Dick Huemer and artist (and, ultimately, replacement writer!) Paul Murry notwithstanding. Huemer's stated desire, as related by his son Richard in the book's preface, was to create an exaggerated comedy strip "that would forever end all things Western," but, from the very beginning, he was also determined to make BUCK a daily continuity strip. Very, very few creators have ever been able to maintain that particular balance; indeed, "genius" appears to be one of the prerequisites for doing so (here are two creators who come to mind). BUCK O'RUE is only partially successful at pulling the trick off, and one can reasonably argue in hindsight that Huemer and Murry would probably have been better off making BUCK a straight Sunday feature, in the mold of, say, SMOKEY STOVER. That being said, there's quite a lot to enjoy here, especially for Disney comics fans eager to get an eyeful and a half of some of Murry's most noteworthy non-Disney work.
The core of BUCK O'RUE is the conflict between the impossibly handsome, preternaturally gifted -- and, truth be told, somewhat stone-headed and oblivious -- title character and the scar-faced, squinting, overbearing badnik Trigger Mortis for control of the wild 'n woolly Western town of Mesa Trubil, a burg so beyond the pale that the U.S. wouldn't accept it back into the Union after the Civil War. The Sunday page draws away from this basic confrontation for a while to tell what are purported to be tales of Buck's past adventures, but even it is ultimately pulled back into the tug-of-war. This conceit might have sustained a Sunday page for a good long time, but, in a daily format, it gets repetitive rather quickly. Before the strip's 18-month life has ended, we've already seen multiple examples of Mortis almost tricking Deacon Duncan's darling daughter (and Buck's inamorata) Dorable into marrying him, Mortis trying to get Buck out of his hair by appealing to obscure town statutes, Buck periodically "cleaning up the town"... you get the idea. Before long, Huemer and Murry appear to have gotten cold feet regarding the pint size of the canvas on which they were working. During the transition period when Huemer was preparing to leave and turn the whole schmeer over to Murry, the strip runs a bizarre series of "coming attractions" bumpers ("Coming Soon! The Great Beefsteak Scandal!"). I originally thought that these were meant strictly in jest, on the order of the overblown titles announced at the ends of Rocky and Bullwinkle segments, but, according to the volume's extensive series of Endnotes, they may also have been meant to convince client papers to keep running the strip after Murry took over. The level of creator confidence displayed by this ploy is not very reassuring.
If BUCK O'RUE has a "cult following" in its future, it will probably be because of Murry's artwork. It is exquisite, rich in detail, and can coax a laugh out of anyone. Those who are familiar with the look of Murry's dogface characters in Disney comics will quickly recognize the designs of most of the figures herein as human versions of same. The major exceptions are the strong-chinned Buck himself; Dorable Duncan, who amply displays Murry's considerable talent for drawing beautiful women; and Mortis' right-hand gunman, Skullface Skelly, whom I can best describe as an emaciated, grown-up, weather-beaten sagebrush version of Outcault's Yellow Kid.
The extras provided here rate an extra word or two -- preferably peppered with liberal dashes of asperity. Co-editors Richard Huemer Jr. and Germund van Wowern chuck the occasional verbal Roman candle at us in the unlikeliest of places. von Wowern speaks several volumes with these two lines at the end of his biographical sketch of Murry: "By the early 70s, Paul already considered Mickey Mouse a character of the past. A decade later, he finally retired." Huemer lets loose this zinger while discussing his Dad's vision of the West: "The Myth and its Hero tug at the fringes of our collective unconsciousness, unwilling to let a faltering empire succumb to rigor mortis just yet." And check out the concluding sentence of a Note on BUCK's depiction of Native Americans in one Sunday continuity: "Belief in 'race' persists in the 21st century, providing politicians with an invaluable tool for shepherding citizens into voting blocs." If you're wondering what opinionation of this sort is doing in a comic-strip collection, this Web site may hold part of the answer. Hey, it could have been worse.