A typical 1950s cover. Artist: Joe Maneely.

THE TWO-GUN KID

Medium: Comic books
Published by: Marvel Comics
First Appeared: 1948
Creators: unknown writer, Syd Shores (artist)
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"Western Action And Thrills!" screamed a blurb across the top of the cover. And if that wasn't enough to tell the reader what to expect inside, the same cover sported a runaway horse, a gallows tree, a couple of six-guns (one smoking, one firing), a bunch of owlhoots with triangular kerchiefs hiding the lower parts of their faces, and the phrase "Wanted, Dead Or Alive". The cover-featured story was …

continued below

… "Hot Lead For Killer's Roost!", and the name of the magazine was Two-Gun Kid. With a March, 1948 cover date, it was Marvel's first-ever western comic book.

The company wasn't exactly a stranger to the genre. Its first comic book of all, Marvel Comics #1 (which introduced two of its biggest early stars, The Human Torch and The Sub-Mariner), had carried a western called The Masked Raider (no relation) in its back pages. And Martin Goodman's publishing empire, which Marvel had started as a minor branch of, had been launched in 1932 with Complete Western Book magazine. But this was its first attempt to sell a comic book consisting entirely of western stories.

"Two-Gun Kid" was a nickname bestowed upon expert gunslinger Clay Harder. Wrongly accused of murder, he hopped on his horse, Cyclone, and lit out for parts unknown. He spent the rest of his life on the run, despite the fact that he did good wherever he went. His only friend, aside from Cyclone and the eponymous pair of six-guns, was his trusty guitar. Tho Gene Autry, Roy Rogers and other singing cowboys were common in real life, The Two-Gun Kid was a rare example of that sub-genre created for comics. The writer of the story is unknown, but it was drawn by Marvel regular Syd Shores, whose other credits include both Captain and Miss America.

The comic sold reasonably well, so Marvel, characteristically, flooded the market with westerns. Kid Colt, Outlaw, followed, with a first issue cover date of August, 1948 (and a reprise of Two-Gun's origin story). Then came dozens more, throughout the remainder of the 1940s and most of the '50s — Ringo Kid, Outlaw Kid, Rawhide Kid, Kid from Dodge City … There were also non-"kid" titles, some based on historical personages, like Wyatt Earp or Annie Oakley, and some not, like Blaze Carson or Tex Taylor. There were anthology titles, too, such as Gunsmoke Western and Western Winners. Marvel became the most prolific publisher of western titles in the history of American comic books.

Two-Gun's first run in his own comic ended only a year and a half later, but he continued ridin' the trail as a back-up feature in other cowpokes' comics. The fifth issue (Winter, 1948-49) contained Marvel Comics' editorial (which may have been a first for comic books) denouncing the anti-comics crusade that had been gathering steam for the previous few years — the crusade that eventually resulted in the gutting of such "objectionable" titles as Crime Does Not Pay and Phantom Lady and the disappearance of EC, among other publishers, from the comic book racks.

After a few years in other gunmen's back pages, Two-Gun got his own book again in 1953. He kept it another eight years. The last issue was dated April, 1961. By that time, the western trend had run its course and very few were left for him to hang out in the back pages of.

But that doesn't mean Marvel was through coming up with new western characters. In fact, the next one they introduced was named … The Two-Gun Kid. To the new guy, this Two-Gun was nothing but a dime novel character.

An ignominious fate indeed, for Marvel's most venerable gunslinger — but it gets worse! The original Two-Gun Kid was last seen masquerading as the new one! In the late 1960s, to fill up a few cheap reprint comics, Marvel's production department altered his outfit to make him look like the current version, and shoved him right back out on the stands.

Maybe this ploy resulted in sales, and maybe it didn't. Either way, it only lasted a couple of years, and this version of The Two-Gun Kid was never seen again.

— DDM

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Text ©2002-11 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Marvel Comics.