Oh, You Kids With Your Guns and Sidekicks and Commitment Issues

21 Comic-Book Western Heroes That Probably Regretted Their “Kid” Monikers in Their Later Years

twogun-kid
1. The Two-Gun Kid

Ah, those Western comics of yesteryear. They could generally be lumped into one of two categories: those that were based on the adventures of existing Western stars (Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, Hopalong Cassidy, etc.), and those starring original characters. Dell and Fawcett signed up as many of the movie and TV cowboys as they could, leaving the other publishers to either ante up for the rights to the C-list movie stars or create their own heroes. Marvel/Atlas, infamous for its parsimony, chose the latter route. The eponymous star of Marvel’s first Western comic (debuted March 1948), the Two-Gun Kid was the name given to gunslinger Clay Harder. Like many goodhearted but misunderstood cowpokes of the day, he was wrongly accused of murder and spent his days helping folks wherever he went, with only his horse, Cyclone, and his trusty guitar as his company. Pretty standard stuff for the genre, really, but anyone familiar with Marvel knows that’s not the end of it — in subsequent years, Harder was retconned into a fictional dime-novel character that inspired the adventures of the second Two-Gun Kid, lawyer Matthew Hawk (first app: Two-Gun Kid #60, 11/62), to head out West and fight for justice as  a masked gunslinger. Hawk’s the one, by the way, who would go on to join the Avengers in their crazy time-traveling adventures — and it’s fair to say Harder would have been totally okay with that.

rawhide-kid
2. The Rawhide Kid

Another reason Marvel is one of the dominant names in the comics biz today? Back in the early years, when such concepts as “quality control” or “restraint” were rarely considered, publisher Martin Goodman routinely ordered his people to flood the market with whatever genre was selling the most — and as soon as sales sagged in that category, they moved on to the next big thing.  When the Comics Code Authority came into force and everyone’s crime and horror genres disappeared overnight, Marvel tried to fill the void with Western titles — surely, no one could find fault with upstanding stories of frontier justice and rugged he-men (as long as no one shot to kill, of course). First appearing in his self-titled book (cover date March 1955), the Rawhide Kid was yet another wandering gunslinger in a time when they were a dime a dozen, and his book disappeared after 16 issues. His second series was slightly more successful, lasting about 150 issues and ending in May 1979, making it the last of Marvel’s Western titles to fold. And that would have been a fine way to cap his career… except Marvel had other ideas for the character, relaunching Rawhide Kid under its mature-readers imprint in 2003. Why mature readers? Because he was now, you know, a certain way, and God forbid the kiddies ever figure out what “way” he was (psst: he was gay). And even though nothing in the series even remotely resembled one of the more tender scenes from Brokeback Mountain — heck, no one even uses the word “gay” in the story — apparently a cowboy offering bitchy fashion advice and making lame double entendres about fast guns and sleeping alone was enough to earn a superpluslarge “Parental Advisory: Explicit Content” graphic on the cover. Kinda sad, really, but unsurprising in a culture that was apparently having trouble dealing with the raw sexuality of Will & Grace.

ringo-kid
3. The Ringo Kid

By 1954, America was going wild for Westerns, with every apple-cheeked boy sporting spurs and a pair of toy six-shooters advertised with such selling points as “looks and sounds just like a real gun!” (innocent times). The Ringo Kid was the first of a trio of Marvel cowboys to debut in their own titles in 1954, and he was different in that he was the son of a white man and a Comanche woman. No surprise, his mixed heritage made him an outcast among most men — well, that and the fact he was also on the run from the law, but in the truest tradition of the comic-book cowboy he was a wanted man who tried to prove his innocence by roaming the countryside in search of folks needing the kind of help that only an honest gunslinger can provide. Maybe that’s just how the criminal justice system worked back then. He was accompanied by his Comanche sidekick and blood brother, Dull Knife, and a horse named Arab. His was also, if we can believe cover blurbs, the “name that makes killers tremble!” Which sounds really cool until you remember this is the 19th century, when dentistry had the power to make people tremble.

