Hey there, folks! If you've got a few minutes to spare his weekend, I'd like to ask you a favor. I'm prepping some new promotional material, and I want to include some quotes from reviews, but I have very few on Amazon at the moment. So if you feel so inclined, pop over to https://www.amazon.com/Swords-Sixguns-Outlaws-Tale-1/dp/1540506924#customerReviews and jot up what you thought of my novel. It doesn't matter if you bought it at a show instead of Amazon, so long as you read it and can give me your honest opinion. As soon as the new promo stuff is done, I'll post it on here so y'all can see if your review made the final cut!
Saturday, June 24, 2023
Monday, February 27, 2023
Found an email in my inbox this morning from Matt Van Auken, a fellow Hex-nut and devoted follower of this li'l blog. Seems my Swiss cheese brain forgot to post further details about the new project I spoke about in November! I apologize profusely: I've been more diligent about updates over on the Facebook page for Swords & Sixguns, but I thought for sure I'd done the initial post here as well.
Okay, lesson learned. Allow me to finally elaborate...
You may recall I dipped my toe into Amazon's new Kindle Vella format a couple of years ago with a story titled "Godheart". While that story remains incomplete at the moment (frankly, the response to it was underwhelming), I decided near the end of last year to start up a new Vella story called "Forgotten Be Thy Name". Part of the impetus for this was realizing that, aside from the tongue-in-cheek story I managed to slip into the anthology The Fans are Buried Tales, plus a couple of Twitter posts by Jimmy Palmioti and James Gunn, there had been no official acknowledgement of Jonah Hex's 50th anniversary. Matter of fact, considering the current climate, there may never be featured in a DC property again outside of a wordless cameo. Let's be frank here: he's a gun-loving former Confederate, so without a lot of explanations and/or alterations, it's going to take a lot of doing to sell him to the general public in 2023 and beyond.
For those that know him well, however, very little selling is needed. We know he's not a racist, we know that the era he normally exists in -- the Old West -- justifies many of his actions, so for those of us who aren't ready to let go of him just yet, I decided to pick up Jonah's story from where we last saw him in Death Metal. If you don't recall, that story featured a Black Lantern-style Hex fighting alongside Batman and a bunch of other heroes against twisted versions of the Dark Knight. While far from my favorite story, I bought it for Hex, and got to experience the gut-punch of seeing him consigned to Hell for his actions. Considering his background, this destination was an inevitability -- Jonah himself had commented on this more than once over the course of his career -- but it still hurt to see it happen in the manner that it did.
So consider "Forgotten Be Thy Name" to be literally the last Jonah Hex story. It certainly won't be the last thing I ever write about him (still gotta get the history project printed!), but if there truly never is another appearance by him officially, then this at least will give both the old man and his fans some closure. Keep in mind that this story is not official to any degree, so I "filed off the serial numbers" (i.e. Jonah is never referred to by his actual name, hence the title). This is because Kindle Vella generates a small amount of revenue for me, so I have to do my level best to skirt any copyright issues that would otherwise relegate this story to unpaid fanfic.
The story is being released one chapter at a time, with 5 chapters up so far. I'm trying to put up a chapter every month or two, usually around the 15th (missed February). First 3 chapters are free, and you'll have to buy "tokens" to read further, but they're relatively cheap and can be used on other Vella stories as well. So go on ahead, give "Forgotten Be Thy Name" a look, and let me know what you think of it so far...and I promise to give y'all blog updates more regularly so this doesn't happen again!
Thursday, December 1, 2022
Wednesday, November 16, 2022
Been working so hard on my little secret project for next month that I almost forgot to post about my upcoming appearances, one of which I mentioned a few weeks ago.
First up is the Holiday Open House at Paperback Writer Books this Friday, November 18th. I'll be there 5-8pm along with a few other local authors, selling our wares and waiting for Santa to arrive at the Fountain Stage not too far from the store. The entire event runs until 9pm, but I'll have to cut out a little early because I need to get up bright and early the next day for Blue Water International Comic-Con on Saturday, November 19th. That show runs from 11am to 6pm, and I always have an awesome time there. Matter of fact, I'll be in Port Huron setting up for Blue Water just a few hours before I hoof it back to Mount Clemens for the Open House...like I said, busy weekend!
So whether you're free this Friday or Saturday -- or both! -- you've got two opportunities to find me so's you can buy some copies of Swords & Sixguns: An Outlaw's Tale for all the folks on your holiday list. And don't forget to come back around here in mid-December for the unveiling of my latest project!
