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Sexual Inadequacy: The Rawhide Kid

The Rawhide Kid started out as a short, solitary gunslinger, first appearing in 1955 in 16-issue run for Atlas Comics, which would eventually become Marvel Comics. In this era of Marvel's history the code that Jim Shooter would later make explicit—No queer characters exist within the Marvel Universe—was implicit. Over the years different writers and artists tried their hand at the character, including Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, until the '70s when the public's fascinations with Westerns and gunfighters began to wane.

In his newest incarnation, The Rawhide Kid is tall and statuesque, with a square jaw and flashy duds. Although the first cover of "Slap Leather" depicts him with his trademark red hair, inside he has wavy blond locks .

Image is of a comic book cover. Along the top in yellow letters against a black band are the names Zimmerman and Severin and number 1, the number of the issue and the names of the Writer and artist respectively. In the left corner is a rectangle with MAX Comics in blue letters outlined in white, and to the right of that rectangle is RAWHIDE KID in red letters with a black shadow. Below the rectangle is a black rectangle with Parental Advisory Explicit Content with explicit in red letters and the rest of the letters in white. At the center of the cover is the Rawhide Kid, wearing a white Stetson, a blue handkerchief around his neck, and with armbands made up of yellow and red triangles. His uniform is blue and he wears a holster, one gun in his white gloved hand pointing down in front of his crotch and and another with the barrel in front of his lips as if he is blowing smoke from the barrel. In the background four stereotypical cowboys can be seen, looking at the Rawhide Kid

I'm not sure what warranted the Explicit Content Warning, but its inclusion on the front cover wrote a check the inside of the comic refused to cash. The first two issues focus on the town of Wells Junction and documents the arrival of the Cisco Pike gang (a nefarious posse made up of cold-blooded killers) who ride into town and begin terrorizing the locals. In the first issue the town sheriff gets shot and his deputy is killed, and The Rawhide Kid rides in to save the day. At the start of the next issue The Kid rides into Pike's camp. Pike's gang is skeptical that the fussy, hifalutin Kid is the same Rawhide Kid they've heard about in legends and stories. Because he's just so damn pretty.

Image is of a page seven of Issue 2 of the The Rawhide Kid Slap Leather. In the first panel Cisco Pike says, If you wanna walk out of here in one piece you're gonna have to do more that name-drop, boy., Name-drop is in bold, and the outline of The Kid's face can be seen on the right side. In the second panel The Kid says, Oh no. Is this going to be on of those macho tough guy test things?, Every word after macho is in bold, and the Kid stands on the left facing Cisco who says, Looks that way. On the first panel of the next row we have a close up of The Kid's face mid-eyeroll, Uch. Those are sooooo boring, Sooooo is in bold. In the next panel Red Duck, of of Cisco Pikes henchmen, says, I'm tellin' ya Cisco, this guy acts like some kinda damn daisyboy, Daisyboy is in bold, and The Kid replies, I'm rubber, you're glue, Red Duck., Rubber and glue are in bold and the speech bubble is attached to another from the kid as well, It is Red Duck , right? That couldn't have been easy growing up with. You might want to save some of that rage for your parents., The word is is in bold and The Kid stands on the right of the frame. On the first panel of the bottom row The Kid has just put his Stetson back on and the shot is just his head and shoulders. He says, Ah well, let's get this over with. I have a piano lesson in town at one., He continues, You won't believe how good I am at this stuff. Which first, shoot or fight?, Believe and first are in bold. The last panel is Cisco Pike chuckling and Red Duck looking severe in front of him

At this point I remembered the explicit content warning and just knew the next page would be full of raunchy cowboy sex. But no, The Kid starts handing out ass whippings and then makes a crack about how expensive his hat is. After he gives the lot a thorough dressing down Pike remarks "Okay, okay. Lord you carry on like a woman!" to which The Kid remarks "It's a lit-tle late for flattery." So, yes. We are meant to understand that this character is the Biggest, Baddest Queer in the West. There isn't any sex in either issue that I read, but there are moments when The Kid hints at liaisons with famous gunslingers of legend.

Part of what I love about this reboot is that the constant references to his clothes and his speech are always paired with reverent comments about his abilities at fighting and shooting. This message—that there is nothing inherently straight or male about being able to defend oneself or attaining mastery of the "manly arts"—is one I never tire of seeing. But why the explicit content warning? There is no sex or nudity to be found, and all of the fights are totally bloodless. Apparently queer sex is so hot and steamy even referencing it is enough to project hardcore pornography into the reader's cerebral cortex. Thankfully, when the character returned in 2010 in "The Sensational Seven" the content warning was absent from the cover.

While I was rolling my eyes at all the anachronisms, the biggest anachronism of all is The Kid himself. Were there queer people in the Wild West? Undoubtedly. Did they ride into town filled with celebrity gossip and sassy comebacks? Maybe. But I imagine queers in the saddle were much more circumspect about their sexuality, having to invent ways of recognizing each other without the benefit of Grindr. That is the sort of story I want to read, the sort of story that honors the reality of the lives queer people have been forced to lead throughout history.

Previously: Body Shaming is Not Sexy, If You Can Take a Tracy Morgan...

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Comments

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Rawhide Kid

I think a large part of comics' appeal is escapism. While sure, a portrayal of an actual gay cowboy would be fascinating to me as well, there's Brokeback Mountain and a few other gems to display a slightly more realistic portrait of gay cowboy life. COMICS are for "here's the world how it could/should/might be". Someone who picks up this comic can go just about anywhere and see or read about injustice, violence, and prejudice against gay people. Comics are about heroes, fantasy, and pushing the boundaries of suspension of disbelief. A world where a gay cowboy doesn't have to suffer for who he is is perfectly acceptable to me on those terms, and in this format.

I suspect that historically

I suspect that historically gay cowboys acted like all the other cowboys. If they were historically accurate, it might seem like they were saying that you can only be a tough gay guy if you act "straight" or only in a "manly" way all the time.

Gay cowboys and the like

From a review of Sam Peckinpah's Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia:

"Gay cowboys are the most dangerous cowboys of all, because they haven't any threat of women domesticating them. They are wholly individualistic... As manliness is defined as freedom, the ability to have sex outside of a strong domestic setting, the ability to keep on roaming with other men and not have to concern yourself with women, is established as the ultimate of desirable traits. (While one of Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia's killers is very concerned when his partner is killed, indicating that they were in a relationship, I do not feel that this really compromises the virtues of the gay cowboy, for they still are not required to settle down in one place. That is the key.) Why, gay cowboys don't even need to stop off at the brothels!! I realize that this all seems awfully absurd, and indeed it is. Gay cowboys seem to exist only in revisionist/updated/partially satirical westerns like this, Broken Arrow and The Road Warrior. It is a technique that helps draw attention to and possibly take the piss out of western mythology."

A quote from The Rawhide Kid's editor:

"We thought it would be interesting to play with the genre. Enigmatic cowboy rides into dusty little desert town victimized by desperadoes, saves the day, wins everyone's heart, then rides off into the sunset, looking better than any cowboy has a right to."