Thursday, November 17, 2011

With Great Power Comes Blazing-Fast Sixgun Action!

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!" " 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!

Play us off, Jake and Elwood!


Niel Jacoby said...

Please, tell us about when Atlas shrunk.
(bdum psh)

Michael Jones said...

Can you do Two-Gun Kid next?
ps. panty or pantry?

Bully said...

Eek! Pantry! Fixed, and thanks for spotting it.