Shadow of the West

During last summer, I became hooked on reruns of Kojak and the scuzzy streets of nigh-bankrupt Noo Yawk in the mid-70s.  This year, I discovered Sixties gem The Wild, Wild West. I knew there was a Will Smith movie in the late 90s but the tv series was never shown in the STV region, to my knowledge.

wild_wild_west titles

Essentially, this is The Avengers in Stetsons- US secret service agent Jim West is a James Bond of the 19th Century, foiling diabolical masterminds with an array of gadgets and the aid of Artemus Gordon, a bon vivant  master of disguise.

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West is played by gravelly, pugnacious bantam Robert Conrad;  a very handsome and athletic actor who would have made a very fine Golden Age Atom in the Wonder Woman series of the 70s.  Ross Martin plays “Artie” and the pair live like kings on a luxury train which also features a laboratory.

Like the Emma Peel era of the Avengers, the first season is shot in black and white and features a variety of death traps; numerous light bondage scenes (lingering on Conrad’s torso, in the main) and a gallery of epicurean super-villains; in particular, the singing dwarf megalomaniac, Dr. Miguelito Loveless.

loveless

The second series is in colour. I’ve caught early episodes in the past weeks starring Boris Karloff, Sammy Davis Jr. and a UFO story with green space girls (which confirms my theory that Jim is an ancestor of the Jupiter II’s Mjr Don West.) I haven’t found it as enjoyable as the first season although it’s certainly even more bizarre.

However, WWW sent me to Aberdeen for the DC Showcase collected edition  of Bat Lash, an unconventional Western character from the late 60s. I only knew this gentleman loner from ads in sixties comics and a couple of appearances with the JLA- which we’ll see below…

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This is a cynically comedic comic with an amoral dandy as lead, with a love for flowers, fine wine and pretty girls. Later in the series, they attempt to give the roguish “Bat” a tragic backstory and an estranged bounty hunter brother, as if his self-interest weren’t heroic enough. The beautiful art by Nick Cardy is truly amazing and it’s well worth a look, although nothing really like the steampunk WWW.

I haven’t read many stories of Dc’s Western characters: the odd entry in the canon of Jonah Hex; or El Diablo; Firehair; the Vigilante  and even Super-Chief.  I did enjoy these stories of the Justice League however.

JLA Conway cowboys hex-justice-league-coverBatton Lash appears on both covers!

I know even less about Marvel’s Western stars. I think I had one issue of the late 60s Mighty Marvel Western circa 1970.

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I’ve read the Englehart Avengers issues with the “rannies” of course, but they’re all quite indistinct personalities.  Only the infamous and puerile  gay innuendo of the Noughties Rawhide Kid series gave him any colour.

The closest analogue to the cowboys and super-heroes comics cited just above was this early 80s Hulk adventure:

rangers

 While he’s really another iteration of Ka-zar or even the Falcon, I was intrigued to read about Red Wolf in the early 70s; his solo series is one I’ve never read. I also knew of the western Ghost Rider from reprints in the final days of TV 21. If there were a Marvel Western star to revive, he has the name, of course, the supernatural shtick and the gimmicks.

 

PeacemakerBrowder smithBen Browder (left) also voiced the animated Bat Lash!

While Dr. Who has featured a few Western-themed adventures on tv, audio and in print,  some years ago I was daydreaming about a US remake of Dr. Who, in the vein of The Office or Life on Mars. WWW aside, the boffin or mad scientist seems a European trope and the Western drifter of the plains seems like a more appropriate image for an American Time Lord. And a VW hippy van made a good substitute for a police box, if the Doctor is something of a snake oil pedlar.

Animated lash

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Coming attractions, here and on Some Fantastic Place: Batman; the Spirit; the Fox and the Vixen.

All images presumed copyright of their respective owners

 

 

 

 

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4 comments on “Shadow of the West

  1. Kid Robson says:

    I don’t recall ever seeing WWW on STV when I was a kid, so I think your right about it not being shown here. Neither was Gerry Anderson’s Secret Service, I think. Don’t remember ever seeing it anyway. Reminds me of that well known announcement – “…except for viewers in Scotland.”

  2. tc says:

    Never saw Secret Service or Joe 90, and never even heard of them until I read an article or column in a science fiction media magazine (maybe Starlog or Fantastic Films) ca. 1980. Most of Gerry Anderson’s series were shown in the US, but in syndication, so their distribution was kind of spotty; you will hear Americans say, e.g., “I remember Stingray, but I never saw Captain Scarlet,” or, “I watched Supercar, but our local TV stations didn’t carry Thunderbirds.” (Fireball XL5 was broadcast on a nation-wide American TV network, but, oddly, it doesn’t seem to be as widely known in the US as Thunderbirds and Space: 1999.)

    I never really got into Western comics. When I was six, I was into “funny animal” comics with characters that I knew from animated cartoons: Yogi Bear, Bugs Bunny, et al. From seven to twelve, I read superhero comics. And after that, when I got interested in more realistic genres, including Westerns, I was no longer reading comics.

    The Wild Wild West was, as you say, basically The Avengers (as in Steed & Mrs. Peel) or The Man From U.N.C.L.E. set in the American West in the 1870’s. Like those shows (and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and Lost In Space), it started as a fairly straight action-adventure show, but then the Batman/camp comedy fad became a big influence, and the series kept getting sillier and more juvenile. Those shows all went over the top in the 1966-67 season/series, then tried to tone it down in 1967-68, when the camp fad passed. WWW had a little more success in a return to playing it straight, and lasted into the 1968-69 season, about a year after TMFU and the Irwin Allen sci-fi shows had been cancelled.

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