Friday, December 10, 2021

5 Years, 5 Lessons



Today marks 5 years since Swords & Sixguns: An Outlaw's Tale was first published.  In that time, I've sold 208 copies (little lower than I hoped by this point...dang COVID), plus I've learned quite a bit about the ins and outs of being a professional writer.  So in no particular order, here's the top 5 lessons I can impart to those of you who may be starting out on your own writing journey...

#1 - You'll Never Catch All the Typos
This is one I've learned in the past month.  Recently, KDP (my printer) began offering a hardcover option, so as soon as I had the time, I started updating the original paperback file in the hope that I could launch the hardcover today.  Well, due to various reasons, I cannot do so just yet, one of them being that, every time I thought I'd ferreted out every last typo, another one popped up.  I'd become aware of about a half-dozen of them not long after the initial release, thanks to my mother-in-law, who went so far as to take a highlighter to the copy I gave her!  I figured I'd fix them in a later edition, so when the hardcover option came along, I went about doing just that.  Well, while doing so, I'd occasionally stop and read the manuscript just for pure pleasure...and the more I read, the more typos jumped out.  A missing letter here, a formatting error there, just enough goofs to annoy the heck outta me.  I think the new tally is 10 known typos in the paperback version, and I'm giving up there before I totally obsess over it.  The only consolation I have is that, in the past 5 years, I've found typos in all sorts of big-name works, so it appears that it's inevitable no matter who the writer is or how many editors go over it.  Best advice I can give is to take note of 'em, fix 'em when ya can, and look upon the whole thing as a lesson in wabi sabi.

#2 - Always Ask How to Spell Their Name, No Matter How Easy It Sounds
Speaking of typos (or potential ones), I learned this lesson when I did my very first con, specifically Motor City Nightmares in 2017.  One of my first sales that day was to a fella named Lary...yes, he spelled it with one R.  It was a very important lesson, and I'm glad I got it out of the way early, because once you take your Sharpie in hand and autograph that book, you can't undo it.  Luckily, he told me this before I'd made any sort of mark, so I got his name right on the first try.  This has led to me asking how to spell the person's name every time I do an autograph -- sometimes even writing it down on a separate piece of paper beforehand -- and just about everyone gets to hear about "Lary with one R" when I do so.

#3 - Everyone Has An Opinion on What You Should Write
You need to get used to this one real fast, because you'll deal with it nearly every time someone finds out you're a writer.  I've lost track of how many people want me to write a love story, or their biography/genealogy, or whatever idea that's been bouncing around in their head for years but they don't know how to do, so they think I should do it instead.  I tell them that I barely have time to do my own work, so I'm not about to take on theirs.  The "love story" one is what really stumps me, though: I get that not everyone is into Westerns or horror or fantasy, but why do they think I should be writing love stories instead?  If it's because I'm of the female persuasion, then I'd really wish they'd quit trying to stereotype me.  Whenever there's romance in one of my stories, it's because it just happened along the way, it's not the main reason for the plot.  For those of you who do write love stories on a regular basis, more power to ya, I'll start sending the people requesting such things your way from now on, just so long as you send the Western-horror-fantasy people towards me.

#4 - Someone Will Always Sell More Books Than You
This was a hard lesson to learn, and it occurred a few years into doing cons.  I shared a table with another self-published author whose book had come out about 4 months earlier.  I think by this point I'd sold about 150 books, so I asked how many he'd sold so far, expecting it to be about the same or lower.  Nope, he'd sold over 600...in hardcover, at that.  It was like I'd been punched in the gut.  To be fair, his book was nonfiction, and on local history, so we weren't even close to the same genre, but it still shocked me that he'd moved four times as many books as I had, and in a much-smaller timeframe.  I felt like a failure, and it took me a while to get over that.  I had to accept that, unless I wanted to write very specifically for whatever's hot on the market at any given moment (see Lesson #3), I was always going to be fighting for every sale, so I should be proud of the ones I get.  On the flipside of that, I've tried to act as a mentor for a young self-published author who is in the same genre as myself (zombies, not Westerns), and I'm proud whenever she posts that she sold out of books at a con.  This is a tough business, and unless you run into a writer who's just a total dick, we should cheer each other on.

#5 - Always Be On the Lookout for Work in Unlikely Places
When you're operating on an less-than-a-shoestring budget like I am, you gotta take advantage of any opportunity to get your name out there.  I've been a guest at a little-bitty con essentially for charity, I've winged it at panels and on podcats, I've distributed well over 4,000 flyers, and I've written stuff for numerous publications, both physical and digital.  It's in the latter area where I've had the most success: while some of the stuff has yet to see the light of day (I've submitted one short story to three different publications so far, all of which folded before printing said story), there's one piece in particular that's still bringing in benefits of a sort.  Since I began writing An Illustrated History of Jonah Hex in 2011, I've not only received public praise from Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti, I caught the attention of Johnathon Schaech when he came across a "special edition" of the project in 2016.  This led to me starting up the Via Pony Express podcast with three like-minded Hex-nuts, plus I recently interviewed Schaech about his part in Legends of Tomorrow...something that may've never happened if Justin Francoeur hadn't seen my work and asked me to contribute to his DC in the '80s zine.

And on that note, I'd like to publicly announce a bit of upcoming work that came about, from all things, while scrolling around on Facebook.  Last month, Peter David put up a post regarding open submissions for an anthology he was putting together, so I took a chance, submitted an idea...and I got in!  Approval for my finished short story came back yesterday, though he suggested a few edits, which I was happy to make (when Peter David suggests an edit, you do it!).  So come February 2022, look for my name in Fans Are Buried Tales, alongside pros like Paul Kupperberg, David Gerrold, and Mr. David himself.  Reckon maybe this'll sell more than 208 copies!

Monday, November 1, 2021

Be a part of Hex history!


 You may recall I said last year that I was working on getting "An Illustrated History of Jonah Hex" published.  Well, I'm still working on that, and I'd like your help.  Y'see, I wantto do more with this than merely scan pages of comics like I've been doing the past 10 years, I want to showcase the actual art that went into making Jonah Hex the baddest bounty hunter for 5 decades running.  To do that, I need access to the original art.  I've already contacted a few folks who are willing to help in that regard, but I want to throw the net a bit wider.  There's so many artists that've worked on the character, so the more samples I get get, the happier I'll be.  And if we can include some great fan art in this project as well, I'll be even happier, because it's the fans that've kept him alive all this time, so they deserve their own recognition in what'll likely be the ONLY Hex history book to ever be printed.

The only downside is that ain't nobody gonna get paid for this.  I'm not really expecting to make oodles of cash off of this myself (Hell, I've been doing it for free all this time already!), just so long as it generates enough revenue to pay for the books I print, that'll be fine.  Everyone who contributes will get a "thank you" in the book, so I hope that's enough compensation for y'all.

So please, if you own any original Hex art -- covers, pages, or sketches -- by any artist (or even your own work!), contact me over at swordsandsixgunsnovel@gmail.com with "Hex Book" in the subject line.  In the meantime, I'm gonna get crackin' on the final chapters!

An Illustrated History of Jonah Hex (Part 19)

 


2010: Hex Goes to Hollywood

For the 4th issue of Geek Magazine (cover-dated December 2012), publisher Mark Altman assembled a panel of comics, film, and television writers to talk about the future of the superhero genre beyond its usual paper-bound confines.  It’s an interesting snapshot of a time long past, when the Marvel Cinematic Universe only had six movies under its belt, Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy had just wrapped up with mixed results, and a little show called Arrow had recently debuted on The CW.  As Altman himself pointed out in the article, “comic books sell like 12 copies these days,” so they were trying to suss out why non-fans were flocking to watch properties based on what was still looked upon by many as a niche genre.  “It was recently said that the comic book film is now the contemporary equivalent of the Western,” Altman noted.  “Like jazz, it’s a distinctly American genre, which has supplanted the Western as the defining...”

Christian Gossett -- creator of the comics series The Red Star -- quickly interrupted with, “So then the absolute epitome of American pop culture today is Jonah Hex?”  The rest of the group laughed at the notion, but Gossett had a valid point: Jonah’s journey to the big screen was a homecoming of sorts, at least in terms of how the character came about in the first place.  Don’t forget, his creators John Albano & Tony DeZuniga were inspired by the spaghetti Westerns that had become popular in the 1960s-70s, which in turn was one of the last times the Western genre had a dominating influence on the media landscape.  By a quirk of fate, Jonah managed to survive the death of the 20th Century’s defining genre by embedding himself so well into the one that would define the 21st Century -- every time Jonah’s ugly mug turned up in a superhero comic or cartoon, it was a reminder that cowboys like him were packing movie houses and inundating the airwaves long before all them fellas in capes were doing so.

