Posts tagged ‘phantom empire’

October 22, 2008

BOWLING WITH COYOTES; or, the Hero's Quest Complete

by cowboylands

Reach for the sky!

 Cowboy Shoot ’em Up with Stagecoach ©2008 es

Hey, that’s good advice.


All movies and stories (all that are worth hearing) have the common theme of conflict that leads to resolution and the return. A theater play with no conflict at all resembles virtual reality. Where’s the fun in watching that? Might as well watch a saguaro cactus grow. At least it has a plot, even if it takes 100 years to develop! A radio play with no gunfight, no terse and clichéd argument, no shot-up stagecoach driver, is just one long Marlboro commercial.

Just hand me that cold Canada Dry, buckaroos and buckarettes, here come the coconut shell hoofbeats again!

And now, all you boys and girls, it’s time for the last thrilling episode of the Phantom Empire, 1935 Mascot serial! Gene Autry is facing death! 


Everything in the movie has mythic significance. This is the storyteller’s way. The Hero comes to life again as the last cliffhanger rebirth flickers on the silver screen. His vegetative self has evolved out of his mineral self. His aura is pure now, and his strength of will formidable. He vanquishes the dragon, or is it the disintegrator? The queendom of Murania is destroyed–all its inhabitants and its advanced science. But the heroes keep their home, Radio Ranch. 

(Lean stories are good stories. Even if the action is in the back lot of 20th Century Fox.)

When the heroes return from Murania to Radio Ranch, no one believes where they were. No one says anything about seismic activity. No Geiger counters pass over them after they come out from the primal cave, where they withstood all their trials and came out onto the Surface World once again. (Whatever happened to the Queen’s Thunder Rider Valkyries anyway?) 

Disbelief On Return From Underworld.

I’ll say.

The modern myth, the Western movie, stars the hero, with a quick draw six-gun and a prancing horse with lots of chrome, back in the mythological frontier days of the Old West. If you say the Western legends are not all true, I think you missed the point. Heroes are to be admired, emulated, because you can rationalize all the fun out of it. A pair of spurs doesn’t make you a Cowboy Hero, while an altruistic deed will (although the spurs and cool horse don’t hurt a bit). Happy endings and altruism are common in Westerns. The Hero, when he is hardest up, discovers people that give those shining human qualities of loyalty, kindness and generosity. You can’t be a hero unless you plan to give up everything. Unless you make choices and live by them. Even if it means destroying a disintegrator that sounds like a Jiffy Pop popcorn popper.


by guest blogger batboy42!


October 15, 2008


by cowboylands

Mythology and ritual are the same thing. Take a look at Phantom Empire, 1935 Mascot serial. This twelve-episode serial is the worst Western of all time. But buried beneath its trick riding and kid-style secret club is a message as deep as the secret underground queendom of Murania. That’s about twenty-five thousand feet, way down where the Queen’s Imperial Guards speak with a New Jersey accent.

 Phantom Empire…The Cliffhanger!

Myths help humans get through the rites of passage that are common to all social levels, all tribes, and all countries. The universal issues of Birth, Death, and Rebirth are hard to handle for volatile adolescents. Hard for staid adults too. We all need role models to teach us how to deal with ourselves and others.(Lemme turn down the shoot-em-up on the TV, I can’t quite hear you. What did you say? How are cowboy movies like myths?)

Look, pilgrim…You take a semi-divinity like John Wayne. Put him up on the silver screen, giant size. Then put him through the Hero Quest, where he must find meaning in the conflict of guns, rustlers, and bar girls. He finds the true meaning of life after the big barroom brawl, and goes on to ride into the sunset, a changed and wiser man. A Hero. Up there on the altar in the theater temple.

And if ya don’t like it, I want ya outa town by noon tomorrow!

In Phantom Empire, the Hero, played by Gene Autry, descends to the Scientific City of Murania. The kids and the two ranch hand clowns follow him there. The Hero finds a secret tunnel and gets blown up, starting his underground journey.

(Perils of Post-Adolescent Pauline! The Queen holds on to her rank the way she holds on to her stiff foundation garments.)

Queenie spies on Gene Autry, a lot, and commands that he be brought before her ALIVE.

(Go for it, Queenie!)

Who needs the breathing mask, and where? Ahh, who cares! After six episodes in a row, I had a hard time telling telling Gene Autry from the weaselly uranium prospector from the Queen’s evil henchman. I look at the horse to make sure. The one who sings is Autry.

Archetypes are the shorthand of storytellers. The Hero/Trickster confronts the Evil Queen, and also the Dastardly Scientist Uranium Rustlers.

The Hero survives many cliffhangers, cycle of death and rebirth, where the tapestry of reality is torn and rewoven. Did the Hero die in the Place of Peril, the Lightning Chamber? Did he find his way to the Cavern of Doom? Will he still be able to speak the Language of the Dead when he is reborn?

Stay tuned for the next thrilling episode, boys and girls!

And now a word from our sponsor…remember that Rice Krinkles makes your breakfast as much fun as a circus! So get your mom, the semi-divinity, to buy you some the next time she goes to the grocery store!

by guest blogger batboy42!

Now a word from bucko, the blog sponsor. You go on out and act heroic now! Stay tuned for part three, on Death, Rebirth, and what does it all mean anyway….

