In the preface to his Encyclopedia of Weird Westerns, Paul Green gives us the following definition:
A Western story incorporating horror, supernatural or fantasy elements and themes and usually including one or more of the following subjects: vampires, werewolves, mummies, man-made monsters, mythological beings, mutants, zombies, ghosts, haunted buildings, demons, witchcraft, Satanism, possession, demonic or possessed animals, mentalists, shamans, visions, restless or wandering spirits, damned souls, enchantment, shape-shifters, angels, goblins, faeries, sirens, flying horses, psychopathic killers, psychological terror, dismembered moving body parts, spirit guides, the occult, hexes and curses, rising from the dead, talking animals, superhuman abilities, and magical potions.
This fun, hyperbolic list would seem to be enough to cover all possible entries in Green’s almanac of Western weirdness, yet his preface goes on to catalog and define the Weird Menace Western genre (popular in the 1930s), Science Fiction Westerns, Space Westerns, Steampunk Westerns, and even Weird Western Romance. Over the course of about 250 pages, Green attempts to catalog 0ver a 100 years of Weird Western stories, novels, pulps, radio shows, films, TV shows, RPGs and video games. And comic books. Lots and lots of comic books.
You probably know more Weird Westerns than might immediately come to mind. Green hits on examples that have had great mainstream success like Stephen King’s Gunslinger series, the old Kung Fu TV series, and Westworld. He also extends his entries to cover the many forays TV shows and comic books take into the Western Genre, from Star Trek: The Next Generation to MacGyver. Green even contends that Star Wars is a Space Western.
There’s mention of some of our favorite Westerns, like Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man, and Alejandro Jodorowsky’s El Topo, as well as the salient recognition that William Burroughs is a writer of Westerns. But for every comic or film or movie or TV show we’ve heard of, like Jonah Hex or The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr., there seem to be at least a dozen bizarre counterparts. How did we not know of the late-nineteenth century steampunk dime novels featuring hero Frank Reade (and either his Steam Man or Steam Horse)? Reade is such an oddity because it’s steampunk contemporaneous with its own setting–which sorta kinda makes it not steampunk but maybe kinda imaginative fiction. Or something. In any case, it’s intriguing.
If we hadn’t read Green’s Encyclopedia, we also wouldn’t have any knowledge of Gene Autry’s 1935 space opera film serial, The Phantom Empire. The twelve-parter apparently features Autry as a singing cowboy who has to save his Radio Ranch when speculators want to buy up the supply of Muranian radium under his property. Did we forget to add that the ancient civilization of Mu lives under Radio Ranch?
We also, somehow, were previously unaware of the Djustine comics before Green sought to correct this oversight by including two whole pages of images of the buxom lass. His description: “The sexually graphic adventures of the large-breasted female gunslinger Djustine and her fight with the supernatural, including zombies, vampires, and Diabla, daughter of Satan.” You had us at sexually graphic.
Okay, so we’re probably not going to go stock up on back issues of Djustine (it’s in Italian anyway . . . we swear we’re only interested in the tight-plotting!) . . . But most of the fun of Encyclopedia of Weird Western is simply in all the bizarre descriptions and images, of which there are plenty. I’m not an aficionado, so I can’t testify to the depth or analytic penetration of Green’s catalog, but I do know that I enjoy browsing through the book’s welcome weirdness. It’s a great entry point to any number of strange Google searches. And it’s also got me hunting for a torrent of the 1977 film, Welcome to Blood City.
You probably know by now whether or not any of this is up your alley. We’re digging it. Encyclopedia of Weird Westerns is now available from McFarland.