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James West (Robert Conrad in Wild Wild West) purple jacket

James West

(Robert Conrad version)


Power Level:
Game system: DC Heroes Role-Playing Game

“You have much to offer us. Oh, a certain flair for assassination. A charming capacity to overcome odds. In short, style.”


Context

The Wild Wild West was a 1965-1969 TV show, starring Robert Conrad and Ross Martin. It was a particular childhood favorite of mine.

Western shows were losing steam back then, so WWW was hybridised with more fashionable spy fantasy shows.

Wild Wild West thus is a wonderful blend of western, sci-fi and “James Bond Super Spy” mixed nicely together. It also was one of the earliest shows to feature a skilled martial arts student as the main character.


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Background

  • Real Name: James T. West.
  • Other Aliases: Jim West.
  • Marital Status: Single.
  • Known Relatives: None.
  • Group Affiliation: The United States Secret Service, former Major in the U.S. Army Calvary division.
  • Base Of Operations: Primarily the American West.
  • Height: 5’7” Weight: 167 lbs.
  • Eyes: Blue Hair: Brown


Video

A fan tribute supercut about the original James West.


History

Little is known of the early history of James T. West. In fact, it is not even known what the “T.” stands for. He is known to have mentioned his father once but there was not enough information to draw any knowledge about the man.


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He was born in 1842 on July 2. However, many events have contradictory dates unless we assume that the stories are not told in chronological order, which is entirely possible since they are almost completely episodic.

What is known is that Jim West graduated from West Point and subsequently served as a Cavalry officer, rising to the rank of a Major in the United States Army. He was decorated many times.

In 1863, when he was a lieutenant, near Vicksburg, Mississippi, in the aftermath of a battle, he stumbled upon a wounded Confederate soldier. The man’s legs had been severely damaged. West applied tourniquets that stopped the bleeding and saved the man’s life. This would later have repercussions.

On the Presidency’s Secret Service

It is unclear as to precisely when Jim West was recruited into the United States Secret Service. The Service was founded in 1865 but it is difficult to construct a timeline using our world’s history as a template because the world James West lived in is clearly a different one.

Suffice it to say he was recruited between 1865 and 1870.

James West (Robert Conrad) on a black horse

By the time the series starts, he was one of two agents (the other being Artemus Gordon) who worked directly for and answered only to the President of the United States, Ulysses Simpson Grant .

As Grant was sworn into office in early 1877 and stayed two terms until early 1885, and as the entire series portrays West and Gordon as answering to Grant, this places the four seasons of the show as taking place over this eight year span of time.

Even when we first encounter Jim and Arte, estimated to be 1877, they have already been working together long enough to have become best friends and to implicitly trust each other. They are presented as troubleshooters sent by the President to investigate threats to American security.

They traveled in a train replete with fancy and futuristic gadgets. There was never any explanation for how these gadgets existed in that time period. It seemed normal in that reality.

Their first few missions, while perhaps unusual, were relatively ordinary escapades.

Loveless

This changed when the U.S. was threatened with an explosive that could destroy an entire city unless the creator of the explosive was paid to not use it.

This turned out to be a dwarf, a genius centuries beyond his time, named Dr. Miquelito Quixote Loveless. He was destined to become West’s arch adversary. Dr. Loveless threatened to blow up the city of Los Angeles, which had a population of about five thousand people at that time.

West and Gordon were finally able to track him down. Loveless had placed the explosives in a bell tower set to go off. West defeated his gigantic bodyguard, the mute Voltaire, a man of superhuman strength. He then confronted Loveless, defusing the bomb just in time.

This marked their first encounter and the only time Loveless was captured.

James West (Robert Conrad) watches a circus strongman

It was almost as if this set off a series of bizarre adventures against opponents almost as unusual. It also led to the second encounter when Dr. Loveless used plastic surgery to create an exact duplicate of West to infiltrate the Secret Service. The plot was foiled when West escaped and defeated his doppelgänger.

West defeated recurring threats from would-be Napoléons intent upon overthrowing the government in favor of their own rule.

He also encountered such enemies as Dr. Arcularis, a master hypnotist hired to hypnotize him, through Pavlovian techniques, to perform an assassination. Through overwhelming will power, West resisted and captured the doctor.

The iron man and the puppet master

He later confronted a soldier who had been wounded by an artillery shell during the Civil War. The man blamed a group of men that included Ulysses Grant although it was in fact not their fault. They had all drawn cards for guard duty. The man, Torres, had drawn a fairly high card and the others all drew higher.

