Wednesday, April 23, 2014
RAWHIDE KID WEDNESDAY 54
The cover of The Rawhide Kid #69 [April 1969] is my least favorite of all the Rawhide Kid covers. The Kid’s big fearful face and all those small figures of him roaming around it like Lilliputians on Gulliver. It just never worked for me. The Grand Comics Database credits it to Larry Lieber (pencils), John Tartaglione (inks) and John Romita (alterations).
“And Now –- The Executioner!” (22 pages) is written and pencilled by Lieber with inks by Tartaglione. As I’ve said previously, I like this team on the Rawhide Kid’s adventures.
Alienation is the key to this story from the get-go as Rawhide buys supplies from a nervous shopkeeper. The opening caption:
There is no weight as heavy as infamy--for it’s the only burden that a man can never put down! Thus, even when the Rawhide Kid is merely making a simple purchase...eyes widen, hands tremble, and skirts flutter.
The townspeople fear this “ruthless gunman,” but are, nonetheless. eager for a gunfight when the gunslick called the Executioner rides into town looking for the Kid. The Kid tries to talk the gunfighter out of doing the shoot-out thing, but the Executioner is determined to face the Kid. Here comes the first plot twist.
When Rawhide gets a good look at the gunslinger, he recognizes the man as “the one hombre that I can’t fight.” Before the townspeople, the Kid refuses to fight. With the Executioner’s gun trained on his back, Rawhide mounts his house and rides away slowly. The citizens don’t understand why the Kid backed down from the fight. However, the Executioner knows the ironic truth:
I came all this distance to fight a famous gunslick...not knowing, never suspecting that it would turn out to be him--the one man on this Earth who can’t fight me...not because he fears for his own safety, but because he fears for mine!
Cue the flashback. The Rawhide Kid is being chased by “some mighty unfriendly Mescalero Apaches.” He takes cover to make a stand, but he’s outnumbered. If he reloads his guns, his attackers will be on him in an instant.
The Kid’s salvation comes from above. Cole Yorby, who we know to be the Executioner, is on a hill picking off Apaches with his rifle. The warriors flee. Rawhide and his rescuer exchange introductions.
The Kid gives his real name of Johnny Clay. Neither man knows how famous/infamous the other is. They part as friends.
After that second encounter with Yorby, all Johnny wants is peace and quiet. Removing his guns, he seeks and gets a job at the Lazy-B Ranch. The foreman doesn’t think the young man is cut out for the tough work, but, since he’s shorthanded, he gives Johnny a chance. Before long, Johnny has proven himself to the boss and his fellow ranch hands.
Amos Clanton, the owner of a nearby ranch, wants the Lazy-B, but it’s not on the market. He decides to send gunmen to ambush the Lazy-B crew. He’s kind of a dick.
The Lazy-B hands are surprised that Johnny does not wear a gun, but he tells them he doesn’t much cotton to hardware. He thinks:
I aim to change my ways completely! From here on out, the only iron I want in my hand is a branding iron–-not a shooting iron!
The Lazy-B crew have made camp for the night when they are ambushed by Clanton's men. Though the Kid has promised himself no more gunplay, this changes things:
I’m a part of the Lazy-B ranch! Those are my pards that are getting cut down!
Grabbing a gun from one of his wounded buddies, Johnny takes down the attackers in three half-page panels. His friends have questions about how such a young fellow got so good with a gun. Johnny tells them who he really is and that changes things again.
The Lazy-B crew were friendly before, but now they are frightened of the gunfighter among them. They avoid him. They scamper at his slightest move, even when he reaches for his hat. But the foreman will have none of this:
Now you hombres hear me good! I don’t gave a dang about the Kid’s past! Since he’s been here, he’s worked hard and never thrown his weight around! And lest yuh forget...the only time he’s picked up a shootin’ iron, it was for the purpose of savin’ our necks. In my book, the Kid has earned our gratitude and our friendship!
The ranch hands agree and all is good. Well, except for Clanton. He still covets the Lazy-B. He hires the Executioner to fight the Rawhide Kid.
Yorby tries to turn down the job, saying the Kid won’t fight him. The rival rancher tells the gunslinger he has to goad Rawhide and push the Kid to his breaking point. He ups the price on the Kid’s head to two thousand dollars. If you’re wondering, that price would be over fifty thousand of today’s dollars.
Yorby takes the job, but he says it’s for a reason other than the money. It’s something personal.
It’s payday, so the Kid and his buddies go to town. Yorby calls out the Kid. Rawhide still won’t fight the man who saved his life all those months ago. Yorby threatens to start gunning down the Lazy-B hands if the Kid won’t fight him. The Executioner is bluffing, but Rawhide doesn’t know that. He has to protect his friends.
The shoot-out is short. The Rawhide Kid fires once and Yorby drops to the ground. Yorby is alive, but not long for this world.
