Wednesday, January 23, 2013


Previously in Tony Isabella’s Bloggy Thing...

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 more issues of the title.  Because that’s
what the Kid would have done.

The Rawhide Kid #17 [August 1960] introduced the new Rawhide Kid in
three stories by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Dick Ayers.  The first of
the issue’s three stories told of the Kid’s upbringing and how he
avenged the death of his foster father.  The third told of how one
youthful mistake made him an outlaw. 

One short year later, in issue #23 [August 1961], the origin story
was retold with the same Stan Lee script, but with every panel of
the original story redrawn by Jack Kirby.  Comparing the two is a
fascination exercise in storytelling.  Sometimes the original story
has the better take on a given panel, sometimes the redone version
is superior.  Both stories are terrific.

The Rawhide Kid #45 [April 1965] presents the Rawhide Kid’s origin
once again, this time written and illustrated by Larry Lieber and
revealing new details of the Kid’s past and introducing him to the
older brothers he never knew he had.  The cover of the issue is by
Jack Kirby with inks by Chic Stone and shows a decidedly grim Kid
with smoking guns and what appears to be one wounded and three dead
foes behind him. 

“Gunman’s Quest” (17 pages) opens with a symbolic splash page and
then cuts to a border town saloon where Rawhide is enjoying a meal
served by a lovely senorita.  He is recognized as Johnny Bart - the
“Bart” coming from the Texas Ranger who raised him - by a man who
also lived in Rawhide, Texas.  The Kid tells the man he’s mistaken,
but the waitress can tell that’s not the truth.  He tells her that
the past is “best left dead and buried,” but she flirts with him:

Oh, such bad words! How can one so young and handsome carry such a
heavy heart! Come, tell Chita all about your deep dark past!

He responds:

You’re teasin’ me! If you were a man, I’d whomp yuh! But I never
can resist a pretty gal! Okay, pull up a chair and I’ll tell you
how gunfighters get born! 

Rawhide tells Chita how he was raised by Ben Bart after his parents
were killed in an Indian raid and how he learned to use a gun from
the ex-Texas Ranger.  When Ben was murdered by a couple of cowardly
gunmen, the Kid tracked them down and avenged the only father he’d
ever known.  He then rode from Rawhide planning to use the skills
he had been taught to take down the worst owlhoots he could find.
Which he did until the fateful day when he ran from a sheriff who
mistook the Kid for one of those bad guys and, in the eyes of the
law, became an outlaw.  It takes Lieber around four pages to cover
this back story...and then this story really gets interesting.

When Rawhide swats at a mosquito, Chita gasps when she sees a small
star-shaped birthmark on the Kid’s neck.  She saw the same mark on
another stranger who passed through her town.  An equally startled
Kid puts it together:

What? Are you sure? I mean, birthmarks never look exactly alike
unless they belong to...brothers!  Is it possible there was another
baby in that Indian raid?  My brother...who got separated from me
in the fracas and somehow managed to survive?!

Chita never knew the other stranger’s name and she doesn’t recall
his face.  All she remembers is the direction in which the man rode
when he left town.  It’s not much to go on, but the Kid rides off
to find the man who could be his kin:

Imagine after all this time, finding out I have a brother! Wonder
what kind of hombre he is? Maybe he can help me...advise me on how
to make a better life for myself...or maybe he’ll be too ashamed of
the Rawhide Kid to even talk to him! Well, only one way to find
out! C’mon, Nightwind! Ride, boy! Ride!

The road ahead is long, but, fortunately for the Rawhide Kid, it’s
fraught with coincidence.  Months later, when the Kid is about to
call it quits, he witnesses a card game in which a slick gambler is
accused of cheating by the bad-tempered Captain Cragg, who learned
karate and judo while traveling in the Orient. 

As Cragg beats on the gambler, Rawhide minds his own business until
he spots...a small star-shaped birthmark on said gambler’s wrist.
He’s found his brother!

The Kid takes down Cragg and meets his brother.  The gambler’s name
is Frank Clay.  He was one of three brothers in that Indian raid.
Frank was captured and held by their attackers until he managed to
escape.  He never saw what happened to his baby brother.

Frank describes Joe, the third brother, as “a sniveling coward who
thought only of his own neck and fled to safety...deserting Ma, Pa,
and all the rest of us!”
  He never saw Joe again.

Rawhide is somewhat disappointed: One brother a fugitive...another
a gambler...and a third a spineless coward!

On the bright side:

Glad to hear you’re at least an honest gambler! Well, here’s where
we part company! I sought my brother, hoping he’d be a respectable
hombre who could help straighten me out! But’re a drifter
who has to go his own way, just like me! S’long, Frank!

To which Frank responds:

Adios, Johnny! I hope it’s in the cards that we meet again!

Okay, that’s a pretty short reunion, but we’re on page 12 of this
story and there’s one more Clay brother to meet.

An apple-picker recognizes Rawhide as the Kid rides towards another
town.  In that town, the sheriff is preparing for a shoot-out with
a gunslinger named Lewt Ramsey.  His fiancee Kathy is frightened for
him.  The lawman doesn’t stand a chance against Ramsey.

Honey, I’m the sheriff! It’s my job to protect the town against all
gunslingers...even those who are faster ‘n me! I can’t shirk my

The confident Ramsey wonders if the town pays enough to cover the
lawman’s forthcoming trip to Boot Hill.  The sheriff replies that
he gets thirty dollars a month for food, lodging and enough bullets
to keep varmints like Ramsey off the streets.  The townspeople know
Ramsey is faster and urge the sheriff to back down.

The gunslinger is faster, but the courageous lawman manages to lift
his wounded arm and shoot Ramsey dead.  The townspeople praise the
sheriff’s courage.  You know where this is leading, right?