Tuesday, November 1, 2022
As you regular readers of this blog likely know, I've been working on turning "An Illustrated History of Jonah Hex" into an actual published book. I'd hoped to have it done by now, but there have been distractions along the way, one of which was writing a Hex tribute of sorts for the anthology book The Fans are Buried Tales. I've also got something else up my sleeve that I hope to have out next month, but my original notion of releasing the Hex history book as part of a big 50th anniversary celebration of the character...well, I failed on that end. I'm still going to release the book, but it won't be for another year or so. Frankly, I'm a little disappointed that DC let the occasion slip by without so much as a cameo of the old man somewhere (unless you wanna count "Hex's Texas Steakhouse" sign in the background of that League of Super-Pets movie).
Until the book becomes a thing, I'll continue with the Hex history posts here, though they'll likely be of the Appendix sort, keeping "The New 52" and beyond for the actual book. I appreciate y'all sticking by me as I move at my stupid-slow writing pace, and remember, if you have any sketches or original pages/covers you'd like to contribute to the book, drop me a line at email@example.com and we'll have us a palaver. Also, if you'd like to meet me in person, I'll be at Blue Water International Comic-Con in Port Huron, MI on November 19th. Come on by, say hello, and buy some stuff!
2010-2011: Gone in a Flash
For Jonah Hex fans, the summer of 2010 was bittersweet. As the disastrous release of the feature film faded away from the mind of the average moviegoer, the merchandise generated to capitalize upon it continued to roll out, acting as a sort of consolation prize for those who had higher hopes in regards to the bounty hunter’s big-screen debut. On July 27th, the direct-to-video release Batman: Under the Red Hood came with a bonus short titled DC Showcase: Jonah Hex, which was based on the “Madam Blood” side-plot in Jonah Hex (vol. 2) #19. The short was a sort of “Old Home Week” for ol’ Jonah, for not only was Batman: The Animated Series creator and “Showdown” story writer Bruce Timm listed as executive producer, but we also had former Hex scribe Joe R. Lansdale on board to pen his second Hex ‘toon script. “The story was picked for me,” Lansdale explained when I asked him back in 2014 about how this particular Gray & Palmiotti tale was chosen for adaptation. “I did pitch one with more fantastic ideas, including a tick-tick man, a kind of android made of watch materials if memory serves me, but it didn't fly. Then they gave me the story line for one I adapted, but except for time restrictions they let me go at it the way I wanted. Hex is my natural voice in many ways.”
With the finished product clocking in at less than 12 minutes, Lansdale kept the script tight, with only a little bit of new material added at the beginning to help establish the setting and mood, as well as keeping the majority of the action confined to one locale (save for that dilly of an ending, which was virtually unchanged from the original tale). Unlike previous animated versions of Hex, this one doesn't concern itself with being kid-friendly: the saloon gals are busty, the violence is literally in-your-face, and Hex himself -- as designed by Kelsey Shannon, who did all the characters for this short -- is drawn in a long and lanky anime style, with the right side of his face nearly resembling a leering skull. As for the voice of Jonah Hex this time around, the story behind that ties into the early production of the feature film. Actor Thomas Jane had lobbied to play our favorite bounty hunter in live-action form, even going so far as to have a special-effects friend of his craft a prosthetic scar so Jane could send in-character pictures to producer Akiva Goldsman (like just about everything these days, the pics were eventually leaked online, and the sight is impressive). While he’d get passed over for the role in favor of Josh Brolin, the former Punisher star’s obvious devotion to Hex led to Jane getting the chance to voice him instead. Joining him behind the mike was Linda Hamilton as the rechristened Madam Lorraine and Michael Rooker as outlaw Red Doc, with longtime DC voice actor Jason Marsden filling out the cast. For you completists out there, an “extended version” (read: one minute longer) of the short can be found on the direct-to-video release Superman/Shazam: The Return of Black Adam, which also includes a copy of the aforementioned B:TAS classic “Showdown”.
There was also a unique bit of Hex merch released around this time that may’ve been overlooked by some American collectors, as it was produced by the UK-based company Eaglemoss Publications in conjunction with their DC Comics Super Hero Collection line, and therefore only available in the United States as an import. Officially listed as Special Issue #12, this twenty-page magazine summarizes the majority of Jonah’s known comic-book history up to that point, focusing mainly on events depicted during the Pamiotti & Gray era in both the text and illustrations, with nods to the Fleisher era here and there (an entire page is devoted to the Jonah Hex Spectacular). The magazine is rounded out with entries on notable characters that had appeared during J&J’s run, as well as other DC Western heroes. However, the biggest reason to pick this up wasn’t for the magazine, but for what came with it: a fully-painted lead statue of Jonah Hex, nearly 4 inches tall, depicting him with a Dragoon in one hand and a tomahawk in the other as he stands guard over a strongbox full of silver ingots. It’s a damn fine piece, and the fact that it’s crafted out of the same metal commonly used for bullets seems rather fitting.
