Lights! Comics! Action!
Attack of the Westerns!
The Western was once the pinnacle of popcorn entertainment. With guns, bad guys, damsels in distress, shootouts, bank robberies, chases and more, they had everything that makes a modern blockbuster successful (and were made with a lot less money). Then, sometime after Clint Eastwood
left the American frontier for urban justice as Dirty Harry,
the Wild West got kind of stale. Sure, there have been some honorable mentions over the last twenty five years: Pale Rider
(both Eastwood films, naturally), Young Guns
- but compared to the number of Westerns produced during Hollywood's Golden Age, the genre is just a shadow of what it was, until now.
Will Jonah Hex revive the Hollywood Western?
With Jonah Hex
on the horizon and Cowboys and Aliens
saddling up for a Summer 2011 release, it has become evident that Tinsel Town has a renewed interest in the Western and is turning to the genius of comic book storytelling for ideas on how to make it relevant again - and why not? Movie studios have become increasingly dependent on comic book stories and characters over the last decade anyway, so it makes perfect sense that they'd look to the medium to influence other types of films as well.
Further, Westerns and comic books are practically a match made in heaven as they have many similar characteristics. Warner Bros. Hex
is a great example of this connection. The story follows a common comic book formula: Man is wronged by vicious villain, saved by supernatural forces and reborn to protect and avenge the innocent. Sound familiar (Dan Ketch, Eric Draven
anybody)? Probably does, and that's what makes the character so perfect for a film. He's got all the fantastical, high-concept elements of the superhero stories that moviegoers gobble up summer after summer, but doesn't have to wear tights. He's a bad-ass and we love our bad-asses, which brings me to my next point.
Mark Steven Johnson threw a nod to the Western influence into Ghost Rider
(that was one of the only things that I liked about the movie)
The days of idealism are dead. The most successful recent action films focus on cynical anti-heroes like Wolverine, Batman and (the new) James Bond. Hex fits the bill, as did many Western protagonists of the 1960's and 1970's, which helps make the current revival of the genre all the more logical. I guarantee that if you resurrected Eastwood's Blondie from The Good, The Bad and the Ugly
today, audiences would get cheer for him the way they do for The Dark Knight or 007, because he was one of the superheroes of his time.
So what does this all mean? Well, if Jonah Hex
and Cowboys and Aliens
strike gold at the box-office, expect to see a lot more six-shooters on the big screen. There are a wealth of Western characters and stories in the comic book world, so these two films are just the beginning of a Hollywood trend revisited. I'll leave you with a few of my favorite Western in current pop-culture that i believe are ripe for film/TV production:Loveless
: If you are an avid comic book reader, chances are you worship Brian Azzarello
. The prolific writer's short lived series about a former confederate soldier and prisoner of the North turned sheriff of his hometown of Blackwater is a wonderfully layered tale that explores the personal tragedies and redemption of protagonist Wes Cutter while also addressing larger historical and thematic issues such as racism and tensions between the North and South after the conclusion of the Civil War. Though it's three-year run was brief, there's enough material within the series to create an adult oriented, Deadwood
-styled drama for cable TV.
: One of my absolute favorites, Iron West
tells the tale of Preston Struck, an incompetent outlaw with a heart of fool's gold who discovers an army of metal men bent on destroying central California. With the help of a magical old shaman and his sidekick Sasquatch, Preston must thwart the tin men before they re-fashion a railroad train into a giant demonic iron monster. Cinematic possibilities abound.
Bonus - Red Dead Redemption
: Yeah, I know it's not a comic book, but if you've gotten lost in Rockstar Games' epic open-world environment, then you know that John Marston deserves to ride into the sunset on the silver screen. The game pulls no punches and is as rousing and dangerous an adventure as one would want to see in Hollywood Western. Bring it on!