* * * WHAT HAS GONE BEFORE * * *
Aaron Hope rides into the town of Cooper's Canyon on his white horse (according to the note left for the colorist); he's lost and decides to spend the night. A woman tells him to stay at the Ritz. Just then, a man gets thrown through the Ritz's barroom doors: it's McKensie from the town of Dry Water, in town causing trouble for the Sheriff. Just before McKensie can pull the trigger to shoot the Sheriff (but not the deputy), Hope stops him and punches him out. He didn't do it to save the Sheriff, he explains, only to prevent either of the two from getting killed. The Sheriff doesn't like Hope, and tells his daughter Marcy-Anne to stay away (she's the one who saw him ride in). Hope goes into the hotel and up to his room; Marcy-Anne follows, so she could talk to someone who's not a local. She bursts in just as he's getting ready to take a bath, so she waits behind a wall while he tells her about his life in New England. But then she asks what he did in the war, and he goes silent. He reappears, dressed, and says "don't ever ask me about the war, Marcy-Anne. Believe me, you don't want to know." 
That night, the stagecoach to Dry Water comes in... all shot up and driverless. Hope jumps onto the lead horses and calms them down. Both drivers are dead; the Sheriff says that the men were killed by Jase Carson's boys. Carson, y'see, is the biggest landowner this side of St. Louis, and he sent McKensie as a warning earlier. Carson is forcing local ranchers to sell their land to him through intimidation. But now he wants to buy part of the town, too, the part owned by newspaper man Will Olsen.  But the townsfolk have their pride, and they didn't come to Arizona to "have their manhood stolen by rannies like Jase Carson". So they told Carson "to blow wind" (except editor Paul Levitz changed this to "where to go"). Olsen had some friends in Washington, who sent a coded message aboard the stagecoach. Hope offers to take it to Olsen, in hopes that it will contain something to stop Carson. He doesn't carry a gun: "If I don't carry a gun, I can't kill anyone. Can't you understand? That's the whole point."
Next morning, Sgt. Willie Dredge comes into the Sheriff's office. Dredge is missing his left eye and arm, and carries a Wanted poster -- with Aaron Hope's picture. Dredge says Hope's desertion cost him the eye and arm. Seems that back in '64, ten years ago, 15 year-old Aaron Hope, "a good little Connecticut Yankee raised on church-going and hellfire", enlisted in the Union Army. During training, he didn't seem to have the heart for it, but Dredge liked him anyway. Six days later, they marched south to a battle at a river in Virginia, each side on its own bank. While on guard duty, Hope is called by his counterpart on the south side. It seems that both men are farmer's sons, and the Southerner says "Maybe y'all can answer me somethin', Yankee boy. If we both farmers, why the hell aren't we back on ouah farms?"
Come morning, the battle begins, and Hope tells Dredge he can't fight the Southerners -- they're men, not Rebels or uniforms. Then all hell breaks loose: "It was slaughter, all right, and it was lovely." (There's a full page picture of carnage and mayhem and gunfire, complete with a note to the artist to correct the flag, which should only have 26 stars in rows of 7-6-7-6). Hope had to fight for his life, and wouldn't you know it, one of the men he kills is the farmer he met the previous night. He "went yellow" and walked off, and just then a Reb cannonball exploded, taking Dredge's eye and arm with it. He had Hope court-martialed in absentia for desertion. That's the end of Dredge's story, and the Sheriff and Marcy-Anne decide to keep it a secret.
Meanwhile, Carson has blockaded the road to Dry Water, and sees Hope coming. His men shoot at Hope, knocking him off his horse -- but it's really just a scarecrow ('cause this would be a short series if it were really him!). So while they're off looking for him, he commandeers one of the henchmen's horse and goes into town. They corner him in downtown Dry Water (such as it is), but Hope takes out one of the men in hand-to-hand combat. Just when it looks bad, the Sheriff of Cooper's Canyon shows up, figuring that if Hope was willing to face them without a gun, then he at least needed backup. But even that was not needed: Hope got there an hour ago, and Will Olsen rounded up the townsfolk for a showdown. Seems Olsen decoded the message, and Carson has been buying all the land on the right-of-way. "The people know the truth, and you're going to hang for murder!" Carson is convinced he may have lost the battle, but not the war. Marcy-Anne comes out of the shadows just in time to be taken hostage, and Hope does a Batman by jumping onto the roof and down onto Carson's horse. They get the bad guy.
That night, the Sheriff asks Hope if Dredge's story is true. Hope says maybe after we hear his side, the questions can be answered.
Next issue: part two of "The Deserter": Night of the Inferno!
 Due to the DC law that all comics characters with the same last name are somehow related, newspaperman Will Olsen would probably have turned out to be Jimmy Olsen's great-great-grandfather.
This was supposed to be "Showcase" #107. According to the text page of "Showcase" #105 (the Deadman story), this would have run for three issues (#108-110). But at the top of each story page, we see the notation "DESERTER #1 DEC. J-5423", and above that the notation "SHOWCASE J5423".
The cover by Joe Kubert features the scene of Hope riding into town on his horse, while mean-looking guys wait in ambush: the scene didn't actually happen in the book, though. There's no logo, but there is space for one.
To my knowledge, Aaron Hope never officially appeared in the DC Universe, unless there were some Western anthologies that appeared in 1979 or later.
Copies of this or any other CCC story are available for a mere $5.00 each (that covers copies and P&H). Give me a holler!
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