With Black Friday, the biggest and most frantic shopping day of the year coming up in less than a week, here's a warning to shop carefully and civilly. Stores have hired all-new clerks who won't put up with the usual nonsense of stampeding customers and grabbing the sale merchandise. You have been warned:
Panels from "Alfred's Mystery Menu!" in Batman #191 (November-December 1975), script by Gardner Fox, pencils by Sheldon Moldoff (credited as "Bob Kane"), inks by Joe Giella, letters by Gaspar Saladino
So remember: he may be wearing the traditional Walmart blue vest cape, but he will not put up with your disruptive funny business in his store! Shop nicely or don't shop at all!
Say, can you name this Marvel Comics hero from just a simple sentence? (Betcha can!) This orphan's life dramatically changed in a single day when his Uncle Ben was shot to death, spurring him to a life of heroism protecting the innocent and punishing the guilty. Yeah, you know who that is...
And you'd be wrong.
Nope, I'm not thinking of Spider-Man. Two whole years before the Awesome Arachnid debuted in Amazing Fantasy #15...even before they brought the world the first issue of Fantastic Four...Stan Lee and Jack Kirby told the tale of the original Uncle Ben (no, not the one who invented flavored rice) and how his death led to the birth of a hero: Marvel's cornerstone Western gunman hero The Rawhide Kid!
Cover of Rawhide Kid #17 (August 1960), pencils by Jack Kirby, inks by Dick Ayers
Rawhide Kid actually debuted from Atlas (the forerunner of Marvel) with issue #1 in early 1955, but it was one of the many victims of the Marvel Implosion of Fall 1957 (remind me to tell you about that sometime) and cancelled with issue #16. But some comic books just won't stay dead (I'm lookin' at you, Teen Titans). Anyway, the saga of the mysterious avenging cowboy with his quick-draw sixguns was too good an idea to give up, and Lee and Kirby revived it with ish #17 in 1960, giving its titular character Johnny Bart an origin for the first time. And you may find some familiar aspects to #17's origin story...
Panels from Rawhide Kid #17 (August 1960), script by Stan Lee, pencils by Jack Kirby, inks by Dick Ayers
As the saying goes, Johnny got his gun, and he's pretty darn good with it, thanks to the mentorship of his beloved Uncle Ben! Remember back in the 1800s when all kids grew up playing with guns? And you never hear anything about anyone putting their eyes out.
Johnny's a crack shot! Not bad for a guy continuously doing Johnny Blaze cosplay. Then, of course, comes the panel when Uncle Ben tells his young nephew about the power of great responsibility or something like that. Duck, Johnny, those caption boxes and word balloons are going to crowd you right out of the panel!
Well, there are no wheatcakes involved, but hey, it's pretty close to Peter Parker. If ol' Petey carried guns. Which I think we all agree, would be pretty awesome. "You cannot stop me, Spider-Man!" "BANG!" "Unghhhh...you stopped me."
Round about that time a pair of desperado strangers come along moseyin' up the ranch path, selling Grit subscriptiuons or Amway or maybe collecting trick or treat for UNICEF, I dunno. Maybe mail-order brides or Laura Ingalls Wilder were involved. In any case, there's a gunfight about to happen at the Bart Corral! (And not the kind of gunfight where the gunmen are illusions and Spock can hyp-mo-tize you into ignoring the bullets.)
Bang bang! My baby shot me down The cowardly yellow-belly outlaws shoot down Uncle Ben from behind. Boo! Hiss! In a wild western frontier of no laws or regulations or city ordinances, at least everyone should adhere to the Code of the West that you don't shoot a man in his back. Personally, if I'd have been a cowboy of the Ollllllld West, I'd be rotating perpetually really really fast so nobody could shoot me in the back. I know it would make my life on the frontier pretty dizzy, but it's better than being six feet under on Boot Hill, huh?