Back in the comics world, Jimmy & Justin continued on with their work, with Jonah Hex (vol. 2) #57 (cover-dated September 2010) hitting the stands the month after the feature film’s debut. Titled “Tall Tales”, it centers around two young brothers -- Thomas and Nate -- who’ve heard more than their fair share of fanciful stories about the infamous bounty hunter, many of them from the town drunkard, Mr. Davis (named after Hex fan Michael “Darth” Davis). To Nate, Hex is an invincible figure skilled in “Apache magic”, so when the boys hear Hex is actually in town, Nate sneaks out at night and finds Hex getting drunk in the saloon. Upon seeing the boy, the bounty hunter growls, “The Hell you want?” so Nate takes off running...only to stumble across a posse made up of the Trigger Twins, Cinnamon, Nighthawk, and Scalphunter -- all making their first appearance in Jonah’s modern title -- plus Bat Lash, who’s says he’s been “moved to action on behalf of good people everywhere.” Seems they’re all on the trail of an outlaw called Bloody Jack, and the posse means to bring him in alive as opposed to the dead, which is what he’ll likely be if Hex gets to him first.
Nate’s brother shows up just as Jonah growls at the other cowpokes, “Ah ain’t gonna let a white Injun an’ a bunch a’ rodeo clowns keep me from that bounty,” and the two boys take cover when Scalphunter and Hex begin to tussle. Good thing, too, because Bloody Jack and his gang ride into town at the same moment! A shootout ensues, and it’s not until a stray bullet smashes through the liquor bottle Hex is holding that the bounty hunter turns his anger upon his true quarry. Bloody Jack gallops his horse towards Jonah just as the bounty hunter runs out of ammunition, so Hex does something worthy of the crazy stories the boys have already heard: he leaps at the damn horse, grabbing its forelegs and knocking both rider and mount to the ground. As dawn breaks, Hex agrees to let the lawmen take Bloody Jack in, so long as they promise to hang him afterward, while Nate and Thomas scurry home with their own tall tale to tell. As with JHv2#56, this was a perfect way to show possible new readers what sort of fella Jonah Hex really was, not only acknowledging the more-fanciful yarns that’ve been spun about him, but also highlighting his contemporaries in DCU’s Old West period.
That same month saw Jonah mixing it up with a certain Dark Knight over in Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #4, written by Grant Morrison and illustrated by Georges Jeanty & Walden Wong. The overall storyline of this six-issue miniseries is rather convoluted, and I ain’t about to try explaining it all here -- the least you need to know is that it revolves around a time-lost, amnesiac Batman bouncing from one era to the next and fighting baddies along the way. Having been hired at the end of issue #3 to “put this sinister hombre in a deep hole where he belongs”, Hex is escorted to late-1800s Gotham by two men working for Vandal Savage, who’d first tangled with Bruce back in the prehistoric era (as chronicled in issue #1). “A cowboy in black followed this brace of dismal trolls like a stink they couldn’t shake, and now he’s your problem,” Savage tells the bounty hunter when asked to explain the job at hand.
Hex, being no fool, knows they’re not telling him the whole truth, especially after an Indian emerges from another room talking about “the end of the world” if they manage to open a mysterious box in the possession of a young woman named Catherine Van Derm (said box contains the truth about Bruce’s time-hopping, but Savage thinks it can help rid him of the cancer eating up his immortal body). Still, the money is good, so Hex agrees to the job, but the way they go about it is rather wrong-headed: Savage orders his men to lure Bruce to Savage’s place as opposed to Jonah doing actual bounty-hunting to find him, not to mention that Hex seems rather unconcerned about what’s possibly being done to Catherine in that other room.
Bruce eventually arrives, dressed in garb similar to Nighthawk and topped off with a long black duster -- armed only with small batarangs and his fists, he silently tears his way through Savage’s men. During the fight, Savage flees the building with a gentleman referred to as “Doctor Thomas” (an immortal ancestor of Bruce’s who will eventually take the name Simon Hurt) and young Catherine, who’s clutching the box. Riding a covered wagon through the rainy streets of Gotham, they’re soon set upon by Bruce, but Jonah has been following close behind on horseback and manages to get off a shot before Bruce hits the bounty hunter with a batarang, knocking him off his horse as the wagon careens out of control towards a wooden bridge. Unnoticed by all, a young man is standing upon the bridge contemplating suicide -- his presence is enough to deter the horses in their mad gallop, so that the wagon overturns and Catherine is thrown free, landing at the young man’s feet.
