Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Cowboy Covers- Spicy Western Stories in the 1940’s

Continuing from yesterday’s post, here are some additional covers from Spicy Western Stories, this time from the 1940’s.  It doesn’t look like the war did much to tame the magazine, but if you look closely you do see a cowboy reaching across a war bonds poster while cutting a damsel free of her bonds.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Deadlands- The Devil’s Sixgun

When the role-playing game Deadlands first arrived in the 1990s, it was a game ahead of its time.  A Weird Western when that genre was still little known, it also combined magic, steampunk, zombies, vampires, and an X-Files style mystery into one setting.  The game rules were always bizarre, in some cases leading to players stopping in the middle of combat to break out a deck of cards and play a hand of poker against evil spirits as they tried slinging a hex at some ne'er do well.  The crazy rules may be why, to my great regret, I was never able to pull together enough people to actually play the game, but I greatly enjoyed the source materials and reading the storylines.

Deadland’s current owner, Pinnacle Games, is making a big marketing push on the game again, releasing a tabletop game (Battle for Slaughter Gulch, which I hope to review soon) and a series of one shot comics published through Image.  The first, The Devil’s Sixgun, tells some of the backstory for the weird science / magic that is throughout the game’s story, particularly Ghost Rock. Ghost Rock is glowing green stone that is found at the site of calamities scattered through the West (such as the remains of California, most of which dropped into the Pacific in an earthquake).  It gets its name from the strange haunting sounds that it lets off when burned.  What science has yet to understand is that the rock is actually haunted, and evil spirits emerge whenever it is used.  Enter Copernicus Blackburne, star of this tale, who is engaged by a mysterious industrialist to create a Ghost Rock gun that could kill the Devil himself.

The story and art were interesting enough, and if this were a stand-alone comic I may have enjoyed it more.  I eagerly sought out this book expecting to find a western, but instead found a tale of a tormented Czech inventor struggling to save his soul while working with magic.  I opened the book expecting Cormac McCarthy, or at least Joe Lansdale, and got Vaclav Havel instead.  The only hint that this is associated with the west is a single frame showing a covered wagon entering Salt Lake City.  Besides this, almost nothing in the story says western to me.  Deadlands, yes, but not the West.
Note that almost none of this comic takes place in this map.

The book does a nice job of setting up some of the story behind Ghost Rock, so it is a nice introduction to that part of the Deadlands setting.  The backup story, with a young Billy the Kid facing off against a supernatural gunslinger, was also fun, and will be picked up in the next of the one shots due out in July, this time by the writers of the Jonah Hex comic.  I’ll be back with more news on the resurgence of Deadlands. 

Monday, June 27, 2011

Reed Gunther- All Ages Cowboy Comic

On a recent trip to the comic shop I managed to walk out with almost nothing but westerns, not a common thing in today’s superhero saturated market.  While heading to the register I caught a strange cover on the “all ages” section, with a cowboy riding a brown bear roping a giant snake.  What the hell, I thought, it’s probably pretty bad, but it’s only $2.99 and at least it’s a western, right?  Turns out this was the best book of the day.

Reed Gunther and the Steak Snacking Snake by brothers Shane and Chris Houghton is a funny little comic about a wandering cowboy do-gooder and his pard, a loveable and sometimes ferocious bear named Sterling.  In the course of their travels, the come across a female rancher named Starla, who has an unusual problem- she can’t get her cattle to move.  Not only that, they keep disappearing from the plains.  The problem is, as the title suggests, I giant snake that lives in the local river that likes to feast on her herd.  Together Reed, Starla, and the indomitable Sterling must find a way to rid the plains of the snake and protect the herd.

