Tuesday, August 26, 2014
Western Comics Focus: Two-Gun Kid
Troy D. Smith
I've always loved superhero comics, and I've always loved western comics. So it should come as no surprise that one of my favorites has always been the Two-Gun Kid, who has a boot firmly planted in each camp.
The Two-Gun Kid debuted at Marvel Comics in 1948. He was Marvel's second continuing western character- the first had been the Masked Raider way back in 1939's Marvel Comics #1 -and the first to have his own ongoing title, which lasted until 1977.
There were two different versions of the Kid. The original, which ran from 1948 to 1962, was a blond cowboy named Clay Harder. Harder was in many ways a generic sort of figure, a wandering gunslinger who righted wrongs- he carried two guns, one of which had belonged to his father and the other to the outlaw who had murdered him.
In 1962, however, in Two-Gun Kid #60, the character was completely rebooted (into the hero Marvel fans are familiar with.) In this new version by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, Clay Harder (Two-Gun Kid) was a character who appeared in dime novels, and inspired young Matt Hawk to take on the guise in "real life." He wears the same all-black outfit, with two distinctive additions: an orange-and-black-spotted vest, and a mask. (He also, like Clay Harder, rides a horse named Cyclone.) Hawk is a young lawyer from Boston, who -after his arrival in the West -is trained by a famous gunfighter, Ben Dancer. This version of the Kid is similar to the superheroes that Lee and Kirby were then creating: a masked man with a secret identity, using his alter ego to go after the villains who escaped justice in the courtroom where he works by day, with a regular supporting cast (all this making him different from the Lone Ranger, whose "alter ego" John Reid is believed dead by the world, and more like Zorro.)
The Two-Gun Kid was a staple of Marvel's western line in the 1960s and 70s, along with the Rawhide Kid, Kid Colt, the Outlaw Kid (a lot of kids, there), and the Ghost Rider / Night Rider / Phantom Rider, all of whom he interacted with regularly.
In the late 1970s he was one of the western heroes who teamed up with the time-traveling Avengers, striking up a close friendship with Hawkeye (see our interview with writer Steve Englehart)... but unlike the other western heroes, the Two-Gun Kid joins the Avengers when they return to the 20th century, where he becomes a man out of time. After a few adventures with the superhero group, he returns to his own time (taking a cashe of modern weapons with him, as revealed in the miniseries Sunset Riders -in which it is revealed he married after his return, but his wife died in childbirth.)
He later shows up in the great miniseries Blaze of Glory (see our interview with John Ostrander)... he has dyed his hair blond and now goes by the name Clay Harder, having abandoned his mask and working exclusively as a lawyer. However, he joins his old partner the Rawhide Kid (along with a slew of other Marvel western heroes) for one last grand adventure.
Sometime later, Matt Hawk is plucked from the timestream and returned to the modern world, where he becomes a frequent ally of She-Hulk (for those unfamiliar with the character, Jennifer Walters/She-Hulk received a blood transfusion after an accident... from her cousin Bruce Banner, the Incredible Hulk. Superhero-ness ensues, as the young lawyer gains the power to transform into a green Amazonian powerhouse, while retaining her normal intelligence and her law practice.) The Two-Gun Kid -who has traded Cyclone in for a flying motorcycle donated by his pal Hawkeye -at first serves as a private detective for She-Hulk's law firm, and later becomes an independent bounty hunter. Thanks to the time travel angle, then, the character occasionally pops up in stories set in the modern-day Marvel universe as well as flash-back stories set in the Old West.
One of my favorite such stories involved that other masked lawyer, Daredevil, who alter ego attorney Matt Murdock was attempting to solve an old case from the 1870s that had been begun by Matt Hawk.
In 1996 I had a chance to meet Stan Lee, and had him autograph my copy of Two-Gun Kid #60, the first appearance of the Matt Hawk version of Two-Gun Kid. The book triggered a nostalgic response -"I remember when Jack drew this very picture on the cover! I haven't seen one of these in ages!" A few weeks later I interviewed Lee over the telephone (for this article), and after introducing myself said "You probably don't remember me, but-" "Of course I remember you," he said. "You're Two-Gun! How's it goin', Two-Gun?"
Needless to say, that particular autographed item is one of my most treasured possessions.