Bruce approaches the pair, holding out a necklace that belonged to Catherine’s mother -- seems the whole reason he’s been pursuing Savage and his men was solely to rescue Catherine at the behest of her mother...and that Bruce is the one who should be given the box. She opens it and shows him the contents, enraging the doctor, who demands that Hex shoot Bruce. Catherine begs the bounty hunter not to, but Jonah replies, “Job’s a job, ‘n I got me a reputation ta uphold.” He tells Bruce to draw, then shoots before the man can throw a batarang. Bruce falls into the water and sinks out of sight, leaving Hex to look over the mess before him -- the doctor beaten bloody, Savage in a daze, a distraught Catherine being comforted by the unknown young man -- and mutter, “Now what’d I do?” Well, it turns out that what he did was help set a legacy in motion: the suicidal man is Alan Wayne, Bruce’s great-great-grandfather, and Catherine Van Derm is Bruce’s great-great-grandmother. Had it not been for that wild chase, the two would’ve never met, and Batman would not exist.
Hex’s part in this tale ends with him heading back to the West, his saddlebags weighed down with gold bars that, according to Savage, had once belonged to Napoleon Bonaparte (their historical significance matters little to him, though, as he lets a couple of them fall along the trail with nary a look back). Overall, this issue falls on the low end of the “Hex as guest-star” scale: like his appearance in Time Masters #3 twenty years earlier, Jonah’s portrayal here seems a bit off, especially considering that he appears to have zero cares about what was being done to Catherine, not to mention that he shot Bruce in the gut after finding out the man was on the side of the angels (if he felt a need to save face, he could’ve merely winged Bruce). That being said, Jonah did make a passing reference to Gotham City in JHv2#22, so one could surmise that this little trip is what he’s referring to, plus the events of this issue will take on new significance in a couple of years when Catherine and Alan Wayne turn up again in Jonah’s life.
We get an offbeat tale in JHv2#58, at least in terms of narration. Just like the classic Sgt. Rock story in 1964’s Our Army at War #146 -- which was told entirely from the point of view of the weaponry -- “Every Bullet Tells a Story” does exactly that. As befits a piece of ammunition, the words ascribed to it come off cold and emotionless: “I have one purpose. I have been cast for singular destiny. To take life. I am not the judge. I am the executioner”. Such matter-of-fact statements are scatted throughout the narration boxes in the issue, acting as grim punctuation to Giancarlo Caracuzzo’s illustrations. The story itself concerns a land dispute turned deadly, which in turn leads to an innocent woman named Jean getting scarred across the face when Hex goes after the guilty party (a fella known as Earl the Butcher, more for his profession than for his man-killing skills). Jean then encounters Lana, the treacherous dance hall girl Jonah crippled back in JHv2#53 -- who tells Jean her tale of woe and hands over a gun in the hope that Jean will carry out the vengeance Lana swore five issues earlier. Jean tries and fails, by which point Jonah has had enough of this whole mess and wants to get to the bottom of it.
Accompanied by Jean and Earl, the bounty hunter goes to the home of Miss Sprague, who’d put the bounty on Earl. Hex soon susses out that all parties have been played for fools: Sprague hired men to kill Earl’s wife, knowing that Earl would blame Sprague’s beau -- a gentleman named Quinn who’d seized Earl’s land deed -- and likely kill him as revenge. As Hex put it, “Ya wanted Quinn’s money, but not the man who went along with it.” Had Hex killed Earl outright, the scheme might’ve worked, but thanks to Earl taking Jean hostage, there was a little more time to hear Earl’s side of things. Enraged by the truth of it all, Earl attacks Sprague but gets gutshot, and as he dies, Hex forces Sprague to fetch the disputed deed, but when she reaches into a trunk to grab it, she instead produces another gun. Jonah’s pretty fed up by this point, so he bashes her face against the trunk curb-stomp style, busting out all her teeth. Hex then takes Sprague in for Earl’s murder and hands the deed to Jean, telling her, “This’ll make it easier when ya look in the mirror.” It’s a solid story made all the more memorable by the unique narrative device.
Not only does Jordi Bernet return for JHv2#59, but so does a villain we haven’t seen since Michael Fleisher’s run. While both the original Gray Ghost and his son perished in the waning days of the original Jonah Hex title, their legacy of executing former Confederates considered traitors to the Cause lived on, eventually being taken up by Caleb Skinner, who modified the Gray Ghost costume slightly by using a Confederate battle flag as a full-face mask as opposed to the simple white one seen previously. However, this new Ghost and his men don’t track down Hex until the end of the story, which mostly concerns Jonah trying to capture an outlaw named Bill Doyle while also preventing him from killing his kid brother, who ran off with a Comanche woman Bill had his eyes on. Just as that matter gets settled and Hex is about to take Bill in, the Gray Ghost rides into town, and right on his heels is one helluva dust storm! In the chaos that follows, Bill gets away, the woman gets trampled by horses, and Hex kills the Gray Ghost and his men one by one with a tomahawk. The brother blames Hex for the woman’s death and tries to shoot him, but Hex lets the tomahawk fly once more -- as the young man dies, Jonah swears to find Bill Doyle and make him pay for all this...a promise that, sadly, will not be kept.
