"Things are a mite too quiet! I've been livin' on the owlhoot trail so long I can almost smell when there's danger near--and it sure is near now!"
--Blaine Colt, KID COLT OUTLAW #122
Let's just start with the BIG HONKING SPOILER WARNINGS, okay? I'm splashing in nostalgia this week and if you come anywhere near the pool, you're gonna get wet. You have been warned.
I scored two of my minor "Holy Grails" of comics collecting this month, winning twin copies of KID COLT OUTLAW #122 [May, 1965] on eBay. The better condition copy of the two was for my brother Ray--who had a letter published in the issue--and the other was for me. Because I love the cover.
This cover has been credited to Jack Kirby and Dick Ayers with Artie Simek lettering. I see Chic Stone on the inks, but I'll let the art detectives figure it out.
The cover artwork is pretty cool--no doubt about it--but what made this a "must-have" for me was all that cover copy. Four large blurbs. Arrow. Title burst. Circle. Rectangle. With editor and writer Stan Lee selling the heck out of this issue. Add the mini-poster for the Merry Marvel Marching Society tucked into the lower left corner, an image which always fills me with gooey nostalgia, and I was a goner.
The cover feature was written by Lee and drawn by Jack Keller, who drew more Kid Colt stories than any other artist and may hold the record for drawing the most stories of any Marvel character. Keller also drew (and sometimes wrote) hot-rod comics for Charlton. He did a lot of those, too.
Keller was never the most exciting of comics artists, but he was a first-rate storyteller whose people moved naturally and whose backgrounds centered them in reality. He never distracted readers from the story; he pulled them into it.
"When An Outlaw Dies" is a action-and-coincidence-packed human interest tale. Danny Nesbitt, the bad-seed son of a rancher, is a ringer for Kid Colt. An unlucky gambler, Nesbitt is settling his debts by selling out his father. Mistaken for Danny, Colt stumbles into Rattler Ruxton's plan to rob the father. By story's end, the bad seed and the gambler end up dead at the base of the same cliff, leaving Nesbitt's grieving father and sister to take some comfort in their erroneous belief Danny had mended his ways and made up for the wrongs he'd committed. If you can stand one more coincidence, Ruxton goes over the cliff when his horse is spooked by--Do I have to say it?--a common rattler.
Not the most observant of folk, the rancher, his daughter, and the rest of the townspeople, good and bad, never notice that Danny and Colt aren't wearing the same clothes. Danny leaves the ranch wearing a dark vest and shirt. After meeting Danny and witnessing his death, Colt goes to the ranch--wearing his traditional spotted white vest and red shirt--and is mistaken for the younger Nesbitt. A few hours later, Nesbitt's family finds his body, still dressed in the dark vest and shirt.
Despite the hokey plot, Stan writes the heck out of this tale. I was 13 years old when I first read this story and it sure seemed profound to me. Especially Kid Colt riding into the sunset talking to his horse Steel:
Fate works in mysterious ways--but somehow things always seem to end up RIGHT! That's the one thought that gives ME the faith to carry on--because I hope and pray some day--somehow--I'll lose the name of OUTLAW--and find my destiny at the end of the long, winding trail...!
Of course, given how many comics Stan was writing back then, this is just before Roy Thomas signed on, it wouldn't be a bonafide Marvel mag if it didn't have at least one major boo-boo. Looking at his son's body, the elder Nesbitt puts a comforting arm around his daughter's shoulder and tells her:
"Our son, Danny...he fought like a man!"
OUR son? All of a sudden, by comparison, that new Rawhide Kid series doesn't seem that controversial.
Marvel was publishing three bimonthly western titles in 1965: KID COLT OUTLAW, RAWHIDE KID, and TWO-GUN KID. All of them shared a common format...a 17-page lead starring the title hero, followed by a 5-page non-series story. More often than not, those secondary tales were of the "twist ending" variety.
In KID COLT #122, the second story was "Robbery At Red Rock" by Lee and artist Dick Ayers. An "owlhoot" stops a buggy and robs its unarmed driver. When the driver tells the hold-up man that he doesn't believe in guns or violence, he is taunted by the thief and forced to dance with bullets fired near his feet. As the criminal rides off, his victim warns him that sooner or later, he'll have to pay for his cruelty.
Within moments, the owlhoot's first payment comes due. He is knocked off his horse by a vicious puma. He manages to shoot the beast, but is badly wounded. Almost unconscious from blood-loss, he rides to a nearby town and drags himself to the doctor's office. Ironically, the doctor is...say it with me...the man he had robbed earlier that day.
Beyond the swell Ayers artwork, there is one interesting thing about this story. In the final panel, it looks like the doctor is holding an invisible gun on his patient-to-be. I'm guessing Ayers did, indeed, draw him with a gun. Stan probably came up with the doctor's aversion to guns and violence when he was scripting from the penciled pages and erased the gun to keep the panel consistent with the earlier dialogue.
