Monday, July 1, 2013

"...And what I do isn't original."

For the month of July, I'll be experimenting with daily blogging; regardless of how long I maintain it, you can be sure it'll lack a coherant direction; why change the blog's non-identity now?
The point has been made that while Len Wein created Wolverine, he wasn't the one who made the character popular; the popular characterization was developed by Chris Claremont. Claremont didn't ignore what Wein had established, but he grafted on new developments for Wolverine (his long life, old enemies, love of Japanese culture, drinking problem, lust for Jean Grey) which became standards for Wolverine's personality.

Naturally, this leads me to Wolverine's predecessor: the Rawhide Kid.
Above panel from Rawhide Kid#73 (1969), "the Manhunt!" by Larry Lieber
Who created the Rawhide Kid? His earliest stories were by Dick Ayers, but the character was heavily revised by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Dick Ayers in the late 50s. Even then, the person who put the most amount of work into the character's series wasn't one of these three men - it was writer & artist Larry Lieber, from 1964-1973.
Above panel from Rawhide Kid#113 (1973), "A Gunman no More!" by Larry Lieber
Yet for all the years Lieber spent with the Rawhide Kid, he wasn't particuarly interested in making his mark on the character; there's an immense amount of "sameness" in these stories - the Rawhide Kid gets a job and hopes he can quit being an outlaw; the Kid falls in love with some damsel; the Kid finds a surrogate parent(s); the Kid battles some way-too-on-the-nose comic book Natives... Only occasionally would Lieber break up the monotony with something unusual, such as when the Kid joins forces with his two brothers (issue #100). At a time when Marvel's super hero comics were trying to challenge the audience's expectations of what could happen in a super hero story, the Rawhide Kid was quietly plodding through more-of-the-same adventures.

Above panel from Rawhide Kid#69 (1969), "And Now -- Executioner!" by Larry Lieber
Strangely, Lieber himself is just the merest footnote in Marvel Comics history, even though he's Stan Lee's brother, a rare writer/artist who was seemingly left to his own devices and still with us today. Perhaps that's because while other Marvel talent were on the super hero books, Lieber put most of his efforts into the western line. For all that I think Lieber's efforts lacked originality, I'm fascinated at the style he developed - particuarly in his art, which was clearly inspired by Jack Kirby. Lieber was not the first Kirby ape at Marvel (nor the last), but that he was aping Kirby on a title Kirby helped popularize while Kirby was still at the publisher and then later after he was gone, is interesting. If Lieber had been drawing Daredevil or X-Men, we'd have more to say about him now. As it is, one of the more prolific talents from the so-called "Marvel Age of Comics" is, to this day, largely forgotten.

No comments: