Can you believe it’s been seven years since Marvel unleashed their new vision of The Rawhide Kid upon the Old West and the world? More goofy than controversial, Ron Zimmerman‘s Rawhide Kid miniseries from 2003 was supposed to introduce a new gay hero to the Marvel universe. Instead, we got a turn-of-the-century dandy, with lots of mincing and raised eyebrows among the townsfolk. What it lacked in progressive portrayals of gay characters, it at least made up for in silly charm.
So, I was pleased, but not particularly thrilled, to see a new miniseries adventure for the Kid in comic book stores last week. Zimmerman returns as the writer, but is joined this time around by artist Howard Chaykin. The “is he or isn’t he?” and “wait, what is he talking about?” flirtation is gone this time around. The Kid outs himself fairly early, and gal pal Annie Oakley seems to be both sympathetic and repulsed by her friend’s persuasion. Knowing she can’t seduce him, she plays on his compassion to enlist his help and protection, which seems like fairly realistic behavior for a female outlaw.
The plot, such as it is, is pretty heavy on exposition this time around, leaving only a page or two for the kind of action you would expect from an Old West comic title. Basically, Annie and the Kid are going to round up a posse and save the necks (literally) of the Earp brothers, who have been captured by a power-hungry warlord. With only four issues in the series, the “rounding up” will need to happen fairly quickly to fulfill “The Sensational Seven” subtitle on the book.
It would be easy for me to dismiss this whole enterprise as offensive or potentially damaging to the progress of gay characters in comics. However, something to keep in mind about this title is that first and foremost, it’s a comedy. The Kid is no brooding anti-hero. His manners, personality and dialogue may suggest the sort of gay stereotypes we’ve seen before, but one important difference is that the Kid is 100% happy, confident and secure with who he is. Though the writing can veer wildly into sitcom territory all too frequently, the Kid is still a competent, strong and courageous hero. Would it be nice if Zimmerman could find more original ways to portray the Kid’s interests than the usual hairdressing and fashion tropes? Yes, absolutely. It’s a cheap cop-out from a writing perspective, a lazy way to telegraph “gayness.” However, there are no apologies or gay angst here, just out and proud flamboyance.
Chaykin’s art compliments the lighter tone of Zimmerman’s script, but his overuse of close-ups make the story feel more static than adventurous. I’m looking forward to seeing the Kid in action in future issues. (And, yes, I mean all kinds of action.) Having watched a lot of westerns, I am a fan of the setting and the implicit homoeroticism of the genre, and I’m always happy to see a good satire of the well-worn elements we all know so well. Whether this title will live up to those expectations remains to be seen. Still, I’m willing to give it a chance.