The Marvel Universe has a long history of vigilantes, stretching back the days of the Old West. Before Spider-Man was slinging webs, heroes like the Two-Gun Kid were slinging guns. Decades later, a new breed of vigilante began to emerge, dressed in colorful costumes and battling villains with superpowers or advanced training.
Now, the lawless tradition of the Old West returns in "Six Guns," a five-issue miniseries by the "Daredevil: Reborn" creative team of writer Andy Diggle and artist Davide Gianfelice. Comic Book Resources spoke with Diggle about the project, which revamps several classic Marvel Western characters and embroils them an action-packed international conspiracy.
In "Daredevil: Reborn," Diggle and Gianfelice told a story with the trappings of a modern-day Western. The success of that collaboration led Diggle to pitch "Six Guns" to Marvel.
"It's an idea I've have had for a couple of years now," Diggle told CBR News. "I thought that dusty Spaghetti Western vibe worked pretty well in 'Reborn,' and Davide and I had a great time working together. So I thought, 'Why don't we go for it?' I pitched 'Six Guns' to Tom Brevoort, clearly expecting it to get knocked back, but everyone at Marvel was really enthusiastic. So we went in guns blazing."
"Six Guns" is an ensemble book that stars five classic Marvel Western characters re-imagined and updated for a contemporary setting. "You'd think from the title there'd be six of them, but it's actually five Marvel Western characters, reinvented," Diggle explained. "One of them has already been revamped; Tarantula from Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti's 'Heroes for Hire.' I'm using her in a non-superpowered role. She's become a solo hero for hire in this story. The original Tarantula was a Western character that was reinvented in the '70s as a Spider-Man villain. This is just the latest incarnation of the character. We also have new versions of characters like Tex Dawson, Matt Slade, the Black Rider and the Two-Gun Kid -- all of them coming into the story from different angles. They all end up on a collision course."
The gunslingers of "Six Guns" come from a variety of backgrounds and have wildly different outlooks when it comes to concepts like law and order. "I wanted to make sure that each character is visually distinct and distinct in terms of their approach to the story," Diggle said. "Tex Dawson, for instance, is a Texas Ranger. He's a lawman; he does things by the book. He has a reputation to maintain, so he can't just wade in guns blazing. He has to follow procedure...at least to a degree. Whereas at the other end of the spectrum, you have characters like the Black Rider, who in this incarnation is the leader of the Black Riders Motorcycle Club, an outlaw biker gang. He's a completely lawless character, but you'll learn as the series moves forward that he's not completely a bad guy. He has his own code. These characters are anti-heroes, standing on the borderline between black and white, and good and evil.
"A lot of the old Marvel and DC Western characters were named the Something-Or-Other Kid," Diggle continued. "Marvel had Kid Colt and the Rawhide Kid, among others. I decided that you can't really pull that off in the present day unless they're literally a kid. So I promised myself the Two-Gun Kid would be the only character with the word 'kid' in his name, and he would be an actual kid. He's this ambidextrous teen who's grown up rocking two-player console shooters with a gun in each hand. When we first see him, he's shoveling coins into a Punisher arcade game -- until he pulls out a real pair of guns and mayhem ensues."
As the mayhem unfolds in "Six Guns," readers will get a chance to see things from the unique perspectives of each of the five characters. "It's a challenge to have the story unfold clearly with a strong narrative drive when you have to keep jumping between all these characters," Diggle remarked. "So oftentimes we'll see two or three of the main characters together, like in the opening scene that was previewed on CBR, featuring Tex Dawson and the Black Rider. Then, in a later scene, the Black Rider will confront the Two-Gun Kid, and we'll see Tarantula pursued by Matt Slade. So it's an ensemble book. Eventually you'll see how the plot lines converge and the characters are forced together into a team, although a slightly dysfunctional one."
In "Six Guns" #1, the Black Rider sets the stage for the all-star team of gunslingers to come together when he and his gang attack Tex Dawson's prisoner transfer vehicle on a remote Texas highway. That attack sets off a cascade of events that will take the book's cast all the way to the fictional South American nation of San Diablo.
"We kick things off with the Tarantula being extradited from San Diablo for a double murder," the writer teased. "She's being transported by the Texas Rangers to her arraignment, and she warns them that there are people out there who want her dead. The Rangers are like, 'Sure. Tell it to the judge.' That's when the bikers arrive to grab Tarantula from this situation. It's not immediately clear whose side they're on. Are they there to kill her or save her? That investigation leads Tex Dawson to San Diablo, where the other characters are already converging. They're all working the same case from different angles. And they'll all be crossing paths as they uncover what Tarantula discovered and why people want her dead.
