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Comic Book First: Gay Gunslinger

The Rawhide Kid, a longtime Marvel Comics character, is coming out of the closet next year.

A new story line will reveal the Kid's keen fashion sense - including a stylish leather outfit - in what one Marvel editor boasted would be "the first gay Western."

The Kid's orientation, along with his white gloves and a white cowboy hat fashioned from Canadian beaver pelts, will be unveiled this February in a Marvel series called "Rawhide Kid: Slap Leather."

Marvel is the home of more old-school comics like Spider-Man, the X-Men and the Incredible Hulk. The Kid made his debut in 1955, when comic book sexuality was not an issue and Marvel was looking to cash in on the success of the classic TV show "Rawhide."

The times have certainly changed.

"It's not a book solely for a gay readership," said Joe Quesada, editor-in-chief at Marvel. "Who watches `Will and Grace'? Everybody I know. This is the same. If you like a good story and a good laugh, this is for you."

In keeping with the light theme, the writer will be Ron Zimmerman, a frequent guest on the Howard Stern radio show and a television writer. Artist John Severin, who worked on the original Rawhide Kid, will handle the drawing.

The Rawhide character will not walk out of the closet and into a saloon - not that there's anything wrong with that.

"He doesn't come out and say he's gay," explained Quesada. "But it's obvious through his actions and the things he says that his preference is men, not women."

Part of the comedic slant will come in the Rawhide Kid's asides to the reader after the townsfolk can't quite figure out what makes the gunslinger ... different. In his previous incarnation, the Rawhide Kid was very shy around women. Nothing about that will change in the new version.

Among the clues to the Kid's sexuality will include his reaction to other characters from the comic book, including Wild Bill Hickok and The Lone Ranger.

"I think that mask and powder-blue outfit are fantastic," he says of the Ranger. "I can certainly see why that Indian follows him around."

By Larry McShane