It should be noted that, in truth, Jonah Hex was not the first DC Western character to get a movie adaptation.  That honor goes to Greg Saunders, the original Vigilante, who was played by actor Ralph Byrd in a 15-part serial back in 1947.  Though it would take 63 years for another DC cowpoke to get the honor, it certainly wasn’t for lack of trying: like Spider-Man and Batman before him, the idea of a live-action Jonah Hex project traveled up and down the various levels of Development Hell for decades.  According to Mark Evanier's obituary for John Albano, the reason he parted ways with his creation in the early 1970s was due to a dispute over the film rights, which gives a little more weight to the rumors at the time that Clint Eastwood’s Malpaso Productions was looking into adapting Hex.  And then there’s the failed attempts in the late-1990s at adapting the character for a TV series and/or movie, which was when screenwriter Akiva Goldsman’s name got attached to Jonah’s.  Now upgraded to producer, (one of twelve officially listed on IMDB for Jonah Hex, including Friends star Matt LeBlanc), Goldsman’s affiliation with DC Comics goes all the way back to 1995, when he worked on the screenplay for Batman Forever (not the most auspicious of beginnings).  Another holdover from the failed 1990s projects was William Farmer, who wrote a script for a Hex film in 1997 and was given a story credit alongside screenwriters Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor for the 2010 film, so there’s a possibility that just enough of his work remained in the final script to warrant it.

Words in a script don’t mean much without someone to say ‘em, though, and the folks at Warner Brothers made one heck of a pick when it came to playing our favorite bounty hunter.  In the late-2000s, Josh Brolin was riding high thanks to critical acclaim for his roles in films like No Country for Old Men, W., and Milk, the latter of which got him an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.  Not bad for someone who grew up not wanting to get into show business like his parents, actors James Brolin and Jane Cameron Agee.  An acting class in high school changed his mind, however, and at 17 he landed a part in the classic 1985 flick The Goonies.  Five years later, Brolin portrayed a young “Wild Bill” Hickok on the TV series The Young Riders, and while he enjoyed steady work in Hollywood once that show wrapped, there were very few standout parts until his appearance in 2007’s Grindhouse.  After that, Brolin turned in one top-notch performance after another, to the point where he likely had freedom to pick whichever projects caught his fancy.  Such was the case with Jonah Hex: though he initially turned down the script, he remarked in Wizard #226 (July 2010) that “There was something about it that I couldn’t stop thinking about.”  While he admitted how absurd some aspects of the story were, Brolin confessed that he’d always wanted to do a project like this “to bring back the balls of the Western but also taint it with this absurdity and anything goes.”

Prior to getting the role, Brolin had little experience with Hex -- “I read comic books and stuff but I didn’t know a lot about it”, he said at an on-set press junket attended by Dwayne Hendrickson of Matching Dragoons in May 2009 -- but he got the gist of what made the character work right away.  During an appearance on the Nerdist podcast in February 2016, he stated, “I remember when I was talking to Warner Brothers about doing that movie, High Plains Drifter is what I put on the TV.  I said, ‘That’s what I wanna do.’”  Brolin must’ve made a quite an impression on the execs, for not only did he get the role, they let him choose who would ultimately direct him in it, as Neveldine & Taylor had been slated to do so, but dropped out due to creative differences.  “I was very, very lucky in that the studio said to me, ‘Do you want to helm this in finding the most appropriate director, at least for you, who you deem to be the most appropriate person,’” he told reporters during the press junket, “and I said, ‘For me I know that’s usually bullshit.  You’re going to jerk off the actor to make him feel good but ultimately you’re going to make the decision yourself.’  And they were very honest with me and straightforward and they said, ‘We want to be in business with you and we’re going to let you do it.’ Obviously they have the final say, which is just obvious but they gave me a lot of range here, you know?”

Brolin soon discovered that finding a director wasn’t going to be easy.  As he said in an interview printed in Fangoria #294 (June 2010), “[T]he original script I read was weak; something was missing.  I asked Oliver Stone if he would rewrite and consider directing, but he said no.”  During the press junket, Brolin mentioned Danny Boyle -- the director of cult classics like Trainspotting and 28 Days Later -- as another possible choice, and when speaking to MTV News, he revealed that “Park Chan-Wook, who did Old Boy, was somebody I spoke to for hours three different times.  I almost had him.  He felt he didn’t have enough prep time.  At the last minute, I said, ‘Look, if you really feel you can’t do it the way you want to, don’t do it.  We’ll do something else together.’  And he was like, ‘Thank you!’”  While such a collaboration has yet to manifest, Brolin did ask for the director’s blessing when he remade Old Boy a few years later with Spike Lee.

In the end, it was “a brilliant e-mail” from Jimmy Hayward that sealed the deal when it came to filling the director’s chair.  Though Hayward’s only directorial credit before this was the 2008 animated film Horton Hears a Who!, Brolin was impressed by what the man had to say.  “I read his e-mail and I was blown away.  It was extremely passionate, extremely intelligent, extremely knowledgeable -- not of the character necessarily but technically.  You can’t take away from the fact that the guy’s worked for a company that can’t fail,” Brolin explained during the press junket, referring to Hayward’s time at Pixar as an animator.  “He’s incredible to me and if he pulls this off, he’ll have an amazing career.”


Though he’s not given a writing credit, Hayward did rework many parts of the script, which would’ve most certainly been a hard-R picture had it been shot as-is instead of the PG-13 rating it eventually got (according to the folks over at FilmSchoolRejects.com, who got a hold of the original treatment, Neveldine & Taylor’s version had “Hex spout[ing] obscenities left and right”, along with a scene “where Hex jams a piece of dynamite into his horse’s nuts to so it could blast off like it was shot out of a cannon”).  Like Brolin, Hayward brought his own vision for Hex along when meeting with Warner Brothers execs, but in his case, it was an old DC Digest featuring the character that he’d owned since he was a kid (in the middle of the press junket, Hayward began describing the events surrounding the death of Jonah’s pet wolf, Ironjaws, so it was likely a copy of Jonah Hex and Other Western Tales #3, which reprints Weird Western Tales #14).  His exuberance for the project came through in every interview he did, and even Brolin said that Hayward had “a great new adolescent energy”, despite the director being only two years younger than himself.  The actor seemed to catch some of that energy as well, saying of the movie, “This is huge scope.  Big, big, big scope.  And it may be ridiculous at times but it doesn’t matter because that’s the genre.  We can do that.  That’s what I like about it.”

With the title character and director in place and the script reworked to the satisfaction of both men, it was time to fill out the rest of the cast.  Hayward brought in Will Arnett, who he’d worked with on Horton and would now play the role of Lieutenant Grass, an original character created for the movie.  Meanwhile, Brolin was reaching out to numerous actors that he felt would be right for this project.  Michael Shannon landed the role of Doc “Cross” Williams, only to have his scenes trimmed down to a brief cameo because they decided to instead develop him more in the sequel (bold of ‘em to assume they’d get that far).  Michael Fassbender -- who’d just turned in a memorable performance in Inglourious Basterds -- was called in to play another original character, Burke, the righthand man of Hex’s longtime adversary, Quentin Turnbull.

For the latter role, Brolin approached John Malkovich, whom he called “a huge inspiration” when it came to Brolin doing True West on Broadway.  “[H]e became a great friend and I called him about [Jonah Hex] and it was like ‘Will you please do this?’” Brolin said on the press junket.  “I just think the guy is freaking fantastic.  And then the studio they have an idea of somebody or John plays all the crazy people and I was like no, man.  We started going through a lot of really wonderful actors and I said you know the thing about those actors -- and I won’t say who they are -- is because there’s a lot of rage in the part...usually with these certain actors they feel rage and it comes out straightforward.”  Brolin had a very specific idea about how Turnbull should be played, and he felt Malkovich could deliver it.  “John, he feels rage and he may pick up a poodle and start petting it and reciting a poem or something, which to me is far scarier than somebody who’s just screaming at you, you know?  So John always does something very interesting and eclectic and I don’t think forcefully."

