No, not THAT Lobo! Come on, what do you take me for? Granted, Lobo is not as awesome as once he was (he probably stopped being so after the Alan Grant monthly), but he’s not exactly forgotten now, is he?
No, many years ago, back when you’re parents were kids, there was another comic book called LOBO. Wow, I’m really reaching back through the archives for this one. Has anyone ever heard of Dell’s 1965-66 comic book series? Probably not, especially since it only comprised of two issues. However, it has a great significance to the history of comic books: it’s the first title to feature a black hero as its protagonist. That’s right, up until then, black guys couldn’t be the main character of a book. No sir, that just wouldn’t work for a predominantly white, suburban audience.
Truth be told, LOBO didn’t change all that much in the world. In fact, it was completely ineffective, but shortly thereafter, people seemed to be a bit more accepting of the idea of black people being more than supporting characters at best, and at worst, racist caricatures.
With a title like that, you could probably guess that it was a western book. Yep. “Branded for life! An honest man . . . blamed for a crime he did not commit!” Sounds pretty common for the time, right? Actually, LOBO is a pretty common book for its time, aside from the shade of the protagonist’s skin.
Check it out: When we first meet Lobo (and that isn’t his real name; we never get to know his actual name), he’s a soldier for the Union army, and he’s just received the good news that the war is over. He can go back to being a regular person. Like many other such folks, he went west to give himself a new beginning. He takes on a job at a ranch, where a couple of trail hands decide he’s kind of a joke. One day, after a successful cattle drive, he is framed for the murder and robbery of his boss by these two jokers (who are the ones who dub him Lobo, as he’s a lone wolf). However, there is one guy who knows he’s innocent: the criminal who really killed his boss. He goes out in search of this guy, only to find that he’s been killed by Indians. Along the way, he rescues a drowning prospector, who is surprised that a killer like Lobo would save his life. Lobo tells him his story, and the prospector has a similar story. It turns out this old man really did strike it rich, and he’s dying. He gives Lobo all of his gold provided Lobo brings justice to the west.
This story has everything a western comic book had back then: a hero who was framed for murder and is bent on clearing his name, a hero who refuses to kill people (even when his life is in danger), a hero who bears a symbol of his name (in this case, gold coins bearing an image of a lone wolf), everything.
But the problem is, Lobo is the every-hero of that time. The only difference is his skin color, and that is purely cosmetic. It never comes up in the course of the story that he is black. His experience of the west is the same as if he’d been white. Granted, Dell is a mostly remembered as a children’s comic book company (just look on the inside front cover of #2 to see what else they were advertising), but they had the chance to really do something interesting with this series. Instead of taking a few risks to promote discussions of race in a time when the racial climate of America was changing drastically, they decided to make Lobo a common cowboy. The conflicts he encounters are purely because he’s a wanted man, not because of the color of his skin. One could almost wonder if maybe he was meant to be just a white guy; the colorist just decided to have a little fun.
As it turns out, the color of Lobo’s skin was enough to cause the publisher to tug at his collar. There are only two issues of this book. It looks like Dell didn’t have the guts to continue the series, which was supposed to be a monthly. Look at the release dates: the first issue came out in Dec. ’65, and #2 had to wait until Oct. ’66 before being released. LOBO #3 simply wasn’t meant to be.
It’s a shame. LOBO could have been so much more than it was. If only Dell had the guts to make something of this book. Still, as cosmetic as it was, LOBO is still the first comic book to feature a black hero, and that counts for a lot.
Good luck finding copies of either book. They’re pretty scarce, although you probably wouldn’t have to spend too much on them, even if you do find them. I got mine for about $20 each (and I found them about 10 years apart). Not bad for a groundbreaking book. Too bad it’s mostly been forgotten by people today.