American Eagle: A 1950s comic book series about Native Americans in the old west that is collected for the first time

A new book published by Fantagraphics Underground collects the 1950s comic book series penciled by John Severin about a Crow warrior in 1860 Wyoming Territory named American Eagle: The John Severin Westerns, Featuring American Eagle.

Severin was hired to draw this series by the editorial team of Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, the latter of whom of course is the comics giant who would go on to create and/or co-create most of the Marvel universe. Severin was a talented and accomplished cartoonist who was one of the original EC Mad cartoonists, as well as putting in fantastic work on war comics for EC in the 1950s.

His fame may have suffered from the fact that he eventually ended up putting in most of his career's work for the Mad knockoff, Cracked Magazine. Cracked was to Mad as Mad TV was to Saturday Night Live.

In the Cracked issues that I've seen, he's by far the best illustrator, but I think his talents were miscast in humor. His drawing is always effective, but not particularly funny. Even in the western and war genres in which he excelled, his figures suffered from a certain stiffness.

But this American Eagle series is some of Severin's first work, and much of it is enhanced by the inking of Bill Elder, also an original Mad cartoonist (and the very definition of a funny cartoonist). Severin was raised in New York City, but through research and talent, does an amazing job on this western series. I'd never seen these American Eagle comics, but having read the book, they have become my favorite work of this very important cartoonist.

The covers are especially amazing.

Of course, a western comic about a Native American produced the 1950s is going to be problematic to 21st-century eyes. And American Eagle very much is.

American Eagle is a Native American who helps the White people in the area. His origin story is revealed midway through the series. He is named American Eagle after a "paleface" scout and then "paleface" cavalry save his village from a Sioux attack, just as he is born. His father holds the newborn: "I will call him American Eagle! He will grow up to be the White man's friend!"

In many stories, American Eagle helps good White people from the attacks of Native Americans spurred by either maliciousness or by the acts of bad-apple White people.

It's unfortunately rare to see reprints of Silver Age comics that aren't DC or Marvel and about superheroes currently the stars of cinematic franchises. The artwork seems to have been scanned from the pages of the published 70 year-old comic books. While I normally prefer the clean look of pages reproduced from the original art (or scans of the original art) and then colored to match the comics as published, the look of these pages is fantastic, like you're holding the actual comic books when it was first published, with no loss of fidelity.

Viewed with its historical context in mind, this is a great record of a very entertaining, gorgeously illustrated comic book series created by an important cartoonist that would have otherwise been lost to time.

Images posted with the permission of Fantagraphics Books, Inc.