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Marvelís gay cowboy changes nothing

Conservatives have spent the past two weeks agonizing over Trent Lottís unfortunate bout with nostalgia, but those looking for something to take their minds off the Senate majority leaderís self-immolation were able to find another tempest in a teapot: gay comic books.

Marvel Comics announced last week that it would come out with a miniseries featuring its long-time Western hero, the Rawhide Kid. The Kid was introduced by Marvel in 1955, during a lull in superhero popularity, but the character hasnít had his own comic book since 1979. Now, in a miniseries called Rawhide Kid: Slap Leather, Marvel is bringing the Kid out of the closet for the first gay comic-book Western.

Despite the title, the story wonít be gay porn. According to Marvel, writer Ron Zimmerman will use double-entendre and euphemisms to reveal the characterís homosexuality. Take, for example, the Kidís appreciation of cowboy competitor the Lone Ranger: " I think that mask and powder-blue outfit are fantastic. I can certainly see why the Indian follows him around. "

As you can imagine, the anti-homosexual right is incensed. Peter Spriggs of the Family Research Council objected, " This is one more example of children being indoctrinated with pro-homosexual viewpoints by the popular media. " Andrea Lafferty of the Traditional Values Coalition protested, " Theyíre pitching this as a comic book for kids.... Again, homosexuality has invaded the childhood of so many kids. "

Last week, Marvel icon Stan Lee debated Lafferty on Crossfire. While Lafferty spent the whole segment insisting that Marvel was out to convert kids, conservative host Tucker Carlson spent the last half of the interview asking Lee over and over again whether the character of Robin (Batmanís sidekick) was also gay. Carlson didnít seem to understand when Lee told him that Robin belonged to DC Comics, a completely different company.

Lafferty, Carlson, and the other right-wing pundits who have jumped on this issue are being ridiculously ignorant, but not for the reason you might think. The left and the right can argue about the morality of homosexuality until the cows come home, but the idea that comic books are popular with kids is about as mired in the past as Trent Lottís affection for Jim Crow.

Despite a string of big-budget comic-based movies, the comic-book industry itself is really hurting. Kids love comics associated with their favorite Japanese cartoons, such as Dragon Ball, but a decade of price increases and writing for the older " fanboys " has almost eliminated the pre-teen audience for standard superhero comics. Prices have more than doubled in the last decade ó the cheapest comic today is $2.25 ó while allowances havenít kept up. Comic books have disappeared from the places where kids once found them, such as drugstores and bookstores. Venturing into a comic-book specialty shop often leads to a run-in with a real-life version of The Simpsonsí obnoxious " Comic Book Guy. "

Complicated continuities have made it nearly impossible for new readers to jump into the middle of a long-running series. Any kids who fell in love with Spider-Man after the summer blockbuster would find a different hero in the comics ó 30 years old, moody, and separated from his now-wife, Mary Jane. A new Spider-Man series, developed to restart Spideyís history for new readers, is expensive and quickly snapped up by collectors instead of teenagers.

Kids who arenít reading comics become adults who arenít reading comics, and the customer base for these expensive graphic novels and reprint collections gets smaller and smaller. The fact is, Marvel doesnít want kids to buy Rawhide Kid comics ó it is coming out on an imprint, MAX, specifically marked for adult readers. But itís dying for kids to buy comics featuring Spider-Man, X-Men, the Fantastic Four, and all the other old standards. A gay cowboy will get Marvel news, and some angry Christians, but it wonít help the company dip into the wallets of the 13-year-olds whose parents loved Marvel Comics 25 years ago.

Issue Date: December 19 - 26, 2002
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