The first gun strikes with an ungodly force; the second spreads the fires of perdition; the third spreads a flesh-rotting disease.
The fourth raises the dead; the fifth provides eternal youth and the ability to heal from any wound; and the sixth gun gives its owner the ability of prophecy.
“The Sixth Gun” (Oni Press) is a supernatural Western written by Cullen Bunn with art by Brian Hurtt. Bunn, who’s known for his work writing such Marvel titles as Wolverine, Fearless Defenders and Venom, says elements of the story have been with him throughout his writing career — but that the narrative the title’s fans are now reading is a far cry from the ideas he’s toted around for a quarter-century.
“One of the first stories I ever sold was a weird Western,” Bunn tells Comic Riffs. “It was a Western with supernatural and horror elements. So these are elements that have been brewing in my head for many years ... probably 25 years ago. I’ve wanted to do something like a supernatural Western for a long time.”
Even over just the past half-dozen years, his concepts have evolved.
“I think the original pitch that I titled ‘The Sixth Gun,’ I probably put together in 2007,” he says. “Even that pitch was different from the book that you see on the shelf today. It was a much darker story. It was definitely a horror story.
“I think of ‘The Sixth Gun’ as a fantasy story. It was very dark and it was very much a six-issue story, and it [would have been] six issues and done. Even from there, it evolved ... and it kind of morphed into a bigger, more epic story — and while there are still horror elements, I stopped thinking of it as a horror story and started thinking of it as more of a fantasy.”
“The Sixth Gun,” is indeed a “weird Western,” featuring many powerful organizations, which each have their own reasons for trying to unite all six guns — whether for the greater good or evil.
Loaded with interesting personalities from the Wild West, the story focuses on two characters. Drake Sinclair, a treasure-hunting adventurer who is much more than he seems; and Becky Montcreif, a farmgirl who comes into possession of the sixth gun when her stepfather is killed by men trying to steal it.
With each issue, a little more is revealed about Sinclair’s past — a history that could include having wielded “the six” in another time, and having possibly already ending and re-creating the world once with the power of the combined “six.”
The six guns have been different things in different times. In medieval times, they were swords. In the time of cave-dwellers, they were hammers made of rock and sticks. The hints in the book that the “six” have existed as more than just guns, Bunn says, could mean that the blazing old West may not be where the story ends.
“These pistols, they have the ability to reshape and change the world,” Bunn tells Comic Riffs. “So it is possible that by the end of the story, we are no longer in the Wild West, but I won’t say that that is definitely what is going to happen. The story [of Drake and Becky], their story — despite all the other worlds and the strange things that they see — their story is defiantly set in the old West. And when the series ends, it will be the end of their story.”
Bunn says that there is more to Drake than meets the eye, and that issues of “The Sixth Gun” have hinted to the fact that even he might not be aware of who he really is.
“We hinted at it for a while, but around issue [number] 21, we really put a fine coin on the fact that there is much more to Drake than just being an outlaw who’s out searching for treasure,” Bunn says.
“He has an interesting backstory. He’s had adventures before the first issue of ‘The Sixth Gun’ was ever published,” Bunn continues. “Around issue 21, we say: Keep your eye on Drake. There’s much more to him, in ways that I don’t think readers will ever expect.
“We’ve actually seen Drake as a knight. If you look back in the book, I guess in the second or third arc, you’ve seen that knight before. So Drake, as a knight has appeared in the book, just had his faceplate down. We’ve been able to feed a lot of that information into the series.”
Bunn teases then to the newest narrative.
“The current arc is probably the strangest story that we’ve told so far. We’re going to take that concept of seeing Drake in another form, and in the next couple of issues, you’re going to see that in an even bigger way. You’re going to see that idea really kind of explored a little more.”
But while much of the attention in “The Sixth Gun” gets focused on mystery-man Drake, Bunn is quick to point out that Drake is not the hero of the book. That role is reserved for the owner of the sixth gun, Becky.
“We knew when we started working on the book... ,’ he tells Comic Riffs. “There were a lot of stereotypes that readers were going to expect from it. And Becky was one of those. We knew that readers were going to think of her solely as a damsel in distress. And that’s how we set her up in the first few issues. That was our intent — we wanted people to see her as that.”
Bunn expands on Becky’s place in this universe.
“The story of ‘The Sixth Gun’ is really her story of progression from being this innocent farmer’s daughter to being the deadliest gun in the West,” he says. “A lot of people think Drake is the protagonist of the story. They look at the covers and they see the dashing guy with the cool hat and glint of steel in his eyes, but really Becky is the hero of the story. ... We want readers to identify with Becky.
“She was this innocent Everywoman character, but she’s coming to her own,” he continues. “And just like Drake, there is more to Becky than anyone is expecting. We’ve already started hinting at it. There have been times that I was afraid I was giving everything away. So there are hints.
“The secret behind Becky is — well, we’ll be revealing later in the series.”
While enjoying the run of success that his creator-owned title has brought (“The Sixth Gun” has reached 32 issues and will end with issue #50), Bunn has also had an interesting time trying to get “The Sixth Gun” developed for television. Multiple networks have taken notice, and a pilot episode has been filmed, but as of yet, nothing has materialized — with NBC being the latest interested network to decide that it would not air “The Sixth Gun” as a series.
“The past year has been very interesting because ‘The Sixth Gun’ has been under development as a TV series,” Bunn tells us. “I didn’t have any clue what went into [television]. It’s been a hectic busy learning experience of a year.”
No matter how Hollywood talks turn out, Bunn appreciates the experience so far .
“At this point, if it never went any further I would still have the sort of validation of talking to [TV executives] about a book I created,” he says. ”And I’ll always have that moment of Brian Hurtt and I walking onto the set of ‘The Sixth Gun’ and essentially walking into an old West town populated with these characters that we created. That’s something that will always be with me.”
But I’m still pretty optimistic that fans are going to have their opportunity to see it on the small screen at some point sooner rather than later.”
As much as Bunn has enjoyed writing for Marvel Comics — he even acknowledging that he has a bucket list of established characters that he’s happy to have worked on — he says that there’s nothing quite like the sense of seeing a fan enjoy original characters that he created.
“There’s a vast difference — both in terms of the actual writing experience and in terms of the level of satisfaction you get from it,” Bunn says. “I’m a comic-book fan from way back in my childhood, and I love these superhero books. Especially the Marvel books. They shaped who I am — not just as a writer, but in a lot of ways they shaped who I am as a person, because they were such a big part of my life.
“There is a great joy in writing a character like Wolverine, who I’ve identified with for so long,” he continues. “That said, there’s a certain type of satisfaction when you build a story and you build a world from the ground up and it’s every bit a part of you.”