Monday, November 28, 2011

Western Gunfighters: All guns blazing

© Marvel Comics

Western Gunfighters is a one-off special issue published by Marvel Comics in 1980. Presented by Stan Lee, who introduced many such unique issues to readers, WG contains ten action-packed adventures that include seven gripping and crisply written comic strips and three photo features based on western movies.

A movie index on Clint Eastwood, from 1957 to 1976; pin-ups of Eastwood and John Wayne, and a still from Cactus Jack starring Kirk Douglas, Ann-Margaret and Arnold Schwarzenegger are added bonus.

I liked everything about this comic-book magazine starting with the front cover, a previously unpublished work of western action by the legendary British comics artist Frank Bellamy. Apparently, Bellamy presented the illustration, of a cowboy with the raised gun and firing to his right, to Dez Skinn on his 21st birthday and Skinn, who edited this issue, used it without permission. It was his birthday present and I guess he was free to use it.

While reading about this special issue on the internet, I came across Skinn’s story that Bellamy, it seemed, pointed out an error in the way he had drawn the cowboy–one belt buckle drawn correctly and one wrongly! Looking at the picture you wouldn’t buckle under the error.

Many of the stories in Western Gunfighters: A Marvel Special first appeared in the namesake comic book series published by Atlas Comics (1956-1957) and Marvel Comics (1970-1975) written by Stan Lee (who requires no introduction), Jerry Siegel (who needs no introduction either but just in case you forgot, he co-created Superman), and Gary Friedrich (known for Sgt. Fury and Ghost Rider). The stories featured some of the biggest artists in the comic-book industry including Gene Colan, Reed Crandall, Joe Maneely, John Severin, Alex Toth, Al Williamson, Syd Shores, and Wally Wood.

The seven unforgettable comic-book stories reproduced in the special issue of WG include offbeat western tales about cowboys who are as tough as they come. You have The Rawhide Kid (or The Misunderstood Kid if you like) in a story that gives him the famous nickname; Frontier Marshal Wyatt Earp who takes on a bunch of masked rustlers only to discover they are some of the town’s big ranchers plotting to drive out the small ranchers; the Outcast, a half-breed, who struggles to find his origins; the Black Mask, the town’s doctor by day and masked vigilante by night; and the brave Major Brett Sabre who walks into Fort Rango and sets out to tame and train his lawless troopers against Indian renegades.

The three photo-features based on western movies are Cactus Jack starring Kirk Douglas and Ann-Margaret; Tom Horn, one of the last great heroes of the American West, portrayed by David Carradine on TV and Steve McQueen in film; and Film Trends where Benny Aldrich traces the changing face of the western movie star, from the singing cowboy and the noble hero through to the scruffy anti-hero and the comedy cowboy. “A whole new generation turned away from John Wayne’s noble cowboy to a bearded, scruffy mumbler Clint Eastwood,” Aldrich notes in his essay.

Western Gunfighters, which I bought for Rs.10 (about 20 cents) from a secondhand bookstore, is a collector’s issue in more than one way–it has action, adventure and anthology as well as spectacular illustrations. The black-and-white pencil sketches, particularly the detailing, are absolutely fantastic and leave you asking for more.


  1. Great article. You might like to see this:

  2. Mr Boyd, thank you for visiting my blog and leaving a comment as well as the link to your blog, Frank Bellamy Checklist Blog. I look forward to reading your posts on Bellamy and Raymond Sheppard and their work. Having dabbled in art myself, in an informal way, I liked the cover illustration by Bellamy. Unfortunately, I haven't come across any of his early comics since, which isn't uncommon in Bombay, India, where I live.