The Rawhide Kid - the one created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, then
continued by Larry Lieber - is my favorite western character. So,
inspired by Essential Rawhide Kid Volume 1, which reprinted all the
Lee/Kirby issues and then some, I’ve been writing about the Rawhide
Kid most every Wednesday. When I ran out of the issues reprinted
in the book, I tracked down some owlhoots, brought them in and used
the reward money to buy the next ten issues of the title. Because
that’s what the Kid would have done.
The Rawhide Kid had faced a living totem pole and a bank robber who
could fly, but none of his adventures were anywhere near as strange
as “The Ape Strikes!” in The Rawhide Kid #39 [April 1964]. It’s a
wacky classic of the Silver Age of Comics.
The weirdness starts with the Jack Kirby/Chic Stone cover of that
issue. Both the Rawhide Kid and the ape holding him look as tall
if not taller than the top floor of the saloon on whose roof they
are shown. Next door, an amazed man looks out a window and this
man also looks too big for his room. The bystanders on the street
below don’t look quite right either. The cover certainly caught my
attention, but the more I study it, the more I wonder what the heck
Kirby was thinking.
“The Ape Strikes” (18 pages) is written by Stan Lee and illustrated
by Dick Ayers. The action starts on the title page as the gorilla
prepares to leap at Rawhide from the roof of a building. Shocked
by the sight, the Kid is disarmed and taken prisoner.
The gorilla carries Rawhide to the laboratory of Doctor Karlbad and
straps our young hero to an operating table. The mad scientist is
working to increase the intelligence of his trained ape and plans
to transplant the Kid’s brain into the gorilla’s body. Honest to
Godzilla, I am not making this up.
Virginia, the doctor’s daughter, objects to her father’s kidnapping
of the Rawhide Kid, but doesn’t know he plans to experiment on our
hero. He tells her Rawhide won’t be harmed. She leaves, but tells
him she’ll be back tomorrow with the sheriff.
Karlbad has to leave to get a serum for the operation which gives
Rawhide a chance to escape. By the time the Kid returns with the
sheriff and Virginia, the mad scientist and his ape are gone. The
sheriff won’t believe what Virginia and the Kid have told him until
he sees the gorilla himself, so Rawhide decides to track down the
creature and its master himself.
“But, before long, the amazed sheriff gets his wish! For, suddenly,
one day...without warning...a giant menace attacks the town...The
very sight of him is so frightening that people flee in panic–-all
thought of standing their ground, of firing their weapons at him,
driven from their minds by fear!”
The “mighty anthropoid” tears through the town without hurting any
of the citizens as if it only wanted to “prove its strength.” The
sheriff, now a believer, forms a posse to go after the ape.
The gorilla is holding a rifle when the sheriff and his posse find
it. When they draw their own weapons, the ape shoots the guns out
of their hands. When the Rawhide Kid sees the posse, the men are
in full terrified retreat.
Digression. There is no mention of the Rawhide Kid being a wanted
fugitive in this story. This must be one of those places where he
isn’t wanted, which was a convenient artifice when a writer didn’t
want to slow down a story with the usual dance between the hero and
the law. End digression.
The Kid goes after the ape alone. He’s ambushed and again disarmed
by the beast. He’s helpless as the gorilla points his rifle at our
hero. In a thought bubble, the Kid calls his horse Nightwind. The
noble telepathic steed attacks the gorilla from behind, sending the
rifle to fly free. The ape takes to the trees and disappears from
sight. Rawhide and his horse share a tender moment.
Rawhide trails the beast, coming across a distraught man whose son
was taken by the gorilla. When the men spot the ape, the Kid goes
on the attack. The child escapes and the gorilla attacks the Kid.
The child’s father wings the gorilla and the wounded ape retreats.
The father thanks the Kid for risking his life for a stranger, but
the Kid says it’s his fight, too. Rawhide thinks:
“I won’t bother tellin’ him how I worried that the ape might be
bringin’ his son to the doctor, to use in his experiment!”
The Kid follows the ape, hoping the creature will lead him to Doc
Karlbad. It’s a treacherous pursuit with Rawhide almost falling to
his death when the ape upends a log-bridge and hurls a boulder at
him. The gorilla leads him to a cave and that’s when bullets start
flying and things get weirder.
UNSEEN DOCTOR: Hah! You didn’t know I had a Winchester
hidden in my cave, did you?!!
KID (thought): Whew! That was too close for comfort! I wonder
what the gorilla is doing all this time?? Well, reckon I’ll find out
KID (thought): I sure hate to do this, mostly on account of his
daughter–-but I’ve got to use my guns! The Doc’s gone berserk!!
He’s too dangerous for me to take any more chances with!
KID: This is it, Doc! If you won’t give up, there’s no other way!
UNSEEN DOCTOR: No–-no! Stop shooting! I–-I can’t out-shoot
you! I don’t want to die! I surrender!
But it’s the ape who comes from the cave with his arms raised high
in surrender and meekly rides back to town in a wagon the Kid has
conjured from nowhere. Rawhide ponders:
“The gorilla himself tossed away a Winchester!! Could it be–-?! Can
Doc have already completed his experiment–-using himself as the one
whose intelligence the gorilla would take???
“That could explain why the gorilla was so smart–-why he seems to
act like a human! But he won’t speak–-and unless he does speak, how
can I ever know for sure??”
To his credit, the Kid also realizes Karlbad might have just had a
secret exit from the cave and that the ape is just as well-trained
as a circus bear. He keeps his other theory from Virginia, telling
her to exhibit the gorilla to make enough money to support herself
and leaving her with the hope that her father will return someday.
Virginia hopes she’ll meet the Rawhide Kid again because there’s so
much she had to thank him for.
Sadly, the ambiguity of Karlbad’s fate is undone by a caption that
states he did have a secret exit and waits nearby for a chance to
free his gorilla and strike again. The caption promises that when
the mad scientist does this, it will be a tale for a future issue.
However, this story is the last we will ever see of the doc, his
ape and his daughter.
The non-series story this time is “The Frightened Man” (5 pages) by
Stan and artist Jack Keller, better known for drawing Kid Colt for
Marvel and a passel of hot rod comics for Charlton. This one is a
pretty good little yarn.
Gunfighter Durango boasts about his two dozen gun fight victories.
He says speed isn’t as important as making your enemy fear you and
then decides to prove that by having a shootout with “a ranny who’s
Durango spots a nervous man trying to leave the saloon and lassos
him. He trumps up a reason to challenge the man who, despite his
seeming fear, still outdraws the gunfighter and shoots Durango in
the arm. The gunfighter will never be able to use his shooting arm
again. The frightened man speaks: “You made one mistake,
Durango! You never asked me why I was frightened!”
The man continues: “After I quit the Texas Rangers a few months
ago, I took a vow never to kill another man, no matter what! I was
just frightened I might miss your arm and kill you!”
Maybe because of its weirdness, The Rawhide Kid #39 has always been
one of my favorite issues. Ayers does a great job with the Rawhide
Kid story, giving personality to Karlbad’s gorilla. Keller’s clean
lines work well in the back-up story. Stan’s writing is dramatic
without overdoing it. Fun stuff.
I’ll be back tomorrow with more stuff.
© 2012 Tony Isabella