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DC's Weird Western Tales appeared in the early 1970s and the weird Western was further popularized by Joe R. Lansdale who is perhaps best known for his tales of the 'weird west,' a genre mixing splatterpunk with alternate history Western.
Examples of these cross-genres include Deadlands (Western/horror), The Wild Wild West and its later film adaptation (Western/steampunk), Jonah Hex (Western/supernatural), BraveStarr (Western/science fiction), The Goodbye Family (Gothic Western/macabre comedy), and many others.
When supernatural menaces of horror fiction are injected into a Western setting, it creates the horror Western. Writer G.W. Thomas has described how the two combine: "Unlike many other cross-genre tales, the weird Western uses both elements but with very little loss of distinction. The Western setting is decidedly 'Western' and the horror elements are obviously 'horror.'"
As far as Mariotte is concerned, the potential for Weird West stories is limitless. "The West was a weird place. There are ghost towns and haunted mines and when you bring Native American beliefs into it, then the possibilities are even greater."
The term is of recent coinage, but the idea of crossing genres goes back to at least the heyday of pulp magazines. There was at least one series character who could be classified as a Weird West character. Lee Winters was a deputy whose adventures often involved ghosts, sorcery and creatures from Greek mythology. The Winters stories were written by Lon Williams and published in the 1950s. Around that same time, one of the oddest of all Western characters, Six-Gun Gorilla, appeared. This was an actual gorilla who strapped on a pair of Colts to avenge the death of the kindly prospector who had raised him. His adventures appeared in the British story paper The Wizard.
There have also been various Weird West novels including Joe R. Lansdale's Dead in the West. In this book an unjustly lynched Indian shaman curses the town of Mud Creek, Texas. After dark the dead rise and not even the Reverend Jebediah Mercer can save the inhabitants.
- "The Horror from the Mound" (by Robert E. Howard, in Weird Tales, 1932)
- "Old Garfield's Heart" (by Robert E. Howard, in Weird Tales, 1933)
- The Circus of Dr. Lao (by Charles G. Finney, 1935)
- "The Dead Remember" (by Robert E. Howard, in Argosy, 1936)
- "The Mound" ghostwritten by H.P. Lovecraft for Zealia Bishop in abridged form in Weird Tales, 1940, and in full in 1989.
- Outer Dark (by Cormac McCarthy, 1968)
- Yellow Back Radio Broke-Down (by Ishmael Reed, 1969, ISBN 1-56478-238-7)
- The Hawkline Monster: A Gothic Western (by Richard Brautigan, 1974)
- Stephen King's Dark Tower saga (1982–2004)
- The Place of Dead Roads (by William S. Burroughs, 1983, ISBN 0-03-070416-2)
- Dead in the West (by Joe R. Lansdale, 1986, ISBN 0-917053-04-4, 1994, ISBN 1-892300-00-1, 2005, ISBN 1-59780-014-7)
- Wolf in Shadow (by David Gemmell, 1987)
- The Haunted Mesa (by Louis L'Amour, 1987, ISBN 0-553-05182-2)
- Stinger (by Robert R. McCammon, 1988, ISBN 978-0727817167)
- Razored Saddles (anthology, edited by Joe R. Lansdale & Pat Lobrutto, 1989, ISBN 978-0380711680)
- Walking Wolf: A Weird Western (by Nancy A. Collins, 1995, ISBN 0-929480-42-2)
- Mad Amos (by Alan Dean Foster, 1996, ISBN 0-345-39362-7)
- A Fist Full O' Dead Guys (anthology, edited by Shane Lacy Hensley, Pinnacle Entertainment, 1999, ISBN 1-889546-65-8)
- For a Few Dead Guys More (anthology, edited by Shane Lacy Hensley, foreword by Joe R. Lansdale, Pinnacle Entertainment, 1999, ISBN 1-889546-66-6)
- The "Ned the Seal" trilogy (by Joe R. Lansdale, 2001)
- The Sundowners series (by James Swallow, 2001)
- Dead Man's Hand: Five Tales of the Weird West (by Nancy A. Collins, foreword by Joe R. Lansdale, Two Wolf Press, 2004, ISBN 1-58846-875-5)
- The Crossings (by Jack Ketchum, Cemetery Dance Publications, 2004, ISBN 1-58767-067-4)
- The Strange Adventures of Rangergirl (by Tim Pratt, 2005, ISBN 0-553-38338-8)
- Territory (by Emma Bull, 2007, ISBN 0-312-85735-7)
- Merkabah Rider: Tales of a High Planes Drifter (by Edward M. Erdelac, 2009, ISBN 978-1615720606)
- Me'ma and the Great Mountain (by Lorin Morgan-Richards, with foreword by Corine Fairbanks, 2012, ISBN 0985044799)