Brian Stelfreeze renders a tale full of misunderstandings in JHv2#60, as Jonah raises the ire of a fella named Rusty after beating him at cards. Wanting revenge but not wishing to get his own hands dirty, he lies to a spitfire named Mae Tines, saying Hex beat up her father in an alley and took his money. When Hex denies it and walks away from her brandished shotgun without looking back, she realizes she’s been had and kicks Rusty in the face. Embarrassed, Rusty decides to shoot Hex outright but gets a broken hand for his trouble. That’s still not enough to teach this skunk the error of his ways, as Rusty later sics his five lawmen brothers on Hex. Before they reach him, though, they run into the outlaw Jonah was in town to catch -- the outlaw freaks out upon seeing those five badges and kills two of them before taking an axe to the head. When they finally catch sight of Jonah, they open fire and kill an innocent bystander, causing Hex to yell, “Stop shootin’ at me!” Realizing they’re not about to listen to him, the bounty hunter guns down the remaining lawmen, then shoots the gun in Rusty’s uninjured hand, blowing a hole clear though his palm. As Jonah rides off with the now-dead outlaw tossed over his saddle, Rusty swears to get even (I reckon this fella is just too stubborn to let it go). Cut to three months later, when a man called Destry visits Rusty at a remote cabin: showing off the array of knives and other sharp implements hanging from the inner lining of his duster, Destry says, “Tell me about this man whose head you would like to see removed from his body.” The issue’s final tag says this is “The End...for now!” but like with the previous issue, we’ll never get a resolution to this matter. The reason for all these dangling plotlines will be discussed in due time.
Bernet oversees another classic character’s return in JHv2#61, as we wind back the clock a bit to right after Jonah’s marriage to Mei Ling! This issue could be nestled perfectly between 1981’s Jonah Hex #45 & 46, since the newlyweds are still looking for a place to settle down: it’s implied near the end of this issue that their ultimate destination is Colorado, which Palmiotti & Gray cited in JHv2#14 as the state Jonah grew up in, so since it was never specifically said where exactly Jonah and Mei Ling eventually took up housekeeping, we can slot that in easily. It’s also stated in this issue that they’d gotten married in San Francisco, so I reckon Feldon’s Gap -- the town that figured prominently in JH#42-44, where the couple were reunited -- must be relatively near there. Okay, that’s enough continuity-checking, let’s get on to the story!
Just like back when Fleisher was in charge, Jonah and Mei Ling run into their fair share of prejudice when they show up in the town of Potterman’s Hole, with the fella running the hotel charging them an inflated “Celestial rate”, which obviously infuriates Jonah. For Mei Ling’s sake, though, he holds back his temper, but after she’s asleep in their room, he heads to the hotel bar and nearly gets into a dustup with three rough types who threaten to “go upstairs and show that pretty little wife of yours how we brand our horses down on the ranch.” Before it goes much further, Mei Ling shows up and demands Jonah come back to bed, which gets a laugh from the other fellas. One of them grabs Mei Ling, but as Jonah moves in to rescue her, she unexpectedly lets loose with two pages of wicked kicks and hand-chops! While she’s exhibited brief bursts of bravery before, there’s nothing on record to explain the outright ass-kicking she delivers to this trio (later on, we get a bit of a hand-wave as Mei Ling explains that her father didn’t like her showing her strength, and that doing so would embarrass any man she would end up with). Despite her actions, she still lectures Jonah about his tendency to solve problems with violence, and she fears losing him one day due to it, no matter how confident he is in his own abilities.
The streets are deserted when they head to the train station the next morning, and as they approach the building, they see why: the trio from last night is waiting for them, all armed and itching to take their revenge. “Too bad Ah have promised not ta shoot any stupid people in defense of muh wife’s honor,” Jonah mutters to Mei Ling. “Maybe if we wish real hard, someone else’s bullets will come along an’ kill them for us.” Mei Ling relents and gives him permission to let loose with his guns, which he does, though he stops short of killing the men. She thanks him with a kiss for being merciful, then the two of them walk off to catch their train. It’s a great issue with lots of humor and tender moments between the couple, making you wish Jimmy & Justin had done more stories with Mei Ling.
While we’re on the subject of old names from Jonah’s past, let’s take a gander at DCU Holiday Special 2010 (cover-dated February 2011), a one-shot which features an Albano putting words in Jonah’s mouth for the first time in over 35 years. In this case, it’s Seth Albano, grandson of Hex co-creator John Albano (the story itself is dedicated to both Albano Sr. and John Albano Jr., who worked as a colorist on Weird Western Tales), and the tale is based around the Jewish holiday of Chanukah (the more traditional spelling for Hanukkah). Though set in December 1865, ol’ Jonah already has his infamous scar when a man named John Sutter comes knocking on the door to his rented room to demand both his services and his bed. He then ushers in a doctor guiding a wounded boy named Avram, who was ambushed on the trail by robbers two nights earlier -- the boy’s rabbi father died, but Avram managed to make his way to their destination -- and another three nights pass before he’s well enough to hit the trail with Hex.