Convinced they had cheated, he educated himself from his bed from books. He designed artificial muscles and bones made of steel to replace his damaged tissues and became a literal man of iron with skin grown over the steel. Years later, he proceeded to assassinate all of the men from the old troop.

The only one he could not get to was the one who had become President but he intended to assassinate Grant during a public speech.

Wild Wild West opening credits sequence

West defeated him by knocking him off-balance and into an underground pool of water. West offered to save him but Torres decided it was better for his life to end.

Perhaps one of the most unnerving encounters West ever had was with Zachariah Skull. Skull was a master puppeteer who used invisible wires and steam power to manipulate his puppets. They were so perfect that West “felt something” for one of them and was startled that he could even for a moment buy into such an illusion.

However, the “puppet” he fell for turned out to be a real woman, the protégée of Skull, practicing her arts.

In a particularly bizarre twist, the Puppet Master himself turned out to be a puppet, a handsome stand-in to represent what Skull used to be before he was mutilated while escaping from prison years earlier.

Go West

In another macabre investigation, West deduced that the murders of a number of prominent men were all linked to their relationships with a young woman named Astarte. She had connections to a sinister figure calling himself Asmodeus.

West discovered that Asmodeus, essentially a stage magician, was a front for the real threat. A mad scientist had kidnapped several top scientists, literally removed their brains and connected those brains to complex machinery. The brains could power it and add their knowledge to his own.

Trapped by the scientist, Dr. Tristram, West convinced the “brains” that they could resist if they fought back hard enough. They did so, killing Tristram with their mental powers and destroying themselves rather than continue to exist in such a nightmarish state.

James West (Robert Conrad) and Artemus Gordon stand side by side

While investigating a series of thefts of diamonds, West and Gordon encountered Morgan Midas. Midas had discovered that diamonds, melted down, were a necessary ingredient in a formula that could accelerate humans to vast levels of super speed. It made them too fast to even be seen while everyone around them seemed like statues to them.

The more carats, the longer the person could keep moving at such speeds.

Unfortunately, Midas was willing to steal and murder to get the diamonds. He even stole from a relative and then murdered her when she became suspicious. In their final battle, West burst in on Midas just as he was ingesting the formula.

West grabbed it and drank what was left, leading to a super speed battle while everyone else seemed to stand frozen. As West had taken less of the formula, he started slowing down first but, with one last punch, he knocked Midas into a display of alcohol.

Midas was terrified as the alcohol ignited because of air friction just as West dropped to normal speed and saw Midas only as a fire that was burning out.

Loveless returns

West’s most memorable confrontation with Dr. Loveless soon took place. Loveless directly confronted West in a shootout and Loveless was killed. Artemus Gordon arrived and, when they investigated, West flew into a murderous rage during a discussion and killed Arte.

Meanwhile, Artemus arrived in town and was told his friend had gone mad, shooting wildly at empty space and talking about someone named Loveless and bemoaning how he had killed his best friend.

West found himself captured by Loveless and realized almost everything that had happened had been a hallucination brought about by a drug Loveless had slipped into his shaving cream.

Dr. Loveless intended to use migrating birds, especially ducks and geese, to spread the drug into the world’s water supply. It was so powerful even when that diluted, it would kill off the entire human population except for himself and a select few. He had carefully designed the drug so it did not affect animals.

But West and Gordon escaped with the help of one of Loveless’s henchwomen. Although Loveless escaped again, there were significant explorations of the almost symbiosis of hero and villain that had developed.

Abnormal events

Most of their missions found them confronting highly advanced science and technology. Yet West and Gordon found themselves against an opponent they had no idea how to fight when they were escorting a prisoner and stopped in a deserted mansion overnight.

Inside the house, which turned out to be his ancestral home, the elderly Liston Day was rejuvenated into a young man.

West and Gordon found themselves trapped within a living house. It seemed intent on protecting Day until it realized that he had gone mad and irrevocably evil. At that point, the spirit of his mother, who had merged with the house, knew it was time to remove its protection.

Day aged back to an old man and died as they heard a creaking sound almost like the voice of an old woman crying.

James West (Robert Conrad) and Artemus Gordon

Other adventures included encounters with Count Manzeppi who claimed to use technology but whose powers seemed to derive from magic. West only encountered him twice which was just as well as Manzeppi seemed to vanish at will.

A little later, West and Gordon engineered their own supernatural event- or faked it. When former slave Jeremiah contacted them about the murder of a man that he witnessed years ago, he knew a white courtroom would not take the word of a black man.

So they faked the ghostly return of the murdered man to scare the wealthy landowner and his cohorts who committed the murder into confessing. Jeremiah also revealed his psychic powers.

