Tag Archives: mainline

Bullseye #7, This is the End

Bullseye #7 (August 1955), pencils and inks by Jack Kirby

The bulls-eye pattern returns to the cover image for Bullseye #7. The overlapping figures creates an interesting design where the background figures are carefully framed by the foreground ones. It is always little more than guesswork when trying to credit who did what in the Simon and Kirby collaboration, in this case I suspect that Jack did the layout since this sort of careful arrangement of figures was often found in the work he produced later when working without Joe. While it is an interesting composition, it is not at all clear what is being depicted. All three individuals appear to be aiming their arrows at different targets, so it does not appear to be a shooting contest. Bullseye’s smile would be out of place for a combat usage. In any case why would a cavalry soldier be using a bow and arrow? While Simon and Kirby covers generally can be decoded to reveal a story, the cover for Bullseye #7 seems meant to be nothing more than an compelling image.

Bullseye #7 (August 1955) “Duel in the Sky”, pencils and inks by Jack Kirby

The first story, “Duel in the Sky”, has an unusual opening; no splash panel and the title occurs below two panel tiers and above another story panel. Kirby has used splash-less stories before but this one is special. The first three panels have no text and show nothing more than Bullseye’s alter-ego traveling over a western landscape. Simon and Kirby usually try to fill their stories with as much as possible so allocating the three panels used in this introduction is quite special. Obviously the introduction was considered worth it but perhaps the splash was sacrificed to make room for it (it is the only Bullseye story without a splash). This introduction shows Bullseye returning to Dead Center, his birthplace, to visit his friend Long Drink. Normally Bullseye traveled about; only in one other story (“The Ghosts of Dead Center”, Bullseye #3) does Bullseye visit Dead Center. This sort of reference to his past was unusual at that time where continuity was pretty much neglected in comic books.

Kirby always had a penchant for technology so I suspect it was his idea to include balloons in this story. The use of such a technology at that period is not unrealistic. During the civil war an attempt was made to use hot air balloons for observation. Unfortunately the balloons became a target and at least one was shot down. In any case the balloons adds interest to another Simon and Kirby masterpiece. It does not hurt either that the story ends with another fantastic Kirby fight.

Bullseye #7 (August 1955) “The Flaming Arrow”, pencils and inks by Jack Kirby

While “Duel in the Sky” has a perfectly acceptable ending, “The Flaming Arrow” picks up from there with Bullseye going off to prevent an errant balloon from falling into the hands of Mexican bandits. It is a short but rather nice piece that ends with Bullseye returning to visit Long Drink once again, the last page being a bookend to the first page of “Duel in the Sky”. In fact the same three panels, with slightly different cropping, that showed Bullseye traveling show up again.

Bullseye #7 (August 1955) “The Stolen Rain God” page 5, pencils and inks by Jack Kirby

The next and what would turn out to be the final Bullseye story, “The Stolen Rain God” opens with a double page splash. I have discussed this piece of art previously in my yet to be completed serial post (The Wide Angle Scream, Almost an Afterthought). Simon and Kirby had a long history of the use of these wide splashes but there were only two created during the Mainline/Charlton period and this was the only one actually published on two pages (the other from Win A Prize #1 was rotated and printed on a single page, see the previous link).

Since I have already posted on the splash page, here I include an image of page 5. It serves as a reminder that while action was the key component of many Simon and Kirby productions, and Bullseye in particular, humor also played an important roll. The very physical humor found in the last three panels is very typical of Kirby.

Bullseye #7 (August 1955) “Fightin’ Mad”, pencils by Jack Kirby, inks by Joe Simon?

This issues ends with a Sheriff Shorty feature drawn by Kirby. This makes Bullseye #7 the only issue from that title entirely drawn by Jack. Normally this would make issue #7 a very special comic. The Sheriff Shorty story is special alright but for the wrong reason. It is a rare example of a clunker drawn by Kirby. The action scenes are uncharacteristically poorly executed and this cannot be blamed on the inker. Further the humor does not quite work. Hey everybody can have a bad day.

None of the Mainline titles lasted very long at Charlton, they were usually terminated after two issues (except for Foxhole which lasted for a third issue but that last issue appears to have been produced by Charlton without any involvement from Simon and Kirby). Bullseye was not an exception and issue #7 would be the last. In my opinion, all the Mainline titles were special but for Kirby fans Bullseye would be the most important. None of the other Mainline titles has anywhere near as much of Kirby drawn material. The only comic from this period that does was Fighting American. Which makes it especially unfortunate that Bullseye has never been reprinted. With the resurgence of interest in Kirby, hopefully that will change in the not too distant future.

