Monday, September 12, 2022

Rio: The Complete Saga - Doug Wildey

I was eleven when JONNY QUEST premiered in 1964, about the right age to start wondering if I was too old to be watching cartoons. Now I know, of course, that you’re never too old to watch cartoons if you enjoy them. Back in those days, it didn’t take me long to realize that JONNY QUEST was one cartoon I certainly needed to watch, because I thought it was great. Jonny’s globe-trotting adventures reminded me of the Rick Brant novels, my all-time favorite series of boys’ adventure books. At the time, I had no idea that the series was created and developed by a writer/artist named Doug Wildey.

In time I became aware of Wildey’s involvement in the series and learned that he had a significant career in comic books and comic strips as well as animation. But if I ever knew he produced a Western comic book called RIO for various publishers in the Eighties and Nineties, I’d forgotten it, until a friend mentioned on Facebook that he was reading a complete collection of Wildey’s Rio stories. That sent me in search of a copy, which proved to be surprisingly easy to obtain since there’s an ebook edition that’s available on Kindle Unlimited. Since I’ve come to enjoy reading comics digitally (yeah, that surprised me, too), I grabbed it immediately.

Rio is a former outlaw and gunfighter who has gone to work as a troubleshooter for President Ulysses S. Grant. He’s been promised a pardon if he carries out the missions Grant assigns to him. The first one involves taking on a cruel railroad baron and his hired guns in “The Hide Butchers”. That’s the first part of a three-part story that continues in “Satan’s Doorstep”, in which Rio clashes with the U.S. cavalry, and “Robber’s Roost”, in which he ventures into a Mexican village that’s been taken over by outlaws.

In another long, three-part story, “Mr. Howard’s Son”, Wildey fills in more of Rio’s background and reveals that he once rode with Frank and Jesse James and their gang. Rio encounters Jesse again, as Old West outlaw history buffs will realize pretty early on, and the events in this story foreshadow the famous owlhoot’s real-life fate later on.

Rio encounters another old friend, Doc Holliday, in “Hot Lead for Jonny Hardluck”, as a trail that begins with a botched stagecoach robbery ultimately leads Rio to San Francisco. From there, still in company with Doc Holliday, Rio pays a visit to Tombstone in “Red Dust in Tombstone”, a tale that also involves Wyatt and Virgil Earp and Buckskin Frank Leslie. Finally, the volume concludes with “Reprisal”, an unfinished story Wildey was working on at the time of his death, in which Rio tangles with Mexican revolutionaries who are after a load of gunpowder smuggled over the border.

I really enjoyed reading RIO: THE COMPLETE SAGA. Wildey’s artwork is superb all the way through, and his scripts have a gritty tone to them reminiscent of Spaghetti Westerns and the novels written by the Piccadilly Cowboys in the Seventies. The historical aspects seem reasonably accurate, and I think fans of traditional Westerns would enjoy these stories, as well. It’s an excellent collection, a lot of fun to read, and I give it a high recommendation.

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