The Wild West gets much, much wilder this June when writer Ron Zimmerman and artist Howard Chaykin assemble a posse of both Marvel Universe and real life cowboys and gals for the four-issue limited series "The Rawhide Kid."
The Rawhide Kid, also known as Johnny Bart, stands as one of the Marvel Universe's most prolific Western heroes. The character appeared in an ongoing title for nearly 20 years starting in 1960 until the rise of super hero comics at Marvel eventually led to the company's classic Western characters holstering their guns and retiring to the ranch. Johnny and his fellow gunslingers saw a resurgence in the limited series "Blaze of Glory" and the Kid even gained his own self-titled limited series in 2003 by Zimmerman and artist John Severin. Zimmerman's new book serves as a semi-sequel to the previous series, featuring the Rawhide Kid teaming up with various other outlaws in a "Magnificent Seven" style adventure.
Zimmerman told CBR News that he wanted to take the new series in a different direction than the previous one. As such, the author decided to approach the title more as a team book than a solo adventure. "The goal was to see if I could create what would be the very first Marvel hero team. So, it's one of those 'before the Avengers were avenging,' and all that," Zimmerman told CBR. "The whole [series] is actually called the 'Sensational Seven.' I'm still fighting for the 'Fabulously Sensational Seven.' Originally it was the 'Fabulously Magnificent Sensational Seven.'"
The title homaging the famous film both pays tribute and acknowledges Zimmerman's love for Western movies and television shows. The author said he got into comic writing because he loved the genre and wanted to write his own Western tales, but with a humorous slant. With the new limited series, Zimmerman believes that he has hit his mark. "It's basically still tongue in cheek and very much supposed to be fun and not a big, serious thing," he said. "This book also has a lot more about fame. It's much more a satire about fame and how famous people are treated. In the Old West, for real, the James Brothers and that sort of thing, they were the celebrities of the day. Wild Bill Hickok, Buffalo Bill and those guys, they were the tabloid stars. The idea was to make the Rawhide Kid the biggest star in the world. He's Brad Pitt. He's not uptight about it or weird about it. He just is. So, that's for sure part of what I'm - no pun intended - aiming for."
The adventure begins when the brothers Earp, Wyatt and Morgan, get kidnapped and the Rawhide Kid immediately hops into action. After all, as Zimmerman explained, it's just in his celebrity hero nature. "He's very conscious that his job is to be a hero. He certainly doesn't take it overly seriously, but he does it. He finds out that the Earps are being held hostage somewhere, and to him it's a no brainer. 'Oh. Okay. I guess I got to go get them out.' He's completely fearless, which I like," said the writer. "Whereas some of the other guys consider, 'What if we lose, what if when we get there he has an army waiting for us,' and all that stuff, Rawhide's attitude is very much, 'Yeah. But I'm the Rawhide Kid. Why is everybody so worried? You're with me. What do you think is going to happen? Nobody is going to get hurt. If the fight starts and you're in trouble, just yell and I'm come over and kill them for you.'
"He's very, very relaxed and nonchalant about the whole thing. He's vain in that he wears the nicest clothes and has the nicest stuff, but he has no vanity as far as what he's capable of," Zimmerman continued. "Even the ego involved is not being a bragger - it's just a fact. He's so confident that nobody can beat him. And he doesn't get beat. I think it's funny and great that there is a character who just doesn't even sweat about anything. He's the most relaxed gunfighter in the west."
One of the heroes joining Johnny on his mission is another classic Marvel Western hero, Kid Colt. "He is in every way the polar opposite of Rawhide," Zimmerman revealed. "They are sort of like the Odd Couple. Kid Colt just wants to get laid and he's super cowboy. He's very much a man's man, and the Rawhide Kid makes him a little bit uncomfortable. He's kind of representative of every guy that gets weird around homosexuals. He just doesn't understand. To him, it's like, 'What do you mean, you don't like chicks?' He doesn't get that another lifestyle than his is possible. And he's not nearly as intelligent or educated as Johnny is, but he has his reasons for going along in this. But his reasons are basically libido driven."
