The Rawhide Kid started out as a short, solitary gunslinger, first appearing in 1955 in 16-issue run for Atlas Comics, which would eventually become Marvel Comics. In this era of Marvel’s history the code that Jim Shooter would later make explicit—No queer characters exist within the Marvel Universe—was implicit. Over the years different writers and artists tried their hand at the character, including Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, until the ’70s when the public’s fascinations with Westerns and gunfighters began to wane.
In his newest incarnation, The Rawhide Kid is tall and statuesque, with a square jaw and flashy duds. Although the first cover of “Slap Leather” depicts him with his trademark red hair, inside he has wavy blond locks .
I’m not sure what warranted the Explicit Content Warning, but its inclusion on the front cover wrote a check the inside of the comic refused to cash. The first two issues focus on the town of Wells Junction and documents the arrival of the Cisco Pike gang (a nefarious posse made up of cold-blooded killers) who ride into town and begin terrorizing the locals. In the first issue the town sheriff gets shot and his deputy is killed, and The Rawhide Kid rides in to save the day. At the start of the next issue The Kid rides into Pike’s camp. Pike’s gang is skeptical that the fussy, hifalutin Kid is the same Rawhide Kid they’ve heard about in legends and stories. Because he’s just so damn pretty.
At this point I remembered the explicit content warning and just knew the next page would be full of raunchy cowboy sex. But no, The Kid starts handing out ass whippings and then makes a crack about how expensive his hat is. After he gives the lot a thorough dressing down Pike remarks “Okay, okay. Lord you carry on like a woman!” to which The Kid remarks “It’s a lit-tle late for flattery.” So, yes. We are meant to understand that this character is the Biggest, Baddest Queer in the West. There isn’t any sex in either issue that I read, but there are moments when The Kid hints at liaisons with famous gunslingers of legend.
Part of what I love about this reboot is that the constant references to his clothes and his speech are always paired with reverent comments about his abilities at fighting and shooting. This message—that there is nothing inherently straight or male about being able to defend oneself or attaining mastery of the “manly arts”—is one I never tire of seeing. But why the explicit content warning? There is no sex or nudity to be found, and all of the fights are totally bloodless. Apparently queer sex is so hot and steamy even referencing it is enough to project hardcore pornography into the reader’s cerebral cortex. Thankfully, when the character returned in 2010 in “The Sensational Seven” the content warning was absent from the cover.
While I was rolling my eyes at all the anachronisms, the biggest anachronism of all is The Kid himself. Were there queer people in the Wild West? Undoubtedly. Did they ride into town filled with celebrity gossip and sassy comebacks? Maybe. But I imagine queers in the saddle were much more circumspect about their sexuality, having to invent ways of recognizing each other without the benefit of Grindr. That is the sort of story I want to read, the sort of story that honors the reality of the lives queer people have been forced to lead throughout history.