Comic Book Legal Defense Fund

Pulp Culture
Marvel outs its
'50s gunslinger,
the Rawhide Kid


December 12, 2002
By Franklin Harris

There's a joke here somewhere.

Say what you will about the guys who run Marvel Comics, but they know how to get the attention of the mainstream press. For example, here is the lead from a CNN.com story published Monday: "Marvel Comics plans to break new ground in the comic book industry by introducing the first openly gay title character in a comic book."

The Rawhide Kid that CNN.com didn't want you to see.
Photo © Marvel Comics
The Rawhide Kid that CNN.com didn't want you to see.
The character in question is the Rawhide Kid, a Western hero who starred in a sporadically published comic book from 1955 until 1979.

Mind you, no one even hinted that the Rawhide Kid was a homosexual until a couple of weeks ago, when rumors surfaced that Marvel was planning to out its red-headed gunslinger in a new, six-issue miniseries published under its mature-readers label, MAX.

Written by Ron Zimmerman and with art by 86-year-old John Severin, who penciled the original series, the first issue of "Rawhide Kid: Slap Leather" arrives in February.

But despite CNN's breathless lead and similar coverage in the New York Post, gay and lesbian characters are nothing new to comics.

For years, Marvel has had an openly gay superhero, Northstar, who currently is a major character in one of Marvel's hottest titles, "Uncanny X-Men." But compared to its "distinguished competition," Marvel isn't even in the game.

DC Comics' Vertigo imprint has featured numerous gay, lesbian and bisexual characters in starring roles, and homosexual supporting characters have appeared regularly in "Superman," "Flash" and "Green Lantern."

One of them, Maggie Sawyer, a captain in the Gotham City Police Department, is now a lead player in DC's new police comic, "Gotham Central."

DC also publishes, albeit irregularly, "The Authority," which stars two gay characters, Apollo and the Midnighter, who are thinly veiled parodies of Superman and Batman.

As the average age of comic-book readers has increased, publishers have become more willing to address subjects like sexuality and, in the recent "Green Lantern" No. 154, gay bashing.

DC has dealt with its characters' sexuality with varying success. Maggie Sawyer is a well-rounded character, but Terry Berg, the character in "Green Lantern," is defined almost solely by his sexual preference.

Either way, DC has treated most of its gay and lesbian characters as more than stereotypes. Contrast that with Marvel's plans for the Rawhide Kid.

The first sign of trouble is the writer, Zimmerman, who remains Marvel's golden boy despite a lackluster track record, which includes the dreadful and derivative "Get Kraven" miniseries. To give you a sense of Zimmerman's sense of humor, his day job before he came to Marvel included writing for "The Howard Stern Show."

Judging from the previews released so far, Zimmerman's approach is to depict the Rawhide Kid's sexuality through innuendo. Asked about Wild Bill Hickock, the Kid says, "Very nice man. Big — ahem — I mean bigger than life."

I'm sure someone, somewhere thinks that's hilarious.

Even the preview art treats the Rawhide Kid as a joke. CNN.com cropped it to omit the suggestive way in which the Kid holds his six shooter.

The outing of the Rawhide Kid has all the marks of a cheap publicity stunt. It certainly isn't a great leap forward in the depiction of homosexual characters in comics.

The joke here is that we in the media still pay attention.

Pulp Magazines

RECENT COLUMNS

Order a helping of Cartoon Network's 'Robot Chicken'
03/31/05

Campaign against video games is political grandstanding
03/24/05

Prize-winning author is 'Wrong About Japan'
03/17/05

Censored book not a good start
03/10/05

Some superhero comics are for 'fanboys' only
03/03/05

'Constantine' does well with its out-of-place hero
02/24/05

'80s publisher First Comics' legacy still felt
02/17/05

Director's cut gives new 'Daredevil' DVD an edge
02/10/05

Put the fun back into 'funnybooks'
02/04/05

Is 'Elektra' the end of the road for Marvel movies?
01/27/05

'House of Flying Daggers' combines martial arts and heart
01/20/05

Anniversary edition of 'Flying Guillotine' has the chops
01/13/05

Movie books still have role in the Internet era
01/06/05

Looking ahead to the good and the bad for 2005
12/30/04

The best and worst of 2004
12/23/04

'Has-been' Shatner is a 'transformed man'
12/16/04

'New Avengers' writer Bendis sweeps away the old
12/09/04

MORE



HOME | COLUMN ARCHIVE | NEWS | FEEDBACK | MESSAGE BOARD | ABOUT THE AUTHOR | LETTERS | LINKS | PICKS


© Copyright 2005 PULP CULTURE PRODUCTIONS
Web site designed by Franklin Harris.
Send feedback to franklin@pulpculture.net.