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 Saturday, 21 December, 2002, 07:54 GMT
Rawhide comes out of the closet
Marvel Comics gay Rawhide Kid
The new gay character will be portaryed with humour
Marvel is breaking the mould of traditional macho comic characters by introducing to its pages the first gay cowboy.

In the world of comics, more and more characters are announcing they are gay but few of them make much of an impression and none have a lead role.

Step forward the Rawhide Kid.

The fastest gun in the west with a sense of style and some killer one liners is the latest character to emerge as gay.

In February next year, Marvel Comics' Rawhide Kid will ride into town on his trusty steed Apache in a series of adventures entitled Slap Leather.

Think comedy along the lines of the popular TV series Will and Grace.

What I have always appreciated about Marvel Comics is that they deal with the crisis of masculinity

Carla Freccero, professor of literature

For chroniclers of popular culture, making the star of the comic gay is a move that is being described as enlightened and long overdue.

Carla Freccero, a professor of literature at the University of California Santa Cruz and the author of Popular Culture: An Introduction, said Rawhide was more explicit.

She said: "There have always been gay characters in the media. It's just that up until now they were represented in insinuating ways as in the closet or in swishy or covert ways."

Comic trailblazers

Indeed, the number of gays making their way into comic storylines is on the increase.

Marvel comics broke ground in the early 1990s when they brought the popular Alpha Flight and now X-Men character North Star out of the closet.

Other major roles include Terry Berg, a gay teenage supporting character in DC Comics' Green Lantern to a lesbian character in Supergirl.

Marvel Comics
The Rawhide Kid will take a lot of pride in his appearance

At Comic-Con International, the world's biggest comic convention, the role of gays and lesbians in comics merits its own panel.

Attendees at this year's event in San Diego were told the rise in characters with alternative lifestyles had evolved as comic books experienced a rebirth of sorts thanks to hit movies like X-Men and Spider-Man.

Professor Freccero says the public has always been receptive to minority characters as long as they are well written and do not pander to stereotypes.

"The problem I see with gay characters on TV is that the only really remarkable thing about them is that they are gay.

"Everything doesn't and shouldn't revolve around that fact. What I have always appreciated about Marvel Comics is that they deal with the crisis of masculinity.

"I see this as consistent with their critique of mainstream masculinity."

Withering criticism

As to the Rawhide Kid, Marvel's decision to dust off the scourge of desperadoes the world over was one that senior editor Axel Alonso said made sense.

"The Kid stands out from the pack. He is just too damn good looking.

"He wears an immaculate blue black leather outfit, a white hat and hešs got flaming red hair and he's a little fastidious and tidy than the rest of the lot. So we figured that plus the name just fit."

But before Kid has even hit newstands, he has been subjected to some withering criticism.

The American Family Association has been leading the charge with claims that the comic is an attempt to introduce children to homosexuality.

AFA Journal editor Ed Vitagliano said: "If the new Rawhide Kid comic series is not an attempt to promote homosexuality, then why purposefully change a character into a homosexual? It seems to suggest there is some agenda at work."

Mr Alonso is quick off the mark to point out that the Rawhide Kid comics are for adult eyes only.

Humorous touch

In the other corner is the gay lobby which is delighted to have the Rawhide Kid batting for their team.

Cathy Renna of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation said: "Lesbian and gay characters have become an increasing presence in comics.

"Comics are a medium that can be fun or serious, and there should be room for many kinds of representations."

While the gay issue is one that has earned Marvel a ton of headlines, it's also one they don't want to go overboard on.

They stress this will be a comedic driven western with a gay gunslinger at the heart of the action.

Mr Alonso said: "There is not an agenda at work. Marvel wants to do books that reflect society in all its shapes and forms.

"This is not a gay outreach programme. Generally speaking in comics, characters are either paragons of moral virtue or victims. The Rawhide Kid is neither.

"Everything will be done in the context of a comedy with the Kid as the enigmatic cowboy who can get into a fist fight with five desperadoes and worry about getting his hair muffed."

See also:

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