Wednesday, March 26, 2014

How Many Kids Can Fit into the Old West?

With a few exceptions, it seems you aren't allowed to be a Western gunslinger in the Marvel Universe unless you use a nick-name that includes the world "Kid" in it.  There was the Rawhide Kid, who wandered about the West fighting evil despite his reputation as a ruthless fast-draw. There were Kid Colt and the Outlaw Kid, both of whom were also wanderers around the Old West.

Just about all of these characters had an older mentor who taught them how to defend themselves. I've always imagined a scene in one of them was deciding his nick-name and the mentor had to explain the word "Kid" had to be included. "It just does, okay? Don't ask why. The first rule of picking a Wild West nick-name is to never talk about the rules of picking Wild West nick-names."

Two-Gun Kid, unlike the other homeless Kids, generally stayed around the town of Tombstone. He was in reality a lawyer named Matt Hawk. A retired lawman had trained Matt how to fight (with both guns and fists), then urged his protege to assume a secret identity. That way, he could live in peace as Matt Hawk without an endless series of young punks calling him out to make their reputations.

Cover art by Jack Kirby

In Two-Gun Kid #69 (May 1964), he's called on to use his fists more than his guns. A giant of a man--appropriately named Goliath--comes to Tombstone and tears up the saloon just to show off his strength. The sheriff locks him up, but he merely rips the bars out of the cell window and gets away. After beating up
Matt's large friend Boom-Boom Brown and tossing Two-Gun Kid around, Goliath flees the town.

Hoping to avoid any killing, the Kid tells the sheriff that he'll pursue Goliath alone. This proves to be a bad idea when Goliath nearly knocks him off a cliff. While the Kid is delayed by this, Goliath rides back into town and says he's taking over.

There's a bit of poor storytelling here--the sheriff is no longer in town, having ridden off to another county.
That pretty much means that within minutes after Two-Gun Kid galloped out of town in pursuit of Goliath, the sheriff must have shrugged his shoulder, washed his hands of the whole business, then rode out of town so fast that there was no chance of anyone catching up with him to bring him back--even though no more than an hour or two could possibly have elapsed since Goliath escaped.

This might have worked if the sheriff had been portrayed as cowardly or incompetent, but he was supposed to be a stalwart good guy. Stan Lee needed to get the sheriff out of the way so Two-Gun Kid could do all the heroic stuff, but this led to a awkward bit of story construction. Oh, well, perhaps the sheriff was just having an off-day. Or perhaps someone brought word of another emergency that needed to be dealt with.

Anyway, the Kid gets back into town, gets into another fight with Goliath and this time uses his agility to avoid getting hit while he himself lands a number of good punches. The fight starts on the street, but moves into a building, where a falling lantern starts a fire. The Kid ends up having to save Goliath, but not before injuries from the flames leave the bully blinded for life.

Endings in which the hero risks himself to save the villain's life never seem corny or contrived to me--they simply reflect the actions of good men who understand the difference between right and wrong. I never get tired of it.

In terms of storytelling, there is that awkward moment mentioned above and another strange moment when the Kid first pursues Goliath out of town. Despite having changed into his Kid identity just a few minutes before, his horse is saddled and ready to go. Does he have a "Two-Gun Cave" in town, with a butler who keeps his horse ready for instant action?

But despite these contrivances, Stan Lee and artist Dick Ayers tell a fun tale punctuated by several nifty fist fights. Ayers' design of Goliath is an effective one--giving him a look that defines the character as much as his actions do.

But I can't help but wonder if Matt Hawk originally objected to the name Two-Gun Kid. "I'm a grown man, for pete's sake! I've been to law school!" "It doesn't matter, Matt. You gotta include Kid in there somewhere. You just gotta!"

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