Lee & Kirby: The Two Origins of the Rawhide Kid

Now this is an interesting one to look at, and just a little bit mysterious. Marvel (well, pre-Marvel, they were still operating without a particular company identity at this point for the most part) had launched a revival of their earlier character, the Rawhide Kid, in 1960, a response in part to the popularity of the RAWJIDE television series. Editor Stan Lee scripted this one himself, and he and artist Jack Kirby created the character anew from the ground up, in the manner of the Silver Age Flash. His first story, of course, was an origin tale. For some obscure reason, a year later, in RAWHIDE KID #23, Lee and Kirby felt compelled to tell the Kid’s origin again. What’s more, while Kirby completely redrew the story as though for the first time, all of the copy remained virtually unchanged. It’s a weird decision all around, and I have no idea what might have been behind it. But it does give us the opportunity to study Kirby taking on the same material at two different period and seeing the different ways that he interprets it. These two takes were produced about a year apart from one another.

It’s interesting to see just how similar these two splash pages are visually. Lee changes the title and lead-in narration and drops one balloon and the opening caption in the second version of the story. and Kirby adopts a more overt heroic pose on the part of the Kid, in contrast to what the townsfolk are saying about him behind his back. The Kid in the first version looks as though he might just be as bad as everybody says.

As several people have pointed out over the years, there’s a similarity between the Origin of the Rawhide Kid and that of Spider-Man, coming down mainly to the fact that both Peter Parker and Johnny Bart were raised by an Uncle Ben. Ben seems to have been one of Lee’s go-to names in this period–he also gives it to Ben Grimm in FANTASTIC FOUR.

Kirby changes up the action of the first tier into three panels rather than two, causing lee to drop the first balloon from the original version. It’s interesting that in both cases, Kirby tells the story visually and clearly in a manner that you might think is the best way to go about it–but he does it almost entirely differently in he second instance. Was this a way for Kirby to keep his interest up while redoing a story he’d already drawn a year prior?

Again here, Kirby does almost the reverse camera angle of each panel. Most interestingly, he introduces some additional dram into the second version of the story by zooming in close on Hawk’s face in Panel 5.

The compositions on these two pages are relatively close, though the second version is more often tightly-framed. There’s a better sense of the expansiveness of the west in the original version.

Here, the second time out, Kirby chooses to focus on the Kid’s entrance in panel 1, whereas the original telling had him as an off-camera voice only, saving his entrance for Panel 2. Kirby also chooses a more interesting composition for Panel 3 in the second version, shooting up close and between the Kid’s feet rather than keeping everything to a mid-distance shot.

In both versions, Kirby needs to be clever in his gunplay, in that the Comics Code won’t allow him to show a man being gunned down directly. It’s not hard to get a sense that Kirby was a bit bored drawing these seven pages for a second time–he definitely put less into them in that go-around than he had initially. But he was so good at storytelling and composition that it didn’t really matter–the second version is the equal of the first.

3 thoughts on “Lee & Kirby: The Two Origins of the Rawhide Kid

  1. I think, with all due respect, I disagree somewhat with the premise of the article, though I am well aware mine is probably a minority view. I think that the second origin story may well have been done first, and rejected by Stan Lee, then printed later because nothing was ever wasted if they could avoid it. There’s a comment by Dick Ayers in an interview that in his early days inking Jack Kirby (by context of the interview early 1960s) that Stan rejected a western story because he felt Kirby’s work was not up to his usual standard and that Ayers had not sufficiently embellished/improved it, and ordered it done again. I think this was the “second” origin story.

    There are some contextual clues (albeit as circumstantial and subjective as such always are), to include the fact that the exact same dialogue and text were used … except where some small pieces were omitted. This is relatively unique among pieces we have for the period, and the fact that story #1 is 100% of the script and story #2 is 100% -X suggests to me that the original is probably #2. (Narrative criticism suggests that redone dialogue would get longer rather than shorter.

    The Rawhide Kid outfit in story #1 is the early solid black, which is more distinctive and has more of the superhero costume look that Lee and Kirby seem to have been going for. I’d also argue that a panel by panel examination suggests more dynamic composition in story #1, although again that’s somewhat subjective. (Again, your starting perspective here matters — if you look at #1 preceding #2, #2 preceding #1, or without knowing which was first) you will tend to interpret differently.

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    1. Given the spotting of blacks on Rawhide Kid’s outfit–I highly doubt that the second version was drawn first and rejected. Jack tended to use fewer solid blacks in costumes later (as did Ditko with Spider-Man’s costume). In the earlier story he had a black costume–in the later one those were spotted blacks meant to indicate shadow not color.

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  2. Not being a fan of cowboy stories, I never collected any of Marvel’s western titles, and never saw any of Jack Kirby’s work in the genre. Even so, I loved the side-by-side comparison of his Rawhide Kid art here. It’s like seeing a movie directed by the same guy twice, only with different camera angles. Still more proof of Jack Kirby’s storytelling genius. All Hail the King!

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