outlaw-kid
4. The Outlaw Kid

The Outlaw Kid arrived about a month after the Ringo Kid. Like the Lone Ranger (who was wildly popular at the time thanks to his radio and TV series), he was a masked avenger; unlike that other masked man, the Outlaw Kid had a civilian identity that kept him from roaming too far from his hometown of Caliber City. Lawyer and Civil War veteran Lance Temple lived with his blind father on a ranch. While he promised his father he would never shoot a gun, he succumbed to the allure of frontier justice and created a masked identity for those times when he had to get more judicial on someone’s ass. The Outlaw Kid enjoyed a short pre-Sputnik career and made a triumphant (if brief) return in the early ’70s when his original stories were reprinted for a new generation. The Internet also tells me that the mutant Outlaw of Agency X is a direct descendent of the Outlaw Kid, and I have no reason to doubt this — or reason to care, if I’m being honest.

western-kid
5. The Western Kid

At this point, you start to wonder if all the really good cowboy names were already taken. A quick inventory: Marvel character? Check. Debuted in mid-1950s? Check. Clean-cut look? Check. Suitably Western-sounding birth name? Check (Tex Dawson). Noble steed? Check (Whirlwind, “the savage stallion!”). Faithful companion? Check (Lightning, “the miracle dog!”). Propensity for wandering the range in search of damsels in distress and other good deeds requiring a certain amount of manly ruggedness? That’s a definite check. Distinguishing characteristics included a propensity for yellow shirts, chattering away to his animal companions, no apparent motive for his inability to stay one place, the respect of all law enforcement officials he encountered and the love and adoration of children everywhere. Born in ’54, gone by ’57, revived in reprints during the early ’70s, and pretty much forgotten today.

texas-kid
6. The Texas Kid

And how do we know “Lance Temple” is the rootin’-est, tootin’-est, manliest name ever created? Because it’s the real name of both the Outlaw Kid and the Texas Kid. No, for real. Either Stan Lee really liked the sound of that name, or he was seriously overworked at the time and not paying close attention to little details like which names he was giving to the Western characters in his books (I’m leaning toward the latter). Not only that, but like the Outlaw Kid, the Texas Kid also created a masked identity to avoid disappointing a blind father who begged him not to seek revenge on the man who killed his mother. But frontier justice is a tempting mistress, and the elder man’s best friends, Red Hawk and Emilio, secretly trained the young lad in the ways of hunting, fighting and gunslinging to help him find his mother’s killer and carry out his neverending fight for justice. Coolest. Dad’s friends. Ever.

apache-kid
7. The Apache Kid

With some exceptions, Western heroes didn’t usually go in for the whole secret identity thing, and fewer still created elaborate ruses to hide their true identities. Fewer still spent a lot of time getting to know the Native Americans that shared the West with the white man. The Apache Kid was different, in that he was a white man who posed as a Native American when he sprang into action. Born Alan Krandal, he was orphaned as a child and adopted by Red Hawk, an Apache, and he only rejoined white society when he became an adult. But he switched into his Apache Kid gear to fight outlaws from both cultures, and it especially came in handy when he had to pursue foes on native-controlled lands.  Unlike most other Western titles of the time, Apache Kid generally treated Native American culture with respect, and made the effort to differentiate between the different indigenous tribes. The Apache Kid had a half-decent run in the 1950s and came back with most other Marvel Western stars in the ’70s, by way of some reprint titles… and then almost nothing was seen of him until 2002, when the Apache Skies mini-series killed him off and established his half-native daughter as the new Apache Kid. Wait, girls can do that now?

wyoming-kid
8. The Wyoming Kid

While Marvel/Timely/Atlas preferred to flood the market with Western titles when cowboys were king, DC opted to turn some of its moribund superhero titles into Western anthologies: All-Star Western, All-American Western, etc. Not that they were against brand-new Western comics; witness Western Comics, the not-so-imaginatively named series that debuted around the time as the Two-Gun Kid’s first title. The Wyoming Kid was one of the book’s regular characters, and he bucked the trend by not being on the run from the law. No, Bill Polk’s father, a sheep farmer, was murdered by a man named Hoke Claggett, who took off for parts unknown. Polk then wandered the West, working as a ranch hand, rodeo player, army scout or whatever other jobs he could find, always on the lookout for Claggett. He found him in an issue of World’s Finest Comics in 1949, but by that time he must have gotten used to the wandering do-gooder lifestyle, because he kept right on ridin’ the range and rightin’ wrongs all over the place. Good for him.

