The Rawhide Kid faces down a bad guy. Artist: Jack Kirby.


Medium: Comic books
Published by: Marvel Comics
First Appeared: 1955
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In 1955, with the newly-formed Comics Code Authority poised to eradicate the crime and horror genres from American comic books, it seemed like a good time to launch …

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… a western. Marvel Comics stepped up production in that genre by launching Billy Buckskin, Wyatt Earp, Cowboy Action and more that year. The first issue of Rawhide Kid had a cover date of March, 1955.

Marvel had been pumping westerns out since 1948, starting with Two-Gun Kid and continuing with titles using the words "range", "gunsmoke", "Texas" and anything else they could think of that might evoke that sort of image. It was only a matter of time before they got to "rawhide". The guy they slapped the name on was a typical western gunfighter, roaming from town to town and getting into trouble. Nobody even knows for sure who wrote it (tho Stan Lee is a likely candidate), but it was drawn by Bob Brown, best known for DC's Challengers of the Unknown. Just a routine little western from a company that put out a million of 'em, in a time particularly rife with westerns. It sank unnoticed after 16 issues.

But a couple of years later, when Jack Kirby teamed up with Stan Lee to see if the two of them could rescue the company from the brink of oblivion, Rawhide Kid was one of the titles they revived. The first issue of the relaunch was #17, dated August, 1960. It was among the earliest collaborations of Lee and Kirby, who went on to create Fantastic Four, X-Men and practically everything else Marvel published in the '60s.

Lee and Kirby took the trouble to give Rawhide something he'd never had before — a personal history. Rawhide's real name was Johnny Bart. He was an orphan of the Indian wars, raised by his dad's brother, Texas Ranger Ben Bart, near the town of Rawhide, Texas (hence the monicker). Ben was killed by a couple of owlhoots, whereupon Johnny killed the owlhoots. He (and his horse, Apache, no relation) then took to drifting from place to place, his reputation as a killer always preceding him — tho he was sometimes underestimated because of his less-than-average height.

This time around, the title was more successful. In fact, it was runner-up to Kid Colt, Outlaw, as the longest-running western in comic book history. Those two, plus The Two-Gun Kid, formed practically the entirety of Marvel's western line during the 1960s. Rawhide lasted more than 150 issues, ending in May, 1979 — the last of Marvel's western titles to bite the dust. Most stories were drawn by Larry Lieber (Stan Lee's brother), but dozens of other writers and artists worked on it over the years. Possibly the most notable was Jack Davis (whose work at EC Comics started him on the road to fame), making one of his last appearances in regular comic books, in a few 1963 issues.

The Rawhide Kid had a mini-series in 1985, but was mostly seen as an occasional guest star during that decade and the next. And not just in westerns (on the rare occasions when the company revisited the genre) — as unlikely as it seems, he also had one or two crossovers with The Avengers.

For the 21st century, however, they've sent him off in a bold new direction. In Rawhide Kid: Slap Leather, a 2003 mini-series scripted by Ron Zimmerman (who has written many other characters for Marvel) and drawn by John Severin (another comics veteran who rose to fame at EC), Rawhide came "out of the closet", as the first homosexual comic book western hero.

It remains to be seen whether this ploy will bring new life to an old character. So far, it hasn't.


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Text ©2002-07 Donald D. Markstein. Art: © Marvel Comics.