THE PRESTO KIDMedium: Comic books
Published by: Magazine Enterprises
First Appeared: 1950
Creators: Gardner Fox (writer) and Dick Ayers (artist)
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Magazine Enterprises (ME), the small 1940s-'50s comic book publisher that was responslble for White Indian, Cave Girl, Jet Power and more, was without a doubt the most prolific purveyor of western heroes with secret identities the world has ever seen. Starting with The Calico Kid (a relative non-entity in the back pages of somebody else's title), they did everything from The Lemonade Kid (a supporting character in that role) to The Ghost Rider (the biggest secret-identity western star ever to
come out of comic books). They even adapted such a character, The Durango Kid, from movies into comic books. In fact, they even licensed a real-life cowboy star, and wound up giving him a secret identity, Redmask. They did The Black Phantom, one of the few female representatives of the sub-genre. The last of their mask-wearing western stars was The Presto Kid.
Presto replaced The Ghost Rider, when The Comics Code Authority made comic books too hot to hold him. The Code didn't take well to a guy who fought apparently-supernatural menaces, and made a regular practice of scaring his opponents half if not entirely to death, but it didn't seem to mind stage magic. Presto didn't do the Zatara/Sargon schtick of using stage magic as a cover for real magic. No, stage magic was all he had. He didn't even carry a gun, like self-respecting western heroes with or without secret identities did.
Presto replaced the Rider in Red Mask #51, Sept. 1955 (where he'd been maintaining a series, in addition to holding down a title of his own). In that issue, he also replaced Redmask himself on the cover, a position he retained. Presto also took over The Ghost Rider's creative team, writer Gardner Fox (Moon Girl, Adam Strange) and artist Dick Ayers (The Avenger, Jonah Hex).
The masked hero was in reality Jeff Grant, who ran the blacksmith shop in the town of Red Gulch. At least, he ran it when he wasn't entertaining the town's children with his "magic" tricks. The adults sometimes chafed at Jeff's reluctance to attend to business, but ultimately acccepted him and his laconic ways. But many scorned the fact that he was such a peace-loving man, he wouldn't even carry a gun. Particularly scornful was Molly Blane, mistress of the town's Post Office. Jeff's easygoing manner ensured nobody, least of all Molly, would suspect him of being the dashing and heroic Presto Kid.
Presto's adventures always hinged on some sleight-of-hand, making the bad guys believe one thing while the reality was quite different, enabling him to capture them without a shot fired. But he only had four of those adventures. The Redmask title ended with #54 (September, 1957). The following year, the first two were reprinted, as Israel Waldman, notorious for reprinting anything that wasn't nailed down, got hold of production materials to make Redmask part of his first batch of releases.
If he hadn't replaced The Ghost Rider, Presto might never have been noticed at all.