- The Goodbye Family and the Great Mountain (by Lorin Morgan-Richards, with foreword by Richard-Lael Lillard, 2020, ISBN 9781733287913)
- Jack the Bastard: A Novella (by Micah Nathan, One Peace Books, 2012, ISBN 1935548220)
- The Arrivals (by Melissa Marr, William Morrow, 2013)
- Dead Man's Hand: An Anthology of the Weird West (Edited by John Joseph Adams, Titan Books, 2014, ISBN 1781164509)
- Deadlands: Ghostwalkers (by Jonathan Maberry, 2015)
- Deadlands: Thunder Moon Rising (by Jeff Mariotte, 2016)
- Deadlands: Boneyard (by Seanan McGuire, 2017)
- Straight Outta Tombstone (Edited by David Boop, Baen Publishing, 2017, ISBN 1481483498)
- Straight Outta Deadwood (Edited by David Boop, Baen Publishing, 2019, ISBN 148148432X)
- The Massacre at Yellow Hill (by C.S. Humble, 2018, ISBN 1684330165)
- Reno Nevada Rides to Hell (by Flash Rivers, 2018, ISBN 978-1520741994)
- The Sinful Seven: Sci-fi Western Legends of the NCAA (By Spencer Hall, Richard Johnson, Jason Kirk, Alex Kirshner, and Tyson Whiting, 2020, ISBN 978-1-7354926-0-5, 978-1-7354926-3-6, 978-1-7354926-1-2)
In the 1960s, the television series The Wild Wild West brought elements of pulp espionage and science fiction to its Old West setting, and the cartoon adventures of the Lone Ranger followed suit by pitting the famous Western hero against mad scientists and other villains not often found in the Western genre. Additionally, Rod Serling's supernatural anthology series The Twilight Zone featured a handful of Western episodes such as "Showdown with Rance McGrew" and "Mr. Denton on Doomsday."
Other examples include:
- Bonanza: "Hoss and the Leprechauns" (1963)
- Black Noon (1971)
- The Hanged Man (1974 Telefilm)
- Cliffhangers: "The Secret Empire" (1979)
- Into the Badlands (1991)
- Wild West C.O.W.-Boys of Moo Mesa (1992–1994)
- The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. (1993–1994)
- Legend (1995)
- The Lazarus Man (1996)
- Dead Man's Gun (1997–1999)
- The Outer Limits: "Heart’s Desire" (1995)
- Purgatory (1999)
- Tremors 4: The Legend Begins (2004)
- Justice League Unlimited: "The Once and Future Thing, Part 1: Weird Western Tales" (2005)
- Supernatural: "Frontierland" (2011)
- Strange Empire (2014)
- Wynonna Earp (2016)
- Westworld (2016)
In comic books a number of heroes had adventures involving monsters, aliens, and costumed supervillains. Marvel Comics characters such as Kid Colt, Rawhide Kid, and Two-Gun Kid all had such adventures. Where Marvel went in for supervillains, DC Comics added more of a horror element to their stories such as Jonah Hex, pushed further in three mini-series from Vertigo written by Joe R. Lansdale. The DC character Tomahawk could also be termed a hero of the Weird West, though his adventures were set in the colonies during the time of the American Revolution.
- American Gothic, by Ian Edginton and Mike Collins
- The Big Book of the Weird Wild West: How the West Was Really Won!, anthology from Paradox Press
- Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, by Dennis Hopeless
- Billy the Kid's Old Timey Oddities, by Eric Powell and Kyle Hotz (Dark Horse Comics, 2006, ISBN 1-59307-448-4)
- Cowboys & Aliens
- "Daisy Kutter: The Last Train", by Kazu Kibuishi
- El Diablo
- Dead Irons
- Djustine by Enrico Teodorani
- Doc Frankenstein
- East of West
- Gunplay by Jorge Vega, with art by Dominic Vivona, Platinum Studios
- High Moon a werewolf Western webcomic by zuda / DC Comics. Created by David Gallaher and Steve Ellis
- Iron West, by Doug TenNapel
- Jonah Hex
- Justice Riders (DC Comics Elseworlds) by Chuck Dixon and J.H. Williams III
- "Last Shot" (Image Comics Studio XD) by Locke and Long Vo
- Lobo Annual #2: "A Fistful of Bastiches"
- Phantom Rider
- Preacher Special: Saint of Killers (4-issue mini-series, Preacher spin off, by Garth Ennis). While the origin of the Saint of Killers in the Old West is the only true western element in the comic book Preacher, the series has been described as a "Splatterpunk Western" or a mix of the Western with the Gothic.
- Pretty Deadly
- The Rawhide Kid
- The Sixth Gun
- Steel Ball Run
- Strangeways, solicited by Speakeasy Comics before they closed. Will appear as a graphic novel.
