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Billy The Kid

Billy the Kid is a feature written by John Albano and drawn by Tony De Zuniga, and it ran in issues 6 – 8 of All Star Western according to the Grand Comics Database. What set this otherwise typical for its time Western feature apart is that this Billy the Kid is presenting as a man. With a few exceptions, the characters believe Billy is a male and some assume to be the notorious Billy the Kid, though writer Albano didn’t intend for this character to represent the real world gun fighter. Artist Tony de Zuniga drew Billy wearing buckskin pants and shirt with fringe along the shoulders, boots and topped it off with a white hat and red bandana around the neck (an easy and realistic way for the time period to conceal the lack of an anatomical Adam’s apple). Billy’s hair is blond and is worn slightly longer than most of the males depicted and the hair seems to be drawn with a bit more detail. In a few closeups the artist drew longer eyelashes and slightly more rounded facial features De Zuniga used perspective to his advantage and rarely drew Billy standing side by side to another male character as a way to obscure height slightly.

billythekid2Billy’s motivation for presenting as male is never explained in these three appearances. The reader is told a part of Billy’s life near the end of issue five’s story when Billy retrieves a pocket watch from his father with a photo of them both and the inscription “To my loving daughter Billy Jo”. Billy wears the same hat and possibly buckskin shirt in the photograph. Photographs in this time period were rare and expensive which leads to the idea that Billy’s father accepted how his child dressed even though he may not have fully understood. Or perhaps Billy is not transgender and was considered by writer Albano as an extreme tomboy? The Internet appears to have no background information on Albano’s Billy beyond the mere basics categorizing appearance and credits. Turning to the detailed The American Comic Book Chronicles: The 1970s by Jason Sacks is disappointing as it hasn’t any information on the series, let alone the feature. Regardless, Albano makes it clear that Billy wants his secret kept and prefers to negotiate the world as a male.

Billy is an above average gun fighter and is a faster draw than opponents and it’s this skill Billy relies on in the effort to avenge his father’s death. Billy is trusting and sometimes naive as illustrated when he comes to rely on a man who claims to have seen the men who murdered his father yet stole the man’s horse and saddle. After camping out together overnight, Billy’s surprised to find the man gone along with money, provisions, and pocket watch, prompting Billy to think:” If he should look at the photograph inside thet [sic] watch case…he’ll know my secret!” Emphasis in original. Billy refers to this man as “Mex” simply because he’s Mexican and only calls him by his real name of Pancho at the end of the story when Pancho is dying. Billy also doesn’t hesitate to hit a woman he suspects has helped Pancho until realizing the implausibility based on the woman’s blindness. After avenging Pancho’s murder, Billy makes certain he has a proper burial.

Billy is saved from being killed by a pair of Native Americans by “Ace” Van Winston, a gambler and gunfighter with a death wish and a hatred of Native Americans. Not long afterwards the men come across a trio of Native men who’ve killed a deer. Ace is quick to murder two of them while Billy prevents him from killing the third, who escapes back to his village. Unsurprisingly, the tribe retaliates and captures them with the intent to kill them to avenge their dead. Upon learning Billy stopped Ace from killing the third man he decides to set Billy free. In turn, Ace begs Billy to kill him instead of being burnt alive. Billy refuses on the grounds of not being able to shoot an unarmed man to which Ace responds that he killed Billy’s father and then confirming it with: “Then how would I know that his last words were of you…his daughter Miss Billy Jo?” Emphasis in original. Understanding the confession, the chief gives Billy the opportunity to avenge his father’s death with a gun duel, which Ace bluffs ensuring a mortal wound.

billythekid3In Billy’s final appearance he gets mixed up with a ne’er do well older man nicknamed “One Eye” who indulges his boot fetish by stealing them whenever possible. Billy’s secret is discovered after being ambushed in their wilderness encampment by a trio of criminals who jeeringly deride his birth gender. As an act of self defense, Billy kills two of the criminals while One Eye takes out the third. Billy is last seen riding away on his horse.

Letter columns of the 1960s and 1970s occasionally mentioned upcoming stories or new characters. This is not the case with #5. A reader’s letter in issue #9 mentions liking Billy the Kid and the editorial response states the character has been set aside, adding: “If we can come up with another interesting storyline for the character, she’ll be back”. Yes, the unnamed editorial assistant used a female pronoun The fluctuating page count in DC’s comics in late 1970 and most of 1971, ranging from 32 to 64 to 48 and then back to 32, may have been a factor in the character’s quick demise. The deciding factor was likely the introduction and popularity of Jonah Hex.

The American Wild West wasn’t as hetero-normative as text books and media would have us believe. Author Chris Packard’s Queer Cowboys shows how the American frontier was gayer than you might imagine. While the book concentrates specifically on male male relationships it does open the possibility of transgender people such as Billy the Kid.

Thanks to Ray Sablack for bringing attention to the character. Stories from issues 6 and 7 are reprinted in Showcase Presents Jonah Hex vol 1.

Please note that I’ve taken the stance that Billy is transgender in writing this profile whereas this may well not have been John Albano’s intent given his use of female nouns and pronouns.

Billy The Kid debuted in All Star Western #6 (June July 1971) vol 2.

Created by John Albano and Tony de Zuniga.

All rights reserved DC Comics,

July 1, 2021
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