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
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
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