Monday, August 15, 2005

Return of the Bounty Hunter

There probably isn't anyone as excited as I am at the the prospect of the return of Jonah Hex to his own series, and by excited I mean typing-with-one hand excited!

Jonah Hex is one of the best DC characters ever created. Premiering in All Star Western #10 (1972), Jonah was a horribly scarred bounty hunter roaming the wild west. It was a great concept that rarely did not meet it's potential. I say rarely, because the notable exception is the Science Fiction-themed Hex series, where he went into the future. Ugh. I'm usually in the minority as most people I have talked with liked the SF series.

One of the interesting facets of the original Jonah Hex is that the stories were all mundane. During the original run of the series there were no supernatural or fantastic elements in the books, with the exception of the last issue of the Jonah Hex series, where he was transported to the future. While there were occasional guest-appearances in JLA, like with Warlord, none of it crossed-over to the Jonah Hex title.

The later appearances in Swamp Thing, the Lansdale-Truman mini-series, etc. all had fantastic elements to the them. When well-written it works. I have not seen anything either way to suggest the new series will return to it's roots or not. Likely, the editors are keeping all options open.

A number of Jonah Hex stories stand out but the one that absolutely is the best appeared in the Jonah Hex Spectacular back in 1978 (DC Special Series #16). Written by Michael Fleisher and penciled by the great Russ Heath, it told the tale of Jonah's final days as a bounty hunter. I won't spoil it for anyone who has not read it, but it was chilling and controversial. FYI: The Wikipedia link I include here has spoilers a-plenty, so don't go there if you want to be surprised later.

Michael Fleisher wrote a lot of Jonah's story. He is one of those writers who was once prolific but is not around much in the industry these days. He was once known as much for his comic work as getting into a spat with Harry Harrison, who Fleisher felt had made some unkind comments to say about him and his book, Chasing Harry. I liked his work on Jonah Hex and Spectre, but it seems many people in the industry did not care much for him. He also had a habit on doing variations of a theme. A story he wrote in one book would be similar to one in another he also wrote. His comic work decreased about the same time as many others also did, in the wakes of upsets at DC & Marvel.

Tony Dezuniga regularly penciled or at least inked Jonah Hex, and he lent a dirty, grungy realism to the character.

Here is a sample of typical bad-ass Jonah Hex...

In this issue (Jonah Hex #39), he is hunting a bad guy who married and had a child with a woman thought to have been a captive. What happens with the woman's father is the main story and this page is the denoument. Out of fear, the villain of the piece takes his own wife and child hostage and Jonah shoots him in the face.

Then he just rides away. That's really harsh. It's also the kind of plot that can lead into a vengeance story years later. If you read this book it's obvious that Jonah shot the guy just because he's upset with him over the day's events. He left the body behind, so maybe the widow can turn it in for the reward. That's how Jonah thinks.

Jonah Hex was not really a hero. In the stories about his background you can see that he grew up as damaged goods. He often tortured his targets, killed women, beat animals and had no problem using a sneak attack if it meant he got a payday. In one story Jonah shoots the gun out of an adversary's hand, and when the guy exclaims, shocked, how amazing the shot was, Jonah is annoyed. "Ah know thet...can I help it if you were holding the gun over yer heart?"

Still, he usually ended up on the side of the angels, albiet the Old Testament kind.

Jonah Hex Chronology

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