Wednesday, December 14, 2016


The Rawhide Kid is my favorite western comics character and one of my favorite comics characters period.  Something about the short of stature (but big on courage and fighting skills) Johnny Clay spoke to the short of stature (but big on comics-reading skills) teenage Tony Isabella.  After rereading the Kid’s earliest adventures when Marvel Comics reprinted them in a pair of Marvel Masterworks and an Essential Rawhide Kid volume, I wanted to reacquire every Rawhide Kid comic, reread them and write about them in this bloggy thing of mine. This is the 94th installment in that series.
The Rawhide Kid #108 [February, 1973] has a new cover pencilled by Larry Lieber and, based on examination of the original art by the eagle-eyed Nick Caputo, inked by Herb Trimpe. Inside, the 14-page “Desert Fury!” was written and penciled by Lieber, inked and most likely colored by George Roussos, lettered by June Braverman, and edited by Roy Thomas. As you will see, I have some serious problems with this story.


This grim, plot-heavy story opens with the Rawhide Kid riding into a town where he thinks he can rest for a spell. The opening caption describes it: 
If you’re a fugitive on the run, you pick your places to rest carefully! You choose small remote towns beyond the reach of the law! Towns like this one!

Alas, the Kid is lured into an alley on the pretext of stopping a man from beating a dog and clubbed from behind. When he wakes up, he’s been handcuffed by a bounty hunter.

Captor and captive board a stagecoach, much to the dismay of the extremely judgmental passengers. One calls Rawhide a cheap gunslick who’s going to get what he deserves. Another opines that will come at the end of the rope.

Miles pass until one of the passengers spots someone stranded near the road. It’s a blonde woman with a baby:

She’s wearin’ Injun duds--but she’s white!

The woman is Sarah Evans. Captured by the Apaches two years prior, she has finally escaped. She had been forced to marry one of her kidnappers. The baby?

This is our son--a child that will never be raised among those savages!

Sarah’s family was killed when she was captured. She has no home. The passengers say they will help her get settled. Hiding nearby, the Apaches watch them and report the situation to Grey Eagle, the father of Sarah’s child.

His fellow braves tell Grey Eagle to forget the woman. He’s a bit too possessive for that:

No! The woman and the child are mine! I will not give them up!

If you think you are beginning to see why I have problems with the story, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

The Apaches attack the stagecoach. The drivers head for a secluded way station where they will make their stand. They get inside the station as the Apaches attack anew. The bounty hunter uncuffs the Kid. They need every gun they can get.

The passengers are not feeling as charitable towards Sarah as they had been. They want to turn the woman over to “the redskins.” But Rawhide won’t hear of it and tells everyone to grab a gun.

The bounty hunter is shot dead. The passengers are in a panic. The Apaches take the stagecoach.

The Apaches don’t attack. They want the passengers to sweat before they finish this. It gives them a psychological edge.

Almost out of ammo, the passengers really want to hand Sarah over to the Apaches. Only Rawhide stands in their way.

RAWHIDE: I don’t know about you folks...but I don’t hanker to spend the rest of my days knowin’ I sacrificed a woman and child to save my own neck!

MALE PASSENGER: That’s might noble considerin’ yore an outlaw and fugitive!

Rawhide spots a sandstorm blowing up in the desert. He sees it as their chance to escape:

We’ll cross the desert! The Apaches won’t be able to see us in the sandstorm...or follow us later because the blowing sand will cover our tracks!

The passengers aren’t keen on the plan. Water will be scarce in the desert. They still want to give Sarah to her kidnappers. But, what with the Kid having his two Colts and all, they don’t really have a choice at this point.

Rawhide and the others set out into the desert. When the sandstorm subsides, Grey Eagle realizes:

The white-eyes have escaped! They were clever! They fled into the storm! But it will avail them nothing...for I will follow my wife and child to the ends of the earth!

Meanwhile, the white-eyes aren’t doing so well. The thirst and the sun are unbearable. Rawhide shares his canteen with Sarah and the baby. The others are becoming hostile towards Sarah, calling her “a blamed squaw” and saying that living with the Apaches makes Sarah a savage as well.

The passengers turn on each other. One man tries to steal another man’s canteen until Rawhide clobbers him.

Yet another man pulls his gun when the Kid stops him from drinking poisoned water. Rawhide has to shoot the gun out of the man’s hand, which leads the Apaches right to them.

The men are ready to turn Sarah and the baby over to the Apaches. Rawhide challenges Grey Eagle to battle for her.

Grey Eagle leaps from his horse and knocks Rawhide to the ground. The Apache pulls his knife on the Kid. Rawhide gets the knife away from the brave. Here comes more problems for me.

RAWHIDE: There! Now I’ve got the knife!

GREY EAGLE: Then use it! Kill me! I would rather die than live without the woman I love and the child that is mine!

SARAH: Stop! Stop the fight! Get to your feet! Grey Eagle...never before have you spoken to me of love! Never!

GREY EAGLE: Such words to not come easy to a savage!

SARAH: A man who loves is no savage! And a woman who has love needs nothing more! I will return with you and remain by your side!

There are eight panels on this, the final page of the story, but I don’t think eight dozen panels could have made this story palatable to me. Just to state the obvious...

Sarah was kidnapped and forced to become Grey Eagle’s wife. Which sure sounds like rape to me.

The bounty hunter and at least a few Apache warriors die. And then she goes back to her rapist.

As an Apache and a woman, this really offends me. Okay, I’m neither an Apache or a woman, but I’m still offended.

Grey Eagle departs, but not before giving the "white-eyes" water and horses for their safe journey. What a swell guy.

The moral of the story?

MALE WHITE-EYES: I don’t get it...her choosing’ to go back and live among the savages!

