RAWHIDE KID #132; March 1976; Marvel Comics; reprinting the lead story "Shotgun To Deadwood!" from RAWHIDE KID #61 (Dec. 1967). By the time of RK #61, most issues of the title were being written and drawn by Larry Lieber, but this one is written by Gary Friedrich, pencilled by Dick Ayers and inked by Vince Colletta (the same team that worked on the Western GHOST RIDER revival). According to Tony Isabella, Larry Lieber missed this issue because he was working on drawing a SPIDER-MAN ANNUAL at the time.
Review by "Mild" Bill Henley. I've never seen this particular RAWHIDE KID story before-- in fact, as is sometimes my wont, I'm writing this review while reading the story for the first time. But this is actually the third go-round for this yarn. I see by the GCD that, in between the original RK #61 and this reprint, the story was reprinted as a backup feature in RAWHIDE KID #93 (Nov. 1971), which was a 25 cent "giant" issue (which cover-featured a short, new Lieber RK story, "Mountain Pursuit".)
The cover of #132 is reprinted from the original RK #61 cover by Ayers and Colletta, though the background color is changed from red to white. Rawhide, a pretty blonde,in men's clothing, and a longer-haired blond in a buckskin outfit, who is male, are all surrounded by a circle of hostile Indians. The blonde female is firing a shotgun whse blast breaks one of the Indians' spear in half without apparently harming the Indian himself. "Action-packed adventure thunders your way when The Kid meets WILD BILL HICKOK and CALAMITY JANE! This is the six-gun saga you can't afford to miss! (though I've managed to miss it all these years without noticeably minding) SHOTGUN TO DEADWOOD!
On the splash page, the Rawhide Kid is aboard a hurtling stagecoach which is trying to outdistance pursuit by hostile Indians. The bandanna-masked driver trying to push the stage horses faster, while Rawhide fires his guns at the Indians but is less than optimistic about the situation; "These redskins mean BUSINESS... and there ain't nothin' but LUCK can stop 'em!' The situation gets even darker when the stage driver is struck by a bullet! The interior passengers are a woman and an elderly preacher. "OHH! We're all going to be KILLED, aren't we?" "There, there, dear! Just have faith in the LORD!" Rawhde tells the pastor to "keep prayin,"" but he believes that the Lord helps those who help themselves, as he struggles to get hold of the reins from the injured driver and push the horses to still greater speed.
Rawhide is relieved but baffled when the Indians turn back without attacking further. "It doesn't make SENSE! They could have got us EASY!" With the immediate danger past, though, he stops the stage and receives the thanks of the pastor and the pretty passenger, to whom the KId introduces himself by his real name, Johnny Clay. Then the stage driver, weakened by an arm injury, falls from the stage and is caught by Rawhide, who is startled to discover that the driver is a "gal"! As the Kid binds up her wound, the driver tells him, "You must be a STRANGER in these parts! Ain't nobody in these parts don't know that the DEADWOOD STAGE is always driven by CALAMITY JANE!"
(I have some interest in real-life Western history, but I've never looked closely at the history of "Calamity Jane," aka Martha Jane Cannary. The Wikipedia entry on her indicated that she made claims to have been an Army scout and Indian fighter, but that those claims were disputed at the time and later. There's no mention of her having been a regular driver of the Deadwood stagecoach, but it is stated she may have been a part-time prostitute, which is of course something that would not be mentioned in a Code-approved comic book. On the other hand, it's also mentioned she was known for her generosity and kindness to people in trouble. The entry also states that she was described as being in her younger years a pretty young woman, but in later life became leathery and "mannish" in appearance. The photographs I've seen indicate the latter appearance, but in this comic book-- not to mention most Hollywood portrayals-- she's attractive looking. She is, in fact, one of the sort of females of whom Harvey Kurtzman wrote-- in a classic MAD COMICS parody comparing the real-life and fictional West-- "If they'd had girls like this, the Wild West would have been a lot WILDER!")
