Milton Caniff’s Steve Canyon ran from January 13, 1947 until June 4, 1988. The strip’s titular hero served as an Air Force officer for most of it with the Korean War bringing him back into the service of his country, though many of his adventures see him working as a spy more than as a soldier. Volume 7 closes out the ’50s with the strips from 1959 and 1960.
Lt Col. Steve Canyon is the typical male fantasy character of the era. A rugged, all-American hero that always does the right thing without a doubt. All the guys want to be him and all the girls want to be with him. He is patriotic to a fault, which seems a tad odd considering how poorly he’s treated at times by the higher-ups who send him out to risk his life.
His first assignment in this collection finds him tasked with stopping an Air Force officer’s younger sister from being lured behind the Iron Curtain by a man she loves; however, it turns out he is unknowingly being used as a decoy to turn the Reds away from an on-going operation. What the brass didn’t expect, though why is not clear if they had read his service record, is Steve is so good at his job he screws up the main mission.
In Paris, Steve runs into Madame Lynx, who pretends she doesn’t know him and is the headmistress of a school that turns girls into spies. A young woman named nicknamed Convoy, who has been pining to marry Steve for years, lures him to the Middle East now that she has reached adulthood. While there, Steve learns of secret missile launchpads being built to be used by the Russians.
Steve’s next assignment features my favorite villain, the laughably cruel Copper Calhoon, whose mistreated secretary and former Canyon flame is Summer Olson. An example of Copper’s comic wickedness is when she tells Olson “as a bonus, you may visit your husband in the hospital before we leave on vacation.” Calhoon is upset that the U.S. military has built a missile base near her ranch and tries to restrict access. Complicating matters of the upcoming missile test is the arrival of Summer’s young son, Leyton, from summer camp, who Steve takes under his wing, and communications from Cooper’s house with the Soviet Embassy.
Steve heads to a command assignment on Pipa Island in the South Atlantic where there’s a missile tracking station. Sgt. “Be-No” Jones rules the troops with an iron fist a strict adherence to the rules. He has a chip on his shoulder regarding Red Cross workers, which is revealed when two women are incorrectly brought there. Caniff tells a sweet story here.
Steve goes stateside again when his ward Poteet graduates high school. She also thinks hitting a certain age means matrimony with Steve. He asks her gym teacher to lunch, which leads to Poteet revealing herself to being a lunatic as the woman ends up “bound and gagged inside a boxcar on a slow freight bound for Mexico!”
Steve heads to Latin America where a young woman, Holly Hall, daughter of a U.S. Foreign Service Officer, causing all sorts of trouble reflecting badly on the U.S. The story has a very good twist about what is going on. Poteet skips college to follow Steve to Japan, but ends up involved in a plot involving a nuclear device to make the U.S. look bad.
Caniff’s artwork remains top notch. His character designs are varied, an important element when dealing with so many characters over the years. An unfortunate reminder of the era is Calhoon’s Asian employee is drawn yellow in a Sunday strip. The settings are elaborate and give every panel a sense of realism. Both the dailies and Sundays show a deft use of shadows.
The Complete Steve Canyon, Volume 7 is another entertaining installment of adventure comic strips from The Library of American Comics and is an another impressive showcase for Caniff’s skills.