Marvel's 1965 advertising rates were considerably lower than rival DC's and that's certainly reflected in this issue. There are two full pages of "fun products by mail," as well as another page-and-a-half of smaller ads, some of them no more than an inch high. Items offered included pepper gum, X-ray specs, see-behind glasses, and an atomic smoke bomb. Thank God the terrorists of the day were not sophisticated enough to order their weapons of mass destruction from the pages of KID COLT OUTLAW.
There were several opportunities for readers to become young entrepreneurs and learn valuable skills. They could sell shoes or GRIT, which was some sort of newspaper. They could learn to play the guitar in seven days or master yubiwaza, "the secret, amazingly easy art of self-defense that turns just one finger or your hands into a potent weapon of defense without any bodily contact."
No bodily contact?
Maybe yubiwaza was Japanese for "handgun."
Marvel's advertisers seemed to target older readers along with the kids. Commercial artist Albert Dorne hawked the Famous Artists School on the back cover while interior ads offered correspondence courses in auto mechanics and electronic appliance repair. There was even an ad for a U.S. government surplus catalog from which you could allegedly buy an airplane for under two hundred bucks, and parachutes for $21.95. What a great deal for potential invaders on a tight budget!
Marvel editorial filled the three remaining pages of KID COLT #122. A house ad for TWO-GUN KID #75 ran alongside the statement of ownership, management, and circulation. The Two-Gun Kid issue is notable for having its title hero trying to reach the Alamo in time to save the defenders there, though, as comics historians have noted, that famous battle would have taken place many years before the Kid was born.
As for the circulation figures, KID COLT OUTLAW was selling an average of 184,300 copies per issue and another 105 to subscribers. The issue nearest to the filing date sold 196,230 copies. Not bad for one of then-Marvel's minor titles.
There was also a full-page spot for The Merry Marvel Marching Society, the company's in-house fan club. For a buck, members got a veritable treasure-trove of nifty stuff: a membership button, a membership card, stickers, and a "record with the actual voices of the Bullpen gang clowning around and welcoming you to the good ol' M.M.M.S.!" I must have played that goofy record a dozen times the first day I had it. If you were lucky enough to have five friends who were also Marvel fanatics, all six of you could join for a mere five bucks...and receive a special certificate designating you as an official M.M.M.S. local chapter.
The main reason I wanted copies of KID COLT OUTLAW #122, and the reason why I'm now seeking a third copy for my mother, is that my younger brother Ray had a fan letter printed on the "Kid Colt's Roundup" page:
Dear Stan and Jack,
Your westerns are all my favorites. KID COLT #120 - "The Cragsons Ride Again" - was very good. I also liked RAWHIDE KID #43 - "Where Outlaws Ride!" I would like to see more super-villains like the Red Raven and Iron Mask in RAWHIDE KID. In conclusion, I'd like to say that your westerns are unique and enjoyable. Thanks for such wonderful stories of the Old West!
To which someone at Marvel replied:
You're welcome, Ray! And, as for which villains you prefer to see, we just kinda take 'em as we find 'em - but just wait till you see the new ones we have coming up in future issues!
I almost certainly helped Ray write his letter. It's more his style than mine, but I likely added the request for super-villains and the concluding sentences.
Loathe as he is to admit it, Ray looked up to big brother Tony when we were kids. He started buying comic books because I did and even tried writing a story shortly after I started writing stories and articles for various fanzines.
Ray's story involved him coming home and finding a burglar in our house. The burglar locked him in a closet. Ray got out of the closet. Then he locked the burglar in the closet.
By the way, that's not a summary of Ray's youthful fiction. That's pretty much his entire story. You can see why I grew up to be the writer and he grew up to be the accountant, albeit a really terrific accountant who has never once uttered the words "Enron" or "Cayman Islands tax shelter" in my presence.
The letters page included a "Mighty Marvel Checklist" of other Marvel comics on sale that month. It was an incredible line-up of titles: FANTASTIC FOUR #38, with the return of the Frightful Four; SPIDER-MAN #24 ("Spider-Man Goes Mad"); AVENGERS #15 ("Fight to the Finish With Zemo"); DAREDEVIL #7, with his unforgettable battle with the Sub-Mariner; THOR #115, which, if you want to get picky, was really JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY; plus issues of STRANGE TALES (the Human Torch and the Thing, and Doctor Strange), TALES OF SUSPENSE (Iron Man and Captain America), TALES TO ASTONISH (Giant-Man and the Hulk), and SGT. FURY AND HIS HOWLING COMMANDOES #17. Even if you include KID COLT, TWO-GUN KID, and the previous month's RAWHIDE KID, that's a lot of entertainment for under two bucks.
Whenever I write one of these "blast from the past" columns, I invariably receive at least one e-mail accusing me of being stuck in the past, this in total disregard of the current comics I review here each week. By way of disclaimer, there are dozens and dozens of great comic books being published today. But...
Some of the comic books on that Marvel checklist were as good as any being published today. The worst of them were superior to an alarming number of the comic books being published today. And, when you compare cover prices, even taking inflation into account, you can't help but conclude that comic books were a much better buy then than they are now.
On the "food for thought" menu, I think that's worth chewing on for a column here and there. Don't you?
