Slap leather with the Rawhide Kid AT YOUR OWN PERIL – Rawhide Kid #58
The Silver Age Westerns that Marvel churned out tend to get lost, understandably so, in that era’s superhero shuffle. It’s hard to match up with legendary runs on Amazing Spider-Man, Thor, Fantastic Four — hell, anything with powers and colorful outfits. But just because the lonesome men who prowled the open plains might not have kept the public’s imagination like their tights-wearing kin, that doesn’t mean that it was for a lack of trying.
There were a number of gunslinging titles at Marvel over the years. Kid Colt. Apache Kid. Et al. Most of them thoroughly mined the same genre tropes that made Clint Eastwood a star: Man rides into town, Man finds town besieged by outlaws, Man saves town. But none of these title characters quite had the vivacity of the Rawhide Kid (real name Johnny Bart), the short, snazzily-garbed ginger with a habit of getting himself into hellacious scrapes and extricating himself from them with over the top action. In fact, he was sometimes so over the top, so outlandish, his fisticuffs would fit right in with the hotter-selling titles in the rack. Captain America vaulting over a taxicab was just a later iteration of the Kid doing the same over a horse.
Though the character was created in the 1950s, he reached his senses-shattering apex in the next decade. And what an apex it was.
Before we get to the innards of this issue, we have to linger over the Larry Lieber cover for a moment. Why? Because it’s like an advent calendar of all the things we love so much in Western action. First, you have a gunfight in a saloon, complete with a hero vastly outnumbered by stubbly goons. Second, you have a railing, one just low enough and just flimsy enough to promise that someone’s going to crash through it. Third, you have the goons MISSING HIM FROM THREE FEET AWAY! STOP AND AIM, YOU IDIOTS! Fourth (and related to the last point), you have a bullet piercing the Rawhide Kid’s white hat. And fifth, and this is a bit of a stretch, you have the doors behind the combatants, which surely conceal bawdy whores in (or out of) frilly dresses, their bosoms billowing. WHO EVER SAID THAT LIEBER IS THE WEAK LINK IN STAN LEE’S FAMILY TREE? Great stuff — Excelsior.
The story, written by Gary Friedrich with art from Lieber and Vince Colletta, has a town terrified by a ruthless land baron, Butler Benson, and his band of crooks, the Enforcers. Benson is branching out, trying to muscle away the property of local Comanches, and to that end has corralled one of their number, Grey Wolf. He and his boys are intimidating him and tormenting him, and threatening to stuff him in a human-sized birdcage(!), until a stranger speaks up and puts a stop to all this:
And he’s just getting warmed up. If he had been born in the next century, he might very well have made one hell of a free safety:
The Kid and Grey Wolf make it out, and both ride to meet up with the other Comanches, with the Kid planning to offer them his services to help rid them of this menace. But their towering leader, Thunder-Cloud, has an instinctive (perhaps justified) distrust of all white men, and would just as soon pummel the Kid as look at him. BUT HE DID NOT RECKON THE KID’S PROWESS WITH THE SUNSET FLIP:
Meanwhile, Boss Benson is recruiting some hired-gun help. Patch Cooley (the gentleman with the eyepatch glimpsed on the cover) is more than happy to offer his lethal services for the right price, and also to demonstrate those skills in a most Westerny way:
That’s some mighty fine shootin’. (I personally prefer when someone tosses a coin and shoots it a few times.)
The Kid, despite his dustup with the Comanches, still feels duty bound to have it out with Benson and his thugs. He circles back to town AND YES, WE GET PEOPLE CRASHING THROUGH A RAILING JUST LIKE THE COVER PROMISED:
The last bit of action is, naturally, a showdown, with the White Hat against the Black Hat in a speed-test of death. Guess who wins (and also gets in a bonus killing for good measure):
Not to quibble with the Rawhide Kid’s logic, but his “there’s always someone faster” formula would seem to presume an infinite pool of gunslingers. Of course, if you said that to him you’d probably get a gut full of hot lead, so best to keep these things to yourself. Anyway, town and local Indian population saved. On to the next issue.
This comic has all the qualities that made Rawhide Kid a success, and maybe a few extras tossed in for good measure. Lieber’s artwork, which was at the core of the character’s Silver Age run, provided a kinetic dimension to the rote gunplay and fisticuffs that made it second to nothing else coming from the House of Ideas. Granted, it doesn’t hurt that Colletta’s inks, so much a part of many a Jack Kirby page-turner, square every man’s jaw and give such shadowy depth in a every furrow of the Kid’s shirt. Because of that, this looks like it belongs amongst the famous best-sellers that were its contemporaries, and hence does. The fact that Friedrich’s story is as original as a knockoff Times Square handbag doesn’t matter a bit, and at any rate is more than made up for by the joyous slang. It’s a fun read.
Until I started putting together this post, I didn’t realize that the Kid had been “outed” as gay a decade ago in a re-imagining. I have no feelings on that either way, and certainly the character and his title long ago lost whatever steam they had possessed, so someone can do whatever they want when trying to defribrillate him back into relevance. But to have glommed such an affectation onto the silly, unalloyed fun of this issue would have spoiled it. Of that I’m fairly certain.