Another part Brolin agonized over getting right was that of Lilah, a prostitute Jonah is romantically involved with.  He said on the press junket, “[W]e were looking at a bunch of different people.  We were looking at people like Melissa Leo at a certain point.  And we really went through the gamut and I woke up one morning and I was like it has to be Megan Fox.  If I can get a performance out of her it has to be Megan Fox, because to me this whole beauty and beast thing and then you also have Megan surrounded by these toothless whores and she’s the most beautiful and yet she’s the most broken, you know?  And I like that.  It’s like everything is not…that’s my understanding of life.  What you perceive.”  He then elaborated that he liked “the contrast between what you’re perceiving cosmetically and what’s going on underneath.  To me, Lilah is the most broken character of all.  Jonah’s probably next, you know?  Turnbull is probably the craziest.  He’s caught up into this romanticism and revenge factor of losing.  He refuses to lose.”  Though some might find it unseemly that Brolin’s leading lady was roughly half his age, keep in mind that, in the comics, it wasn’t unusual for Jonah to bed down with women much younger than himself.  It certainly didn’t hurt when it came to the press, either, as the movie got lots of coverage simply because of Fox’s presence.

Unlike the majority of comic-book movies made in the digital age, Jonah Hex was very old-school in its approach, filming mainly on location throughout Louisiana in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen (AKA Cinemascope, used by many Western films back in the day), with a heavy reliance on practical effects.  When it came to both the frontier towns and the folks who lived in them, the entire production lived and breathed DeZuniga’s “filthy and dirty” mandate.  Christien Tinsley, who headed the makeup department, was given the freedom to design the look for all the actors, as opposed to having certain ones relegated only to prosthetics or creature departments.  “Everybody is a designed character, and that’s what is so fabulous about this film,” he said in Make-Up Artist Magazine #84 (May/June 2010).  From emulating psoriasis on Michael Shannon’s face to covering Fassbender in tattoos (his character’s off-screen backstory says he got them while stranded on a Polynesian island) and giving Malkovich a scarred prosthetic nose, virtually no one went in front of the lens without some kind of modification.  “Probably 20 of the cast members are wearing dentures.  That was a through-line where I said, ‘Nobody can have pretty teeth!’”


The lion’s-share of the work, of course, went into creating Jonah’s infamous scar.  “From the get-go, the studio didn’t want to put a dime into the digital aspect, which I was glad to hear, but it also made my job a lot harder,” Tinsley said.  Various makeup tests were run to ensure that it not only looked right, but it also wouldn’t injure Brolin, who’d be wearing it for the majority of the 45-day shoot (one of those tests involved literally applying hot elements to a chunk of pork butt so they could see how flesh would react under those conditions, then molding the results to make facial appliances).  They quickly realized they couldn’t physically draw down the skin around Brolin’s right eye, as it would lead to infection, so they had to simulate it with makeup instead.  Brolin’s cheek, however, was fair game, and after some trial and error, they came up with a multi-part rig: one piece pulled back the skin on the right side of his face (an old Hollywood trick for an instant facelift), another pulled back the corner of his mouth even further while creating a “dent” in his cheek, then two layers of prosthetics went over all that to both disguise the rigs and to create the scarred flesh.  The effect was remarkable, and once Josh Brolin put on the rest of the costume -- a full-blown Confederate woolen uniform comprised of an undershirt, waistcoat, and overcoat, as opposed to the stripped-down jacket the character usually wore in the comics -- one couldn’t look at him and doubt that Jonah Hex was living and breathing right in front of you.

Unfortunately for Brolin, all this attention to detail took a serious toll on him physically, as he pointed out over and over again in interviews.  Since his cheek was pulled back, not only did he slobber constantly, it was impossible for him to eat with the prosthetic on: he’d have to scarf down food in the morning, then make do with only water for the next 14 hours, tilting his head to the left if he wanted to take a drink since he couldn’t use a straw (with that simulated hole in his face, there was no way to create suction).  He’d sweat all day in the humid Louisiana heat beneath all those layers of wool, the boots he wore damn-near hobbled him, and he injured just about all his fingers over the course of filming.  “It was a tough shoot, so when you're doing it, you're like, ‘What were you thinking? What's the matter with you? You were on such a nice run, what happened?" he joked to MTV News.  Worst of all, Brolin was a smoker at the time, but the aforementioned lack of suction meant he couldn’t indulge unless he literally plugged the hole with his fingers.  “So to figure out how to do that and chew the [nicotine] gum...it was a debacle.  If anybody wants to stop smoking, just play Jonah Hex.”  Even before filming began, Brolin beat himself up by taking a two-week course in Native American bushcraft: the high altitude of northern Arizona had him throwing up at one point, but he stuck it out in order to help him get into Hex’s headspace.  He also got some tutelage in gunslinging and tomahawk-throwing from Joey “Rocketshoes” Dillon, who worked uncredited as a gun trainer on the film (if you go over to Dailymotion.com, you can find some cute footage of Josh Brolin teaching Megan Fox how to twirl a pistol, along with lots of other behind-the-scenes video).

The release of the film was originally slated for August 6, 2010, which wasn’t surprising, seeing as how Jonah wasn’t exactly a household name, and it was typical of studios to utilize that month for popcorn flicks that they didn’t expect to be record-breaking blockbusters.  As production wrapped up, details about the film’s plot began to leak out, including a significant change to Hex’s character, namely giving him the ability to speak to the dead.  While horror elements were not unheard of in Hex comics, and there were suggestions at the beginning of Jonah’s career that there might be something supernatural about him, he’d always remained a normal human being.  To saddle him with powers right when the trend in comic-book films was to ground them in reality seemed a serious misstep.

To make matters worse, word got out in February 2010 that the film was going to have reshoots -- generally not considered a good sign -- with a casting call going out for additional actors, including someone to play Jeb Turnbull as well as President Andrew Johnson (the latter casting must’ve changed at some point, for Johnson turns up nowhere in the film, though we do get Aiden Quinn -- who shot his scenes over a mere three days -- as President Ulysses S. Grant).  Also of note was their search for actors to play characters named Cassie (“Wife of ‘Jonah Hex’.  Native American.  Pretty, young, sexy.” ) and Travis (“Age 9, to play younger.  Must be a match to Josh Brolin and Native American ‘Cassie’.”).  While Jonah did a have a fiancĂ©e named Cassie during his scouting days, she wasn’t Native American to any extent, nor did they have any children together, so both of these characters were invented solely for the movie.  For the record, Jonah’s son Travis would be played by Luke James Fleischmann (whose only other credit on IMDB is a print ad for Western Union), and Julia Jones would ultimately play Cassie, though there was a brief period where Hispanic actress Natacha Itzel was listed on IMDB as Jonah’s then-unnamed wife.  Going by the characters listed in this casting call and the amount of exposition some of them would end up spouting off, it appears that story elements were still being reshaped even as the movie moved into postproduction.  To be sure, Megan Fox’s role was beefed up during these reshoots, as she was photographed during that period by paparazzi in downtown Los Angeles wearing a costume that matches her final scene in the film, with Brolin in full Hex gear right beside her.

Throughout all these ups and downs of moviemaking, Justin Gray & Jimmy Palmiotti minded their own business and kept on knocking out Hex tales in comic form month after month.  Although they did get to visit the movie set (as did John Albano’s daughter) and were “floored” when they saw Brolin in full makeup and costume, Palmiotti said the writing duo “had nothing to do with it and were not asked to give any input by [Warner Brothers] and it really shows.”  When it comes to most comic adaptations, this was par for the course, for as Gray pointed out, “at the end of the day Jonah Hex isn’t our character,” so any opinions they had in regards to how the material should be handled in live-action would’ve fallen on deaf ears.  When it came to the comics, however, they were still free to do whatever they pleased.  In Jonah Hex (vol. 2) #54 (June 2010), we get the return of not only artist Jordi Bernet, but also two characters he helped originate: the “Star Man” Victor Sono (last seen in JHv2#27) and hot-to-trot Chula (who we last saw with her matador brother in JHv2#32) have to team up to save Hex from getting hanged...which is only fair, since his predicament is kinda-sorta their fault.  Then in JHv2#55, we get a bit of “Old Home Week” as Vicente Alcazar illustrates a Hex tale for the first time in over three decades.  It’s a gruesome story involving a little boy, dynamite, and Jonah having to face up to the consequences of his penchant for drinking while on the job.  Hex also found time that month to do a cameo in Batman: The Brave & the Bold #17, written by Sholly Fisch and drawn by Robert W. Pope & Scott MeCrae.  It’s just a quick three-page deal with Hex and Batman in the Old West, but it’s amusing for the fact that it pulls off a gag centering around Bat Lash that I’m surprised no one had ever thought to do before.