- Tex Arcana by John Findley
- Tex Willer (in some stories)
- The Goodbye Family
- The Transformers: Evolutions
- Weird Western Tales
- The Wild Wild West: The Night of the Iron Tyrants, #1–4 by Mark Ellis and Darryl Banks, Millennium Publications.
- The Wicked West
- Wynonna Earp by Beau Smith. Published by Image Comics / IDW Publishing
- Zagor (in many stories)
In movies, notable Weird West stories include The Valley of Gwangi (1969) which used special effects wizard Ray Harryhausen's talents to pit cowboys against dinosaurs. Billy the Kid Versus Dracula (1966) saw the legendary outlaw Billy the Kid fighting against the notorious vampire. The same year, Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter paired another famous outlaw with another famous horror character. The Ghoul Goes West was an unproduced Ed Wood film to star Bela Lugosi as Dracula in the Old West.
- The Phantom Empire (serial, 1935)
- Riders of the Whistling Skull (1937)
- The Terror of Tiny Town (1938)
- The Beast of Hollow Mountain (1956)
- Teenage Monster (1958)
- Curse of the Undead (1959)
- 7 Faces of Dr. Lao (1964)
- Billy the Kid Versus Dracula (1966)
- Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter (1966)
- The Valley of Gwangi (1969)
- Mackenna's Gold (1969)
- El Topo (1970)
- High Plains Drifter (1973)
- The White Buffalo (1977)
- Timerider: The Adventure of Lyle Swann (1982)
- Pale Rider (1985).
- Eyes of Fire (film) (1983)
- Tex and the Lord of the Deep (1985)
- Near Dark (1987)
- Ghost Town (1988)
- Back to the Future Part III (1990)
- Grim Prairie Tales (1990)
- Tremors (1990)
- Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat (1991)
- Mad at the Moon (1992)
- Dust Devil (1992)
- Grey Knight (1993)
- Cannibal! The Musical (1993)
- Silent Tongue (1994)
- Blind Justice (1994)
- Oblivion (1994)
- Blood Trail (1997)
- Purgatory (1999)
- Ravenous (1999)
- Wild Wild West (1999)
- From Dusk till Dawn 3: The Hangman's Daughter (2000)
- Dead Birds (2004)
- Blueberry (aka Renegade) (2004)
- Ginger Snaps Back: The Beginning (2004)
- Dynamite Warrior (2006)
- Undead or Alive (2007)
- Left for Dead (2007)
- Sukiyaki Western: Django (2007)
- BloodRayne 2: Deliverance (2007)
- Copperhead (2008)
- The Burrowers (2009)
- High Plains Invaders (2009)
- Bunraku (2010)
- Jonah Hex (2010)
- Gallowwalkers (2012)
- The Warrior's Way (2010)
- Cowboys & Aliens (2011)
- Rango (2011)
- Devil's Deal (2013)
- Bone Tomahawk (2015)
- The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)
- Bacurau (2019)
An example of the pen-and-paper variety is the horror-hybrid, Deadlands. Set in an alternate 1870s America, the game draws heavily on gothic horror conventions and old Native American lore to derive its sense of the supernatural. Characters can get involved in situations ranging from banks heists to shoot-outs involving vampires and zombies over the course of their adventures. Another example is the White Wolf Game Studio production, Werewolf: The Wild West, in which players play werewolf characters (called garou) who are charged with fighting a force of spiritual corruption called the Storm-Eater.
Video games also use this same motif, one of the earliest horror-Western games being SilverLoad for the PlayStation. The game has a variety of classic horror tropes in it, ranging from werewolves and vampires, to Satanic cults, that the player must contend with nothing more than a trusty six-gun at his hip. In this same vein is the modern PS2/Xbox first-person shooter, Darkwatch, in which the protagonist is himself a vampire, fighting through the west for either his own redemption, or furthering his own damnation.
The PC adventure/puzzle game Alone in the Dark 3 takes place in a western setting, albeit in the 1920s, and features a number of "weird west" staples, with magic, monsters, the undead, and some anachronistic sci-fi elements such as references to nuclear weaponry.
The PC first-person shooter title, Blood, is an occult-horror-comedy hybrid, and sets the player avatar "Caleb" in approximately 1920 (retroactively dated as 1928 in the game's sequel) as an un-dead gunslinger anti-hero from the late 19th century, who rises from his grave to battle a widespread cult by which he was betrayed and killed when he was a member. Gun play, the undead, horror, the occult, and the underworld are strong elements of the game. The game spawned a sequel, Blood II: The Chosen, although it was much less influenced by the main character's western back-story. One level of its expansion pack, however, is set in a western frontier town.