Learning of the Rawhide Kid’s approach, the sheriff realizes that
the reward money for catching the famous outlaw will enable him to
marry Kathy.  But, with his wounded arm, he’ll need a plan. 

When Rawhide rides into town that evening, he sees the sheriff in
his office and hopes he can get some grub and then leave the town
without incident.  That’s when a seemingly distraught Kathy rushes
up to him and tells him a thief has just robbed her of a valuable
brooch.  If she goes for the sheriff, the thief will get away. 

As we know from earlier in this tale, the Kid can’t resist a pretty
girl.  He runs into an alley after the “thief” and is tripped by a
noose that catches his leg.  He tumbles to the ground and his drawn
guns fall out of his reach.  The wounded sheriff gets the drop on
him.  It was a dummy Rawhide had seen in the office.

Rawhide fights back and disarms the sheriff, but the lawman knocks
the Kid cold with his good arm.  When our hero comes to in a jail
cell, he sees the town doctor redressing the sheriff’s wound and he
sees a star-shaped birthmark on the lawman’s shoulder.  His captor
is his older brother Joe! 

The angry Rawhide confronts Joe with the knowledge and calls him a
cowardly deserter.  A chagrined Joe responds:

You’re so quick to blame me, but what do you know of it?  I was
just a scared kid who panicked in a moment of danger! I’m not proud
of it! My fear was uncontrollable! I didn’t even think! And ever
since that grim day when I abandoned my family and friends, I’ve
lived with a tortured conscience!

Since then, I’ve deliberately faced countless dangers in a futile
attempt to wash away the guilt and shame that can never be erased.
My life has been a nightmare without end. 

The Kid is taken aback by this revelation and says he’s sorry for
his harsh words.  Joe releases him.  He knows the reward would not
bring happiness to him and Kathy.  She says she couldn’t love him
if he’d acted any differently in this matter. As he prepares to
ride off, Rawhide says to his brother:

Forget the past! I reckon you’ve paid for your mistake a thousand
times over! You’re a fine hombre and a top-notch lawman! Ma and Pa
would’ve been proud of I am!

Joe is ready to resign as sheriff, but the townspeople won’t stand
for that.  The Kid committed no crime in their town and Joe’s still
the best dang lawman they’ve ever had. 

The Kid wonders if he’ll ever meet his brothers again:

The trail is long...and it’s sure full of surprises!

Johnny Clay will see his brothers again, but not until Rawhide Kid
#100 [June 1972].  I’ve always wondered why Lieber didn’t use the
Kid’s brothers more often.  However, the karate-chopping Captain
Cragg would be back in a couple of issues.

The lead story is followed by a page advertising the next issues of
Kid Colt Outlaw and Two-Gun Kid and containing this title’s annual
“Statement of Ownership, Management and Circulation.  The average
sales per issue were 187,100 copies.  Good times.

“The Gunslinger” (five pages) was the issue’s non-series story.  It
was written and drawn by Larry Lieber...and it’s one of the nuttier
western shorts, albeit in a delightful way.

The “top gunhawk in the territory” is hired to Kill rancher Henry
Maddox, reputed to be fastest draw in the area.  The gunslinger has
never seen Maddox.  The hired killer rides out to Maddox’s ranch to
ambush Maddox.  The unnamed gunhawk lies in wait in a barn with his
gun already drawn.  He calls out to Maddox and fires, but he misses
his target and is shot down by the rancher. That’s when we get a
look at Maddox and listen to the shock ending exposition:

Some jasper tried to ambush me! He set a pretty clever trap but he
shot too high! He just hit my hat! I guess he didn’t know that the
man he was waitin’ to gun a midget!

Score one for little people.

After the usual full-page ad for The Merry Marvel Marching Society
comes the “Ridin’ the Range with Rawhide” letters column.  Reader
Earl Dill of Baltimore asks for more costumed villains and whoever
was answering the letters punts the question to the readers. 

A soldier stationed in Germany expresses his enjoyment of Marvel’s
westerns.  A reader from New Brunswick, Canada says Rawhide Kid
is his favorite comic book. 

Half the letters page is taken up by “The Mighty Marvel Checklist”
of other titles “on sale right now” and the “Special Announcements
Section.”  The highlight of this month’s Marvel comics is the first
appearance of “the new Black Widow” in Tales of Suspense.  Some of
the other plugs read as if the writer wasn’t 100% certain what was
happening in the titles.  

The special announcements section leads with Marvel patting itself
on the back for retelling the Rawhide Kid’s origin with a brand-new
script and art...and “things we might have left out in the earlier
version.” The section also has a plug for the M.M,M.S. and for the
other Marvel westerns. 

Happy trails to you, my friends, until our next Rawhide Wednesday.
I’ll be back soon with more stuff.

© 2013 Tony Isabella


  1. So, how confident are you that Earl Dill and the hombrés in Germany and New Brunswick were real, and not letters written by editorial staff? lately I've been more and more fascinated by the notion of staff-written LoCs in lettercols. I'm not condemning the practice, I'm just really interested.

  2. I love Larry Lieber's "Rawhide Kid." Within the confines of 1960s comics storytelling, he was able to do the equivalent of movies' psychological Westerns, and his stories had heart and humanity that clearly was coming from a very real place. He wrote and drew morality tales every bit in the vein of Sterling Silliphant, Paddy Chayefsky and other mass-culture writers of that period, albeit for a younger audience. Larry only occasionally gets his due, and I hope he gets it more and more as we gain perspective on how good his "Rawhide Kid" really was.

  3. Is Rawhide Kid named Johnny Bart or Johnny Clay? You refer to him both ways.

  4. The Rawhide Kid's real name is Johnny CLAY. However, until he learned that in this issue, he was Johnny BART...taking the last name of the man who raised him.