THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF WEIRD WESTERNS by Paul Green (McFarland, tpb, 265 pp, $39.95) If any genre seems a mismatch with the supernatural or science fiction, it has to be the Western. Sure, there was the Gene Autry serial THE PHANTOM EMPIRE, where that cowboy hero journeyed beneath the Earth to the lost city of Murania, and the strange double-bill of JESSE JAMES MEETS FRANKENSTEIN’S DAUGHTER and BILLY THE KID VS. DRACULA. But Green, a former Marvel Comics artist, has come up with THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF WEIRD WESTERNS, an international compendium of books, movies, comics, TV shows and games that deals with the extensive and bizarre cross-pollination. This unique volume covers ground that has generally eluded researchers.
Green’s introduction is a brief history of the various art forms covered in the pages that follow. He stretches it a bit, though, when he starts talking about the Sumerians and Homer—who predated the West itself. Come on! Christopher Columbus wasn’t even born yet.
The author breaks down the stories’ thematic structures into six subsections: “Weird Westerns,” those that have elements of real horror and the supernatural; “Weird Menace Westerns,” those that eventually prove to have a rational explanation; “Science Fiction Westerns” and “Space Westerns,” science fiction stories set in outer space that include Western themes; “The Steampunk Western,” which introduces technology that’s out of place in the time period; and “Weird Western Romance,” romantic novels set in the Old West or modern day that include time travel or the supernatural.
Magic, time travel and dreams are used to propel many stories. For instance, time travel allowed Wonder Woman, the Fantastic Four, Doctor Who, Batman and others to live out adventures in the Old West. A time loop even plagued the three witches in TV’s CHARMED. Western heroes in their own time are confronted with supernatural horrors. The black-masked Durango Kid had to face the dreaded Bakala, Zorro confronted a Frankenstein-type monster and James T. West often had to deal with the supernatural and SF elements in THE WILD WILD WEST. Movie Western hero Lash LaRue came up against vampires in the comic book version of his exploits, and we learn that the STRAIGHT ARROW comic book based on the radio show used fake zombies, ghosts and a supernatural buffalo to further the bad guys’ plots.
The problem with this book is that it whets the appetite to read the original material. Good luck finding the older titles! I checked the Durango Kid comics on Ebay. Only one was available, and that was for a mere $199. Most of the others were nowhere to be found.
The fun of examining most encyclopedias is trying to find out what the author has overlooked. Not much here. The only deficit seems to be the 1941 novel RED RYDER AND THE SECRET OF WOLF CANYON, where the redheaded cowboy and his sidekick Little Beaver run up against a werewolf. Of course, that would by nitpicking, so I won’t mention it…