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Violence and Death Will Follow

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The legend of Jonah Hex actually began with All-Star Western. The title launched in 1940 as All-Star Comics, before undergoing a title change in 1951 when superhero comics had slipped in popularity. The series rode off into the sunset in 1961, but was re-vitalized nine years later. This new version of All-Star Western was very similar to its predecessor – an anthology series staring various DC Western characters including Outlaw, Bat Lash and El Diablo. In the time since the first run of All-Star Western however, North America’s view of cowboys and the West had shifted. Films such as The Good, The Bad and The Ugly had pushed aside the image of the square-jawed heroic cowboy in favor of a darker and more cynical protagonist. In All-Star Western #10 (February/March 1972), just such a character appeared… Jonah Hex.

Created by writer John Albano and artist Tony DeZuniga, Jonah Hex was the antithesis to the typical cowboy action hero. Hex was no lawman or trail boss, but rather a cold blooded bounty hunter. He had no friends, and both those he hunted and those who hired him feared Hex. Unlike the singing cowboy of days past, Jonah Hex was anything but handsome. Cloaked in darkness for the first several pages, Albano and DeZuniga finally revealed the feature Hex is known best for – his hideously scarred face. The story behind this disfigurement, as well as his odd choice of garb (an old Confederate uniform) only added to the intrigue of this new hero of the Old West.

Hex quickly gained favor with fans, even as the book was re-titled Weird Western Tales with issue #12 (June/July 1972). By issue #18 (July/August 1973), the comic gained the subtitle “Jonah Hex” as the anthology format was dropped in lieu of showcasing the bounty hunter. These early adventures of Hex were primarily written by Albano, but issue #22 (May/June 1974) brought Michael Fleisher aboard as scripter, adding the final element that made Jonah Hex such a fan-favorite. Issue #29 (July/August 1975) finally brought some of Hex’s early years to light, as “Breakout at Fort Charlotte” related the origin of Hex’s Confederate uniform. Flerisher and Jonah remained in Weird Western Tales until issue #38 (January/February 1977) when an ongoing Jonah Hex series debuted. During the run, Fleisher gradually filled in the back-story of Hex, including the origins of his horrible disfigurement. 

Jonah Hex Spectacular (fall 1978), also written by Fleisher and featuring art by Russ Heath related the story of Jonah Hex’s death. In 1904, towards the dawn of the new century, a 66-year-old Hex was murdered; shot in the back while cleaning his glasses. Hex’s corpse ultimately wound up in the possession of a huckster running a Wild West Review show. Hex’s corpse was stuffed, dressed in fancy “authentic” western clothing, and sent around the country as part of the show. Eventually the show folded, and Hex’s stuffed corpse ended up being stored in western themed amusement park in New York, circa 1972.

Despite his popularity in the 1970s and early 80s, not even Jonah Hex could outlive the death of the Western. Jonah Hex ended in August 1985 after an impressive 92-issue run. Fleisher ended the series with a cliffhanger, as Hex mysteriously vanished. Jonah returned the next month in a new title – Hex. He awoke to find himself in the Seattle area, circa 2050AD, after a holocaust had devastated the land. Fleisher spent the next 18 issues sending the 19th century gunslinger against mutants and high-tech marauders. The unpopular series was cancelled in February 1987, ending with a final scene that brought Hex face-to-face with his own stuffed corpse. While this seemed to indicate that Hex would one day return to his own time, the tale of how this occurred has yet to be told.

Hex made his return to comics in 1993, under the mature-reader Vertigo imprint from DC. Written by Joe Lansdale and Tim Truman, the five-issue mini-series Two-Gun Mojo mixed the western and supernatural horror, resulting in a dark violet hybrid. The series was not embraced by all Jonah Hex fans, but certainly found enough of an audience to spawn two sequels – Riders of the Worm and Such (1995) and Shadows West (1999). The Riders of the Worm and Such also brought the character of Jonah Hex into the national spotlight. The story featured two unsavory albinos named Johnny and Edgar Autumn – the Autumn Brothers. Rock stars Johnny and Edgar Winter filed a defamation suit against DC Comics, but after lengthy legal proceedings, the California Supreme Court ruled that the comic was entitled to protection under the First Amendment.

Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, Jonah Hex has recently appeared as a guest-star on two different cartoons. In a 1995 episode of Batman: The Animated Series (Showdown), Hex appeared in a flashback, relating the aged gunslingers battle with Ra’s al Ghul. A younger Hex made a guest appearance earlier this year on Justice League Unlimited (The Once and Future Thing: Weird Western Tales). In that episode, Hex teamed up with DC icons Batman, Wonder Woman and Green Lantern and even alluded to the time he spent trapped in the future.

One final Hex appearance bears at least a mention. In Superboy #54 (September 1998), the Teen of Steel met a beautiful supermodel that claimed to channel the spirit of Jonah Hex. Whether her claims have any merit, or if they are merely the ramblings of a delusional mind, have yet to been revealed.

This brings Jonah Hex to the new ongoing series by Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti and Luke Ross. Much like Hex’s earliest tales, the new series promises to be primarily done-in-one stories and not necessarily in chronological order (the creators have likened the new series to sitting around a campfire and telling tales of the ornery gunslinger). The first issue put Hex on the trail of a missing boy, while upcoming issues find him hired to help a small Mexican village and meeting the Old West’s only pacifist cowboy, Bat Lash.

And from there? We may already know where Jonah Hex’s story will end…but hopefully there will be many more nights gathered around the campfire hearing of his legends.

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