Book Review: The Complete Steve Canyon, Volume 6: 1957-1958 by Milton Caniff

Since January 2012, the Library of American Comics, by way of IDW Publishing, has been releasing collections of Milton Caniff’s Steve Canyon comic strips, which had an impressive run of 41 years. I was first introduced to U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Canyon in Volume 4 where I read about his international exploits. He was a character of his era. A man with nothing but good, noble traits, who left a trail of broken hearts because nearly every woman he encountered wanted him for her own. That includes Poteet Canyon, Steve’s teenage ward, who was introduced in 1956. I missed her entry into the strip, so was surprised to see her being the main focus of the majority of the stories over the two years.

This book opens with Poteet coaching a high school boys’ basketball team in a tournament. A hard enough task for a young lady, made tougher by having to deal with Copper Calhoon, a shrewish businesswoman who is delightfully over the top in her wickedness that includes the mistreatment of her assistant Summer Olson, a former flame of Steve’s. After the big game, Poteet receives romantic letters from an admirer but things take a rather dark turn when the writer reveals himself.

Steve gets his own adventure when he is assigned to assist Princess Sunflower, ruler of the fictional Asian country Damma that has been overtaken by the Red Chinese when she arrives in the States. Caniff makes sure to write “red” every chance a character gets so his position on communism is clear. Doagie Hogan is overseeing her trip, which he is using to raise funds to fight against Red China, The U.S. Government isn’t happy about Hogan’s plan due to the fragile nature of international relations, which is why Steve gets involved.

Steve gets transferred to Higgs Air Force Base. Poteet hitchhikes there and befriends Scooter McGruder, a teenager whose mother Poteet rents a room. Scooter gets Poteet to join her in the Civil Air Patrol. Also new to Higgs is Delta Index, wife of Col. Sam Index and recently paroled. The two girls try to welcome Delta to the community but she doesn’t care for the attention and can’t escape her past. Steve quickly passes through Higgs without seeing Poteet and heads to the Gulf of Mexico to take part in war games with the Navy. But before the action begins, Miss Columbia Mizzou is inexplicably found by the Air Force floating in a raft. Her presence throws off quite a few of the men.

Once he gets back to Higgs, Steve sets up a polo team for Poteet and the other kids. Unfortunately, her jealousy towards Scooter’s mother, who of course falls for Steve, causes a number of problems. After the big match, Steve and Poteet head out to Lowry Air Force Base before the opening of the new Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. Poteet finds a place to stay at the aunt of an airman named Norman Sparta. She is attracted to him but even more attracted to the mystery of why he hasn’t signed up to be a cadet. The book concludes, as does 1958, with Steve heading to Los Angeles alone and reuniting with actress Savanna Gay. A romance sparks between them, which becomes complicated when her husband shows up.

In Bruce Canwell’s introduction, he posits that Poteet was added to appeal to “both the youth and female audiences.” Whatever the reason, Caniff allowing Poteet to take the lead helped expand the type of stories he could tell. Caniff has a good sense of drama, suspense, and humor that keeps the reader seeking the next strip. Appearances by Steve Allen and Bob Hope bring a bit of realism to the stories. Caniff’s artwork also continues to impress. Character faces are so expressive dialogue isn’t necessary; the variety of settings, indoor and outside, are well rendered; and his use of shadow, in both the black and white dailies and the color Sundays, is marvelous.

I recommend enlisting in the variety of adventures that occur in The Complete Steve Canyon, Volume 6: 1957-1958.

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Gordon S. Miller

Publisher/Editor-in-Chief of this site. "I'm making this up as I go" - Indiana Jones

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