the air the previous year) just as the superheroes were coming back.

The Gunmaster was Clay Boone, an itinerant gunsmith. Clay traveled from town to town in a wagon carrying all the tools he needed for his work. It also held enough firearms to outfit a whole town, something he actually offered to do in at least one emergency. In times of need, Clay would shed his everyday persona and emerge as the famous hero. When the day got good and saved, he'd become Clay Boone once more, and move on to the next issue's adventure. He resembled The Nighthawk, a western hero DC had published for years, but finally shuffled off to that big roundup in the sky in 1959.

The character got even more superheroey a few years later, with the introduction of a Robin-like sidekick, Bullet the Gun Boy. Bullet was Bob Tellub, whose name even the dullest child was probably bright enough to spell backward and thus divine the Secret Meaning. Bob discovered Clay's secret identity by accident in Six-Gun Heroes #79 (March, 1964), and thereafter, as that issue's cover blurb put it, "[stood] side-by-side with The Gunmaster to fight evil and crime with gun and fist."

A few months later, Charlton gave The Gunmaster a title of his own. Gunmaster #1 was dated September, 1964. He also continued in Six-Gun Heroes until the following year, when the two merged, retaining the older title's numbering. But that lasted only a couple of years. After #89 (October, 1967), the title was changed again, to Judomaster. The new character went on to a modest run, while Gunmaster bit the dust.


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Text ©2007-08 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Charlton Comics