On Uncle Ben's grave, young Johnny swears to avenge the murder even if it means he has to ride throughout the old west for 135 issues and an annual or two! But how to do it? Outlaws are, after all, a superstitious and cowardly lot. Later that night, when a cow flies in through the window of the ranch house, Johnny is struck with the idea: he shall become...The Rawhide Kid! And that cow, ladies and gentlemen, was my great grandfather. And now you know...the rest of the story.
Luckily for Johnny, he finds the murderers later in the issue. Which just goes to prove: Johnny Bart is a better detective than Batman.
And so, as Johnny avenges his Uncle Ben and rides off into past the sunset, he vows to right wrongs and protect the innocent, and to shoot people as often as he can! Now he is...The Rawhide Kid! Even though his horse's legs are made out of sausages.
Well, as origins go, it's pretty good. It's no origin of Spider-Man...
...but like The Amazing/Spectacular/Sensational/Avenging/Adjectiveless one, this origin is the gift that keeps on giving for Marvel: it's retold almost as frequently as Pete's tragic beginning. And I'm not talking about simply reprinting the story, no no no no no. (No.) The Rawhide Kid's origin is retold, almost verbatim but with completely new art showing the events from different angles, a mere one year later in Rawhide Kid #23!
Panels from Rawhide Kid #23 (August 1961), script by Stan Lee, pencils by Jack Kirby, inks by Dick Ayers
Once again, elaborate trick shots are performed and cans are ruthlessly dispatched with little thought and care given to their families back in the pantry.
This time, Uncle Ben and Johnny solve the problem of the wily encroaching captions by moving away from them to have more room to talk! Looks like the captions could still overhear the conversation, though.
Kirby redraws and actually improves on the previous shootout panels: the dramatic shadows in panel two here draw the eye through the figures, as well as showing us that Uncle Ben is facing into the sun. And he hasn't even got his Foster Grants on!
This time Uncle Ben is smart enough to apparently hide in a big pile of cotton candy, but he still gets shot. Ow! Seeing this happen all over again despite our foreknowledge of the events is worse that the time Booster Gold tried to prevent the assassination of Captain America but kept getting shot himself.
This time, Johnny buries Uncle Ben and sets off for the volcano on the horizon, thus beginning the mighty Marvel adventure "Krakatoa, East of Latveria."
How come Stan doesn't have to write new captions and dialogue but Jack has to draw new art? It's not even Fantastic Four time yet! You coulda whipped up some new prose for this, Stan.
And once again, the Legend of the Lone Ranger Rawhide Kid is born! Off he rides for adventure and excitement, every other month on your newsstand!
Well, that oughta hold us for retelling the origin story for a while...what? Issue #45 tells it again in 1965? Well, that'll fill up a few pages!
Panels from Rawhide Kid #45 (April 1965), script, pencils and inks by Larry Lieber; letters by Sam Rosen
Face-off, gunfight, Uncle Ben shot, yadda yadda yadda...By this time Johnny is pretty proficient in digging graves. He can probably just dig up the same grave and dump this Uncle Ben in with the other two.
Once again vanishing into the horizon on a fiery horse with the speed of light, a cloud of dust and a hearty "I better not have to do this again!", Johnny's adventures are ready to begin again, with no fear of retelling his origin!
Panels from Rawhide Kid #100 (June 1972), script by George Roussos, pencils and inks by Larry Lieber, letters by Ray Holloway
Oh, for crying out loud. Well, at least it's ultra-compressed. No fear of Bendis stretching this one out into six issues, nosirree! And that was the last anybody ever saw of the Rawhide Kid's origin...
...until his 1985 miniseries.
Panels from Rawhide Kid v.2 #1 (August 1985), script by Bill Mantlo, pencils by Herb Trimpe, inks by John Severin, colors by Marie Severin, letters by Rick Parker
A good origin demands a good encore!