kid-colt
9. Kid Colt, Outlaw

Debuting shortly after the Two-Gun Kid, Kid Colt — and yes, his real name was “Blaine Colt” — enjoyed the longest run for an American comic-book cowboy, with stories starring him appearing from 1948 to 1979 (though most stories after 1966 were reprints). Riding a mighty steed named Steel, Kid Colt was originally billed as “Hero of the West” but by his third issue he was branded an “Outlaw” and stayed as such for the rest of his career. But fear not, overreacting parents of impressionable kiddies — like so many other Western heroes, he was an innocent man on the run, a Robin Hood of the range wrongly accused of a crime he didn’t commit. Well, he did kill his father’s murderer in a gun battle fair and square; t’ain’t his fault the law saw it differently. With no other choice before him, he went on the lam and lived the life of an honest fugitive, engaging in various heroic deeds wherever he went. He was among the few Western heroes to collect a rogues’ gallery of recurring villains, including the Iron Mask, an armor-wearing bandit who somehow decided that wearing sheet metal in desert climes was a wise vocational choice.

kid-montana
10. Kid Montana

Kid Montana roamed the northern range, protecting honest settlers from the dangers of the West and foiling the plots of varmints, rascals, desperadoes, claim jumpers, cattle rustlers and other typical Western bad guys. When he wasn’t killing grizzly bears with his bare hands, of course. He also occasionally came into conflict with the fierce Sioux nation in typical 1950s cowboys-vs.-Indians style. Kid Montana took over the numbering of Davy Crockett in 1957 when the popularity of the latter title’s main character was on the wane, and Kid Montana managed to hang in there until 1965, when the book was renamed Gunfighters. His adventures were published by Charlton,  a second-rate publisher that was never known for maintaining high production standards, but Kid Montana managed to stand up against the best Western titles of the day. Whether that’s a compliment or not is entirely up to you.

oklahoma-kid
11. The Oklahoma Kid

The Oklahoma Kid didn’t enjoy a long career — as far as I can tell, he  appeared in exactly four issues of his own series, which was published by Ajax-Farrell between 1957 and 1958. And you have to wonder if they were even serious about making him the star of the book; in his very first issue, three of the four stories star Lone Feather, the Kid’s Native American trusted friend, as he rallies his people against one injustice or another (the way they dealt with those fence-buildin’ water-hoarders was especially clever). On top of that, the one-page history lesson delved into revealing Pocahontas’s real name. Perhaps the publishers wanted to publish a book that counteracted all the stereotypical stories about Native Americans at the time, but they stuck Oklahoma Kid on the marquee as a way of drawing in the kiddies. Alas, we’ll probably never know. At least the Kid saw action in “Showdown!”, which had him on the trail of “a desperate man who took all kinds of chances because he had nothing left to lose, as he had branded himself with the ugly sin of dishonor!” Not literally branded, one hopes, but you can never tell with those tough he-man cowboy types.

colorado-kid
12-13. The Colorado Kid
/Kid Dynamite
Distributed by British publisher L. Miller & Son between 1954 and 1959, The Colorado Kid was a black-and-white series that lasted 35 issues. And that is literally all the information I can find about this almost-forgotten series from across the pond. I don’t know much about the character himself, but if I go by this one cover I was able to dig up, the Colorado Kid apparently had a fondness for gingham and a hearty dislike of train robbers. Lambiek.net notes that British artist John Wheeler worked on both this series and Kid Dynamite (1954-60), starring the unnamed “Gunslinging Marshal of the Old West” who defended life and property with the help of his faithful horse, Lightning.

arizona-kid
14. The Ariz
ona Kid
“Hmm, let’s see. There’s already a Wyoming Kid, a Texas Kid, an Oklahoma Kid, a Kid Montana, a Colorado Kid… Kid Oregon? Kid Idaho? Kid South Dakota? Kid Nebraska? Nah… I know! We’ll call the next one the Arizona Kid. Write it up this weekend and we’ll send it out with the next shipment of Millie the Model and Tessie the Typist.” Debuting in 1951, The Arizona Kid only lasted six issues, probably because readers couldn’t figure out why the Arizona Kid was running around with the Texas Rangers — or more likely because he was just another gunslinging lawman with very little to distinguish him from the rest of the square-jawed bunch. In any event, the “Kid” appellation is appropriate, as Davy Laramee was only 17 years old when he rescued Capt. Macklin from outlaws and earned himself a place in the legendary Texas Rangers.

kid-slade
15. Kid Slade,
Gunfighter
One year after Rawhide Kid, Atlas followed up with Kid Slade, Gunfighter, yet another incarnation of that durable Western staple, the lone rider of the plains. After he outwitted, outgunned or outrode any number of opponents, he would inevitably be asked to stay at the ranch by some beseeching young maiden he had just rescued, to which he’d invariably say, “I’d like to stay, ma’am… but I’m too restless to stay in one place for very long!” He never quite caught on despite some great Al Williamson artwork, and he was gone by 1957. And really, when he was forced to spout Code-approved lines like “Anything’s possible to a man with courage and belief with himself,” it was probably for the best.

cheyenne-kid
16. The Cheyenne Kid

After many comic publishers left the field in the mid-1950s, Charlton scooped up several defunct Western titles and added a few of their own, like The Cheyenne Kid.  Continuing the numbering of Wild Frontier, The Cheyenne Kid starred… well, the Cheyenne Kid, who was so named because he grew up among the Cheyenne Indians. This upbringing came in handy when he became an Indian scout in the service of Colonel MacKenzie, commander of the fort at Sour Springs. In this role, his main duties involved keeping the peace among the native tribes by dealing with their grievances or thwarting plots forever being hatched by greedy gunrunners and other troublemakers. The book was popular enough to last into the 1970s;  among the many artists that contributed their talents were John Severin, Al Williamson and Angelo Torres.

kid-cowboy
17. Kid Cowb
oy
How novel! A cowboy named “kid” who was actually a kid! Imagine that! There have been a handful of Western comic series that featured younger heroes — Jack Kirby’s Boy’s Ranch comes to mind — for reasons that should be obvious. But for equally obvious reasons, those other series tended to feature boys who were under the protective wing of one grown-up gunslinger or another. Not so Ziff-Davis’s Kid Cowboy, the “boy marvel of the Wild West!” Running from 1950 to 1952, Kid Cowboy starred Randy Dix, a teenage cowpoke who, together with sidekick Red Feather, found himself in one wild predicament after another, from playing detective after a stagecoach robbery to racing a horse so that he can raise enough prize money to save old Charlie Collins’s ranch. On top of all that, he had plenty of chores to do at his father’s Circle D Ranch so, you know, he kept himself busy. You modern-day youngsters should take note.


18-21. The Kid from Dodge City/The Kid from Texas/The Silver Kid/The Fargo Kid

What, you say, no room on the list for the Cisco Kid, or Billy the Kid, or the Durango Kid, or the Sundance Kid? No, because this list is focusing on the “kid” cowboys that first appeared in a comic book. And believe me, even without adding those famous names to the list, there are a lot of kids to choose from. Thing is, once you cycle through the bigger players in the category, the rest of the cowboys are supremely interchangeable, with only their names and choice of sidekicks to tell them apart. So, without further ado: Kid From Dodge City, an Atlas title that lasted only two issues in 1957 because it had the misfortune of appearing right about the time that Atlas/Marvel was forced to drastically cut back its lineup in order to sign up with a new distributor; The Kid from Texas, another Atlas/Marvel title that suffered the same fate; The Silver Kid, a five-issue series by Key Publications that promised “Gunslingers! Lawmen! Outlaws! Marshals!” on the front of every issue and starred a gunslinger whose streak of silver hair stretched the definition of “kid,” to say the least; and the Fargo Kid,  a three-issue, Code-approved series from Prize Comics that starred a cowboy who either hailed from the Peace Garden State or patrolled the North Dakota prairies (well, Fargo is west of somewhere, I suppose). None of these late-1950s series, or many of the other Western series of the time, are particularly memorable today, in large part because the Comics Code effectively neutered the Western genre; with cowboys forbidden from using violence or shooting to kill or maim, they had to resort to shooting guns out of hands or shooting the ropes of chandeliers to corral the bad guys. Plus anyone familiar with Toy Story knows what happened when Sputnik went up and all the kids suddenly went crazy for space toys. Most cowboys, kid or otherwise, took the hint after that and took one final ride off into the sunset.

 

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