Bullseye #6, The Composition

Bullseye #6 (May 1955), pencils by Jack Kirby, inks by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby

Among other things, Simon and Kirby are today celebrated for all the successful creations. Most comic book artists were fortunate if they had one popular creation while Simon and Kirby multiple successes (Captain America, the Newsboy Legion, the Boy Commandos and the romance genre are perhaps their most significant). But not every Simon and Kirby creation received favorable recognition. While today many consider Boys’ Ranch as Joe and Jack’s finest creation, in its day it just did not sell well enough to avoid an early cancellation. It is unclear how successful Mainline, the Simon and Kirby owned publishing company, would have been with Bullseye or any of their titles as Joe and Jack were doubly unfortunate in their timing. One problem was that under the pressure of public criticism the entire comic book industry had started to crash. The other difficulty was the economic difficulties that plagued  Mainline’s distributor, Leader News. The second problem was not unrelated to the first as Leader News depended greatly on the revenues from EC, a comic publisher particularly attached by critics. When Leader News folded so did Mainline. Simon and Kirby then turned to Charlton to publish the former Mainline titles. Joe has said that Charlton offered them the best deal but with the collapsing comic publishing industry there probably were not many alternatives. Because of the amount of time required to print and distribute a comic book, the art for Bullseye #6 was probably already finished before Mainline had actually failed. The fact that Bullseye #6 was released by Charlton on its normal scheduled time indicates that Simon and Kirby spent little time looking for a replacement publisher for their Mainline titles.

The cover for issue #6 was the least successful of the Bullseye series. Unlike all the others issues, the bulls-eye pattern plays a part in the design of the title but not the actual image. What is presented is little more than an illustration from the interior story. Only from the cartouche would the reader understand the significant of the two foreground figures. It does have the distinction of being one of the only two cover art of the Mainline/Charlton titles that bares a Simon and Kirby signature (Foxhole #5 was the other).

Bullseye #6 (May 1955) “Tomahawks For Two”, pencils by Jack Kirby, inks by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby

“Tomahawks for Two” is the start of the most ambitious story that Simon and Kirby did for Bullseye. With a total of twenty pages divided up into four sections, it is a much longer Bullseye story than any other. Actually it is longer than most Simon and Kirby stories created after the war. I use the term sections, because although they are essentially chapters, they are not actually called such.

It is not just the length that is special, the story is probably the most unusual Bullseye tale as well. Two Indian brothers, twins actually, one of who is peaceful (called the Prophet) and another a warrior (named Scalp Hunter). Bullseye saves the Prophet but later ends up in a hand to hand combat with Scalp Taker.

Bullseye #6 (May 1955) “Tomahawks For Two” page 7, pencils by Jack Kirby, inks by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby

I could not resist including the fight scene. Kirby was unequaled when it came to choreographing such fights and this is one of his best. In this case he deviates from the 3 by 3 panel layout that he typically used for such battles. Although this is not a grid layout, there is enough symmetry that the reader’s attention is not drawn away from what really matters. As usually Jack has also minimized the background so as not to distract from the fight.

Bullseye #6 (May 1955) “Bulls-Eye And The Killer Horse”, pencils and inks by Jack Kirby

In an unusual and untypical manner, Simon and Kirby turn away from the tale of the two Indian brothers and now tell one about a boy and his love of a wild stallion. It is quite possible that this story was originally a stand-alone feature that was retrofitted into the Indian brothers story. If so its last panel was reworked to include a distant Indian observer and a caption that ties the scout to the next chapter of the story.

Bullseye #6 (May 1955) “The Coming of the Sioux”, pencils by Jack Kirby, inks by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby

This story picks up with the scout seen in the last panel of the previous chapter. Next we see Bullseye and the family from the “Killer Horse” story being interrupted at their dinner. This is followed by plenty of action and a rousing battle between two Indian tribes. I really do not want to provide too many details for fear of spoiling it for those who have not read it yet. But it is perhaps the most complicated plot ever used by Simon and Kirby and it ends with the death of one of the two Indian brothers.

While “The Coming of the Sioux” has a true ending, Joe and Jack follow it with a short coda, “The Man Who Lived Twice”. This piece in a way mirrors the beginning of “Tomahawks for Two” that initiated the story arc. Here we find the fate of the surviving Indian brother. Again I do not want to go into any spoilers but this story arc is one of the best that Simon and Kirby ever presented. Kirby’s art is in really top form as well. Bullseye #6 is a forgotten Simon and Kirby masterpiece.

Bullseye #6 (May 1955) “Sheriff Shorty”, art by Al Gordon

Bullseye #6 marks the return of Sheriff Shorty, a feature first introduced in Bullseye #3. This time the artist was Al Gordon, whom I am not at all familiar with. Gordon’s depiction of the characters follows those from Bullseye #3 so closely that some have attributed that story to Al as well. However as we have seen (Bullseye #3, Here’s Kirby) the origin story was drawn by Leonard Starr. While Gordon is not as good an artist as Starr, he still does a respectable job on this short (four page) piece.