So unless there's a retelling in that miniseries in which they write Johnny as camper than Graham Norton, I think we've got his origin pretty well covered here. Tune in tomorrow night as we continue With Great Deaths of Uncles Come Great Sagas Week with a look at the origin of Luke Skywalker and the death of Uncle Owen in Star Wars: The Good One!
Special bonus!: The Kid's teeth make a bold escape attempt and jump for freedom!
Page from "The Harley and the Ivy" in The Batman Adventures Holiday Special one-shot (January 1995), co-plot by Paul Dini; co-plot, script, pencils, inks, and colors by Ronnie Del Carmen, letters by Richard Starkings
The single greatest panel in the history of comic books:
Back in the Golden Age we didn't have computer-lettered comic books, no sir! (At least that's what Grampa Bull told me during his story about the time he refereed a bare-knuckle fistfight between Woodrow Wilson and The Kaiser.) No, it was an age of big talk and for that big talk we demanded big lettering! And nobody was a master of BIG TALK like the Golden Age Crimson Avenger! (It's actually listed as one of his metahuman powers in Who's Who Who Doesn't Exist in the New DC Universe Anymore.) With his ginchy yellow shorts, his kicky finned helmet and his unerring hat-tossing skills, the C.A. was fond of announcing what he was about to do, even if he was only talking in a normal voice...at first!
Panels from the Crimson Avenger story in Detective Comics #44 (October 1940), script, pencils and inks by Jack Lehti
But as soon as criminals strike, the Crimson Avenger snaps into detective action! And when he does, he TALKS BIG!
Meanwhile, at the lair of an evil scientist attempting to create the world's mightiest soft-serve cone, BIG TALK commences and the Crimson Avenger is there to talk big right back at him! If this was a movie serial, the kids would be covering their ears right around now. And who's paying for that window? There was a perfectly good open door right there, Crimson Avenger. Sheesh.
Pretty soon everybody in the story is SHOUTING THEIR HEADS OFF! Is it any surprise that with this popular comic book came free a packet of Stuff-'Em™ brand Cotton Balls? "When you need to put cotton balls in your ears...Stuff-'Em!"
Around about now you're probably wondering where the animal-punching I promised you in this story is going to show up. Are you in luck...it's coming RIGHT ABOUT NOW!
Yes, this comic book had more ape-tossing action than any other book on the spinner rack that month! Curiously enough, even more than Fawcett's Ape-Tossing Adventure Comics #4.
It's gone strangely silent after all that shouting. Well, you wouldn't be likely to be shouting when you fall down into a lion pit, would you? It's kind of like a library. Shhhhhhhh.
And now...SHOUTING and animal abuse in the same sequence! For all of you wondering about the physics of the feat in panel two, it's established canon that Crimson Avenger's specially developed "center of gravity shoes" allow him to lift as it says on Wikipedia, "up to and including the weight of a fully-grown lion without bracing himself." Wow! Also, he can apparently toss a lion so hard that all its stuffing flies out.
Now's the point in every mystery man story where the hero puts the criminal in cuffs and frog-marches him to the baffled but grateful police commissioner, leaving enough time in the final few panels to sum up the baddie's arrest, incarceration, weeks-long trial, conviction, last meal and execution in the big chair, thus showing America's youth that it may be complicated and lengthy, but by gum, the American justice system works.
Or, he could do, y'know, that. Care to sum this entire shouty and animal-abusey case up with a clever debonair quip, Crimson Avenger?
Or, y'know, not.
Later in this series examining BIG TALK comics of the Golden Age, we'll examine Speed Saunders, Ace Investigator, with the superhuman ability to mix BIG TALK and normal speech within the boundaries of a single word balloon. Gasp!
Panels from the "Speed Saunders" story in Detective Comics #44 (October 1940), pencils and inks by Ed Winiarski (aka Fran Miller)
Special Bonus: your collectible Ironic Deaths of the Golden Age Collectible Trading Card! Clip it out and shove it in a shoebox under your bed!