It was right around this time that the public got its first good look at Jonah’s feature film debut, thanks to the trailer that premiered on April 29, 2010 exclusively on SyFy.  As a typical “movie trailer guy” voiceover explains that Jonah’s spirit had “crossed over, giving him powers that can’t be explained,” we see Jonah walking through a cemetery and speaking with a corpse, not to mention the soon-to-be infamous image of Jonah mounted atop a horse with Gatling guns strapped to its sides (according to Brolin, director Jimmy Hayward originally wanted to strap those guns to the horse’s belly, and Brolin had to point out that they’d shoot the dang horse’s legs off the moment they started firing).  The trailer then switches into high gear with explosions and Megan Fox cozying up to Hex as samples from "ULTRAnumb" by Blue Stahli plays over it all (this song didn’t appear on the official soundtrack ,which was done by heavy metal group Mastadon as well as Marco Beltrami, who replaced composer John Powell after he dropped out of the project due to other commitments).  It all wraps up with the X in the movie’s gunmetal-gray logo cocking back like the hammer on a pistol and showering the screen with sparks when it “fires”.  Those still hoping for Jonah to get a traditional Western flick in the style of Clint Eastwood quickly had those hopes dashed -- as YouTube personality "ItsJustSomeRandomGuy" put it, the trailer comes off like “Constantine the Ghost Rider in the Wild Wild West.”


A bigger but less-obvious issue was the release date: instead of August 6th, the movie had been bumped up to June 18th, which was the same day Toy Story 3 would be hitting theatres.  Some speculated this was an attempt by Warner Brothers at counter-programming (i.e. offering a different sort of fare to attract moviegoers away from what else might be playing at the same theatre), but how do you counter-program against one of the biggest animated franchises of all time, beloved by both kids and grownups, and put out by Pixar, a studio that Brolin himself referred to as a “company that can’t fail”?  No other movie had a nationwide release on that date, so it could be surmised that the suits at Warner Brothers had begun to lose confidence in Jonah Hex and were attempting to bury it by making sure it’d be overshadowed by the competition.

That’s not to say they didn’t find other ways to rake in cash while they could: Josh Brolin’s version of Hex was licensed out for multiple products, giving the bounty hunter a merchandising blitz he’d never experienced before.  Action figures by NECA, replicas of Hex’s tomahawk and Turnbull’s eagle-headed cane, temporary tattoos, calendars, a 16-inch Lilah doll from Tonner Direct made exclusively for San Diego Comic-Con 2010, a Heroclix three-pack of Hex, Lilah, and Turnbull, Halloween costumes for both adults and children by Rubies, a six-track EP of the soundtrack from Reprise Records, plus DC Direct created statues and a 1:6 scale Hex figure (though unofficial, Japanese toy company BBK also put out a 12-inch figure dubbed “BBK-003 Cowboy” that was obviously modeled after Brolin).  The comics Jonah originated from weren’t left out either, with DC reprinting JHv2#1 as a movie-themed “special edition” promotional giveaway, as well as collecting up some 1970s tales featuring Hex and Turnbull in a new trade paperback titled Jonah Hex: Welcome to Paradise, which not only used Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez’s lithograph from 1986 for the cover, but recolored all the stories included therein with modern techniques (DC also made a small but significant edit to a panel in WWT#29, replacing the n-word with “savage” instead).  Starting the same day the trailer dropped, fans could download weekly motion comics based off of Jonah Hex: Two-Gun Mojo, WWT#21, and WWT#17, and with prolific voice actor Jim Cummings delivering the bounty hunter’s lines with a gruff tone (they’re still available to watch on the WB "Beyond the Lot" YouTube channel).  Mattel had even added a traditionally-styled Jonah Hex to their DC Universe Classics action figure lineup earlier in the year.  For a fella whose book was barely moving more than 11,000 copies a month, ol’ Jonah sure did have his ugly mug plastered on a whole lotta stuff.

On June 17, 2010, the evening before Jonah Hex hit theatres nationwide, Tony DeZuniga and his daughter Ann DeLaRosa attended the premiere at the Cinerama Dome on West Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood.  No matter what one may personally think of the finished product, you have to appreciate how rare a moment this was, for despite how many comics properties get adapted these days, there are numerous creators who will never get to see the characters they brought to life on the page become flesh-and-blood up on the screen.  John Albano had passed away five years earlier, so only DeZuniga was on hand when the lights dimmed and a twangy-guitar version of the Warner Brothers theme resounded throughout the theatre.  For good or for ill, the show was about to begin...

“War and me took to each other real well,” Hex intones in voiceover as the movie opens on a montage of his days as a Confederate officer, including a scene of Rebel soldiers camped out on a field of red clay getting captured by the Union and lined up to be shot, while Jonah stands between two Union officers, his hands bound together.  Nothing is explained here beyond Hex’s voiceover saying, “Folks can believe what they like, but eventually a man’s gotta decide if he’s gonna do what’s right.”  Most fans would likely pick up on this being a very abbreviated version of the Fort Charlotte Massacre,  but on the screen, there’s little clarification as to what’s actually going on here.  Then we get a fade-in of Jonah tied to a St. Andrew’s cross, just as we saw in JHv2#13.  This isn’t a replay of Fort Donelson, though, as he’s in his civvies (meaning it’s some time after the War, but no idea how long since), and the person who put him in that position is Quentin Turnbull, freshly arrived at the Hex homestead to extract revenge upon the man who killed his son, Jeb -- the overall scene feels like a riff on the beginning of The Outlaw Josey Wales.  “You are a coward and a traitor,” Turnbull tells him while Jonah’s wife and son cry out from inside the house.  “You took everything that I love, Jonah Hex.  You know what that feels like?  It feels like this.”  He then steps aside so Jonah can have an unobstructed view of Burke setting the house ablaze (the understated way Malkovich plays this scene certainly shows that Brolin was right to insist that the actor get the part).

Turnbull ain’t done making Hex suffer, though, as he soon pulls out a hot branding iron marked with a “QT” and sears the right side of Jonah’s face with it to “remind you of the man who took everything you had,” thereby making him the one responsible for the bounty hunter’s infamous scar, as opposed to the Apache (though there is a flashback scene much later on of Jonah using a red-hot tomahawk to burn away Turnbull’s initials, so we do get the traditional scarring method in a roundabout manner).  As Jonah screams, we switch from live-action to an animated sequence drawn by artists Eduardo Risso and Alex Sinclair that comes off similar to the Hex motion comics.  It’s basically an info-dump explaining how a band of Crow Indians eventually cut Hex down from the cross and saved his life, but in a way that left him straddling the worlds of the living and the dead, hence why he can see ghosts and talk to corpses in this version.  We also find out that Turnbull supposedly died in a hotel fire before Hex could extract his revenge, so he segued into bounty-hunting so he could at least get some measure of vengeance by punishing other guilty folks.  The animation is great (no surprise, considering Hayward’s background), but we’re over five minutes into this movie so far and all we’ve really had is preamble.  It’s not until we switch back to live-action that we move on to “the present”.

After a gorgeous widescreen shot of Jonah hauling three dead bodies into a town in the literal middle of nowhere, we’re presented with a typical situation of Hex getting screwed over for a bounty by some unsavory townsfolk who want to turn in Hex himself for an even-larger bounty (we’ll find out later that Jonah is accused of killing some lawmen, but nothing more than that).  Thankfully, ol’ Jonah came prepared with the aforementioned Gatling guns on his horse (on both Dailymotion.com and the special features for the movie’s Blu-ray edition, there’s behind-the-scenes footage of them shooting this scene with both an actual horse and a false rig...that’s Hollywood magic for ya!).  It serves no purpose to the overall story other than to show off Jonah’s badassery as well as the steampunk elements, plus it’s an opportunity for Jonah to blow the whole damn town up (y’all know how much he likes to play with fire).  We soon cut to a train speeding past sugarcane fields, where a wanted poster showing Hex is worth $500 conveniently blows across the screen (the image upon it appears to be based loosely on a linocut created by Ross MacDonald for the production -- a number of artists were asked to design posters, but only two can be spotted in the final cut of the film) just before the train is overtaken by Turnbull’s men.  They uncouple the back half containing soldiers and civilians from the engine and cargo cars (which are loaded down with weapons, including some rather large cannons), then Burke blows up the back half for no discernible reason other than he can (one thing’s for certain, the pyro budget on this flick must’ve been huge!).

