Legendary Western Hero Comes 'Out'

The comic pokes fun at heroes, making references to normal indignities such as the wedgies even they must feel while working in their tight costumes. The Pro doesn't always use her powers for the good of all mankind — at one point she uses them to increase her "business." She is even shown giving one fellow hero oral sex in gratitude for saving her baby.

Still, The Pro's debut caused little buzz in the mainstream press. Maybe it's because 10-year-old Image is not as famous as its much older forefathers, Marvel and D.C. Comics. Or maybe a prostitute is a more "acceptable" anti-hero than a gay cowboy.

"More gay characters are being seen on TV, in motion pictures," said Inge. "But, with the current political climate — various conservative and religious groups out there who are resistant to change fuel a certain homophobia with their old-fashioned ideas about homosexuality — you could say it's not a good climate for the Rawhide Kid."

Fantasy Rooted in Reality

The Rawhide Kid's sexuality is not the main theme of the issue that hits stands today. It is only the backdrop to a story about how a town deals with adversity when outlaws invade — and how a father tries to win back his son's confidence after he is embarrassed in front of him. Rawhide writer Zimmerman only hints at the Kid's homosexuality with the hero's apparent — and stereotypical — effeminate mannerisms, love of style and neatness, abhorrence of violence and slight crush on Wild Bill Hickcock.

But could the stereotypical images and humor do more harm to gays? Quesada says Marvel's writers and editors were mindful of this when they resurrected the Rawhide Kid.

"We were concerned about what we were going to present and whether we would be presenting it the wrong way, which is why we presented Rawhide to gay writers in the comic book community," said Quesada. "No one here is making fun of or laughing at gays. If you're a fan of Will & Grace, which uses images that some may interpret as pushing a certain image, you should like the book. And people like Will & Grace. No one complains about the show."

Arguably, Marvel could be using Rawhide Kid to profit off the mere word "gay" and the fear and buzz it can stir. Sometimes, there is no such thing as bad publicity.

"Whether it's the Marvel publicity machine or not, it's good that it's out there," said Gabriel. "Marvel has always infused reality into their books. Some didn't like it when they had a building explode in one of their books [in an apparent reference to 9/11]. Too bad, it's out there. Gays are out there."

Whether Rawhide Kid flies off the shelves or not, Marvel says no one should necessarily expect a whole new rash of gay characters. On the other hand, it won't be dodging controversial issues either.

"We don't have [an imaginary] city like Metropolis and Gotham. What affects New York, what affects our readers, also affects our characters," said Quesada. "The day Marvel stops dealing with reality, relevant issues, is the day we go out of business."

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