Vautrain’s revenge

West and Gordon continued to battle against adversaries ranging from fake aliens to a would-be Captain Nemo. Then Artemus was kidnapped, causing West to be lured to a mansion in Vicksburg, Mississippi, where he encountered Colonel Noel Bartley Vautrain, a retired Confederate officer.

In the last days of the Civil War, Vautrain had been too near when an artillery shell exploded, crippling his legs beyond hope. A young Union officer, Jim West, had saved his life but his legs had to be amputated. Vautrain was returned to his home to convalesce. Though it had been damaged by an artillery shell, it was repaired.

Now, it was 17 years later, 1880. Vautrain had spent that time developing a power that either he had always possessed to some degree or perhaps that manifested when he was injured.

With extreme concentration, he could open gateways into other times and alternate realities and often both. He could also revert himself to what he was in a particular time although he withheld that information.

He sent West on a trial mission to what seemed to be the early 1800s or an alternate version of them where West found Gordon and returned with him. Then he had West and Gordon accompany him back to the same house they were in but in 1863. Somewhere out on the battlefield nearby, a younger Jim West was saving the life of the younger Vautrain.

James West (Robert Conrad) fights two bare-chested men in tight pants

Now, Vautrain revealed his secret. He could restore himself to what he was in the time he was in. He was 17 years younger and had his legs again. Vautrain knew that, in 1863, General Grant had commandeered his home as a Union headquarters and had a stockpile of ammunition, including gunpowder, stored there.

Vautrain intended to hide there and sacrifice himself, waiting until Grant was there and then personally blow up the house, himself with it, to kill Grant.

His reasoning was that Grant was, at that time, the North’s only authentic military genius, and the South could win if Grant were eliminated. Though this is shaky reasoning in the real world, it might well be true in the world of the show.

However, artillery fire from the Union troops accidentally struck the house. A pillar fell, crushing Vautrain’s legs, perhaps at the very instant that the younger Vautrain, out on the battlefield, was wounded, as if time were trying to right itself. The resulting fire started moving towards the ammunition and explosives.

West tried to move the beam but could not. Vautrain opened a gateway back to 1880 and told West to take the injured Gordon and step through it. They found themselves back in their present. The house burned to the ground as they escaped. No trace of Vautrain was found- in 1880.

Later wild adventures

A while later, West encountered Emma Valentine, a middle-aged matchmaker. She was behind a series of alphabet murders. Young women who worked for her married rich older men, murdered them and got their money which was turned over to Valentine.

She claimed to be doing it to start a movement for women’s freedom, a sort of Women’s Liberation Movement, but she was pocketing all the profits. Escaping from her death trap, the agents heard she had been arrested.

There followed other adventures such as Dr. Loveless’s discovery that certain combinations of sounds could open gateways into other dimensions using paintings as gateways.

West also discovered the lost Aztec civilization living beneath the Earth in Mexico, science used to simulate the magic of Voodoo and a governor’s insidious plot to hide a deformed son who had a powerful, apish friend who was helping the son extract revenge.

Eventually, West went up against a criminal organization called Raven led by Dr. Tycho, a small man with a head much larger than normal who escaped when the organization was brought down.

Sometime after Grant’s Presidency was over, West and Gordon retired from the Secret Service. By 1895, West was traveling through Mexico when he received word that the son of the late Dr. Loveless (who had died sometime between 1884 and 1895) had threatened the United States with a weapon that could destroy cities much as his father had once done. They were asked to come out of retirement.

They defeated Dr. Loveless, Jr. but realized that he had clones planted all around the world so they may not have seen the last of him.

They were called out of retirement one last time (or just never went back into retirement) although the adventure was noticeably lacking in any fights or battles of any kind. And with that adventure, James West rode off into the sunset, heading west, for the last known time.


Description

James West is a handsome Ladies’ Man. Small in stature, he is a coiled spring of energy. He usually wears a blue western style suit complete with vest, cowboy hat and numerous concealed weapons and devices.

A martial arts master, West’s speed is amazing. Regularly defeating groups of at least 4 opponents in hand-to-hand fights, he was equally unmatched with guns, once defeating an android in a fast-draw contest.


Personality

Sure of himself, supremely confident, Jim West is what James Bond might have been had he been American and lived in the 1870s. He is quick to anger and never one to run from a fight.

A notorious gunfighter once threatened Artemus Gordon while he was sporting an injured arm. Gordon had said something about the man’s notorious reputation, implying it might not be a good idea for Gordon to have such a good memory.

The gunman said Gordon talked big for a guy with a bad wing (meaning his gun hand). West said, “My name is Jim West. I’ve got a good memory too and there’s nothing wrong with my wing.”


