Thursday, June 23, 2011

Western Weirdness:

 This sure has been a pretty hefty summer for comics-inspired and science fiction films, yet actual enthusiasm seems to be lacking for any of the films coming out (although I really, really hope Captain America turns out to be good, let alone does well at the box office), except for one; the unlikely Cowboys & Aliens.

 Now this could just be Harrison Ford's star power, but considering the big pile of snark bait the last Indiana Jones movie turned out to be, as well as the (rightly warranted) box-office failure of Wild, Wild West and Jonah Hex (I hesitate to fall back on the old "rape my childhood" metaphor, but Jonah Hex, well, that's a rant for another time. All I'm gonna say is that Hex is one of my favorite comics series of all time and the film left me fuming for weeks), it doesn't exactly seem like it would be an appealing concept to your average moviegoer, at least as I understand them. Nevertheless, all speculation I've seen regarding the film is positive.

 So I felt I may as well get into the mood a little while early, and post the covers of some of Marvel's old Western comics.  The "Weird Western" genre, credited to Robert E. Howard, has been an appealing, if little used motif ever since he published his short story "The Horror from the Mound". There's just something about seeing the land of six-guns and sagebrush being populated with denizens from the twilight zone that stirs the imagination.

 It's a motif that's been used in film,

 Why not comics? Yessir, aliens, ghosts, monsters and other creatures of the beyond have been a staple of western comics for years. So grab a hold of 'yer rotgut whiskey, start chewin' yer tobaccey n' invite 'yer kin over ter see some a' these comic book-y things that ain't comical. Enjoy!

 Also, I choose to go with Marvel covers rather than DC's because, face it, every DC comic during this era had some sort of outlandish sci-fi or supernatural crap occurring in it regardless of genre. I'd be here all day posting DC's "weird westerns" from this era. I have included one little non-Marvel surprise, however.
 I've always found Marvel's early covers during it's Atlas/Red Circle phase to be appealing with their vibrant colors compared to the more earthy, somber colors that characterized their later work. It really lent a contrast when used on their horror comics. Otherwise, this cover is pretty meh. Still, it's the earliest on this list, so it comes first, even though I'm not going in any particular order. Simple, but effective.
 Ooh, I like this one! Things are actually happening. Not much "horror" or weirdness, but hermits are a horror staple, be they mad slashers or kindly old blind violinists willing to educate a persecuted monster.
 Sweeney Todd, western-style. I can't tell if that's a brush inside that mug thing or a sawed off shotgun. And whose gun is it if that's what it is?
 Dr. Doom was in the old west? That's what it looks like, but apparently the story itself doesn't have any outlandish elements according to various websites. That said, don't be too disappointed about Kid Colt not encountering any armored adversaries in this issue, he more than made up for it later...

 Yes, Kid-Colt actually had a recurring nemesis who dressed like that. Obviously based on Ned Kelly, Iron Mask was really just a blacksmith with bulletproof armor, nothing too implausible by steampunk standards, but still, to a casual observer, you'd think he was a robot. Biggest irony of all is that Ned Kelly was later played by Heath Ledger, who also played some other super-villain you may have heard of, some clown guy. Note the gaps between appearences of this villain, Marvel was wise not to use him too much and kill the novelty. Then again, Kid-Colt had the most frequent encounters with such weirdies:
 As you can probably tell, most of these supernatural villains were just Scooby Doo-style hoaxes in the stories themselves, or mundane ones like indian cults who were made more elaborate on the covers.

 Not so with this guy:
 I'm not going to top that one.

 Or am I?

 I wonder if Stan Lee was a fan of Robert Bloch's story "The Totem Pole". Lee also did two stories featuring a monstrous, living totem in Strange Tales and created a Fantastic Four villain called Tomazooa the Living Totem. None of 'em compete with this bad boy.

 Believe it or not, those last two aren't the same character!

 Holy shit...

 I could go on, and there's an entire sub-category of western heroes who may as well have been superheroes with their outlandish outfits, rogues galleries and derring-do. Some of them even had supernatural elements, like The Ghost Rider/Phantom Rider, a nearly identitcal hero owned both by M.F. Enterprises and then Marvel. Still, when all these spookies were appearing in Marvel's various "kid" titles, featuring (supposedly) more realistic stories, they really packed a punch!

 Now here's what I consider to be the greatest Western/Horror comic cover of all time!
 Holy shit!!!! I have a huge collection of horror comics from various publishers, and have read the gruesomest offerings from EC and even Eerie publications, and yet, few covers get to me like this one does. Is it the juxtaposition of the cartoony art-style? Is it the fact that this series appears to otherwise be aimed at little kids? Like I said, holy shit. I also included it because Ghost Rider/Phantom Rider is on the cover too, in the sidebar, in case you wondered what he looked like. Now here's a treat: Read it here!

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