Friday, August 13, 2010

Wild Wild West in Comics?

Last week, Caine explained why he thought Burn Notice might make a cool comic, ending with the question of what show would we, the readers like to see as comics. For me, the answer is simple and the subject of today’s post: The Wild Wild West!

The first mashup?

Today, pitching and promoting a show or comic as a mashup is sort of expected. How many bad concepts have been summarized with the words: It’s like the Dirty Dozen but with Elves? Enough that I got sick of the trend and made an interactive parody of it with my Pitchbot 3000. And yet, a mashup is exactly what the Wild Wild West was. The show combined the Western genre (a long reigning champ on television at the time) with the Spy genre, made wildly popular no thanks in part to the early Sean Connery's Bond films.

The WWW presented the adventures of two Washington Secret Service agents, well played by stars Robert Conrad as the dashing ladies man James West and Ross Martin as the man of a thousand faces, Artemus Gordon. Traveling in their own luxurious private train car, our heroes would receive telegraphs from DC ordering them to foil the scheme of some eccentric villain with a doomsday weapon or a second rate Napoleon hell-bent on taking over America. Using wits, fists and gadgets, they always managed restore the troubled nation back into the safe hands of Ulysses S. Grant. (A historical note that I always found humorous when I watched the show as a teenager.)

For four seasons, the show was a top rater on CBS, but it was eventually cancelled due to concerns about the level of violence the show. As a kid (and later as a teenager) I found the show enthralling. Now looking back on it, I think there are a couple of reasons it would make a good comic candidate.

Gadgets + Guns = Good

While careful not to overdue it, there were a lot of cool gadgets used by West and Gordon on the show. Some appear for only one or two episodes while others (like the famous boot knife) became staples of the series. Here is a small list of the tools of the trade used throughout the series:

  • The gun in West’s sleeve (a popular gambler accessory)
  • A lock pick in the lapel
  • A knife in the collar Removable boot heels with either a derringer or explosives in them
  • A small knife in the boot which popped out with a click of the heels
  • Explosives in the bottom of a holster
This was no doubt in part due to the Bond influence on the show, however, it is an element that would help make the show interesting to comic readers. I could see an inventive writer taking a slightly more steam punk approach with some of the gadgets to allow for the introduction of things not seen in the series.

Gadgets weren’t the only similarity to the Bond films the series shared. Like 007, West and Gordon were more than ready to gun down opponents when the situation required such tactics. Because the show took take place in the wild untamed west it allowed our heroes plenty of opportunities to come out with guns blazing. (This was most likely a large bit of the appeal of Westerns in general...) And while not necessarily my cup of tea, there are quite a number of comic readers who prefer gun toting comic heroes (whether they be scarred ex-confederate bounty hunters or skull bearing vigilantes.)

Villains and Vistas

There are some people who believe it is not good heroes that make good comics, but rather interesting villains and vistas. They example that alwasy gets trotted out is the early Lee/Kirby Fantastic Four. If that rule is true, then the WWW would seem to contain enough of the same things to be a successful comic. Without a doubt, one of the features that made the show so popular was the colorful cast of villains writers came up with each week. One of the shows most famous, Miguelito Quixote Loveless was recently named as one of the Top Ten television villains of all time by Entertainment Weekly. Agnes Moorehead won an Emmy for her portrayal of villainess Emma Valentine in The Night of the Vicious Valentine.

Here are a few of my favorites notable villains from just the first season of the series:

  • Prof. Orkney Cadwallader, a mad scientist who uses nitroglycerin to make man made earthquakesplayed by Burgess Meredith
  • Ecstasy LaJoie, an assassin armed with an explosive garter and a deadly ring.played by Yvonne Craig
  • Morgan Midas, a scientist who uses a diamond derived formula to move faster than sight played by Robert Drivas
  • General Grimm, a leader of a ruthless paramilitary group played by Martin Landau
  • Colonel “Iron Man” Torres, a man who has rebuilt himself into a 19th century cyborg played by John Dehner
While most were just one shot villains, Loveless, played by the masterful stage actor Michael Dunn, would return again and again to the show. It was often his schemes which would lead to the most interesting plot scenarios. In The Night of the Raven he he shrunk James West down to the size of a mouse. In Night of the Surreal McCoy, he developed a way to enter the world of two dimensional paintings. In one episode, he shows up in a medieval suit of armor with a plan to destroy all plant life. Yeah, it sounds a little wacky, but Dunn always manages to sell the script.

Now as RKB mentioned last week, some Wild Wild West comics actually were printed by Gold Key back in the 60's...

Gold Key and Dell used to do all kinds of TV show adaptations, but they mostly all had that diamond in the rough quality to them. You read through a issue, read through a issue, a lot of 'it's okay' and some 'this is bland' mixed in with a few real gems...

I tend to agree with RKB's assessment. But now, based on how some companies are coming out with great adaptations of older shows now, I think it would be a good time for someone to tackle the Wild Wild West again.

Have a great weekend

- Jim


Caine said...

Great post Jim. It's clear that you loved Wild Wild West and a comic based off of your ideas would be great.

Trey said...

AS you know, I'm a big WWW fan so it was nice to to see this post. As you also know, I'm not a fan of using one terms the kids are using to talk about things we already had terms for before (e.g. "mashup").

Anyway, good post. You left out one recurring WWW villian--the only one, I think besides Loveless. I refer, of course, to Victor ("King Tut") Buono as the show-turned assassin Count Carlos Mario Vincenzo Robespierre Manzeppi.

RKB said...

I think that's a great premise Jim, just need to keep Dynamite from getting their concept killing, soul numbing, grubby little mitts on it. ;)

MattComix said...

I think Dynamite did good on their Zorro comic. Though what they're doing with Green Hornet is very WTF?

jim kosmicki said...

Millenium did a four issue B&W series back in the 90's - I remember ordering the first issue and not ordering the rest, so it must not have been very good.

jim kosmicki said...

Dynamite would be interesting - Their Zorro adaptation is quite good, but it's written by Matt Wagner and based largely on Isabel Allende's novel that developed the backstory a LOT. I wasn't as pleased with the second volume as I was the first.

I don't believe that Dynamite as a company has a particular vision for adapting characters - they seem to give the creators a lot of room - what most people don't like about the new Green Hornet comes straight from Kevin Smith's vision from the screenplay.

JimShelley said...

@Jim Kosmicki - I'd never heard of that Millenium version - thank you for the tip on that!


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