By the time they arrive where it all went down, the rabbi has been dead seven days...yet the campfire the boy lit before leaving still burns! Avram swears that it rekindled as they approached, but Hex dismisses it and presumes the robbers are responsible. When Hex gets the drop on the robbers that night, however, they say Avram was the one keeping the fire going (the robbers kept trying to catch him in the act, but were never able to), and Jonah knows this is impossible since the boy was nowhere near the campsite for nearly an entire week. As they part ways on the morning of the eighth day, Avram says it has to have been a miracle, to which Jonah gruffly replies, “Ain’t no such thing as miracles, jes’ resourceful men.” He then mutters, “Well, don’t count mah opinion fer much, but Ah think you’d make a fine rabbi. Fine enough ta do whut’s right.” With that, he hands Avram a Hebrew prayer book given to him by Sutter so the boy can do the proper funeral rites over his father’s grave (which is marked with a Christian cross...pretty much the only flub in the otherwise great art job by Renato Arlem).
That same month, Jonah had an encounter with circus folk over in JHv2#62, and you know that sort of thing never goes well for him! Luckily, Eduardo Risso -- who Gray & Palmiotti had been trying to get on the title long before the artist worked on the Jonah Hex feature film -- was on hand to provide some right pretty pictures for both the cover and interior. Hex is hired to escort a group transporting an unseen animal in a covered wagon, but not everything is as it appears when the group -- led by a baby-faced gentleman with a neatly-trimmed beard -- turns on Hex and tries to feed him to what turns out to be a giant octopus! He manages to escape this watery deathtrap and, after getting a hold of a revolver, he kills his would-be captors save for the bearded gent, who Jonah ties up and carts along with the octopus to his employer, a circus owner. Once there, it’s revealed to the reader that the bearded gent is actually a bearded lady, formerly in the employ of this particular circus until she robbed them and injured one of their members a year prior -- now working for this circus’s competitor, she arranged the death of those originally hired to transport the octopus, unaware that Hex had been hired separately. As we learned over three decades earlier in JH#15, circus folk have their own particular way of dispensing justice, which in this case entails their resident strongman beating the bearded lady to death, though Jonah puts a bullet in her brain before the job is finished because “it just ain’t civilized,” as he tells them.
JHv2#63 brings us more Bernet and another look at Jonah’s childhood in a tale that hits a sensitive spot for the bounty hunter. The main part of the story has Jonah on the trail of a madman called Loco, who not only visits depravities upon both women and men -- one of Loco’s surviving victims, a man named Fassbender, had his face carved up badly and his right hand butchered -- but it’s also heavily implied that the man is a pedophile. This is what leads to the flashback, for it turns out that a boyhood friend of Jonah’s died at the hands of a man who had predilections similar to Loco. Despite his young age, Jonah helps with bringing that man to justice, for he’s able to identify him once the man is captured by a posse. The cold look on young Jonah’s face when he does so is rather like the one he’ll get as a grown man many a time.
Something else of note in this flashback is the portrayal of Woodson Hex, Jonah’s father: while we normally see him as a abusive drunkard, here he comes off rather respectable when speaking with the posse, and he even joins them in punishing the man, possibly because his own son could’ve met the same fate had he not parted ways with his friend earlier. When young Jonah later asks his father what they did with the man, the elder Hex tells the boy matter-of-factly, “We tortured him, cut out his eyes, and watched him die slowly,” adding that they removed his eyes so Woodson and the others would be the last thing the man saw before going to Hell. With that in mind, Jonah delivers the same fate to Loco at the end of the story, bringing the monster’s eyes to his employers and turning down the bounty, as he considers what he did a “public service”. Though the subject matter is not for the faint of heart, it does serve to add a new facet to Jonah’s tendency to come down harder on those who harm children, plus it shows Woodson in a light that we’ve never really seen before.
Nelson DeCastro does a grand job illustrating JHv2#64, wherein a crazy gal named Rosa takes a shine to ol’ Jonah, but has the weirdest way of showing it. In addition to the roughest foreplay we’ve ever seen in a Hex comic, the story is notable for the fact that it’s dated -- Rosa makes a reference to “San Juan’s fiesta”, meaning this takes place on June 23rd, Saint John’s Eve -- and also because about a third of Rosa’s dialogue is in Spanish, to which Jonah responds in kind (he also speaks with a bartender in this manner, revealing a plot point that won’t be spoken in English until 5 pages later). After so many adventures in Mexico where he apparently only knew a word or two of the language, it’s great to see that Jonah was actually fluent all this time.
