January sees the release of the finale of the Defenders' mini-series by Al Ewing and Javier Rodriguez and promised the reveal of the identity of the current version of the Masked Raider. Rescued from obscurity by Ewing, the character has had a bizarre history at Marvel Comics – given that he is not a Marvel Comics character, at least, not originally.
The Masked Rider pulp origins
Oscar Schisgall's 1930's novel, The Black Caballero, crossed The Shadow with Lone Ranger to create the Masked Rider and his Native American companion Blue Hawk. It crossed The Shadow with Lone Ranger rather effectively. It was picked up, reworked, serialised and continued in 1934 as The Masked Rider pulp magazine, the first such volume published by Martin Goodman, the man who later founded comic book publishers Timely, Atlas, and Marvel Comics, and the cousin-in-law of Stan Lee.
The Masked Raider from Marvel Comics #1
Published regularly, with several different authors, the character also appeared in comic book form in Marvel Comics #1 renamed The Masked Raider, later Marvel Mystery Comics. That ceased when the character was sold to Standard Publication in 1940, who published their own more Western-focus version of the character.
The Masked Raider was Jim Gardley, a young cowpoke in 1830s Texas, originally approached with the offer to serve as hired muscle for a powerful rancher. When he found out the boss wanted him to "convince" all the small ranchers in the area to sell their lands to him at dirt cheap prices, Gardley turned down the offer. The rancher then framed him for cattle rustling and had him jailed. Escaping, Gardley started preparing himself to take revenge. He created the costumed identity of the Masked Raider, perfected his aim and draw, and partnered himself with a feral white horse by the name of "Lightning".
Masked Rider's Eternity Mask
In Marvel Comics #1000 we learned that his mask was the Eternity Mask, worn by many before him and after him. Formed from the body of the very essence of reality, Eternity and worn by many through the ages.
Created by magicians in the Middle Ages and worn by the first Black Knight, with the power to make the wearer the equal of their opponent.
… it inspired both the American Revolution and much other history that followed, with the theme of throwing off the power that contains you, by creating true equality between you and your oppressor, giving you the ability to take back control.
All this before being worn the Masked Rider, Jim Gardley, the cowboy hero of Marvel Comics #1, before he passed it on…
…before worn by his successor… who then passed it on…
… to The Ferret. Who, in retirement donated it to the Scientists Guild, the Enclave, the Three XXXs to use to fight the Nazis…
…not that they seemed to know what to do with it. Belief is necessary you see, and science is not subject to belief, apparently.
And so they kept it unused, even as others who did believe sought it. And a young Steve Rogers passed it, on his way to his own Nazi-fighting transformation.
And so they kept it. Unused.
Even as others sought it.
With limited success…
Until it was taken by Enclave and Scientist Guild member Jerome Hamilton, rebelling against his own.
And rejoined the litany of heroes using its power… did Jerome Hamilton become Blind Justice or did he pass it to the person who was?
…whether they knew it or not. With many suspects over the decades, through the history of the Marvel Universe, to the present day.
And whoever did take the mask from the body…
Knowing much of its history… and then wearing it themselves.
With Marvel Comics #1001 telling us that the Eternity Mask lets the wearer look through time and space.
…and can see the narrative. That everything is made of narrative. The wearer of the Eternity Mask is walking connective tissue. Then Incoming #1 has this Masked Raider tell his story and how he acquired the Eternity Mask. That it not only makes you someone's equal, but it copies the powers of those around him.
And now… The Defenders. Travelling trillions of years, through various iterations of reality.
DEFENDERS #5 (OF 5)
AL EWING (W) • JAVIER RODRÍGUEZ (A/C)
Variant Cover by MIKE ALLRED
Doctor Strange's ragtag Defenders face their final trial in the Third Cosmos, where the concepts of good and evil are locked in primal, eternal conflict. When the Masked Raider's identity is finally revealed, will the truth be their salvation…or their undoing?
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99