This comic is fun, adventurous, and (now this is a word that had probably never appeared in the this blog) cute.  Reed is gallant though occasionally cowardly, Starla is his feisty foil, and in every frame that you see Sterling you just want to invite the big lug over to curl up by your fireplace.  The art is clean and simple, fitting the all ages audience.  A note from the creators at the end says that the original version of this was black and white, but from the talent that Chris Houghton has with color I’m glad they upgraded.  This issue of Reed Gunther looks to be the first of a continuing series, and I sure hope it does keep going.  Deadlands, Outlaw Territory, and now this?  Congratulations to Image Comics for keeping western comics alive.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Cowboy Covers- Spicy Western Stories in the 1930's

For a while now I have been collecting images of crazy western covers, hoping to do a post on them.  I hit the treasure trove recently when I came across a site called Bondage Cover of the Day, which collects trashy covers from pulps and magazines.  You’ll see a few posts on these in the coming weeks. Let me start with a pulp magazine called Spicy Western Stories.  These covers run towards exceptionally creepy, and may dispel your notions that the Greatest Generation were an entirely wholesome bunch.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Hell on Wheels- AMC’s new Western

American Movie Classics, the people that brought us Breaking Bad, Walking Dead, and Mad Men, are coming out with a new Western series, Hell on Wheels.  It looks like a dark take on the creation of the railroads.  After watching the preview it is clear to me that this is studio that should have made Jonah Hex.

Friday, June 24, 2011

50 Greatest Leftist Communist Obamacare Hipster Westerns

The London magazine Time Out recently published an article on their 50 Greatest Westerns. Time Out’s readership is primarily urban hipsters looking for diverting entertainment before heading out off to the clubs at Piccadilly Circus to get drunk, stoned, and laid.  If that’s the audience, then they did a nice job.  The list of full of dark classics and revisionist westerns, films that turn the genre on end, like Heaven’s Gate, Dead Man, and their pick for #1, Robert Altman’s McCabe and Mrs. Miller.  While I found the latter almost completely unwatchable I did like a lot of the films on the list, and they nicely appeal to both the sarcastic Gen-Xer and the hopeful dirty hippie mountain man in me.  This list has clearly upset people, as I have found two other blogs is just a few minutes of searching that take this list to task, one calling it is list of 50 Greatest Leftist Westerns.  I’ll take that.

They are all wrong, of course.  The best western movie is Christopher Guest's underrated Almost Heroes, the only film that ever pointed out the insanity of Lewis & Clark’s plan of sailing up the Missouri into the Rockies hoping that at some point it flows back down into the Pacific.  Seriously, did they think that the laws of physics change in the mountains?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Saloon Brawl that Never Was

Someone spills whiskey.  Someone cheats at cards.  Someone lets loose a rebel yell and throws a bottle.  Let the Saloon Brawl begin.

Looking back on my life I realize that I started working on a “bucket list” when I was 19 years old and moved to England.  That list consisted of two things that I wanted to do:

1-     That girl that looked just like Dara from Roger Zelazny's Chronicles of Amber books.

2-     Get into a bar fight.  Especially one that looks like this.

I have no idea who drew this, but it is awesome

I ended up marrying that girl who looked just like Dara, and she has been my best friend for 17 years, so that worked out pretty well.  The second part, well, that was a tough one.  Blame it on too many westerns, too many funny scenes from F-Troop, and maybe way too much testosterone and Gen-X angst, but I really wanted to have an opportunity to let the wolf loose and throw some blind punches into a drunken night. 

I decided that I would go to the toughest town in Britain (Glasgow) on the drunkest night of the year (New Year’s Eve), find a loud bar, and see what happened.  Just to be sure, I hooked up with a group of Australians as soon as I got to the city.  We wandered the streets of Glasgow looking for a place to spend the night, and found a rowdy sounding place in a basement, appropriately named Austin’s Basement Bar.  Hanging out with drunk Aussies in a loud dive bar in Glasgow on New Year's?  I knew I would be throwing punches before midnight.

Austin’s Basement Bar turned out to be a gay karaoke bar.  The Aussies hit the trail, and I spent the night bellied up to the bar with a butch lesbian with a badass crewcut and leathers, holding off the advances of the ITV correspondent for Parliament.  As the years have gone by I have been much less enamored of bars, and with medications making me practically a hemophiliac I think my potential bar fight days are well behind me. But I can still dream...