Thursday, June 28, 2012

Top 10 Fictional Cowboys/Gunfighters

The American Wild West is the most romantic historical setting I’ve ever encountered.  Even more romantic than the best setting of fantasy itself, the Middle Ages.  Thus, I consider the legend of Western heroes – the cowboys and gunfighters – bigger and more kickass than the legend of chivalrous knights (maybe because cowboys and gunfighters are more of anti-heroes than heroes, while knights are mostly more of the hero kind.  And we all know that anti-heroes usually have more depth than heroes).  And not only knights, I even consider cowboys and gunfighters better than other romanticized historical characters like samurais, ninjas, and pirates.  Indeed, knights, pirates, ninjas, and samurais’ fictional or legendary interpretations have their own respective unique appeals.  But it is with fiction’s portrayal of cowboys and gunfighters that I found to be most fascinating.  Listed are the 10 fictional “cowboy/gunfighter” characters I liked most. 
Note: you will notice that most characters in this list aren’t from pure Westerns.  It just happens that there are more characters that interested me in sci-fi Western or mashed-up Western genres than the usual plain Western.     


The 10th spot almost went to James T. West and Artemus Gordon (from the “Wild Wild West” TV show, which was also eventually made into a movie).   But as I think more as I construct this list, in the end, I decided to give the spot to Quick Draw in spite of him being “cartoony”.  Why to an anthropomorphic Hanna-Barbera cartoon character?  Well, because of the character’s uniqueness of being a Western law man that has a masked vigilante alter ego!  That is something I haven’t found in other gunfighter characters.  Quick Draw’s main vocation is a sheriff.  That is badass, already.  But – not content with having this cool job – he would sometimes also don a Zorro-like masked identity called “El Kabong” – having the trademark attack  of swinging down with a rope crying “OLAYYYEEE!”, and slamming an acoustic guitar on his opponent’s head with a “KABOOONG!” shout.
9.) COLT

Among all the protagonists of “Saber Rider and the Star Sheriffs”, the most “cowboy” among them – or the only one who was actually patterned with the cowboy stereotype (the other two male leads, Saber and Fireball, are based on a Scottish Highland cavalier and a race car driver, respectively) – is Colt.    He has a perfect accuracy with the gun.  And he also has a small spaceship named, with a very cowboy sound to it, “the Bronco Buster”. 


I haven’t read the graphic novel yet, but I did watch the “Cowboys & Aliens” movie.  Both Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig’s characters were badass in the movie, but Craig’s stood out more (since he was the lead after all).  His character, Jake Lonergan, was an infamous, wanted outlaw.  When the audience first encountered him, he was amnesiac and had an alien metal bracelet around his wrist.  He had no idea who he was and how the bracelet got around his wrist.  As the story proceeds on, it is revealed that Jake, along with his lover, was along the first humans abducted by the invading aliens.    His lover was killed in an experiment by the aliens but Jake was able to escape, stealing the bracelet – a standard alien weapon – along the way.  However, abducted humans were given some “hypnotism” by the aliens, making them catatonic or amnesiac, explaining why Jake had lost his memory.  After regaining his memory, which includes the location of the alien base, Jake would lead an unlikely party of humans – made up of cowboys, outlaws, and Indians – to rescue the abducted humans and to fight off the alien invasion.  The Wild West humans were heavily outmatched to such advance technology wielded by the aliens and only Jake’s stolen bracelet weapon allowed the possibility of doing some actual damage.  Still, with Jake leading them, and with humanity’s stubbornness, resiliency, and cunning, they were able to beat the aliens in spite of the great disadvantage.  


Lee Scoresby is a cowboy mercenary aeronaut from the fantasy world of Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” trilogy.  Originally from the country of Texas, Lee spent most of his adventures in the northern land, where he met and fought side by side with his bestfriend, the armored bear, Iorek Byrnison.  He is an expert sharpshooter with the gun.  As an aeronaut, he is very skilled and meticulous in piloting his balloon.  In “The Golden Compass” film, he was perfectly played by Sam Elliot, who isn’t a stranger with Westerns.  Sam Elliot’s performance, the appeal of a cowboy on a balloon (instead of on a horse) on the Artic (instead of a Wild West setting), and remaining badass despite an advanced age made me mightily like the character.


