26 Oct 10 Comic Book Characters Influenced by the Old West
The comic book medium has a history that spans a wide variety of genres – not just the capes and superheroes that are at the forefront of pop culture in 2015. Colorful spandex and jumpsuits are just fine, and they certainly have their place, but sometimes you just need a tough Western cowboy aesthetic in your comic books, you know? From the 1940’s through the 1960’s, Western comics made up a significant portion of comic publishers’ offerings. Many memorable and occasionally forgotten characters came from this era, and several long-standing ones even came in its wake. It was a tough nut to crack, but I’ve whittled down these characters to the most significant three. Aside from Jonah Hex. I don’t want to offend Jonah Hex fans. There’s just too much to say about him, and he sort of needs his own article. So we’ll hold off on him for now.
Ghost Rider (Carter Slade)
A significant number of people are probably familiar with the character of Ghost Rider from the two Nicolas Cage movies. A significant number of people probably hate the character of Ghost Rider. These two things are likely mutually exclusive.
Before the flame skulled, leather-wearing Ghost Rider was a force in the Marvel Universe, a more classic spirit of vengeance roamed the pages of comic books. Carter Slade was introduced in 1967 as a good-hearted man living in the state of Montana. When he sees an injustice being committed, he feels the need to right the wrong, and it nearly costs him his life. Left for dead, a young man finds him and he is brought to a Native American medicine man who helps to heal him. Upon waking, the man grants him a cloak and a special dust (which just kind of…made stuff glow) that came from a shooting star. He also gives him a white horse. Which he put the dust on. To make him glow. Because glowing is spooky, guys.
Slade develops the persona of the Ghost Rider (later the Night Rider, or Phantom Rider), creating a ghost-like attire that goes along with the glowing cloak and horse given to him by the medicine man. The look really blends together elements of the old West with elements of superheroes effectively, in a way that many of the other characters on this list do not. He maintains the trappings such as the hat, belt, and boots that a typical cowboy would wear, while wearing a mask and a cape. The look is unique and striking, and it stands as one of the better designs for a Western comic book character to this day.
Jesse Custer/The Saint of Killers (Preacher)
I’m going to try to keep this entry as spoiler-free as possible, because AMC has a Preacher series starting in the next year, which every single one of you reading this should be checking out. Preacher might be the best modern piece of Western pop culture in existence, despite never really being discussed in that light.
Jesse Custer is a miserable preacher in a small Texas town. As the series begins, he is imbued with the power of a being calling itself Genesis, which allows him to speak “the word of God,” and make anyone follow his direction. That’s kind of as far as I want to go story-wise, because I mean it when I say it’s truly something you need to experience for yourself. It’s one of the most twisted, depraved, and powerful stories I’ve experienced in any medium.
As far as the Western themes in it go, boy, are they heavy. Throughout his life, Jesse has spoken to the spirit of John Wayne for guidance and for the sake of maintaining his sanity. Much of his personality and attitude reeks of a broken down man in an old West town – the type of guy you might see sitting in a saloon day after day. One of the characters hunting him is known only as The Saint of Killers. Check this dude out:
That attire could not be more perfect for a cowboy bounty hunter. Nothing over the top, nothing too flashy. The coat, the hat, the belts. I’m just gonna say it: if he were wearing the poncho from The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly in place of the coat, he’d be a contender for design of the decade.
Also, he says this line, which might be the most awesome thing a fictional character has said in the history of comic books:
Should have brought more gun, dude.
He toes that perfect line that so many Western characters do – he’s not quite a villain, he just has a mission he’s going to complete, and it just so happens that people who might not be so bad are standing in his way.
The Entire Cast of Marvel’s 1872, particularly Steve Rogers
Marvel’s event Secret Wars allowed for dozens of alternate universes featuring well known and established characters to be nurtured and grown. One of these was a world where all of the Marvel characters existed in a small town called Timely (a nod to Marvel Comics’ original publishing name), in the year 1872.
The series reads as if it’s the script of a classic Western film. We have Sheriff Steve Rogers, fighting against the corrupt Wilson Fisk, the most influential man in all of Timely. Tony Stark is the town drunk, who just so happens to be a genius inventor when he is sober. The Native American character Red Wolf who was last relevant in the 1970’s comes back and plays a major role. It has all the trappings of a Western film, and the dialogue and action acts as such as well.
What really puts it over the top, however, is the art by Nik Virella, as seen below.
Here’s the thing: it’s really difficult to nail down an aesthetic like the old West in comic books. It’s something that you might gloss over if you’re reading one that is acceptably done. But you look at something like Virella’s work on this book, and she absolutely kills it, and you realize that all other recent interpretations of the West just don’t stack up. Focus in on Steve Rogers in this shot. How many other artists might have skipped something subtle like the sideburns, or the slightly rolled up sleeves? Every crease on the uniform screams as if it is meant to be there. The mannerisms and stance even manage to feel timely and not universal. He looks like the cool and collected sheriff that you want in an old West town, and things like that make this book the most authentic Western experience you’ll find in comics today.