Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Run Reader: Mighty Marvel Westerns (2006)

All four covers feature the handiwork of Goon creator Eric Powell!
In the last ten years I have become much more enamored with the Western comic book genre. Largely ignored in my previous 20+ years of reading, maybe something just happens as one gets older and the bygone days of yesteryear become more appealing. During this time, in addition to picking up modern western titles such as DC's Jonah Hex (Volume 2), I began seeking out older titles from variety of publishers. Among those were various reprints of classic Jack Kirby Rawhide Kid stories.

Not a "run" in so much as a minor event, the summer of 2006 saw Marvel Comics briefly return to its roots with a series of five one-shots published under "The Mighty Marvel Western" umbrella. Four of the five issues focused on individual characters, each headlined by one of the more recognizable characters in Marvel's stable of Western stars, such as Two-Gun Kid and Red Wolf, while including  minor characters in back-up stores via reprints and new tales. The fifth book in the series was a handbook called Marvel Westerns Outlaw Files that feature biographical information and "authentic" Wanted posters from the 1800s. Though ultimately collected in a cumulative hard cover, none ended in a return to monthly adventures for the characters that one might have hoped.

In fact, other than Marvel's Six Guns mini-series in 2012 that featured updated versions of Western characters in a modern setting and Rawhide Kid: The Sensational Seven (2010), Marvels' heroes have once again receded into the past glories of the publisher, failing to warrant much more than the occasional appearance in an in-continuity time travel story. (The Western will be making a brief comeback of sorts in the miniseries 1872 as part of Marvel's current Secret Wars event.)

Never too much Terrible Totem
by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, reprinted 
in MMW: Two-Gun Kid.
But we do have the wonderfully entertaining Mighty Marvel Western one-shots to re-read when the desire for Marvel Western magic is desired. A quick issue-by-issue review reveals that some high profile comic book talent, especially writers, (though the artwork is consistently good, anchored by Goon creator Eric Powell, who had a hand in all covers) took advantage of the opportunity to play in the Old West sandbox when these issues were released in summer 2006:

  • Marvel Westerns: Kid Colt and Arizona Girl (2006) #1—one of the best part of these one-shot is the abundance of material one gets in each is. For example, this issue includes five(!) stories; a new Kid Colt and Arizona Annie tale written by Jonah Hex writers Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti, a story introducing the Philadelphia Philly by Jim McCann and David Williams, and reprints of three classic tales by comic legends Jack Kirby and Dick Ayers.
  • Marvel Westerns: Western Legends (2006) #1—This beauty features three very solid all-new tales starring less-familiar Marvel Western characters Hurricane, Red Wolf and the Man from Fort Rango. All three stories are good, while the first "The Man Called Hurricane" by Jeff Parker and artists Tomm Coker is a personal standout, given it's earthy palette and classic story line (with a nod to the character much more flamboyant original design. I have long been a fan of writer Karl Kesel (mostly from his DC work) and his Red Wolf story doesn't fail to satisfy. With so many Kirby classics in these comic it is great to get the origin of Rawhide Kid by the King himself here, too.
  • Marvel Westerns: Strange Westerns Black Rider (2006) #1—Includes four stories, the first featuring Marvel's dark Western avenger, the Black Rider, written by Steve Englehart and Joe R. Lansdale. Lansdale, with artsist Rafa Garres also contributes a Gunhawk story, and once again the issue concludes with Marvel classic Westerns, this time two Kirby Rawhide Kid tales.
  • Marvel Westerns: Two Gun Kid (2006) #1—Features two stories, one new and one classic. The first features warp-around story set in the present with Two-Gun kid and She-Hulk written by (then She-Hulk writer and current Spider-Man scribe) Dan Slott with pencils by Eduardo Barreto. The story concludes with the promise that it was "Not the End: Two-Gun and Shulkie's adventure continues in She-Hulk #11!" (I'll have to check out those issues). The second new story stars Hugo the World's Smallest Cowboy from a bevy of talents including Keith Giffen and Mike Allred and is lots of fun answering the challenge declared in the credits box asking "how in tarnation can a li'l ol' Western yarn by th' likes'a... possibly be worth two rotten skunk eggs?" And, as with all books in this series, this one concludes with a classic Kirby tale, this one with the Rawhide Kid.
My primary takeaway from revisiting these stories (whether "new" or classic) is to reaffirm what I already knew: Western comic books can be very fun if handled by quality creators. Now that DC's All-Star Western has exited the New 52, only Dynamite regularly publishes traditional western comic books. With so many great characters, it would be tremendous if Marvel take the gamble to publish a monthly book dedicated to characters within the genre (rather than just Western takes on traditional  Marvel characters a la the aforementioned 1872). Based on this series of one-shots, the publishing giant certainly has the wherewithal to do so, now just needs the motivation to make it so.

All of these books are highly recommended as is the Marvels Westerns Hard Cover which captures them all in a single volume!

The end of Arizona Annie and Kid Colt's adventure...
and of the Mighty Marvel Western genre? Words by Justin
Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti and pencils by Federica Manfredi.

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