RAWHIDE KID: To her, they’re not the savages! The savages are her people, who wanted to abandon a woman and baby ro save themselves!

MALE WHITE-EYES: Yeh, I reckon yore right! This is a day we’ll never be proud of!

FEMALE WHITE-EYES: All except for one amongst us...a man who knows right from wrong...and never forgot which to choose!


In all fairness to my friend Larry, there’s no doubt in my mind he was trying to contrast the knee-jerk assumption that these Apaches were savages with the actual savagery of the stagecoach passengers. But the kidnapping and the raping sort of diluted that message in this story. And, honestly, I’m a lot more cognizant of such things today than I would have been in 1972.

Would six more pages have given Lieber enough room to somehow make this story work? Maybe, maybe not. There was historical precedent for the seizing of women in the Old West, but Sarah’s acceptance of her life with her kidnapper just makes me queasy. As much as I love Larry’s Rawhide Kid stories, this one is just wrong.

One note before we move on. As of this ish, Marvel isn’t including page numbers on the new stories in their comics. It’s to disguise the steady reduction in page counts.

This month's Marvel Bullpen Bulletins page was decidedly less senses-shattering than usual. “Stan’s Lee’s Soapbox” had a chairperson of the Northern Educational Service Coordinating Committee at the University of Massachusetts talking about how comic books installed a willingness to read in sub-standard readers.

The lead item reported that neo-editor Roy Thomas was commissioning fill-in issues to help Marvel meet its deadline. Two examples were Johnny Romita and Gerry Conway reworking the Spider-Man story from the Spectacular Spider-Man magazine...and Thomas and Ross Andru doing an  issue of Fantastic Four.

That was followed by mini-items: Billy Graham as M.C. of a comedy show at the Village Gate in Greenwich Village...Andru becoming the regular artist of Shanna the She-Devil...Chic Stone inking the new Red Wolf series...Bill Everett returning to Sub-Mariner...various Marvel writers visiting California...and new titles Thongor of Lost Lemuria and War of the Worlds.

The “Mighty Marvel Checklist” listed 29 issues. Some highlights: The Human Torch and Quicksilver duking it out in the land of the Inhumans; H.G. Wells’ The Invisible Man in Supernatural Thrillers;  and new reprint titles Vault of Evil and S.H.I.E.L.D.
The issue’s second story was “When the Harpers Rode” (6 pages) by Stan Lee and Syd Shores. It was reprinted from Western Outlaws #15 [June 1956]. The cover shown above was penciled and inked by Carl Burgos, who drew or otherwise worked on dozens of Marvel covers in the 1950s. Burgos is better known as the creator of the original android Human Torch.

This isn’t much of a story, so much so that I’m not going to bother with any spoiler warning. The Harpers are bad guys. They terrorize towns with lawmen. Two strangers, one a temporary state marshal and the other his sidekick, ride into town. They deputize most of the town. The Harpers cave when they see the size of the posse arrayed against them. But the marshal and his sidekick will be moving on to other towns.

MARSHAL: We have other towns to take care of! We wanted to show yuh that when enough decent folks band together, no owlhoots can take over.

SIDEKICK: Now yuh all just elect yourself a sheriff and deputies!  When things get too tough for ‘em...form another posse like this one!

It’s a good message in an otherwise uninspiring story.

The “Ridin’ the Trail with Rawhide” letters page had three letters from readers. Jeffrey Jensen of Northville, New York wanted to know what types of guns were used by the Rawhide Kid and Kid Colt. He also requests a personal response. The Marvel letter-answerer says the kids both used the Colt .45 pistol. He or she adds that Marvel is now publishing 42 titles a month, which prohibits them from responding personally to fan letters. However, all fan letters are read and that’s what’s important.

Larry Morgan of Dix, Illinois thinks too many of Marvel’s westerns are reprints. The letter-answerer claims most readers enjoy seeing the older tales. Speaking as someone who bought all those comics, I would have preferred all-new material. Of course, as someone who hoped to write comics myself, I had an ulterior motive in wanting Marvel to need more writers.

Pierre Champagne of New Orleans, Louisiana has many complaints. He doesn’t like Herb Trimpe’s covers. He decries lousy reproduction on the reprints (and he wasn’t wrong there). He is not at all a fan of Roussos inking Lieber’s pencils, suggesting he be replaced by Syd Shores (a good choice) or Vince Colletta (not a good choice). Me, I thought my friend George did a fine job bringing out the power of my friend Larry’s pencils...and I can tell you from my time sharing an office with George that they loved working together.

That’s it for this installment of “Rawhide Kid Wednesday.” I’ll be back tomorrow with more stuff.
© 2016 Tony Isabella

1 comment:

  1. Tony, this story--with its rape victim acquiescing to return to her rapist--was eerily echoed several years after by the fate of Carol Danvers in AVENGERS 200, which so outraged Chris Claremont that he countered with AVENGERS ANNUAL 10 the following summer. Who knew that a Marvel western frolicked in such controversial waters first? I haven't read the Lieber story, but, from your synopsis, it clearly had way too much plot and too many characters to deal with coherently in 14 pages. Small wonder the "neat" resolution seemed morally questionable and dramatically forced.
    BTW, please allow me, at this late stage, to thank you for RAWHIDE KID WEDNESDAY. Before you opened my eyes, I had shunned Marvel westerns as formula fodder not worth the time to seek out and read them. Based on your affectionate series, I've unearthed a few issues of RAWHIDE and other Marvel (Ahem!) owlhoot sagas and been pleasantly surprised. Not every issue, mind you, but certainly Lieber's RAWHIDE, and for that discovery, I thank you kindly, sir.