Queer as Folk
Years ago, superheroes weren’t the only game in town. Pirates, cowboys, monsters, lovers, and gangsters all made the rounds as popular comic book characters. But with the advent of the Comics Code Authority and increased public scrutiny of the content of “funny books”, these other styles eventually fell by the wayside. Fans have always fondly remembered them, however. So, when Marvel announced the return of on of the most popular Western heroes of yesteryear, Rawhide Kid, why wasn’t there more excitement from fans?
Oh, that’s right. He’s gay.
With the news that the new series would take a tongue-in-cheek look at the Western genre and that the Kid would be coming out of the closet, fans reacted in a number of ways. Some were outraged that Marvel would disrespect a classic character by using him in a cheap publicity stunt. Others just thought it sounded like a bad story idea period. A few adopted a wait-and-see attitude, giving Marvel the benefit of the doubt and deciding to read the book before judging it. And, as always, some people just didn’t care.
For better or for worse, the comic book community is pretty much fixed and insular. Comics cater to a mostly male audience. The industry doesn’t attract many new readers, and usually the people who read comics today are the same people who’ve been reading for years.
Anything that attracts a hardcore and mostly male audience, be it comics, sports, or Star Trek, doesn’t react well to change. Sexuality is one of those very touchy subjects that are very personal. While this writer can’t presume to know the inner thoughts of every comic fan out there, surely many people felt threatened by the Kid’s “alternative lifestyle”. Maybe they really meant it when they said it was disrespectful to the character’s legacy, but maybe (read: probably) it just made them uncomfortable. If Captain Picard revealed his secret love for Riker, more than a few feathers would be ruffled at the next Star Trek convention. And Dennis Rodman made more headlines, and angry people, with his gender-bending public personality than for anything he ever did on the court.
Regardless of fans’ reactions, they were taking notice, and that was most certainly Marvel’s goal. It was attention they wanted, and attention they got, and the mainstream media picked up on it quickly. Any publicity is good publicity, as they say. On CNN’s Crossfire Andrea Lafferty of the Traditional Values Coalition squared off against Stan Lee to debate the issue. The debate basically came down to “Comics are for kids, and you shouldn’t expose them to such horrible things as homosexuality” versus “Well, this is just a story.” Of course, the debate somewhat ignored the fact that the book is published by Marvel’s adult-only imprint MAX, and features large parental advisory labels on the cover. (But the debate on whether comics are for adults or kids is another story altogether . . .)
And isn’t the hype a bit much anyway? It is loudly proclaimed as the first gay title character in a mainstream comic. Is that such a big deal? The wildly popular The Authority featured two very prominent gay superheroes, Apollo and the Midnighter. And Alan Moore’s legendary Miracleman comic featured a gay hero roughly 20 years ago. Television shows like Six Feet Under, OZ, and Queer as Folk bring homosexual characters to the forefront, and they have mainstream popularity. Are comics just behind the times?
Well, controversy and hype aside, what about the book? Written by Ron Zimmerman, Rawhide Kid doesn’t try to hide its conceit. From the opening pages, it is clear that the writer is taking an irreverent look at the Western genre. And The Kid’s sexuality is anything but subtle. His speech, demeanor, and fashion are exactly what one thinks of as stereotypically gay. The jokes come quickly, but most just fall flat. It has a few entertaining moments, but they are almost lost in a sea of dull jokes. The characters all talk in an overly self-aware, anachronistic style which makes it clear that Zimmerman is too aware that he’s writing a comedy. Rather than let the humor happen, he shoves it in the reader’s face, and it just doesn’t work for the most part.
The series does have its good points, though. Marvel managed to wrangle John Severin, artist from the original series, for the art chores here. The result is a classic Western look that really adds to the authenticity of the book. And while Zimmerman won’t be getting any high praise from the gay community for advancement of mainstream acceptance of homosexuality, he does shatter one stereotype quite brutally. In most film, television, and literature, gay characters are usually victims of prejudice and/or violence. The Rawhide Kid is anything but a victim. He may be fancy, but he can kick butt with the best of them.
So, what is Rawhide Kid? It is a publicity stunt that certainly garnered some attention, but probably didn’t garner many new readers. It is a comedy that isn’t really funny. And finally, The Kid is a pretty stereotypical gay character who wears chaps. He’s no John Wayne, and he’s no Clint Eastwood. He’s a gunslinger, a brawler, and a damn snappy dresser.