Sunday, August 18, 2013

Alan Mistero in "Tragic Mistake!"

Alan Mistero in Action!
In my last post I introduced you to Alan Mistero, bare-chested hero of a mid-1960s Italian comic series. Today you'll experience first-hand one of Alan's adventures. [Applause]

What we have here is Alan Mistero #5, dated 21 March 1965. The episode is entitled "Tragico Equivoco," that is, "Tragic Mistake." I really don't think it merits full-length reproduction, so I'll just hit the high points.

[Digression: This story's title brings up the side issue of the difference between American and Italian approaches to naming stories. In America we favored melodramatic titles like "Hanging Day for Meatball!" or "Meatball Must Die!" Italian comics preferred titles that were prosaic to say the least. The issue following "Tragic Mistake" is titled "Trap in the Mine." Now where were we?]

The story opens with Meatball, Alan's Comical Fat Guy sidekick, drunk as a skunk. Taunted by a townie, Meatball proves he can too handle his liquor by walking along the top of a wall. While he's up there he hears a disturbance.

In the Wild West you have to be pretty damn drunk not to know what masked riders firing guns means. But that's Meatball for you. He loses his balance, falls onto one of the riders, is kicked off, and lands in the street. For no discernible reason (other than to advance the story) Meatball wishes for a hundred dollars. He gets his wish, because the bandits have dropped some of their swag. That's how Meatball's troubles begin.

Those New Yorkers who form anti-Spiderman mobs in response to JJJ's editorials are models of wisdom and restraint compared to the citizens of Wilcoxtown. The townspeople all seem to know Meatball. They seem aware of his connection to heroic Alan Mistero. Yet when they find him crawling around picking up banknotes they promptly conclude this horseless, maskless, drunk buffoon is the guy who just robbed the bank and murdered a teller. Soon they're escorting Meatball to the Hanging Tree.

Fortunately Alan's other sidekick, the Comical Foreign Intellectual known as the Count, has witnessed all this. He rushes to Alan Mistero's forest hideaway. There we get our first look at the hero and his Mohawk chorus.

Alan arrives in town just in time to stop the lynching. The Count delivers a brief lecture.

One of the mob threatens Alan but our hero calls his bluff. It's not smart to challenge Alan Mistero.

The crowd disperses after the sheriff promises a speedy trial. Meatball thanks Alan profusely for his deliverance. This prompts the Count, who has a talent for saying weird things, to rhapsodize thusly:

Alan is confident Meatball will be found innocent, but fate throws him a curve ball.

The Count offers himself as attorney for the defense, citing his oratory which is "more eloquent than Cicero's." But it looks like there won't be much oratory in Judge Fox's courtroom.

The judge is less interested interested in oratory than in visiting the saloon.

Alan advises the Count that Meatball needs more than a strong defense.

Alan slips away as the Count begins a long harangue. Finally the judge's craving gets the best of him.

When Judge Fox returns he drops a bombshell on the court.

The grumbling townspeople clear the courtroom. Judge Fox unexpectedly asks to speak to the Count in his chambers. There the astonished Count describes exactly what we see in the panel, just in case we're too dense (or too drunk) to understand it by ourselves.

"Tonerre!" the Count gushes, "Your ability to transform yourself never ceases to amaze me!" Alan instructs the Count to keep the judge on ice while he himself goes in search of the real bank robbers. The count fulfills his mandate with gusto.

In the next town Alan stops by the saloon for a belt. He learns that a local guy is whooping it up in every saloon in town, paying with hundred dollar bills. The man claims his money came from an inheritance. Alan confronts the carouser, an unshaven mugg named Harris (probably one of those distant ancestors my mother refused to discuss).

Harris is a strict believer in payment for services rendered.

His pals accept the social contract.

The fight which ensues is too painfully one-sided to reproduce. Let this suffice:

Profiting by the mayhem, Harris grabs his gun and flees through a window. Alan follows him, making a solemn vow.

The battered paisanos suddenly see the error of their ways.

Meanwhile Alan has a running gun battle with Harris. As often happens on the last page of serialized stories, misfortune strikes our hero.

The grinning miscreant gets the last word and it's--continued next week!

As I was reading Alan Mistero I started to think, rather self-righteously, how backward the strip was compared to American comics of the period. Then I remembered that in 1965 we had lots of similar fare. Mort Weisinger's comics surpassed even Alan Mistero's in strange ideas, ridiculous denouments, and huge leaps of faith. But stylistically speaking Alan's true American cousins were Richard Hughes' ACG comics. Their low-key, off-beat yarns were reminiscent of Alan's not-quite-serious approach to stories. And EsseGesse's cartoony art style had much in common with Pete Costanza's and Ogden Whitney's work at ACG.

Wikipedia says that Alan Mistero was originally published by EsseGesse themselves. It didn't sell well and the trio turned it over to another publisher, who didn't have much better luck. Perhaps, like the ACG comics, comics like Alan Mistero were a getting bit old-fashioned. The truth will always be a Mistero. Tonerre!

1 comment:

Diego Cordoba said...

Talk about weird western heroes. Great entry, Ron. Do you by any chance remember another weird italian western hero named Rakar? He was created by Ivo Pavone and had two sidekicks, a drunk frenchman named Piquefouille and an indian manservant dressed with top hat and all named Casanova. Rakar dressed in a costume similar to the Phantom's, only without a mask. His secret identity was that of an Indian chief!!! Talk about weird westerns.

Not to be confused with the Turkish Rakar, a superhero who not only was featured in comics, but in films as well.