Another cut leads us to the White House, where Lt. Grass is speaking to President Grant about the revelation that Turnbull is still alive.  Grant mentions the upcoming Centennial celebrations 10 days hence -- meaning this scene takes place on Saturday, June 24, 1876 -- and he’s worried Turnbull will interfere somehow.  We then learn that this version of Turnbull was a Confederate general, not a political schemer, and after Gettysburg, he went on a rampage, going after civilian targets like schools and churches.  Between the ordnance Turnbull just stole and a raid on an armory in Virginia a week prior, Grant fears the man is looking to build “the weapon”, so he tells Grass to enlist the aid of Jonah Hex and whips out a whole ‘nother wanted poster (this design was created by Jason Palmer).  Then the movie goes and flips the usual Hex/Turnbull dynamic on its head as Grant says that “Hex turned in Turnbull and his men” because the general was now making war on civilians -- we also find out later on that Jonah shot and killed Jeb because Jeb drew iron on him first.  This is a huge change from the comics, as it means Jonah is truly guilty of all the things his fellow Confederates accuse him of, instead of them making him a scapegoat because of a big misunderstanding.


The next scene shows us Jonah getting drunk in a saloon  -- and giving us an amusing rendition of one of Lansdale’s “What happened to your face?” lines -- then going upstairs to spend some time with Lilah, though we see very little of it aside from them talking in bed before and after the deed (the bit of friskiness seen in the trailer didn’t make it into the final cut, which makes this part pace out oddly).  The next morning, Lilah tries to convince Jonah to go off with her somewhere else: she’s concerned that Jonah will end up dead at some point, and unbeknownst to him, she’s been saving up money to buy a little homestead of her own.  “Everyone who gets close to me dies,” Jonah tells her, a fact that remains true in every iteration of the character.  “There’s no future for you and me, Lilah.”  They’re still hashing out the matter when a passel of Union soldiers show up at Lilah’s door, causing Jonah to blurt out, “Christ, woman, how many men you seeing a day?”

Though adamantly against helping them at first, Jonah is swayed by the mention of Turnbull’s name, and goes with the soldiers to meet up with Grass.  The bounty hunter is unimpressed with the lieutenant’s pompous manner and fancy intelligence-gathering, preferring to rely on his own methods, which leads to our first real instance of Hex talking to dead folks, and believe it or not, Brolin makes it work.  In his hands, this ability becomes simply another tool in Hex’s arsenal, nothing to brag about or show off, he just goes over to the corpse of one of Turnbull’s men, grabs onto him, and the guy is suddenly “alive”.  As Jonah speaks with him, we get an idea of the parameters: Jonah has to remain in contact, but if he holds on too long, the corpse starts to burn up, though a bit of dirt slows the process down.  Their confab reveals that another ex-Reb, Colonel Royal Slocum (played by Dukes of Hazard star Tom Wopat), is helping Turnbull recruit men, and Slocum is currently in South Carolina running a fighting ring.  Jonah then lets go, leaving the man to whatever fate awaits him on the other side.

As Hex begins riding to South Carolina, Turnbull is already in Charleston having a word with a politician (named as Adleman Lusk in the credits and played by Wes Bentley) who’s been assisting him with top-secret information about “the weapon”, but has suddenly developed cold feet.  After a bit of persuasion (i.e. getting damn-near choked to death with the handle of Turnbull’s eagle-headed cane), he informs them of where to find the trigger devices, which turn out to be glowing orange balls made of unknown material (some movie reviews jokingly dubbed them “dragonballs”).  Meanwhile, Hex has tracked down Slocum’s fighting ring, where Doc “Cross” Williams is emceeing a tussle between “the Barbarian” and “the Snake-Man”.  While the rest of the crowd is focused on the fight, Hex confronts Slocum about Turnbull’s whereabouts.  “Why don’t you ask your dead friend Jeb?” the colonel eventually tells him.

“You know, colonel...what a mighty good idea,” Jonah replies, then chucks Slocum into the ring with the crazed Snake-Man so he can escape Slocum’s men (the original script had Hex fighting off the Snake-Man as well).  On the way out, we get a brief bit where he stops a group of workers from beating a dog (unnamed in the movie, but in real life had the fitting name of Bullet), which then tags along with him for the rest of the movie -- it’s a nice nod to Ironjaws as well as Jonah’s penchant for whuppin’ animal abusers.  We then cut to Jonah breaking into a cemetery at night so he can locate Jeb’s grave, dig him up, and ask him about his father.  Y’see, the dead have the ability to look in on anyone they knew in life, so Jeb knows all about what’s going on even though he’s been in the ground for well over a decade.  The two men get into a knock-down-drag-out fight the moment Hex pulls Jeb out of the ground, but Jonah gets him to settle down after a while so they can have a proper conversation.  What’s remarkable about this scene is the amount of heft given to it by both Brolin and Jeffrey Dean Morgan (who went uncredited for his role as Jeb): They go back and forth about whether Jonah was right to defy orders, even though those orders involved burning down a hospital, with Jonah finally saying that he didn’t have any choice in the matter, followed by a pause and him telling Jeb, “I’m sorry about it...killing you, I mean.”  In the comics, Jonah will never be able to have closure over what happened to Jeb since he can’t talk to dead people, but for this version, at least he can put that behind him now.  Eventually, Jeb tells Jonah that his father is holed up at Fort Resurrection, so Jonah lays his old friend to rest once more.

The next day, Hex pays a visit to a Black shopkeeper named Smith (played by Lance Reddick, who was also on the TV show Fringe at the time), Seems he likes to tinker with weaponry on the side, and was the fella that supplied Hex with the Gatling gun rig, along with a brand-new toy: a pair of flintlocks that’ve been modified into dynamite-shooting crossbows (you know ol’ Jonah fell in love with those the moment he laid eyes on them!).  The downside of this scene is the ham-fisted way they work in Jonah’s anti-slavery position by literally having Smith say it out loud to Jonah himself.  I imagine they did this not only because they omitted the original Fort Charlotte backstory, but probably also as a way to hammer home to the audience that Jonah isn’t a racist despite wearing a Confederate uniform.  There’s better ways to do this -- working it into the conversation between Jeb and Jonah, for one -- but I suppose they felt having it come out of the mouth of one of the few people of color in this movie was more proper somehow.


Armed with his new weapons and his trusty tomahawk, Jonah breaks into Fort Resurrection, where Turnbull and Burke are admiring the deadly device they’ve managed to assemble (these scenes were shot at Fort Pike, a national landmark that dates back to the Civil War era, making it a challenge in regards to set design and stunt work since they couldn’t do anything that might mar the structure, which had already been damaged by Hurricane Katrina -- the production ended up helping with repairs, painting, and even donated some set props).  According to Turnbull, Eli Whitney -- who did indeed manufacture arms for the U.S. military prior to his death in 1825 -- designed what the military termed a nation-killer (i.e. the weapon that’s been referred to throughout this movie).  It’s a multi-barreled cannon that apparently the military realized was too powerful to actually use once it had been designed and all the parts manufactured, but rather than destroy it, they scattered all the parts across various armories.  Reckon they never thought anyone would get wind of the thing and steal it.  As Jonah is searching the fort, he discovers the map laying out Turnbull’s plan to fire the nation-killer upon Washington D.C., then comes across Turnbull himself.  Opening fire with the dynamite crossbows, Hex manages to kill quite a few owlhoots in his way, but Turnbull slips out of the fort unscathed, leaving Burke to deal with the bounty hunter.  Fassbender appears to be having a grand old time in this scene, bellowing out “I’m gonna hand Turnbull your balls in a snuffbox!” after he fills Jonah full of lead.

Down but not out, Jonah manages to distract Burke long enough to get his horse and ride away.  “Take me home,” he rasps, and as he travels across endless fields, barely staying in the saddle, it soon appears that the horse has done just that, for he winds up outside an encampment presumably belonging to the same Crow Indians that saved his life the first time around.  “Some say when you’re just about to die, you play out your unfinished business,” Jonah says in voiceover as a surreal scene unfolds: a crow sits atop a coffin, bearing witness to Hex and Turnbull fighting upon a field of red clay (an actual location in St. Francisville, Louisiana, not something cooked up by the art directors).  In truth, this footage was shot for the movie’s finale, but for some reason it was cut in favor of what’s to come later on.  Luckily, Hayward used the footage to instead create an otherworldly allegory about the hatred the two men have for each other, presenting it as though their very souls are entangled in battle on a spiritual plane.  In this first round, though, Hex goes down hard, collapsing in both the spirit world and reality.  The Indians (who I’m beginning to believe exist mainly in the spirit world themselves) then take him into their encampment and practice their medicine on them, which leads to Jonah having to relive the night his wife and child were killed (the original script also had him hallucinating a battle from the Civil War, similar to what happened in WWT#21).  As he screams and writhes in both physical and emotional pain, the pall of death that had seeped into his body begins to work its way out, leading to the bizarre sight of a crow literally flying out of Jonah’s mouth (for what it’s worth, crows in Native American lore are looked upon as symbols of rebirth and change, plus they’re believed to dwell on the physical and spiritual planes simultaneously, so as silly as this moment looks on film, it makes sense on a symbolic level).