Though unrelated to each other, the next two issues are both snowbound. JHv2#65, drawn once again by Bernet, has Jonah relying on a stranger after nearly freezing to death in a blizzard (though by the end of the tale, we discover that Jonah was already familiar with the stranger’s identity prior to their meeting). For JHv2#66, we get Fiona Staples providing illustrations for a story of starving townsfolk who resort to cannibalism...and are foolish enough to try and put Jonah Hex on the menu! Released barely a year before Staples skyrocketed to fame as co-creator of Saga with Brian K. Vaughan, it serves as a reminder of the high caliber of artists Gray & Palmiotti strived to bring onto the title each month.
JHv2#67 is a rather special issue, not only because it’s the last Hex story Jordi Bernet drew, but also for the nods to previous Hex writers. Opening on a sheriff declaring before a posse that Hex is responsible for murdering multiple innocent people all across the territory, we quickly cut to what one would likely presume to be that posse facing off against a band of Kiowa, but turns out it’s a group of men bringing some badly-needed medicine to a town afflicted with “the pox”. The last two men standing are saved when Hex rides to their aid, with the narration box giving us a rendition of Michael Fleisher’s legendary “He had no friends, this Jonah Hex” tagline. This a followed a few pages later by one of the men echoing a bit of Joe R. Lansdale’s dialogue from Two-Gun Mojo #1: “Folks say he’s killed more men than Hell has souls.” Any fear the duo may have of Hex is put aside as the bounty hunter safely leads them the rest of the way to the dying town, even offering to bring the medicine all the way in as opposed to leaving it at the town border, which they were instructed to do.
Why exactly Hex is so eager to ride into a pox-infested town is revealed not long after someone starts shooting at him from a hotel window: running up the stairs unopposed by any of the dead bodies he passes, Jonah is soon face-to-face with a man in a replica of Jonah’s uniform and a similar burn-mark on his cheek (though he’s far from the dead-ringer that the Chameleon was way back in 1977’s Jonah Hex #4). This doppelganger is the true culprit behind the murders, not Hex, and the why of it is a simple act of revenge, as it seems Jonah killed his father. Unfortunately, this fella has the pox now, meaning Jonah can’t risk hauling his soon-to-be-dead carcass to the authorities, but since Jonah has a wagon full of medicine on hand, there’s a solution. Dragging his doppelganger downstairs, Jonah says, “Seein’ as how everyone in town is dead...Ah’m gonna be yer nurse. In the meanwhile, Ah need a drink. You feel free ta tell me that sad story ‘bout yer daddy.”
The man does so off-panel, and it does little to sway Jonah’s feelings on the matter, which leads the man to say, “You don’t have a worry in the world, do you, Hex? Not even of the pox?” Jonah replies that he’s already had the pox...which readers of John Albano’s “Promise to a Princess” in Weird Western Tales #12 would already know, since it’s mentioned there that Jonah had previously received a cowpox vaccination! We don’t get much time to revel in this four-decade-long callback, however, as the sheriff and his posse have finally tracked both the real and faux Hex down. The lawmen are unsure as to who the guilty party is, so the doppelganger suggests killing them both, while Jonah calmly asks if there’s a bounty on his head. Upon hearing that he’s worth ten thousand dollars, Jonah shoves a gun against his doppelganger’s head and growls, “Guess Ah ain’t yer nurse no more,” then pulls the trigger. This act is enough to convince the lawmen that he’s the true Jonah Hex, since the now-dead man didn’t even think to ask about the bounty. They declare the matter settled and leave the town, while Jonah decides to stick around a bit since the whiskey is free and there’s no one left to bother him.
As mentioned earlier, this would be Jordi Bernet’s final work on the title, though that certainly wasn’t because his services were no longer required. As Jimmy Palmiotti remarked on Twitter in January 2021, “We wanted him [on] every issue, but we were happy to have him 19 times.” For those keeping score, Bernet was the most-prolific artist for the second volume of Jonah Hex, with over 27% of that title being rendered by his masterful hand. It’s sad to think that number could’ve been much higher if a certain event hadn’t taken place, which we’ll get to in a moment.
Near the end of May 2011, just a few weeks after JHv2#67 hit the stands, some Hex fans began posting on the now-defunct DC Message Boards about some oddities they’d been coming across recently, two of the biggest being that DC was no longer offering subscriptions for the title past August 2011, and that the solicit for issue #70 made reference to Jonah’s death. A rumor soon began to spread like wildfire across the forums that the title was getting cancelled, and seeing as how even Justin Gray thought right from the get-go that the series would be lucky to last 12 issues, the idea that ol’ Jonah could be taken off the racks without any sort of announcement seemed very plausible. Having already spoken with Palmiotti a few times by this point in history, I took it upon myself to email him about it in the hope that he could calm folks down (or at least put us out of our misery if the rumor was true). “I can tell you for SURE that the book will keep coming out...you have nothing to worry about...just handed in a script yesterday...” he quickly replied, then let slip that he and Gray had a year to get the sales numbers up, as they were still dropping by a few hundred copies every month. “We must be pissing someone off,” he joked, followed by the revelation that “We have an idea to boost sales...and that's soon...so we shall see. Hex isn't going anywhere...so really, no worries. Really.”
