Legendary Western Hero Comes 'Out'

But not everyone thinks the new Rawhide Kid is a laughing matter. Some parents and conservative groups are mortified that Marvel Comics would promote a gay character. They complain that its writers are sending the wrong message to children.

"It is an assault on children because it is sending them the message that homosexuality is an acceptable, normal lifestyle," said Robert Knight, director of Concerned Women for America's Culture and Family Institute. "It is also a perversion of Westerns. All Western heroes have been portrayed as straight shooters — and that just doesn't mean hitting a target with a gun. It's a matter of character."

But Marvel says the Rawhide Kid series is not intended for young readers. The comic book is written by Ron Zimmerman, who has penned episodes of The Howard Stern Show and other TV shows, and will be published under MAX, Marvel's adult reader label.

"That's a fig leaf if I've ever heard one," said Knight. "Comic books are read by children, and everyone knows that they [adult-labeled books] can be found with the rest of the variety on the rack, side by side with the others. Marvel knows full well that many kids will get ahold of the Rawhide Kid, regardless of how it's labeled. A good deal of pornography falls in the hands of children.

"Why is Marvel glorifying homosexuality when it has taken so many lives and played a role in so many sexually transmitted diseases?" Knight asked.

The ‘Anti-Hero’ Revolution

Some say the criticism of the Rawhide Kid comes from those who do not understand the comic book industry and who may have their own agendas. And contrary to popular belief, more adults seem to be found in comic book shops than children.

"What children do you find in comic shops anyway?" asked David Jay Gabriel, executive director of the New York City Comic Book Museum. "For those mothers who say they're not going to allow their kids to read the Rawhide Kid, I say you're right. You shouldn't allow your children to read it because it's not meant for kids. That's why Marvel has published it under its MAX title. It's the parents' job to monitor what their children are reading."

The emergence of gay characters like the Rawhide Kid is an extension of the anti-hero revolution that began in the 1960s. Against the backdrop of the the Vietnam War, the civil rights movement and the assassinations of leaders such as John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr., these heroes reflected a humbled nation stripped of its innocence. They were no longer godlike, did not wear white cowboy hats, and faced the same contemporary issues and everyday problems as their real-life readers.

It went beyond Spider-Man wondering how he was going to pay his rent. The conflict between Professor Xavier and Magneto in the Uncanny X-Men over whether mutants should protect or conquer the humans who feared and ostracized them was an allegory for the civil rights movement and the dispute between Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. Green Lantern confronted hate crime, and Image Comics' Shadowhawk died of AIDS in 1995.

Even hookers are becoming heroes. Last November, Image presented a one-shot comic book called The Pro, a comedy that chronicles the adventures of a fouled-mouthed prostitute/single mother who is suddenly granted superhuman powers.

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