The above column first appeared in COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1530 [March 14, 2003], which shipped February 24. The front page noted the emergence of a collection of Golden Age comics in St. Louis, the tenth anniversary of DC's Vertigo imprint, and Harlan Ellison's review of SUPERMAN/ALIENS 2. In case you wondering, Ellison didn't much care for the series. Giggle.
I enjoy writing about old comics and, fortunately, my readers enjoying reading such columns. Truth be told, if Craig "Mr. Silver Age" Shutt wasn't doing such a bang-up job covering that beat, I'd probably do it more often. That would likely please HOWARD MILLER, who wrote:
Reading your column on KID COLT #122 gave me a rush of the old nostalgia bug. I was never a great fan of western comics, but I read Marvel's because they were printed by my favorite publisher and were created by the same people who produced my favorite super- hero books. My favorite of the three by far was Two-Gun Kid, as he was the closest to being an actual super-hero. He wore a mask, had a secret identity, and even had a somewhat "super" sidekick in the stronger than average Boom Boom.
In second place came the Rawhide Kid. He was kind of a Jimmy Cagney type...a little guy who could whip the tar out of anybody. He also had the coolest looking outfit and was more likely than the others to be drawn by Jack Kirby.
In last place was Kid Colt. I found the fact that he was classed as an "outlaw" really stupid because all he ever did was good deeds. Plus I was put off by the fact that his covers would be done by Kirby and other superior artists while the insides of his books would be drawn by the overly cartoony Jack Keller. Strangely enough, however, Kid Colt featured the best villains, including Old West versions of Iron Man (Iron Mask) and the Kingpin (Boomerang). I also found it annoying that all three heroes had "Kid" in their names, but I liked them much more than Marvel's later "kid-less" cowboys like Red Wolf and the Gunhawks.
I don't buy many comics now but I'll probably at least take a gander at the new Rawhide Kid. Not sure if Marvel can pull off what they're going to try to do. Can they make it funny without being totally camp? I'm afraid if Rawhide winds up riding into the sunset with a man it might creep me out just a bit. However, I am looking forward to the little guy disguising himself as a dance hall gal to solve a case.
Hmm...I never thought of Jack Keller's art as cartoony. His figures were more realistic than Kirby's. Keller's work exhibits an economy of line; he could convey a lot without piling on lots of detail. I like his art more now than I did as a kid.
As for the "new" Rawhide Kid, I'm going to hold off commenting on it until I have the entire mini-series, which I'll then read and review. Unless, of course, I can't think of anything to say about it. But, come on, what are the odds of THAT?
I also heard from NICK CAPUTO:
I enjoyed your column on KID COLT #122. I have the issue, too, and I also really like that cover. (By the way, I have a good eye for art and I'd bet my collection the cover is inked by Chic Stone. I'm sure Dick Ayers could confirm he didn't ink it.) I always kind of enjoyed Keller's simplistic, low-key style, and felt it suited Kid Colt, who seemed like an average guy.
I agree with you that it was a great time for comics, Marvel in particular. There was such a degree of creative juices flowing, it still amazes me. Kirby, Ditko, Wood. How do you top those three dynamos? How many in the present day can compare to their creative output...in that one year alone? No, I don't think you are waxing nostalgic at all.
By the way, I just had a long article published in COMIC BOOK MARKETPLACE #99 examining Marvel's 1965 output. I'm sorry I didn't include the westerns and teen romance comics in the piece as well. But I think you might enjoy it.
I will be seeing Dick Ayers this weekend at PLANET COMICON in Kansas City. If I can remember to pack it, I'll show him my copy of KID COLT OUTLAW #122 and ask him to confirm that he didn't ink the cover. I'll also see if he remembers if he originally drew the doctor with a gun in the back-up story.
When I get back from KC, I hope to sort the comics and related magazines which have been piling up for three months now. I should have COMIC BOOK MARKETPLACE #99 in there somewhere and, if I do, I will definitely give your article a read.
I've got two more columns to write before I leave for the show yesterday (your time), so that's all for this weekend's edition of TONY'S TIPS. See you next Saturday.
ZERO: Burn your money before buying any comic receiving this rating. It doesn't *necessarily* mean there's absolutely nothing of value here - though it *could* - but whatever value it might possess shrinks into insignificance before its overall awfulness.
ONE: Buy something else. Maybe I found something which wasn't completely dreadful in the item, but not enough for me to recommend it when there are better comics available. I only want what's best for you, my children.
TWO: Basic judgment call. I found some value, but not enough to recommend it. My review should give you enough info to decide if you want to take a chance on it. Are you feeling lucky today, punk? Well, are you?
THREE: This denotes something I find perfectly respectable. There are better books out there, but I wouldn't regret buying this item. Based on my review, you should be able to determine if it's of interest to you. Let the Force guide you.
FOUR: I recommend anything earning this rating. Unless you don't like the genre, subject matter, or past work of the creators, I believe you'll enjoy this item. Isn't it uncanny how I can look right into your soul that way?
FIVE: Anything getting this rating is among the best comicdom has to offer. You should buy/read this, even if the genre/subject matter doesn't appeal to you. It's for your own good. Me, I live for comics and books this good...but not in a pathetic "Comic-Book Guy" sort of way.
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