As Jonah claws his way back to life, Turnbull takes the nation-killer for a test drive, firing it upon a small town in Georgia and murdering 324 people as they come out of church (that means we’re up to Sunday, July 2nd, giving Hex only two more days to stop Turnbull’s madness).  Meanwhile, Burke is on a special mission from Turnbull to track down anyone Jonah cares about, believing that the bounty hunter will come out of hiding if he has loved ones in danger.  That leads Burke to Lilah’s doorstep, and though she puts up a good fight, Burke soon drags her away (in the original script, this scene went far worse, with Burke burning Lilah’s face off with acid, but it appears the studio balked at the idea of messing with the eye candy).  Though Jonah is unaware of these events, he does know time is running out, so he hits the trail the moment he’s able and heads for Independence Harbor in Virginia, where Turnbull is loading the nation-killer onto a steamship, the design of which the filmmakers based on the real-life ironclads Monitor and Merrimac.  Sneaking onto the docks, Jonah is soon found by Burke, and the two men continue their fight from earlier, only this time, Hex gets the upper hand and kills Burke by shoving him into the ship’s propeller, snarling, “This is for my wife!”  Hex then lets the dead body drop to the ground and waits a few seconds before grabbing hold of Burke again -- the freshly-killed man immediately resurrects and begins burning.  Jonah lets him deteriorate into a human-shaped lump of char before bellowing “This is for my son!” and punching Burke until he becomes a cloud of ash...just the sort of punishment you’d expect a fella like Hex to think up (the one in the original script ain’t too bad either: instead of death by propeller, Jonah would’ve carved Burke’s face off with a Bowie knife).

With that out of the way, Jonah continues on until he finds Turnbull.  Grabbing a rifle, he makes ready to finally kill the man once and for all, but he’s stopped in his tracks by the sight of Turnbull using Lilah as a human shield.  “Once a coward, always a coward,” Turnbull says when Hex surrenders rather than risk her getting hurt, and soon he and Lilah are chained up inside the ship as it steams on towards its target.  After running down what woefully-few options they have, Jonah suggests Lilah use her “feminine wiles” on the guards, only to be shocked as Lilah picks the lock on the manacles around her wrists.  “Tallulah Black’s mama didn’t raise no fool,” she says, then tells a very confused-looking Jonah as she frees him that Lilah is just a nickname (according to an interview printed in the back of JHv2#56, this was a last-minute addition that Hayward actually ran by Palmiotti before shooting the scene -- since the comics version of the character already had a stint in a cathouse as part of her background, this isn’t too far off-model -- reckon this Tallulah/Lilah might’ve suffered the same tragedies, minus the scarring this time around).  The two begin to make their way to the top deck, where Turnbull has already drawn first blood by obliterating the ship commanded by Lieutenant Grass, who Jonah managed to send a telegram to before he made his way to Virginia.

Jonah and Lilah split up, taking down as many of Turnbull’s men as they can before Turnbull himself jumps Hex.  The two men go tumbling down into the heart of the machinery that runs the nation-killer, which has begun firing its ordnance upon the Capitol, though it has yet to unleash the trigger device that’ll detonate them all (this set was built inside the engine room of the S.S. Lane Victory, a museum ship docked in San Pedro, California).  As Hex and Turnbull brutalize each other, we get more glimpses of them fighting on the field of red clay, and it soon appears that -- on both planes -- Jonah is about to die when he suddenly gets some unexpected help from above: Lilah, in the midst of her own struggle on the top deck, accidentally drops Jonah’s tomahawk down into the machinery, where it lands right next to him.  He quickly uses it to not only drive Turnbull back, but also jam up the conveyer loading the trigger device, then shoves Turnbull into the gears for good measure.  Jonah and Lilah barely manage to escape the steamship and jump into the water before the nation-killer explodes, taking Turnbull with it.

When dawn comes on July 5th, we find Jonah standing in the Oval Office with a grateful President Grant, who not only presents Hex with a reward and a full pardon, he also offers the bounty hunter a job as “sheriff” of the whole damn country.  Thankfully, Jonah tosses aside the ridiculously-large badge Grant hands him, later telling Lilah as they leave the Capitol together, “I’m not big on having a boss.”  The movie ends with Jonah visiting Jeb’s grave alone and apologizing for what he had to do, while in voiceover, he reflects on how his own grave will have to wait a while longer before he’s ready for it.

Before we get into breaking down the good and the bad about this flick, let’s take a look at the ugly.  According to Box Office Mojo, Jonah Hex -- which had a budget of $47 million, though FilmSchoolRejects.com claimed it may have cost the studio as much as $65 million by the end of it all -- opened in 2,825 theatres across the U.S. and earned over $5.3 million its first weekend, eventually earning $10.5 million domestically by the end of its 28-week run.  It ranked at #140 for total domestic box office in 2010, putting it below nearly every other major studio release that year.  Even throwing in the international box office only bumps the movie’s total earnings up to $10.9 million.  Had they released it in August as they originally planned instead of foolishly going toe-to-toe with Toy Story 3 (which, for the record, finished the year at #2 with $415 million made domestically), they perhaps could have done better, but the movie also would’ve had to overcome the dismal reviews: its ranking on Rotten Tomatoes currently stands at 12%, with the audience score faring slightly better at 20%.

Putting aside how far off-book the filmmakers went from Jonah’s history in the comics, the movie had issues with both its plot and its inability to really explore the world they present in this weird Western.  The runtime didn’t help in this regard: it clocked in at a mere 82 minutes, including the credits, and it’s obvious that some scenes were edited down or just plain excised, forcing them to add the aforementioned exposition scenes and animated intro to clarify what was now missing.  While the nation-killer weapon was impressive, the movie could’ve taken a moment to explain just what the heck those “dragonballs” were (perhaps tie them into the supernatural angle that was already present).  The backstory with Hex’s dead wife and son felt stapled on at the last minute in order to generate sympathy for him, yet it turned into a "women in refrigerators" situation because they barely got any screentime (Cassie wasn’t even referred to by name in the film, and Travis was only called such once), plus Hex never seemed to genuinely mourn them beyond his desire to kill Turnbull (wouldn’t it have made sense for him to visit their graves at the end instead of Jeb’s?).  Similarly, having Jonah interact with Jeb when he was still alive (which was in the original script) and seeing the Fort Charlotte Massacre as more than a silent montage would’ve helped to cement that part of his backstory (they could’ve even had Hex surrender to then-General Grant as a way to establish how the man knows about the incident).

Overall, the movie needed another half-hour and an R rating just so Brolin and Hayward could have some breathing room to tell the story they wanted to tell.  Unfortunately, between how badly it was received and Jonah’s small fanbase in general, it’s unlikely that any of the excised footage will ever see the light of day.  The DVD and Blu-ray releases of Jonah Hex contained only three deleted scenes: one prior to Hex meeting Lt. Grass where he tells the soldiers to take care of the fella on horseback beside him, but it turns out to be a ghost only Jonah can see; another of Jonah walking past a funeral procession in the French Quarter that is visually reminiscent of JHv2#32; and a third featuring Lilah and Doc “Cross” Williams in a stagecoach.  The latter was likely a remnant of the story we would’ve had prior to reshoots, as there’s no obvious place to plug it into the final film (in the scene, Lilah says she’s headed to New Orleans, while Doc confesses that he “ran into a little trouble up there in Alabama” and references the fighting ring going up in flames, despite the movie saying that took place in South Carolina).  It’s the sort of film that’s in desperate need of a tie-in novel to help fill in all the blanks.

When Josh Brolin appeared on the Nerdist podcast in 2016 and the subject of the movie came up, he made no bones about what he thought of those reshoots.  “Oh, Jonah Hex, hated it.  Hated it.  The experience of making it -- that would have been a better movie based on what we did.  As opposed to what ended up happening to it, which is going back and reshooting 66 pages in 12 days.”  For those unaware, the rule of thumb is that a page of script equals a page of screen time, so by that measure, it’s possible that up three-quarters of the final 82-minute film was reshot footage.  “Listen, I understand it’s financiers, you’re trying to save their money and it becomes a financial thing, but if -- there’s this thing called revenge trading.  And I’m disciplined enough to know you never do it,” he explained, referring to a stock market practice where a trader makes a bad investment and, instead of reevaluating their strategy and cutting their losses, they continue to dump more money into it.  That doesn’t mean the idea of doing Jonah Hex the way he originally envisioned (i.e. in the vein of High Plains Drifter) hasn’t stuck with Brolin all these years.  “I would do that movie still.  If I ever had the balls to spend $5 million, which I don’t, I would do that movie, ‘cause that’s the version of that movie that would have been successful, for sure.  And it didn’t need to cost anything more than $8-10 million.”