 Plastic Hero in Orange ©2008 es


October 13, 2008


by cowboylands

…the strange Thunder Riders gallop across the desert. Their tracks lead back to the mysterious mountains–where no one has ever come out alive…

 Plastic Hero in Red ©2008 es

by guest blogger batboy42

The rules of life are different for a hero, no matter how hard he tries to remain with the old neighborhood. 

He’s walking like a hero along the wooden sidewalk of his little town, and then tense and dark villain music begins to play. Next thing he knows, he’s in the middle of a barroom brawl. The ground rules of his life are about to change.

When you look for myth, you search for yourself. Totems or role models, larger than life or just an ordinary joe, heroes aren’t always easy to discern from their appearance. Of course, in novels the hero is ineffably charismatic and male, and on the silver screen he usually sings, too. Of course, he also shoots well and looks great on a horse.

How to save the day, wearing high-heeled cowboy boots and spurs?

(Hey, if Tex Ritter can do it…)

The cowboy movie is the American ritual re-enactment of the hero quest.

All follow the hero quest formula:

  • Conflict with routine life
  • Journey to an unknown place where the hero dies and is reborn in some sense
  • Return to the people, who won’t listen anyway.

In the Mascot series’ Phantom Empire, twelve episodes of the worst Western ever made, the greed is personified by outsiders–non-ranch people. As the conflict takes shape, the Junior Thunder Riders describe their spiritual vision of the Valkyrie-like Thunder Riders to the radio audience, and the archetype roles get handed out. The conflict is either the takeover of Radio Ranch by greedy uranium prospectors or the death by design of the kids’ father. Gene Autry is framed by the murderer. If he misses singing on one single daily broadcast, he will lose the contract…and Radio Ranch!

The Hero, resplendent in singin’ cowboy clothes, reveals a lot of Trickster characteristics in order to get his singin’ spot every day, but the real clowns are two of the ranchhands and band members. They do the slapstick and farce, leaving the Hero with his dignity as well as the starring role.

The Queen of the underworld gestures imperiously and snaps out commands to her underlings. (What does she want with Gee Nautry anyway? And that magic mirror thing…pure Romper Room! I see Gene…and Betsy…and Frankie…)

The underworld, objectified as the Scientific City of Murania, started life as some kids’ hamster Habitrail, with about as much realism as the yellow cheese on a cheap pizza. (Hey, that reminds me, punch the button on the microwave, willya?)

Cowboy movies illustrate the eternal cowboy. People can see the role model right in front of them–the archetypical Hero. The snorting, lunging horse and his skilled rider riding through a land of strange rock cliffs and ferocious vegetation. The birth of a legend.    

(Pass the popcorn, please.)

Blindness is a common characteristic in the first part of the hero’s journey, and it is referred to twice in the first six episodes of this awful Western series. Gene Autry substitutes himself for a villainous underling while the actual underling staggers around the desert. The underling is presumably left in his long johns, because Gene borrows the airman’s bulky coverall to aid his disguise. The underling, who is the uranium prospector’s pilot, is blinded by tear gas when the two ranch hand clowns dose all three of them with tear gas canisters. In another vision-related incident, an underworld subject, a Muranian man, is blinded.

Blindness symbolizes being born. The first part of the Hero’s journey is Birth.

*And only in terrifically bad westerns is something so profound portrayed in such beguiling ways. Stay tuned for Part Two: The Hero’s Quest–Bucko

October 11, 2008

All My Heroes Might Be Cowboys

by cowboylands

plastic hero copyright es 2008

Plastic Hero © 2008 es

Anything can look heroic–it’s all in the way the lights and camera work. Maybe that’s why cowboys in movies don’t say too much. All candidates on Campaign Trail ’08 have to keep talking, but the more they talk, the less heroic they seem. It’s a problem, buckaroos and buckarettes. I think they know it, but their words (except for any hate-mongering-type words) bring them to the status of mere mortals. So I hope the candidates are investing in good lights and camera. And a shiny white horse. 

What actually makes a hero? Tune in over the next week as guest blogger Batboy42 describes the hero’s journey. The hero, that is, of the worst western ever made. Call it a mash-up between Joseph Campbell and Gene Autry. Call it a story of Everyman. Call it what it is: brilliance. 

With eyes that hide the man within
You see behind the eyes of other men
You’ve lived and died and come to life again
And now you stand alone at the crossroads of your mind
You’ve left your yesterdays behind..
But which road leads you to tomorrow?



You’ve turned your back on yesterday
Betrayed a man who swore he’d make you pay
For when you left you took his pride away
You know he’ll never let you break away so easily
You’ll have to fight, before you’re free
But how much more time can you borrow?


Now in a single moment your past grows dim
One thought goes racing across your mind
You ride to meet the woman you stole from him
Oh no!…Charro don’t go!…
Charro don’t go!!…


There’s something hanging, in the wind
Your past is catching up and closing in
You’ve been halfway to hell and back again
And now you laugh in the devil’s face
with your last breath…
You’ll run a race with life and death…
But will you live to see tomorrow?

Charro…To prep you for the birth of the hero were the words from Elvis western Charro (for a full review and a multitude of factoids, check out Aussie fansite For Elvis Fans Only). He sang the title song, but otherwise he just moved his lips to mutter his lines, and to give a sexy pout. Those eyes, those eyes. Remember the mystery eyes? Those were pure Elvis smolder.  

View CHARRO. Enjoy.