He may be the fastest gun in the West, but one longtime Marvel Comics character is no straight shooter.

The Rawhide Kid, who made his comics debut in the 1950s, will soon be blasting his way out of the closet and be revealed as a gay gunslinger.

The outing occurs in the new series Rawhide Kid: Slap Leather, which comes out in February. Marvel, which is also the home of Spider-Man and the Incredible Hulk, describes it as "Go West meets the Old West."

"This is going to be the first gay Western," said the company's editor-in-chief, Joe Quesada.

Created in 1957 in an attempt to capitalize off of the old TV show Rawhide, the Kid "was always shown as a shy-around-girls kind of guy," Quesada said. "Now you know why."

The Marvel honcho said the Kid won't make any pronouncements about his sexual orientation but promised readers will "know it from the moment you see him."

"It's a classic Western, like Shane, but with a gay twist," said writer Ron Zimmerman. While the story has "a comedic slant," Zimmerman said he hopes the 21st-century kid is "an empowering character that the gay community would be able to embrace."

One tip-off about his orientation comes in the first issue, when he's asked about the Lone Ranger.

"I just want to meet him. I think that mask and powder-blue outfit are fantastic," he says. "I can certainly see why that Indian follows him around."

Asked about Wild Bill Hickock, he says, "Very nice man. Big -- ahem -- I mean bigger than life."

The hero dresses in black leather, white gloves and a white cowboy hat made of imported Canadian beaver, which he tells one of the bad guys "probably costs more than your horse."

Speculation that the Kid would be coming out has been a hot topic on several comedy-oriented Web sites, with some longtime fans upset about the new direction for the formerly thought-to-be hetero hero.

Quesada said the revelation is just a way of pumping new life into the character. The new spin can also give new enjoyment to people who read his old adventures, he said.

"The old Rawhide Kid comics portrayed him as a very immature young man who never really had a meaningful relationship," he said.

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