Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Sampling Two-Gun Kid 60

It's time for another look at some of a long running series that is are unrepresented in the Essentials.

As with many of Marvel's non-superhero titles, Two-Gun Kid hasn't had many reprints in the modern age. Things were different in the 1960s and 1970s when Marvel's Western titles carried many reprints and some stories were printed more than twice. But in more recent years the issue that's had the best reprint is issue #60, with all three stories reprinted in issue #15 of the Marvel Milestones series in 2006. Individual stories from the issue have popped up in Marvel Visionaries: Jack Kirby volume 2, which does as it says on the tin, and Gunslingers #1, a reprint one-shot from 2000 that contained several Marvel Western stories.

Two-Gun Kid #60 contains three stories, all scripted by Stan Lee. The two featuring the Kid are drawn by Jack Kirby and the non-Kid tale is drawn by Don Heck. Issue #60 was in fact the launch of the third incarnation of the title and the second character to hold the name. The original Two-Gun Kid was the first big name Marvel Western hero, though at a glance the outlaw Clay Harder in a dark suit is more the forerunner of the second Rawhide Kid than of the second Two-Gun Kid. The title was launched in 1948 and lasted ten issues with the character carrying on elsewhere and then regaining his own title in 1953, resuming the numbering from issue #11. The series lasted until early 1961. Then in late 1962 it was revived but with a completely new character in the title role.

The original character is briefly acknowledged here when Matt Hawk adopts the name, stating "Back east I remember reading about a fictitious gun-fighter named the Two Gun-Kid! I don't know what ever happened to him, but I think I'll borrow the name!" It's a rare case of Marvel explicitly retconning away a character in order to introduce a successor, and doing so in much the same way that DC retconned away the original Flash. The original Two-Gun Kid would later suffer the further indignity of having some of his adventures modified and reprinted as tales of his successor. Of course it should be fairly easy to reinstate him in continuity by simply establishing the stories Matt Hawk as having actually been accounts of a true character. But for all the claims that Marvel has traditionally not gone in for the kind of reboots associated with DC, this stands as evidence that they too have explicitly swept away continuity and characters when needs be.

As for the issue itself, the two stories quickly establish the set-up with some concepts that pop up again in other Silver Age titles. The main character is a young lawyer called Matt, who gets picked on by bullies from the very start of the story, whose main guiding force is a father figure called Ben. The hero is attracted to a young professional woman but she dislikes his costumed identity because of the circumstances of her brother's death. You can see elements that would be reused for both Spider-Man and Daredevil, but also the Rawhide Kid learnt his skills from a father figure called Ben (and that very issue is included in the Marvel Milestones reprint). Matt Hawk is truly an outsider, a lawyer from the eastern United States who has arrived in the small town of Tombstone in Texas and finds a lawless environment where few need his legal skills. He also quickly learns he needs to handle a gun and is trained in all the skills by Ben Dancer in just eight panels. Captions tells us this took months but Matt's relations with the Carter family have barely changed in the interim. As protection Matt adopts a costumed identity and accepts a horse called Thunder. He soon takes down a gang of robbers and demonstrates his incredible shooting skills. However he lets one robber go as Clem Carter is the stepbrother of Nancy, the local school teacher whom Matt is fond of and doesn't want to give any heartbreak.

This initial thirteen page story seems to have set up all the basics of the hero, his skills, his horse, his romantic interest and a potentially recurring foe that he can't bring himself to dispose of. However in the second story Clem and another gang steal some money, only for Clem to die in an argument about how to share it out. But when Matt returns to town he finds the townsfolk believe the Two-Gun Kid was the killer and Nancy hates him for it. Matt is scared to break her heart again with the truth about either his identity or her brother. It provides a point for ongoing tension that merely fighting her brother wouldn't, but it feels a rather sudden development when there was potential to expand the enmity first.

The middle story is a non-Kid tale of the West, telling of a tribe of Native Americans being driven to a war they can't win by an ambitious medicine man whilst the chief's son counsels peace and is exiled for it. It's a nice little piece focusing on the futility of conflict, the ambitions of the hawk and the true bravery of the dove in resisting calls for war. It may contain some of the old stereotypes but in the space available it manages to present the Navajo tribe as sophisticated and complex rather than a bunch of unthinking savages.

Overall the Two-Gun Kid represents an interesting of the Western and costumed hero genres. It is no coincidence that this approach was launched in the same period as the ongoing Thor, Ant-Man and solo Human Torch strips and the first attempt at Spider-Man. This issue isn't the most sophisticated of stories but then quite a few heroes' first issues aren't that spectacular. It would certainly be interesting to see more of the series to show how it developed.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...