Zimmerman revealed that the Native American character Red Wolf and his canine companion Lobo will get a bit of a reinvention in the series. The author also enthusiastically pointed to Red Wolf as his favorite character in the book, next to Rawhide., expressing an interest in writing a spinoff title starring the character. "Red Wolf is probably the only one on the team that is the intellectual equal of Rawhide Kid," said the writer. "I would liken him a little bit to Hank McCoy. He's incredibly well educated and very articulate. This isn't Tonto. This guy will hopefully read as funny, because he's nothing like any other Native American of that day - other than the fact that he's not crazy about white people. He's a little bit of a racist. But still, he's a hero."
The final Marvel character joining the mix is the Two-Gun Kid, a lawyer and gunfighter well known for his time spent with Earth's Mightiest Heroes in the present day. "I do a lot with that. I do a lot with him talking about his time travel adventures," said Zimmerman. "He brings it up very often, and not necessarily in any way that anybody is excited to hear about. He's a lawyer, too, so I take advantage of that. There's a few legal problems that occur with some of these characters when the Rawhide Kid goes to get them. Having a lawyer with him turns out to be a good deal. I like the idea that the Rawhide Kid is so famous he travels with a lawyer."
However, Marvel characters only represent one-half of the bullets in the chamber with the rest of the crew assembled from real life characters from Old West history. Zimmerman said he included the famous cowgirl Annie Oakley for one very specific reason: unlike the vast majority of gunfighters, she actually knew how to hit a target. "Annie Oakley in real life was arguably, after Hickok and John Wesley Hardin, one of the very few people in the Old West that actually could shoot," explained Zimmerman. "It's a big myth that these famous characters from the Old West were great gunfighters. They were not. The guns were terrible back then. The sights were always off and they were very, very difficult to handle. More often than not, gunfights were just guys just blasting each other, hoping to God they hit something. But Annie Oakley was truly a great, amazing shot. So, I thought it would be fun to have a woman who was really good looking and was also real formidable. In real life, she ended up one of the stars of Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show because she was such a great trick shot. She really did do those looking the mirror, over her shoulder stuff. She's kind of Rawhide's foil, certainly at the beginning. I have a pretty good time with her."
Considering the main impetus of the story involves the abduction of Wyatt Earp, it seemed only natural for Zimmerman to include John Henry Holliday. However, Zimmerman also admitted to a secondary reason for including the famous gunslinger. "I wanted him for two reasons. One because he was Wyatt Earp's best friend. And two, because like most people, if you've seen 'Tombstone,' how do you not like Doc Holliday," he said. "Val Kilmer made such that an incredible part. I tried to write him using that tone. He's also very, very smart, but he's a little rougher. In a certain sense, with Doc Holliday you know this guy is incredibly dangerous."
The final member of Zimmerman's super seven is arguably the most well-known; however, he is also the most vile and ruthless. "I would say Billy the Kid is the one with the least sense of humor. I kind of de-romanticized him, because in real life, William Bonney was not a great romantic character. He was a nasty, dirty, lying little fuck that was not known for being a good shot but was known for shooting people in the back, stabbing people - any way that he could win a fight, he would," explained Zimmerman. "He was a foul-tempered psychopath that was very dangerous...because he was a foul-tempered little psychopath. So, he's not exactly beloved. Nobody really wants him around except the Rawhide Kid, who wants somebody that's a livewire that can just go off. He feels that having Billy the Kid there is a good idea, even though he's difficult to hang around with. He knows he's going up against a lot of tough guys and he's wants a crazy little bastard like this with him. Yeah, nobody likes him, but he's here to serve a purpose. One of the members of the team is given the job of making him behave himself. I won't say who, but there is somebody whose duty it is on the road to make sure Billy keeps cool."
Zimmerman said that the idea behind the title leaves itself open for a whole set of stories involving the heroes of the Old West, and the author hinted at a few stories he would love to tell one day if given the chance. "Ideally, if people give this a chance, I'd love to take these Western heroes and do a team book that is Marvel's first hero team. There's a couple [of characters] I didn't use that I would. Theoretically, Thor was alive in those days. In a perfect Marvel Universe, to be able to bring someone like that in or bring someone from contemporary Marvel back to the Old West would be fun. Or even bring my guys forward, even it was just the Rawhide Kid. To me, that's a character that's great anywhere."