Rawhide is pleased to meet "Calamity Jane," a fellow Western celebrity, but the girl passenger is not so pleased; "That hussy! I saw Johnny FIRST!" It is arranged that as the stagecoach journey resumes, Rawhide, who previously was just another passenger, will officially ride shotgun atop the stage. Rawhide hopes they will not meet the Indian war party again, but his hopes will be dashed; the Indians are in wait on a high hill overlooking the stage trail, where the Rawhide Kid on top of the stage will be a prime target for them! But these Indians are not attacking all on their own. A white man named "Black Jack" with a pencil-thin mustache (a name like that, and the mustache, makes it clear he is not a fine, upstanding citizen of the West) orders them to do what they will with the rest of the stage passengers, but capture and save Calamity Jane for him! "We keep our word, Black Jack! You have Calamity Jane before nightfall! Come my braves! This time, we not be driven back!"
Meanwhile, as the stagecoach moves along, Rawhide and Calamity Jane compare notes on their careers, and he confesses to being a wanted outlaw-- though he insists that he is innocent and constantly trying to clear his name. Perhaps showing the "generous spirit" that the historical accounts attribute to her, Calamity says, "I got a rep for being a good judge of character (and) I've got a hunch you're tellin' the TRUTH!" Down inside the coach, though, they're not so sure. The preacher now recalls the face and nickname of the Rawhide Kid from wanted posters, and he figures that only the intervention of the Lord has caused this dangerous outlaw to help them. His daughter is still convinced (correctly as it happens) that Rawhide is one of the good guys, and she privately thinks (not so correctly) that "if I have any SAY-- he might well become your SON-IN-LAW some day!"
But all their plans may come to naught as the Indian war party strikes! They appear in front of the state, forcing it to halt. A brave named Stalking Puma is taken with Calamity Jane and talks of making her his "squaw" if their white cohort Black Jack decides he doesn't want her after all. Then they discover the other woman in the party, and seize her, despite her father's prayers and her protest, "How dare you TOUCH me, you dirty SAVAGE?" (Tony was bothered by the negative stereotyping on the Indians in this story. My reading of Western history, though, suggests that Indian war in the West could be a very nasty business on both sides, and that sexual abuse of female captives by Indians was far from unknown. That doesn't mean it made an appropriate subtext for this Western quasi-fantasy story intended mainly for kids, though.)
The Indians clout Rawhide on the back of the head, rendering him unconscious (but, in good comic-book-villain fashion, don't make good and sure he's dead before leaving him behind). As the Indians ride off with their captives, they discuss their plans to deliver Calamity to "Black Jack" in return for a payment of "fire water" (another stereotype of Indian behavior, though, again, not without some grounding in truth). Calamity deduces that "Black Jack is a "polecat" whose real name is Jack Simpson, and that his scheme to capture her has something to do with getting revenge on "Bill" (no, not me-- I didn't do anything to Black Jack, except maybe insult his mustache). While the preacher's daughter wishes for "strong and rugged Johnny (the Kid)" to "find a way to save us," Calamity actually "feels plumb SORRY for those Injuns when my Bill gets ahold of 'em!"
Rawhide awakens with a bad headache but is determined to trail the captives and try to rescue them, He rides off on one of the stage horses the Indians left behind (though in reality, Indians would either have taken or killed any horses). He finds a pocketbook left behind by the preacher's daughter, and hopes she is still alive. "I've heard a lot of TALES about what Injuns do to WHITE PEOPLE... but there's something mighty PECULIAR about THESE Injuns! And I ain't gonna rest till I find out what it IS!" Then a shot from behind knocks Rawhide's hat off, and a voice orders him to turn around with his hands up! The voice belongs to none other than the legendary, buckskin clad marshal "Wild" Bill Hickok (another historical figure I don't know all that much about). Wild Bill quickly makes common cause with the notorious Rawhide Kid-- I've heard a lot of GOOD things about you... and you ain't WANTED in these parts!" "Glad ya feel that way, Marshal! Now, what do you way we get on the trail of those rotten redskins?" This is fine with Wild Bill, who is eager to rescue Calamity Jane so that he can carry out his plans to marry her! (Another check of Wikipedia indicates that the real Calamity Jane claimed to have married the real Wild Bill, but that there are no records to verify the marriage, and that Hickok was married to another woman at the time of his death in 1876.)
