Wednesday, February 5, 2003

Rawhide Kid #1: A Review

You’ve all probably heard all the hype about this comic already. This is, how it stars the very first gay title character in comic book history. How it a western that, to quote the BBC News, “breaks the mold of traditional macho comic characters.” And how various religious organizations are now boycotting Marvel because of their attacks on family values and how various gay rights organizations are cheering Marvel for this attempt to add diversity to their comics.

What you may not have heard, and what my job as a critic is to tell you, is how the book actually is. Because let’s face it: this book is a historical footnote if nothing else and will probably make Marvel a ton of money on the first issue alone. But all of the above is totally meaningless to me: all I care about is how good the story and art are.

Now those of you who read the Starry Awards in “Looking To The Stars” a few weeks back probably recall that I’m not too big a fan of Ron Zimmerman. In fact, I closed the awards with a tearful plea to Joe Quesada to please stop publishing anything that the Z-Man had penned. You might imagine then, that Unca Stars went into this book with a certain amount of dread.

Give yourself a no-prize on that guess, buckaroo. Cause the writing on this book stinks like a two-day-old cow pie. In fact, I think the wrong organizations are protesting the release of this book and I can only assume that nobody at GLAAD actually read this before they spoke about how great it was to see more homosexual characters being represented in mainstream comics.

Why? Well, the anachronistic dialogue sticks out like a sore thumb, along with various other minor anachronisms. The Rawhide Kid’s sleeping attire, for example. I don’t think they had bikini briefs for men back in the Wild West days.

Then there’s the just plain creepy-crawliness of some scenes… like the scene with The Kid doing a semi-suggestive “can’t see anything” faux strip act with his robe at a group of young boys that must have Dr. Wertham of “Seduction of the Innocent” fame saying “See! See! I was right”, in his seat next to Joe McCarthy in Censors’ Hell.

No, what really sticks in my craw about this comic is that… well, it’s the same thing that makes me avoid watching Will and Grace. This book doesn’t shatter the stereotypes of the macho male main character. It reinforces all the stereotypes of the gay male character.

Reference is made to The Kid’s fine dress sense and accessorizing skills on three separate occasions. The aforementioned crowd of boys start asking him about how he compares to other famous gunmen and The Kid talks about how much he’d love to meet the Lone Ranger and how much he loves his outfit and can “see why that Indian follows him around.” And the dialogue… I can’t bring myself to quote any more of the “Oh fabulous!” dialogue that makes up most of The Kid’s speech.

The real shame of the book though is that John Severin’s artwork is gorgeous and really does a good job of conveying character and scenery. Would that the story and concept could match it in quality. In fact, the only comparison I can make between the two is to ask you to imagine an episode of Robert Smigel’s “The Ambiguously Gay Duo” as painted by Alex Ross.

Personally, I think the best we can hope is that in thirty years, this comic will be viewed like the old Power Man comics featuring jive-talking bad-ass Luke Cage: Offensively stereotypical today, but a big step forward from what had come before.

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