"San Diablo is a country that I believe Stan Lee created back in an old issue of 'Thor,'" Diggle went on. "Since then, it's popped up in various different stories. I wanted to go somewhere lawless and South American with an 'anything goes' attitude. That quickly frees up some of the characters from having to worry too much about obeying the law, because there really isn't any law. The name San Diablo translates as 'Saint Devil,' which doesn't really make any sense. So in the story, we suggest that it was basically two countries that were forced together long ago and are now threatening to break apart again. In the north you have the verdant region of Santa Maria, and in the south you have the arid and inhospitable Sierra Del Diablo. Put them together and you have got San Diablo. Even the country's name is at war with itself."
When the cast of "Six Guns" arrives in San Diablo, they'll find a nation on the brink of civil war. "Two PMCs (Private Military Contractors) are preparing to fight it out for control of the whole country," Diggle revealed. "Our heroes end up embroiled in a conspiracy behind the scenes as these two rival mercenary companies face off. So there's going to be a lot of guns. When our characters begin to investigate, they uncover a corporate conspiracy. I didn't want the problem to be something they could just shoot. You can't shoot a company. Of course, that's what these heroes are good at, and that's how they solve most of their problems. And even if they did want to shoot it out, the representatives of this company are protected by private armies. So they're literally outgunned. You always want your heroes to be underdogs."
The villains behind San Diablo's troubles will be a mix of new and familiar faces and organizations. "There are two different companies: One is Kane-Meyer and the other is Blackguard, whom Jason Aaron used in his 'Wolverine' run," Diggle stated. "The main antagonist is a slimy corporate creep named Vance. His guard dog is a guy called Colonel Keller. He's the muscle. Basically it's those guys pointing armies at the heroes."
The heroes of "Six Guns" will have to overcome all these enemies with nothing but their wits and a ton of bullets. "This story is set in the Marvel Universe, but it involves very few fantastical elements like superpowers," Diggle explained. "We're going for more of an action-movie vibe. If you look at something like 'Die Hard' or 'Desperado,' the characters are doing stuff that they couldn't actually survive in real life. That's how I view this. It's a little louder and crazier than the real world. It's reality turned up to 11."
Diggle's collaborator, artist Davide Gianfelice, is having a lot fun depicting the insane action sequences of "Six Guns." "The action level is cranked way up from 'Daredevil: Reborn,'" Diggle enthused. "I enjoy writing really tightly choreographed action scenes, and it takes a certain kind of artist to really pull those off so the reader can clearly follow things moment by moment. The clarity and the movement in Davide's storytelling is absolutely amazing. You can see from those preview pages the sense of movement, weight and momentum he can give to chase scenes or a car crash. Some people think you can't do effective car chases in comics, but I think that's crazy. Just look at 'Akira.' There's an incredible sense of movement and speed that [Katsuhiro] Otomo gets on the page, and I think Davide really pulls that off.
"Of course, it's not just action -- Davide has made each character visually distinct, and man, can they act!" Diggle continued. "When we have dialogue-heavy scenes, the characters can really chew scenery with the best of them. So I couldn't be happier with what Davide's doing."
Gianfelice's art work will also help establish the gritty and morally murky tone of "Six Guns." "I grew up with Spaghetti Westerns, Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood movies where basically everybody, even the hero, is a scumbag," Diggle said. "I've always enjoyed stories where they don't tell you this is right and that's wrong, where they drop you into a situation and let you decide for yourself where your sympathies lie. There are good guys and bad guys in this, but there also a lot of shades of gray. Also, I come from the British comics background of '2000 A.D.,' which has always been about anti-heroes, moral ambiguity and questioning the nature of authority figures. Someone like Judge Dredd can be a hero, but he can also be a villain. You have to make up your own mind in each story. I think that's more interesting. If you have a squeaky-clean hero, you always know exactly what he's going to do in any given situation, because he's always going to do the right thing. That can get a little dull.
"That's one of the fun things about creating new characters, because the reader doesn't know them yet, and doesn’t know which way they're going to jump," Diggle continued. "So they hopefully still have the opportunity to surprise you. The other great thing about creating new characters and revamping old ones is that the readers know you're not going to kill off Batman or Captain America, or if you do, they know they'll be back in a year or two. So there's no real sense of jeopardy. But with a story like this, full of unknown underdogs, you never know who's going to make it out alive. Obviously I'm not going to spoil the ending here, but who knows if there’ll be enough of them left alive to do a sequel. But if readers respond to the series, I'd love to do more of this kind of stuff.
"So if this sounds like something you'd be interested in, please buy it," Diggle implored. "It's something new, but it's still a Marvel book and has that Marvel entertainment value to it. It's a fun read. It's something new and exciting. Readers are always saying how jaded they are with the mainstream, and hopefully with something like this you get the best of both worlds; an indie sensibility but still from a major publisher. So I'd love to see people put their money where their mouth is and buy something a bit different."