Another weird western is the Wild ARMs series – video games that mix together high-fantasy magic and science-fiction technology with Old-West-style gunslinging. Each game changes leads and alters settings (though the world's name, Filgaia, remains throughout), but always at the core are the ideas of "drifting" and of one's personalized sense of justice among outlaws.
Red Dead Redemption, a Western-themed video game, enters into the genre of Weird West with its Undead Nightmare add-on. The story revolves around an undead outbreak that has spread across the frontier. Other fantasy elements are new weapons such as holy water, and new mythical mounts, which include a unicorn and the Four Horses of the Apocalypse. Its sequel, Red Dead Redemption 2, features a number of minor Easter eggs which the player may discover, such as UFOs and the remains of a giant hominid.
Fallout: New Vegas, a post-apocalyptic game set in the Mojave Desert has an additional perk at the beginning of the game named "Wild Wasteland" that adds various strange occurrences to the game. The game itself could also be considered a Weird West game due to its mixing of Western, Horror, Survival, and Science Fiction styles.
Call of Duty: Black Ops II includes a map for its Zombies mode called Buried. The map takes place in a subterranean ghost town complete with saloon and general store that is located in Angola due to tectonic plate shifting. Naturally, the zombies are the reanimated town folk, dressed in period attire.
Hard West, turn-based tactical game. The game follows standards of the Western genre, like bank robberies, lynching and the gold rush, but with the addition of supernatural elements, such as demons, shamans, satanic cults.
West of Loathing, a single-player comedy/adventure RPG, takes place about twenty years after "The Cows Came Home", a mysterious cataclysmic event that caused all cows to transform into demonic monsters, devastating the west. The player character must help with the completion of a transcontinental railroad that will make travel faster and safer for would-be settlers. This involves navigating a variety of obstacles including the aforementioned demonic cows, as well as giant snakes, necromantic cultists, literal ghost towns, murderous rodeo clowns, goblins, malfunctioning robots left behind by a long-dead civilization, and occasionally ordinary bandits.
Let's Be Legendary: The Feywild West is an actual play Dungeons & Dragon's podcast set in a wild/weird west steampunk campaign featuring LGBTQ+ characters and producers. The story follows two bounty hunters-- a werewolf gunslinger and a priestess of the death god. Through the story, they explore what it means to be in a relationship, all the while seeking revenge and learning the truth of their pasts.
Ghoultown are a Texan psychobilly band with Spaghetti Western influences. They have released albums like 2001's Tales from the Dead West with songs like "Death of Jonah Hex". In turn they produced their own eponymous "vampire-cowboy" comic book, through Bad Moon Studios, which saw an eight-page preview in Texasylum and the first two issues of a planned four-issue miniseries, before the publisher left the comic field.
The 2015 music video for the Brandon Flowers song "Can't Deny My Love" transposes Nathaniel Hawthorne's 1835 story Young Goodman Brown to a Western frontier setting. Flowers plays an unnamed protagonist who leaves his young wife (played by Evan Rachel Wood) for some unknown errand in the desert, despite her pleas that he stay with her "tonight of all nights." On his journey he meets a man with a black staff (played by Richard Butler of The Psychedelic Furs), and later he discovers a group of townspeople carrying out witchcraft-like ceremonies — his wife among them. The protagonist tries to flee when the townspeople notice him, but as they approach the scene instantly vanishes and the man awakes uncertain whether the previous night's events were real or a dream.
- Acid Western, often strange counter-cultural Westerns from the 1960s onwards
- Gothic Western, subculture mixing goth and cowboy lifestyle
- Cross-genre, of which Weird West is a key example
- List of steampunk works, as a number of the examples veer into this area
- Science fiction Western, a Weird West subgenre with science-fiction themes in an Old West setting
- Space Western, the application of Western themes to a science-fiction frontier setting
- Western genre in other media
- "An essential taster of ...The Weird West". Metro. June 2, 2008. Cite journal requires
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- Crossing Horror: Using Horror in Other Genres, by G.W. Thomas
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- An H. P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia, S.T.Joshi & D.E.Schultz, Hippocampus Press, NY, 2001 p.174
- Fantastic Fiction entry
- Thorpe, Valarie (2003). "Hanging Out in the Weird West with Jack Ketchum". Studies in Modern Horror. 1 (1): 22–31.
- Straight Outta Tombstone edited by David Boop - Baen Books
- Reno Nevada Rides to Hell by Flash Rivers
- "The Sinful Seven: Sci-fi Western Legends of the NCAA". gumroad.com. Retrieved August 3, 2020.
- Billy the Kid's Old-Timey Oddities TPB, Dark Horse Comics
- CowboysAndAliens at DrunkDuck
- Cowboys and Aliens, Comics2Film.com
- Jorge Vega: Learning To Play With Guns, Comics Bulletin, March 10, 2008
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