Quotes

Dr. Sarah Jameson: “ I’ve examined you thoroughly. There are no broken bones but you are a mass of contusions and bruises.”
James West: “Well, cannonballs usually do have that effect on me.”

Artemus Gordon: “Naomi. ’My sweetness’. That’s what Naomi means in Hebrew, did you know that ?”
Naomi Buckley: “Really ? And what does Artemus mean ?”
James West: “It means ’He who wastes little time‘.”

Artemus Gordon: “What ? And leave you here alone ?”
James West: “There’s only four of them.”

James-West-Robert-Conrad-Wild-Wild-West-h7

Emma Valentine: “What do you demand of a woman, intelligence or beauty ?”
James West: “Beauty if they’re intelligent, intelligence if they’re beautiful.”

Emma Valentine: “Your ideal mate, Mr. West, is a combination of Aphrodite, Helen of Troy and Lola Montez. Oh, Mr. West, I’m afraid it can’t be done.”
James West: “Well, frankly, I like to do my own shopping anyway.”

“Things aren’t always what they seem to be.”

Artemus Gordon: “I didn’t know you liked toys.”
James West: “Toys, no. Dolls, yes.”


DC Universe History

In many respects, The Wild Wild West would fit right into the macabre world of the DC Old West. One could easily see a crossover with Jonah Hex.


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Game Stats — DC Heroes RPG Print Friendly

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James West

Dex: 07 Str: 03 Bod: 04 Motivation: Seeking Justice
Int: 05 Wil: 09 Min: 07 Occupation: U.S. Secret Service Agent/Spy
Inf: 05 Aur: 03 Spi: 05 Resources {or Wealth}: 006
Init: 021 HP: 050

Skills:
Acrobatics*: 07, Animal Handling (Riding)*: 05, Charisma*: 05, Detective*: 05, Martial Artist*: 07, Medicine (First Aid)*: 05, Military Science*: 05, Thief (Security Systems, Stealth)*: 07, Weaponry (Firearms, Melee)*: 07

Advantages
Attractive, Buddy (Artemus Gordon), Headquarters (Confined, the Train), Intensive Training, Iron Nerves, Leadership, Lightning Reflexes, Luck, Security Clearance (High), Sharp Eye.

Connections:
President Ulysses S. Grant (High), U.S. Secret Service (High), U.S. Army (Low).

Drawbacks:
Arch Enemy (Dr. Miquelito Loveless).

Equipment:

  • Remington Revolver [BODY 03, Rec. STR 03, Projectile weapon: 04, Ammo: 06, R#04, Drawback: Long Reload].
  • Sleeve gun/ Derringer [BODY 02, Projectile weapons (Diminishing): 03, Ammo: 02, Miniaturisation: 02, R#03, Drawback: Long Reload].
  • Cable with steel arrowhead fired from sleeve gun [BODY 04 STR 03, Stretching: 02, Ammo: 01, R#01].
  • Two Omni-Gadgets [C, 6 APs].

Design notes

Wealth listed is relative to the time period and not the same amount of money a person in the 21st century would be making with the same wealth score. It also includes built-in advantages of the job such as room and board.


By Doug Mertaugh.

Source of Character: The television series The Wild Wild West which ran on CBS for four seasons from 1965-1969. Officially, it was created by the original Executive Producer of the show, Michael Garrison, although Gilbert Ralston  always contended he created everything except the basic concept of “James Bond in the Old West”. It was common in those days for executive producers to come up with the most basic concept and then take credit as the creator of a show. Some of the recurring writers were John Kneubuhl, Henry Sharp, Ken Kolb, Calvin Clements, Earl Barret, Robert Dennis, Shimon Wincelberg, Leigh Chapman, Edward Lakso, Robert Kent, Ken Pettus, Paul Playdon, and many others. Among the guest-stars were some of the biggest names of the era and those who would later become big names such as Martin Landau, Burgess Meredith, Boris Karloff, Richard Pryor, Sammy Davis, Jr., Carroll O’Connor, William Windom, Ricardo Montalban, Agnes Moorhead, John Astin, Lana Wood, Pernell Roberts, Robert Loggia, Harold Gould, Ray Walston, Edward Asner, Robert Duvall, Harvey Korman and William Schallert among others.

Helper(s): I have the complete collection of The Wild Wild West series on DVD. For quick references, the book, The Wild Wild West: The Series by Susan Kesler was invaluable. Written in the late 1980s, it is still the definitive book about the show and I would highly recommend it for anyone who has a strong interest in the show. Darci helped correct my grammar.

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