The 10 Greatest Sci-Fi Westerns

Thursday, November 5, 2009 at 7:55 am
5) Wild Wild West

No, not the Will Smith vehicle - we're talking about the original '60s show. You know, that one that neither you nor anyone you ever met has seen. This show was more high-tech James Bond than space opera with secret agent Jim West and his gadget-laden partner Artemus Gordon fighting foes throughout the 1800s. This show was everything the movie wasn't - smart, well-written and actually coherent - it also featured one of the great unsung villains: Dr. Miguelito Quixote Loveless, a tiny madman descended from Mexican royalty who used shrinking formulas, experimental explosives and steam-powered cyborgs to reconquer his family's lands. How they got a racist amputee Kenneth Branagh from that is even harder to understand than Branagh's fake southern accent.

4) Galaxy Rangers

This is often dark '80s cartoon featured a team of cyborg space sheriffs who fought the Queen of the Crown, who sucked out the souls of her victims to feed her army of zombie slaverlords. Space cowboys versus space zombies -- how did this show not catch on? Apart from the many Western parallels (badges that triggered their cyborg powers, talking robot horses), it also featured an obvious cartoon version of Clint Eastwood named Shane Gooseman, who could cybernetically shapechange to adapt to danger. You won't see that in Gran Torino.

3) The Adventures of Brisco County Jr.

Ah, Bruce Campbell, is there no genre you can't conquer? If you're not familiar with it, Cambpell starred as Harvard lawyer Brisco County, who ended up travelling to the west to hunt down the killers of his sheriff dad. While seemingly a regular (if hilarious) western, the sci-fi parts of this series mostly revolved around mysterious "orbs" --- time-traveling devices that led to a season two closer in which Brisco jumped around in time himself. Of course, there was no way he could jump to a time before Bruce Campbell was awesome, as that never happened.

2) Trigun

What do you get when you cross a crazy (yet powerful) anime hero with the western genre? You get Trigun, Yasuhiro Nightow's story of a donut-loving alien gunslinger who ends up causing destruction across a western-themed planet. He's even followed around by a pair of insurance adjustors, Derringer Meryl and Stungun Milly, who have to total up his damages. It's not a good a show as Cowboy Bebop, but it's definitely the better sci-fi western; there's no better example than Trigun's version of the traveling priest archetype, who gets a typically insane anime makeover as Nicholas D. Wolfwood, a chain-smoking holy man who wields a giant cross that's part rocket launcher, part arsenal and entirely holy fucking shit.

1) Firefly/Serenity

Was there any doubt that this would win? This one is top-notch in all four sci-fi western flavors: spaceships, fistfights, whores and psychic craziness. You've got the great western archetypes (big, dumb muscle, whore with a heart of gold, tortured former soldier) right alongside some strong science fiction types (techie that talks to machinery, the cantankerous ship's doctor, batshit crazy girl badass). It perfectly blends the two genres - one episode sees the crew running out of oxygen, while the next you've got them saving a brothel with a giant gunfight. That's what you get when you have a writer like Joss Whedon -- a smartly written show that features humor and action. Also, whores.

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