Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Kid vs. Kid

Kid Colt Outlaw #121 (March 1965) reminds us that there's an awful lot of Kids in the Old West.

Remember that Kid Colt and Rawhide Kid were both wanted men. Neither was actually bad guys--but circumstances early in the respective careers left them both with prices on their heads.

That makes their first meeting an interesting one. Each knows that he's really a good guy, but has no way of know the other one isn't a bad guy. So they have no reason to trust each other.

The story begins when Colt is outsmarted and captured by veteran marshal Sam Hawk. Not long after tossing Colt into the clink, Rawhide arrives, bringing a warning that the nearby town of Silvertown has been taken over by outlaws.

But someone recognizes Rawhide. Sam Hawk arrests him, then decides to scout out Silvertown alone so that no one else will be endangered if Rawhide's warning is some sort of trick.

Colt breaks out of jail, leaving Rawhide behind--remember that he thinks the other Kid is a real outlaw. But Rawhide uses the confusion of Colt's escape to pull of an escape of his own. Knowing he needs help to save Silvertown and Sam Hawk, Rawhide follows Colt in hopes of enlisting his aid.

It's here that the story breaks down a little. I grant that Rawhide thought Colt was a bad guy. But, in
order to follow the tradition of two comic book heroes fighting prior to teaming up, Rawhide decides the best way to make friends with Colt is to immediately jump him and try to beat the tar out of him.

Artist Jack Keller gives us a perfectly fine 1-page fight scene, but in terms of storytelling, the incident is simply too contrived to be effective.

Adding to the story's woes is that Colt and Rawhide really don't have distinctive personalities--at least when compared to each other. Consequently, there isn't much other than their clothing and hair color to make them stand out from one another. Both have identical motivations and identical speech patterns that make use of the words "hombre" and "owlhoots" a bit too often.

I'm not knocking the characters--taken on their own, both Kid Colt and Rawhide Kid gave us wonderfully entertaining stories. But I don't think Stan Lee ever succeeded in making them distinctive individuals to the degree he did so with Marvel's superheroes. Of course, by the 1960s, superhero books were the big sellers, while Westerns were on the verge of fading into the cultural sunset. Perhaps Stan simply put more effort into the superhero books.

But once the two Kids get together, the story picks up again. Sam Hawk has been captured by the outlaws in Silvertown. The villains are led by Iron Mask, a re-occurring character who wears bullet-proof iron plating. The two Kids charge into town just in time to prevent Hawk's murder, but the three are soon pinned down and running low on ammunition.

Rawhide Kid saves the day by luring Iron Mask down an ally and getting him to drop into an abandoned well. When you wear iron plating, it's not a good idea to go swimming.

The action sequences, most notably Kid Colt's encounter with the posse at the beginning and the climatic battle against Iron Mask and his gang, are quite good, with Keller's art definitely reminding one of Jack Kirby. This story does highlight the lack of distinctive characterization among Marvel's Western heroes of the day, but all the same, it's a fun read.

Next week, we'll get a reminder that real heroes do math in their heads.

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