Somewhere ahead, the bad guys start quarreling with each other after tying their three captives to posts. Apparently "Black Jack" has some idea of collecting ransom from Wild Bill Hickok for the captive Calamity Jane, and he now tells the Indians that they will not get their payoff of "wampum" until he gets his payoff from Hickok! This doesn't sit well with the Indians, who were told that they would get their pay as soon as they delivered Calamity Jane to Black Jack! (Well, it's not like it's the first time a white man ever cheated on a deal with Indians...) After Black Jack cuffs Stalking Puma to the ground, the Indian promises to kill him if he does such a thing again. The preacher's daughter fears that men so ready to kill each other will have no compunctions about killing their captives! But Calamity Jane is confident that Wild Bill and the Rawhide Kid will be able to help them, and besides, "I ain't exactly helpless MYSELF!" She whispers that she has nearly managed to work herself free from her bonds and "the first chance I get... I'll JUMP 'em!"
One might doubt whether one woman, however feisty, could successfully "jump" a whole band of Indians plus a white outlaw. Fortunately for her, however, Rawhide and Wild Bill have reached the scene! Wild Bill recognizes Black Jack as an old foe; "He's been out to get me ever since I ran him outa Deadwood for runnin' a CROOKED POKER GAME!" Bill proposes that he and Rawhide sneak up and untie the captives. But now Black Jack suggests freeing the preacher and his daughter himself, since he has no need for them-- knowing full well that they will fall right back into the hands of the Indians. When he tries to plant an unwanted kiss on the preacher's daughter before letting her go, Calamity Jane makes her own break and punches out Jack; "You purely need to learn some MANNERS! Ain't nobody ever told yuh you don't go kissin' a gal unless she WANTS yuh to?" Unfortunately, Calamity is quickly grabbed and held fast by Stalking Puma, who still wants the payment of "wampum" and "firewater" for capturing her. But Black Jack has changed his mind about the disposal of the "little hell cat"-- instead of releasing her to Wild Bill in return for ransom, he intends to kill her! He figures Wild Bill is far away and unable to interfere. Fortunately, he's wrong. Wild Bill makes the kind of shot that is only made in Code-approved comic books and "Lone Ranger" TV shows, shooting the gun out of Black Jack's hand before he can fire at Calamity Jane! But Stalking Puma is still holding Calamity and now uses her as a human shield against Wild Bill! But the Rawhide Kid leaps from another direction and clouts Stalking Puma on the head, giving Calamity a chance to get free. The other Indians (who don't exactly seem to be the stoutest upholders of the Indian warrior spirit) scatter; "FLEE! We cannot defeat TWO such gunfighters!"
As Rawhide and Stalking Puma continue to fight, Black Jack tries to sneak away, but he is caught and wrestled to the ground by Wild Bill. Rawhide is tired of "waltzin' around" with Stalking Puma, so he "puts him out for keeps" with a mighty punch. Wild Bill and Calamity Jane greet each other enthusiastically, leaving Rawhide to free the other two captives. He also gets a warm thank-you kiss from the preacher's daughter (whose name I don't think is ever mentioned in this story) and even the preacher himself admits, "Truly the Lord smiled on you this day! I am normally against such public displays of emotion, but in this case I believe it is justified!" The girl starts to confess her love for Johnny Clay, but he cuts her off; "Don't say it! It couldn't work! I'm an OUTLAW! I never know from one minute to the next when somebody's gonna plug me in the BACK!" The supposedly unconscious Stalking Puma demonstrates the point by rising from the ground and coming after Rawhide with a knife! Fortunately, Rawhide is good at shooting knives out of hands, as well as guns. But the attack helps convince the girl that there can be no future for her and Johnny Clay unless the Rawhide Kid can one day clear his name and hang up his guns. As Rawhide rides off (on which horse it's not clear, since he supposedly left his regular horse Nightwind at a stable back in Deadwood), those he leaves behind reflect, "There goes a real MAN!" "And there aren't many of them LEFT! I don't know what he's supposed to of done... but Calamity Jane's bettin' that he's INNOCENT!" "If only he can PROVE it someday!" "If nothing else, the LORD will judge him fairly... when the right moment comes!"