Clanton has been watching the fight from around a corner. He pulls his gun to shoot Rawhide in the back. A Lazy-B ranch hand calls out a warning and the Kid manages to dive out of the way of the bullet. He takes out the rancher with one shot.
I hated having to gun the Executioner! But it’s a pleasure to put a varmint like you out of business!
Rawhide returns to Yorby’s side and gets an explanation for why the man who once saved his life wanted to fight him:
YORBY: You’re still young, Rawhide, but wait...wait till the years pass,,,and the gunfights add up...and night becomes your worst enemy...for that’s when you see the ghosts of men you’ve sent to their untimely deaths!
YORBY: And then you contract a painful and fatal illness which makes each day a living Hell!
RAWHIDE: So you decide to end it all with one last gunfight!
YORBY: Yes! And you pick the fastest gun around for the job! The Rawhide Kid!
YORBY: So you see, Kid, you’ve repaid a debt! I saved your life and in return...you’ve given me the one thing I wanted most...an end to mine...
The Kid looks down at Yorby and wonders if he’s looking at his own death down the road. He decides not to go back to the ranch. What happened here is a memory he wants to put far behind him. He rides off into the sunset:
And so, the young outlaw pushes on...silent and alone...his heart heavy, his future uncertain...in this, the untamed west of yesteryear!
This is another of Lieber’s best Rawhide Kid stories, even though, once again, Johnny makes the foolish choice to move on from a new life among people who had accepted him. No wonder readers continued to suggest the Kid settle down. We all figured he’d earned a bit of happiness in his life.
This story has never been reprinted in the United States. That’s a shame because it’s a great one.
Next up is the “Ridin’ the Trail with Rawhide” letters page. Just imagine my surprise when I saw the lead-off letter was one of mine. I’d forgotten about that. Now imagine my horror when I realized how I’ve changed my mind on almost everything in this letter:
“The Hostage of Hungry Hills!” was a good story, but not great. Why not expand the Kid’s adventures to the full 23 pages available for stories? The extra eight pages would do a lot of good for him. And as good a job as Larry does, you should inject some new life into the mag. Let everyone in the Bullpen, including yourself, do a story or two.
The Kid Colt story was very good, but it would have been great with more room. Bring back the Kid in his own mag, or start running new stories in the MIGHTY MARVEL WESTERN. Holy Ankles of Annie Oakley! Linda Fite is a darn fine writer. Let’s see more stories from her. Werner Roth and Herb Trimpe did excellent art for the Kid Colt story. They make a great team. Happy trails to you.
That was then. The more I reread Larry Lieber’s Rawhide Kid stories, the more I think he was the best man to replace Stan Lee and Jack Kirby on the feature. I shudder when I think of how DC has injected “new life” into its characters to the almost universal detriment of those characters.
Though that Kid Colt story with its glorification of the Southern slavers horrifies me today, I remember Fite’s work on The Claws of the Cat with fondness. She was a good writer.
With this issue, Marvel resumed answering the letters they printed in its comic books. Here’s how some anonymous staffer responded to my letter:
...And may your boots be free to scorpions, Antonio! Thanks for the comments on RAWHIDE #67 - especially that idea for a greater cross-section of writers and artists to be represented in Western mags. We’re working on just such a project right now and hopefully you’ll see the results in a few months. Calamity Linda will probably be doing some more writing - if she can get up the energy! She spends most of her time perfecting her Southern drawl...and that tends to slow her down a wee tad. ‘Nuff said, y’all.
I’m thinking the unnamed project mentioned in the response was the 68-page Western Gunfighters launch which was cover-dated August 1970. The first issue featured new work by Dick Ayers, Herb Trimpe, Jerry Siegel, Gary Friedrich, Werner Roth, Roy Thomas, Syd Shores, Mike Friedrich and Tom Sutton.
The three other letters on the page all point out errors in other stories. They were written by Bud Cavadine of Cashton, Wisconsin, L/Cpl Richard L. Huey (stationed in Vietnam) and Carole Ianacone of Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico.
The letters page was followed by a two-thirds page house ad for The Mighty Marvel Western #4 and the annual Statement of Ownership, Management and Circulation. The 68-page Mighty Marvel Western had a new cover by Herb Trimpe and reprints of Rawhide Kid, Two-Gun Kid and Kid Colt stories by Larry Lieber, Dick Ayers, Stan Lee and Jack Keller.
The Statement of Ownership, Management and Circulation is in mini-type and hard to read. The average total paid circulation of this title was 216, 045 of a print run of 320,400. The paid circulation of the issue nearest to the October 1, 1968 filing date was 256,881 on a print run of 400,100. Were these accurate figures? Your guess is as good as mine.
Come back next Wednesday for another wild west edition of “Rawhide Kid Wednesday!” Come back tomorrow for other stuff.
© 2014 Tony Isabella