Mal is the protagonist of the cult hit space western “Firefly” (and its spin-off movie “Serenity”).  His demeanor and disposition is definitely that of a Western cowboy.  He is a courageous, cunning, intellectual, and strong leader.   He is a skilled fighter and has –a recurring element of most characters on this list – very good shooting skills.  He is, as described by creator Joss Whedon, “everything that a hero is not.”  Mal greatly reminds me of Han Solo, but I surprisingly like Mal more than Han.  During the Unification War against the Alliance, Mal volunteered for the Independents (the losing side in the war).  During his stint for the Independents, he rose to the rank of sergeant and it was implied he also was able to hold a brevetted rank of captain.  After the war, Mal acquired an old, cranky Firefly-class transport ship which he named “Serenity” after the Battle of Serenity Valley, the deciding battle of the war.  With his eccentric crew, Mal makes his living by smuggling and cargo transport.               


Both Marvel Comics and DC Comics have Western characters in their mainstream universes.  But among these characters, I think the most popular is Jonah Hex (because he is the character I’m most familiar with, and, most likely, most familiar to you, too).  Hex is a scarred bounty hunter in the DC Universe’s Wild West.  He is very gruff and cynical, an infamous and ruthless killer, but honorable and will protect and avenge the innocent and weak.  Despite being blind in one eye, he displays close to superhuman accuracy with the gun.  He displays equal excellence in shooting with both his right and left hand.  He’s also very fast on the draw that he can shoot multiple opponents before any of them can draw their guns or get a shot off.  He is indeed a very skillful shooter that when he was transported to the future, he still managed to outgun everybody that has modern weaponry in spite of just using single-action revolvers.  On time-travel storylines, Hex managed to meet modern characters in the DC Universe.  He is such a badass that he had bested Batman in combat at more than one time.               


Brilliantly played by Clint Eastwood, “The Man with No Name” (“Uumo senza nome” in Italian) is the protagonist of Sergio Leone’s Spaghetti Westerns (the best known being the epic “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”).  He is a lone, quiet, stern, and tough character with a high but unconventional sense of justice. He has a lightning fast draw and brilliant shooting skills.  Though he is “the Good” in the “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” trio, he is not really a straight moral guy, but he, being a bounty hunter, lives for the gold and money.         


The Lone Ranger, could be, the most iconic Western fictional hero in this list.  He is such an immortal icon that his masked appearance, his music theme, and his catchphrase (“Hi-yo, Silver! Away!”) are widely known to many.  He is a former Texas Ranger, along with his Indian sidekick Tonto, who fights injustice in the Wild West.  He conducts himself with a strict moral code that as a pop culture icon, he is a significant role model to audiences.  My most favorite thing about the Lone Ranger is he only uses silver bullets – not because he fights werewolves (he doesn’t) – but because they serve to remind him that life is precious and, like his silver bullets, should not be wasted (that’s very poetically beautiful!).             


Marshall BraveStarr is the first cowboy/gunfighter that I really liked and to whom I give credit for introducing me to the charm and romance of the Western genre.  He serves as the sheriff of New Texas, a pioneer colony in a planet that has an environment that mirrors the Wild West.  He has Native American ancestry and can summon superpowers from the “spirit of animals”.  These powers are “Strength of the Bear” (super-strength), “Speed of the Puma” (super-speed), “Eyes of the Hawk” (super-sight), and “Ears of the Wolf”(super-hearing).  Aside from these powers, he also carries a “Neutra-laser” pistol and a “Trans-Freezer” rifle.            


Roland Deschain is the protagonist of Stephen King’s epic “The Dark Tower” series (you got to read the entire awesome series to appreciate Roland greatly).  He is the last of the Gunslingers, a venerable order of highly skilled combatants, peacekeepers and diplomats patterned with the gunfighters of the Wild West and the knights of Arthurian legend.  He is the youngest ever to become a gunslinger (showing how talented and stubborn he is) at the age of 14.  Roland’s personality and image is heavily based on “The Man with No Name” (the number 4 in this list), while his quest and individual struggles are based on the Robert Browning poem, “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came”.  He has superhuman accuracy and lightning fast draw, that his hand becomes a blur when he draws his six-shooters.  He is an excellent shooter with both left and right hands.  Aside from amazing gun shooting prowess, he is also very proficient in other weapons and skills (Gunslingers are greatly trained in different disciplines and expertise) and possesses great tactical and intellectual capacity.  Though mostly detached, cold, and ruthless, he also can sympathize with the weak and can invest love to people he cares for.  However, his obsession for the Dark Tower is greater than any heroism he possesses or concern he has on people.  With his actions resulting, directly or indirectly, to the loss of the people he cared for, he is left mentally and emotionally scarred – their deaths burdened him till the end.  He is a lonely man on a quest, not only to save the universe, but to find his redemption as well.

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