If there’s one thing we know Marvel Studios loves to do, it’s play with genres. From political spy thrillers to coming-of-age films, Kevin Feige and his team have tried it all. Well, let’s say they almost did. There is one that they’ve yet to dip their toes in, and it happens to be one of the oldest in the book. Somehow the Western genre, perhaps the earliest craze in American cinema, has eluded the world’s most popular production house. It was only a couple of years ago when one might have assumed this was because the general public’s love for the genre died with John Wayne. However, Marvel’s Disney-bedfellow Lucasfilm proved this was untrue with their surprise smash hit on Disney+, The Mandalorian. The series contains all the imagery and plotting of a textbook cowboy show. Yet by turning a few classic cliches turned on their head, it managed to make all the difference with audiences. If Marvel ever plans to explore the Wild West of their sprawling cinematic universe, they should look to do something similar. Luckily for them, they already have the perfect project hidden in the pages of their most obscure comics. I’m referring, of course, to the little-known Native American hero Red Wolf. A few years ago, the Black-Eyed Pea’s Taboo shared his excitement about the character and his importance for representation with a cosplay.
The pitch is simple. Marvel Studios’ Red Wolf would be the perfect Disney+ original series or film that gives fans a look at the Wild West through the eyes of a Native American. You can take the traditional concept of cowboys fighting off the “savage Indians” and flip it on its head. They can give us the tale of a Native American man fighting to maintain peace and his people’s way of life while portraying the traditionally heroic cowboys and military men as the antagonistic force throwing a wrench in it all. It would bring some much-needed Native representation to mainstream audiences, something Marvel is already working towards with the recent casting of Alaqua Cox as Echo. It also would create a new kind of Western that can play on all the classic angles with a fresh perspective. Now, I’m sure this raises a lot of questions, so let’s try to answer a few of them.
Who is Red Wolf?
Red Wolf has had a few different names and origins over the years, courtesy of multiple writers attempting to reboot the character frequently. Created by Roy Thomas in 1970 as William Talltrees, he was a modern-day descendant of the Cheyenne tribe. Shortly after, Red Wolf was retooled as an 18th century Western protagonist by Stan Lee. This new version, Marvel’s most prominent one, went by the name Johnny Wakely, a Native man raised by adoptive white parents after his biological family gets killed by the U.S. Army. On a quest to find his place in the world, Johnny ends up part of the Cavalry, and an ensuing conflict with his former people leads to him coming face-to-face with the Cheyenne God, Owayodata. The wolf spirit grants him enhanced human capabilities and the name of the deceased warrior known as Red Wolf as part of his second chance at life. From there on, he wanders the West, alongside his furry companion Lobo, helping those in need and grappling with his own identity. A few more variations of this same concept have come to fruition in the decades since, but the next most important debuted in 2015’s Secret Wars event. In an alternate Marvel reality set in 1872, Red Wolf was portrayed as a member of the Cheyenne Nation, who teams with sheriff Steve Rogers to save a town known as Timely and the tribes of the surrounding area. This Red Wolf ultimately becomes sheriff before accidentally being transported forward in time to the modern 616 universes.
Why not the Classic Cowboy?
Why shouldn’t Marvel Studios adapt one of their countless cowboy protagonists from the 40s and 50s? They could make a show about Kid Colt, Two-Gun Kid, Outlaw Kid, Rawhide Kid, Western Kid, or even the Apache Kid, who was white despite his title. The answer is in their names: they’re all the same. It’s always the same, a guy on horseback that you’ve seen in every Western movie, video game, and television series since the inception of the Spaghetti Western. Quite frankly, a project about one of them would be boring and repetitive. Red Wolf incorporates diversity into your storytelling, which inherently breeds creativity and innovation. Having a Native character in the lead role also opens up a real-world chance for Native actors, actresses, directors, and writers to show the entertainment industry what they’re capable of. I can only think of a handful of Native peoples working in the industry. It’s easy for gatekeepers to claim this is because there aren’t many Indigenous folks with the right credentials, but it’s more than likely that major Hollywood studios just haven’t opened their doors to let them in. The talent is there, yet the opportunity is not. Marvel could take a step towards changing this with Red Wolf.
What would Red Wolf be about?
I propose that Marvel take inspiration from both the Johnny Wakely and Secret Wars versions of the character for a live-action adaptation. The story takes place in 1872, where a man rediscovers and embraces his culture after years of being an outsider. It allows the protagonist to double as an audience surrogate, as we learn alongside him about the Cheyenne people and the legend of the Red Wolf. It also creates an interesting internal battle for Johnny, who gets caught between two worlds. He could even become a man of the law, where writers get a chance to explore what policing means for a person of color during that era. The villain could be a character usually shown to be a good man in old-school dime novels, like Kid Colt or Kid Cassidy, the latter of which was revealed as a white supremacist in 2000’s Blaze of Glory. It would be a great way to highlight the mistreatment of Natives in history and the subsequent glorification of the white men who killed them. The Agent Carter series confirms that Kid Colt existed at one point in MCU’s history and was treated as a hero by modern-day media. Another intriguing villain option would be the Phantom Rider. Despite premiering as a hero, the character’s comic design lends itself to KKK allegories. The infamous sexual assault storyline with the time-traveling West Coast Avengers proved that the character’s morals are less-than-ideal.
Don’t Forget Kushala
Finally, it would be a waste to explore Marvel’s 1800s from a Native viewpoint and not include Kushala. A very recent addition to the Marvel pantheon, Kushala is an Apache woman known as the Demon Rider, who managed to become her time period’s Ghost Rider and Sorcerer Supreme at the same time. With one character, Marvel Studios could connect their Western project to the Doctor Strange franchise as well as their upcoming supernatural projects, like Blade and the rumored Ghost Rider reboot. A Red Wolf project could only benefit from her inclusion, and her similar origin of parents killed by the U.S. Army would make her a fitting co-star fighting alongside Red Wolf. It would offer a close insight into the mythology of the Apache. There is so much potential with this simple concept that it would be a shame not to explore it in a Disney+ series or film.