MARVEL COMICS IS ON A ROLL. First there was the blockbuster "X-Men" movie that generated almost $300 million worldwide. Then came "Spider-Man," which grossed more than $800 million. Coming in February, Ben Affleck will star in "Daredevil." In that same month, Marvel will be bringing back to comic book stores a cowboy hero known as the Rawhide Kid. From 1955 to 1979, Rawhide Kid battled the outlaws of the Wild West as part of a Western-themed series that included other heroes like the Two-Gun Kid and Kid Colt. At the time, nobody ever asked if Rawhide Kid dated any girls, or why he seemed so shy around them--especially after bravely rescuing them from the hands of evildoers.

Twenty-three years later, the truth comes out. As Marvel will make clear in February in a six-issue miniseries called "Slap Leather," the Rawhide Kid is gay. And his comments make this switch pretty unambiguous. Regarding the Lone Ranger, he says, "I just want to meet him. I think that mask and powder-blue outfit are fantastic. I can certainly see why that Indian follows him around."

None of this should come as a surprise. After all, just check out the cover (thanks to Velouria) of this old "Rawhide Kid" issue, in which the hero must face-off against a gigantic totem pole. Or another issue where, as the caption on the cover reads, "It's the Kid's flashing pistols against a horde of Aztec spears" (italics mine).

To be fair, the new "Rawhide Kid" isn't supposed to be gay porn. Writer Ron Zimmerman told the "New York Post" that "it's a classic Western, like 'Shane,' but with a gay twist." One editor describes it as "a straight Western with comic undertones." And Marvel is marketing this under their "Max" line, meant for an older audience and not for kids. Still, the whole idea of a gay comic book has some folks worried. Says Peter Sprigg, senior director of culture studies at the Family Research Council: "I'm not interested in censorship. But I do have fears of how this will negatively impact our culture. My biggest concern is that this is a comic book--and while there is a segment of the adult population that enjoys reading comics, the genre appeals to children. And this is one more example of children being indoctrinated with pro-homosexual viewpoints by the popular media."

The Human Rights Campaign, meanwhile, disagrees. "Gay people are part of the fabric of America," says David Smith, HRC's communications director. "We are part of the popular culture, whether the Family Research Council likes it or not." Not that Smith is ready to embrace the Rawhide Kid. In fact, he worries that the series' depiction of gays as stereotypically flamboyant would hurt the gay community. And that writer Ron Zimmerman is involved makes him a little wary--Zimmerman is a writer for Howard Stern, whose show, according to Smith, "has been detrimental to gays and made fun of them. So it still remains to be seen how this will all pan out." Smith also downplays the hype, reminding me "to take a step back. After all, it's just a comic book."

Just don't say that to the comic book collectors. Speaking of which, how do those comic book aficionados feel? Donald D. Markstein manages the award-winning site, "a vast repository of toonological knowledge." I asked him what he thinks of the decision to out the Rawhide Kid. He wasn't impressed. "I don't think it takes much courage to alter a character that's scarcely been seen in 20 years, that nobody really cares very much about. And it certainly doesn't take much creativity to decide a half-forgotten old character is gay. Especially if, as early reports have it, they pack the thing solid with stereotypes."

There is one very important question raised by the Kid's coming out of the closet: Will Marvel (whose PR firm Bender/Helper Impact was unavailable for comment) or rival DC Comics take it up a notch and out anyone else? And if so, who?

Below is my own list of five comic book characters who may yet be outed (I mean this only in jest):

(1) Thor. This Norse god of thunder wielded his hammer all too well. His long, blond hair and muscular build make him too good to be true! There has to be a catch. In fact, he looks like he's having way too much fun posing for this particular illustration.

(2) Sinestro. Remember him? He was a full-fledged member of the Legion of Doom and Green Lantern's arch-nemesis. In the "Superfriends" television series, he was depicted as old, thin, and single. He appeared well-kempt and had slicked-back hair. He definitely used some sort of gel. And yes, he had that high voice.

(3) Johnny Storm, aka The Human Torch. What else can I say? The guy was flaming.

(4) Wonder Woman. This might upset some readers (and their various S&M fantasies), but this "princess of the Amazons" always seemed a little too strong and powerful for my tastes. With all her running around and saving the world, what man could ever feel up to the task? And what about all those mysterious references to "Great Hera"? She's a wonder, Wonder Woman.

(5) Vision of the Avengers. He's divorced, wears a jewel in the middle of his forehead, has red skin, a green suit, yellow cape, and, well, you be the judge. (He's the guy hovering over Captain America. And check out Thor on the left. Once again, he's having way too much fun.)

Victorino Matus is an assistant managing editor at The Weekly Standard.

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