Troy D. Smith
A couple of years ago, Western Fictioneers invited a panel of experts to cast their votes for THE TOP TEN WESTERN COMICS .
I plan to occasionally use this column (the last Tuesday of every month!) to put a spotlight on the characters they chose. I'm going to start at the top, with the overwhelming choice for #1...
With issue #12, the comic's name was changed to WEIRD WESTERN TALES... and boy, could it get weird. Jonah Hex stories tended to be a lot darker than other mainstream western heroes (except maybe the original Ghost Rider.) Eventually, in 1977, Jonah got his own title (Scalphunter took over the starring role at WEIRD WESTERN TALES), which was scripted by Michael Fleischer, with most issues drawn by Jonah's co-creator Tony DeZuniga. Jonah's own book ran for almost a hundred issues; when it was finally canceled in 1985, Jonah had long been the last remaining regularly appearing western hero. (In a bizarre move, Jonah was catapulted forward centuries into a post-apocolyptic, Mad Max-like future in a series called simply HEX, best forgotten.)
But you can't keep a bad man down. Jonah appeared in three very successful miniseries in the 1990s, all written by Joe R. Lansdale and drawn by Timothy Truman. The stories were even weirder than they had been in the 70s, as Jonah faced down zombies and giant worms in addition to the regular outlaws and Indians.
There is a lot to like about Lansdale's Jonah Hex when compared to Michael Fleischer's version. One thing I liked was that Lansdale portrayed Jonah as a proud Rebel from East Texas, whereas Fleischer had written a backstory (Jonah's co-creator John Albano had simply never delved into the bounty hunter's past) in which Jonah, sold into slavery with the Apaches by his drunken father, grows up and joins the Confederate Army- and is shocked (shocked!) when he realizes the South supports slavery, whereupon he deserts... but continues to wear his Confederate uniform as a reminder of how terribly wrong he had been. Which is a patently ridiculous example of presentism and 20th century mores being imprinted on characters from the past (I think Mel Gibson's THE PATRIOT is ridiculous for the same reason... and admire the AMC TV series HELL ON WHEELS for addressing its hero's Confederate background and racial attitudes more honestly.)
In 2006, Jonah once more got his own ongoing series. JONAH HEX (vol.2) ran until 2011, written by Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti and drawn by several different artists, to much critical acclaim. In another case of DC taking Jonah out of his element for no apparent reason, the book was canceled and Jonah joined the cast of a new iteration of ALL-STAR WESTERN -which takes place in Gotham City (?) and has Jonah teamed up with the founder of Arkham Asylum (you know, that place were they lock up Batman's enemies between rampages.)
But perhaps that was an appropriate move; if I were Jonah, I think I'd rather be in Arkham Asylum than in the JONAH HEX movie that came out in 2010. Josh Brolin nailed the role, and looked the part, but that was the only good thing about the (very disjointed) film. They did use Jonah's arch-enemy, Quintin Turnbull (John Malkovich), but "misused" might be a better term. Also, again for no apparent reason, they decided to give Jonah weird superpowers that involved resurrecting the dead (power gained, naturally, from an Indian shaman), rather than just being content with the only superpower the comic book character needs: being the baddest man in the West.
To give you a feel for the character, I am going to quote the wikipedia plot synopses of the stories in FACE FULL OF VIOLENCE, a graphic novel that reprints the first six issues of the 2006 JONAH HEX series: [DANGER! SPOILER ALERT!]
Now THAT'S Jonah Hex.
Here are some Jonah Hex graphic novels, available at amazon and B & N -this is only a partial list:
Showcase Presents: Jonah Hex, vol. 1 (this one reprints the original WEIRD WESTERN TALES stories)
Showcase Presents: Jonah Hex, Vol. 2 (reprints the last several Jonah Hex stories in WWT, and the first 22 issues of the 1977 JONAH HEX series.)
Jonah Hex: Two Gun Mojo
Jonah Hex: Face Full of Violence
Jonah Hex: Guns of Vengeance
Jonah Hex: Tall Tales
Jonah Hex: No Way Back