Despite all the bad marks against it, the movie is still enjoyable in its own weird way, thanks entirely to the cast.  No matter how far-fetched certain aspects of it get, nobody phones in their performance, everyone takes it seriously and gives it their all, especially our title hero.  Josh Brolin’s version may’ve not had the exact same background as the Jonah Hex in the comics, but he’s believable within the world this movie presented to us because he had Jonah’s heart: no word out of his mouth rang false, no move he made felt wrong, and I daresay Brolin channeled the physical toll this movie took upon him directly into his performance, allowing him to naturally exude that air of grumpiness Hex tends to have.  Every critic agreed that Brolin was the saving grace of this movie, and if he hadn’t played the role with such conviction, the entire thing would have fallen apart.  And just as there are comics fans who prefer “Future Hex” or “Vertigo Hex” to the more-traditional representations of the bounty hunter, “Movie Hex” does appear to have gained some fans in the steampunk community who appreciate the film for what it is.  It should also be noted that Jonah Hex was shortlisted for an Academy Award for Best Makeup, though it didn’t reach the final nominations (Rick Baker and Dave Elsey ended up winning it for The Wolfman at the 83rd Academy Awards in February 2011).  Josh Brolin, however, got to add a new award to his shelf: a Razzie for Worst Screen Couple alongside Megan Fox.

Speaking of the movie’s two leads, the disastrous box office didn’t affect their long-term careers to any noticeable degree.  If fact, nearly every principal actor in Jonah Hex went on to have roles in multiple comic-book adaptations, to the point where you could play “Six Degrees of Jonah Hex” with virtually all of the franchise movies -- and even a few TV shows -- that have come out since then (for the sake of room, I’m not going to list all the connections here, but I would like to point out that, when Josh Brolin played Cable in Deadpool 2, that character also got an “avenging his dead wife and child” backstory, though in Cable’s case, it seems to be loosely based on comics canon).  Even director Jimmy Hayward managed to add a couple more credits to his resume before getting diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma, a very rare type of skin cancer, in early 2021 -- as of this writing, Hayward is still fighting valiantly against it with the support of his family and friends, who’ve set up a GoFundMe page to help pay for medical bills.

Thankfully, the anticipation for the movie did lead to a brief uptick in comics sales, as Jonah Hex (vol. 2) #56 (released the same month as the movie, but cover-dated August 2010) sold an extra 2,000 copies, each one polybagged with an 11”x17” version of the movie poster featuring the four main leads and the tagline “REVENGE GETS UGLY”.  Available with two covers (one by Darwyn Cooke and the other a bizarre “photo cover” done up in garish colors, with both sporting a “NOW A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE” banner across the top), the issue presented a pair of short tales starring the bounty hunter that, while nothing earth-shattering, would’ve shown any newcomers to the title the sort of fella Jonah Hex really was.

The first, drawn by Phil Winslade, has Jonah helping out a elderly Native American widow who simply wants him to sit in another room and listen in on her conversation with some white men that want to buy her land.  She has no desire to sell, and as Jonah soon hears, she’s more than willing to let them use the land for whatever purpose they wished, so long as she still owned it.  “This land was a gift from my late husband, and it that respect, it holds a value to me that goes beyond others’ wants,” she says, then asks them to leave when the men begin threatening her.  Jonah believes she should take the threats seriously, but she dismisses his concerns, saying after she rewards him with her dead husband’s horse and saddle, “Your services aren’t needed anymore .”  Jonah, of course, thinks otherwise, and after tracking down the men -- who didn’t know he’d been present earlier -- and hearing them talk openly about killing the woman so they can sell her land to the railroad that’s coming through the area, Jonah takes care of the problem in a more permanent fashion...which is what she likely wanted in the first place, but was too proud to ask for outright.

The second tale, drawn by C.P. Smith, also concerns land and Indians, but in a different fashion.  The bulk of it is a flashback to Jonah’s time with the Apache, showcasing not only his long rivalry with Noh-Tante, but also his blossoming love for White Fawn.  The tale is bookended by “present day” scenes of Jonah at an Indian burial ground and getting threatened by some skunks who want to rob the graves -- as Jonah guns them down on the last page, we learn that not only does he own the land they’re standing upon, but the grave he’s protecting is White Fawn’s, whose death we learned of long ago in JH#8.  The thought that Jonah acquired the land just to make certain the grave of his first love would remain undisturbed is incredibly poignant, and Jonah’s final line -- “Ah’ll see ya next year, sweetheart.” -- is damn-near heartbreaking.

Mind you, this issue wasn’t the only way Jimmy & Justin took advantage of any attention the movie might’ve brought to the title, as they also wrote an original graphic novel called Jonah Hex: No Way Back, the idea of which was actually conceived four decades earlier.  “[W]e were put in a position to do a Jonah Hex standalone hardcover to be released in conjunction with the film.  The good news was it didn’t have to reflect the film’s content,” Justin Gray told me during one of our many chats.  “This is also one of my personal highlights of being a part of the book.  The movie and the hardcover allowed us to use a concept that Hex creators, John Albano and Tony DeZuniga, originally discussed but never brought to life.”  Even before the writing duo was aware of this long-lost idea, they felt that it was fitting to bring DeZuniga onto the graphic novel project since he was the last surviving co-creator of the character, who wouldn’t have even existed to get a movie without the artist’s hard work.  Gray revealed, “It was during an exchange with Tony that he told me that he and John always envisioned that Hex had a brother and that was a story they were unable to tell.  It was from that point No Way Back was written based solely on wanting Tony to be a part of something he and John missed out of doing.”  With ink assists from John Stanisci, No Way Back would become DeZuniga’s final published work on the character, as well as one of the high points of Gray & Palmiotti’s run.

The story opens in Virginia City, Nevada with a scene that weirdly echoes one of the movie’s most-infamous moments: after wiping out a bunch of owlhoots with a Gatling gun (which is set up on the ground, mind you, not on a horse), Jonah demands that the townsfolk pay him for his services, saying, “Ah’d hate ta kill any lyin’ sons-a-bitches an’ burn a perfectly good town ta the ground.”  Later, once Jonah has drank half the whisky in the saloon and spent time with nearly all of its whores, a pair of lawmen arrive to speak with him about another bounty...one that’s been placed on Jonah’s long-absent mother, Ginny, who is apparently wanted for murder.  We then get a flashback to 1848 as we see Ginny running off with a traveling salesman named Preston W. Dazzleby, followed by Jonah’s father, Woodson, taking out his wrath on the boy once he gets home (this could easily be tacked onto the flashback in JH#57, as that one ends prior to Woodson’s arrival).  When we come back to the here-and-now, Jonah is riding hard and fast in the hopes that he can find his mother before any other bounty hunters do.  Along the way, he gets his horse shot out from under him by a couple of fellas and is about to suffer the same fate when their dog -- referred to as “Dag” -- turns on them, allowing Jonah to blast both fellas.  He tries to shoo Dag away, saying, “Ah ain’t good on dogs, horses or people,” but Dag follows him regardless.

Arriving at his destination, he begins asking around about Ginny, describing her as being “near about forty-six”, which means either she married Woodson really frickin’ young or Jonah’s got some idolized picture of her frozen in his mind.  After making quick work of a nosey guy called Mike Brown (named after journalist Michael Browning, who also got drawn as a member of a wedding party later in the story alongside his wife), he finds out a band of Mexicans got to her first and took her further south.  Jonah eventually tracks them all down to a saloon in Arizona and, once he’s made quick work of the Mexicans, finally sees his Ma for the first time in years.  During their last meeting in JH#57, she was destitute and living in the back room of a stable, but still held onto some of the beauty.  Things have only gotten worse for her since then, as she’s laid up in bed with tuberculosis, looking like a corpse and so drunk she thinks Jonah is the Devil.  He tries to get answers out of her, but she swears at him and demands he give her the whiskey bottle he’s drinking from.  After he does, Ginny mentions that the Mexicans talked about someone named “El Papa”, so Jonah talks with one of the saloon gals and pieces together that El Papagayo had Ginny kidnapped and set up the bounty on her in order to lure Hex into a trap.  With Papagayo’s men dead, however, that trap ain’t gonna happen, so he concerns himself instead with tending to his mother.

Bringing her another bottle of whiskey, Jonah tries to convince her that he’s actually her son and not the Devil.  “You ain’t my boy.  He’s young and handsome!” she chokes out between coughing fits.  “My boy is doing God’s work in Heaven’s Gate, Colorado.”  When Jonah states his name plainly as well as his father’s, Ginny replies, “Jonah’s been dead a long time.  When he died as a boy, I left his father, drunkard that he was.”  She then points to her boots in the corner and tells him that she keeps a picture of her second son in there.  Sure enough, Jonah finds a small photograph of a young man with “Joshua Dazzleby” written on the back.  Stunned, Jonah turns back to ask her more questions, but she merely lets out one last gasp before dying.


The past weighs heavily on Jonah’s mind as he builds a coffin for his mother’s body, then loads it onto a wagon and begins the long trip to Heaven’s Gate, Colorado, with Dag riding along with him.  Once there, he discovers after talking with some folks that not only is Joshua Dazzleby the town preacher, he’s also the sheriff, plus this is a dry town with no whorehouse.  “Ya ought ta change th’ name a’ this place ta ‘Hell,’” Jonah mutters as he drives the wagon over to the church, where he shocks Dazzleby with not only the sight of his dead mother’s maggoty body (which causes Dazzleby to vomit), but also the news that the two men are half-brothers.  Dazzleby confesses that Ginny never mentioned a previous husband nor another son, then admits it’s been a long tiem since he last saw her, and even then she was a drunken mess.  Jonah doesn’t appear to care a whit about any of that and just wants to go find “a proper town with whiskey and whores,” but Dazzleby isn’t letting him off the hook so easily.  The two men are like night and day, both in looks and attitude: Hex acts his usual surly self, full of insults and blunt words about their shared parentage, while the dark-haired, cassock-wearing Dazzleby easily bats all of it aside and continues to offer Jonah warmth and hospitality until the bounty hunter gives in and agrees to stay for the funeral.  The only condition Dazzleby asks is that Hex turn over his guns until he departs town, which he begrudgingly agrees to.

Meanwhile, El Papagayo has shown up at that Arizona saloon and, finding all his men dead, decided to take his frustrations out on the owner and the saloon gals.  As he does so, we learn that his hatred towards Hex isn’t limited to Jonah: it turns out that, when the bandito was just a boy, he and his family lived in the jungles of Mexico, where they caught and trained parrots to sell as pets.  One day, Woodson Hex arrived with a group of men and killed nearly everyone in order to steal the parrots (there’s no way to date this incident, but due to other things we know about Woodson's background, we can speculate that it happened some time after he sold Jonah to the Apache).  The boy who would become El Papagayo swore vengeance on Woodson Hex that day, and even though he’s never found the man, he’s taken great pleasure over the years in making the man’s son suffer without telling Jonah why.

Back in Heaven’s Gate, Jonah is suffering in a different manner as he endures supper in the Dazzleby household.  It’s obvious that Joshua’s piousness makes Hex uncomfortable, so he finds ways to poke holes in the civilized surroundings, like telling the man’s eldest son exactly how he got that scar on his face (making this the first and only time DeZuniga rendered the “Mark of the Demon” scene) and crudely voicing his disapproval at the revelation that Dazzleby’s wife was roughly thirteen when they got married.  Dazzleby keeps trying to smooth things over, but there’s only so much he can do: the truth of the matter is that his father, Preston, broke up the marriage of Hex’s parents, and Jonah’s boyhood suffering increased because of it.  Seeing the nice home and family Joshua Dazzleby has is just breaking open all those old wounds, and Jonah doesn’t know how to deal with that other than by lashing out.

The funeral is held the next morning, and as Jonah and Joshua fill in the grave together, the preacher tells the bounty hunter that, in his youth, Ginny was prone to nightmares and would wake up screaming Jonah’s name, begging his forgiveness.  His father told Joshua that sometimes people dreamed of stories from the Bible, and that she was calling out to the prophet Jonah, which led to Joshua reading the Bible for the first time -- in a roundabout way, Jonah Hex is responsible for his half-brother becoming a preacher.  Dazzleby then invites Jonah to stay in their community, as he believes it could be a sanctuary for the troubled man, but Jonah brushes it off and asks for his guns back, so Dazzleby obliges him, letting Jonah hit the trail once more.  Not long after he does, however, the bounty hunter spies El Papagayo leading about fifty men straight towards Heaven’s Gate, so he turns around and rides right back into town, hoping that they can fend off the invading force, which should reach the town in a day’s time.  Unfortunately, these folks are so peaceable, they only have a few rifles between them, so Jonah has to come up with a plan centering around people with little-to-no fighting experience and armed almost exclusively with farm implements.

When Papagayo and his men arrive, they find the town deserted, save for Dag, who turns tail and runs up the street when they approach.  One of the men shoots the dog, mortally wounding it, but it continues to crawl, eventually dying near a hot spring on the edge of town.  Papagayo senses a trap, so he sends some of his men to scout ahead, and they soon find a dozen young ladies bathing in the hot spring.  The ladies claim the town is populated only by women, and they’ve gotten awfully lonely.  Papagayo’s men eagerly take the bait, but as they approach, Hex, Dazzleby, and about ten other men rise up out of the water and take the banditos down.  Grabbing the guns, they start towards town to eliminate the rest of the threat, but El Papagayo has brought a surprise with him: a wagon-mounted Gatling gun, which he turns on another group of townsfolk that thought the threat was over with.  “Bring me Hex and I will spare the rest of your town! I swear it!” Papagayo shouts once the gunfire dies down.  Jonah tells Dazzleby and the others not to believe at word the bandito says, but the townsfolk have already lost their taste for killing and decide to turn Hex over...and Dazzleby agrees with them.

Hex punches Dazzleby dead in the face just before the townsfolk grab hold and drag the bounty hunter out to Papagayo.  “Just take my brother and leave us in peace -- I’m begging you!” Dazzleby tells the bandito, unaware of the man’s vendetta against Jonah’s entire family.  El Papagayo draws a pistol and shoots Dazzleby in the shoulder, then does the same to Jonah as he tears himself away from the townsfolk.  What follows is six pages of all-out brutality as the two men attempt to kill each other, with Hex finally coming out on top when he slices Papagayo’s throat open with a knife the bandito drove straight through Jonah’s forearm (and yes, it's still sticking out of Jonah’s arm when he does it).  With their leader dead, the other banditos flee the town, and Jonah collapses in his brother’s arms once they’re well out of sight.

Months later, there’s snow on the ground as Jonah -- his arm bandaged and in a sling -- makes ready to leave Heaven’s Gate, while Joshua stands on the porch, still apologizing for his attempted betrayal.  It seems Jonah hasn’t spoken a word since the incident with El Papagayo, and he’s hoping Jonah will saying something, anything before leaving, even if it’s just goodbye, but Jonah won’t give him the satisfaction, riding over to the cemetery alone an in silence.  Once there, he kneels in front of his mother’s grave, a small headstone for Dag beside hers, and says he no longer blames her for leaving, though he wanted for years to kill her for doing so.  He then tells her that, while he finds Joshua to be “cowardly an’ strange,” he thinks the man is better for this world than himself, due to all the death Jonah has brought to so many.  “Ah ain’t comin’ back,” he says as he mounts up, “but Dag’s buried over there, an’ Ah reckon he’ll look out fer ya.  Good dog, that Dag.”  As snowflakes begin to fall, Jonah tells his mother goodbye before leaving Heaven’s Gate behind for good.

While No Way Back told an entirely different story from the movie, they shared many visuals in common, from the book’s opening scene and the shots of the cemetery at the end, to Jonah’s canine companion and the way the bounty hunter handled “Mike Brown”.  Hex even wore a Confederate overcoat for the majority of the book, and like in the movie, there’s very few pretty teeth in sight.  Anyone who went into a comic shop after seeing the movie and picked up this book would’ve felt right at home, perhaps enough for them to start picking up Jonah’s monthly adventures as well, thereby giving its sales figures a much-needed boost.  Sadly, not enough people did so.  “The movie bombed and it almost destroyed the comic sales in the process,” Jimmy Palmiotti remarked years after the fact.  Indeed, within two months of the movie’s release, the sales bump vanished as if it had never even happened, and a little over a year later, the title would be cancelled completely...along with every other comic title offered by DC at the time.  Unbeknownst to readers, a massive change was on the horizon that would leave the DC Universe forever altered, and Jonah Hex would end up right back where he started.

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