On May 31, 2011 -- a scant four days after that email exchange -- DC made an announcement that sent shockwaves through the comics community: “On Wednesday, August 31st, DC Comics will launch a historic renumbering of the entire DC Universe line of comic books with 52 first issues,” the press release stated, the first of which would be a new Justice League #1. What the other 51 titles would be was not mentioned right away, nor was there any hint as to why the company had decided to do something so drastic when, from the general reader’s point of view, everything seemed to be humming along smoothly. They’d even just wrapped up a 10-issue maxiseries called DCU: Legacies, which paid tribute to their 75-year history with a Marvels-style storyline that spanned the decades, and included nods to Western heroes like Vigilante, Pow-Wow Smith, the Trigger Twins, and many others, with ol’ Jonah himself getting a silent cameo in issue #7. Such a project was not exactly the sort of thing one would expect to see from a comics company right before it hit the reset button. Even with all the hype surrounding “The New 52”, ten years would pass before the full story of what led to the creation of the post-Flashpoint era would be uncovered.
“The year prior to the New 52, we had a pretty big meeting at the DC offices in New York, where a bunch of us were discussing a whole mess of stuff, but the focus of it was coming up with stories that would stem from the Flashpoint crossover,” Judd Winick stated in an online article published on Polygon in September 2021. Though originally conceived as a self-contained (i.e. not universe-shattering) story centered around the newly-returned Barry Allen, Dan Didio -- who was now co-publisher at DC -- thought it had potential to do for their comics line what the Ultimate Universe had done for Marvel...only he didn’t want it to be a separate universe, he wanted it to usurp everything currently being put out by DC Comics, literally wiping the slate clean in regards to continuity. “We were doing it piecemeal,” Didio said in the same article, referring to then-current projects like DC’s All-Star and Earth One titles, “but to really make an impression, to really catch the attention of the marketplace, you had to do something dramatic.”
And dramatic it was: in the weeks and months that followed the announcement, DC trotted out redesigns of nearly every single character in their stable, be it the removal of trunks, change-ups in color schemes, or swapping out traditional spandex for multi-segmented armor. One costume change -- Wonder Woman wearing a pair of star-spangled long pants -- was met with such derision by fans that it was scrapped prior to her new title’s release. In the case of Jonah Hex, it was a location change that had fans up in arms, as it was revealed he’d be headlining a revival of All Star Western (note the lack of hyphen this time around), which would have our favorite bounty hunter taking up residence in 19th Century Gotham. Some presumed that this meant Batman’s hometown was inexplicably getting moved to the West Coast (according to some sources, Gotham City is located in New Jersey), while others jokingly labeled the upcoming book “All Star Eastern”. Even with Justin & Jimmy’s continued involvement, Hex fans had some doubts about what was to come.
There’s no doubt, however, that Jonah’s survival into this new era was thanks in part to Dan Didio’s love of the character and his belief that DC needed to be more than wall-to-wall superheroes. “When I looked at the New 52, it wasn’t just about relaunching the books, but also diversifying the product and the characters,” he told Polygon. “We really wanted to make sure we were reaching out and trying different things and different types of stories. As much as people talk about Superman or Batman, or any one of the relaunches of the primary characters, I was more excited about...the other things that were part of that, because ultimately, that’s the part of comics that brings in the casual readers -- people picking up books if they’re not superhero fans, but want to read the medium.” Paul Cornell, who was chosen to write DC’s new fantasy-driven title Demon Knights, agreed, saying, “We were all excited for the non-superhero titles, hoping they’d bring other genres back into comics. We also thought sales would be through the roof, because these titles would break through to the mainstream audience.”
We’ll eventually get to the subject of those sales, but for right now, let’s take a look at the waning days of Jonah’s self-titled book. JHv2#68 gives us our fourth and final story drawn by Rafa Garres, in which Jonah has to talk a self-appointed vigilance committee out of hanging him for a death he had no part in (spoiler alert: the guilty party is one of the vigilantes!). The issue is also notable in that, for the first time since his Vertigo days, Jonah’s title has a letter column. The return of this once-ubiquitous feature came about months earlier as DC transitioned the page counts of their stories from 22 pages down to 20, but due to the backlog of 22-page-long Hex tales that were already completed when the change was implemented, ol’ Jonah was only able to squeeze in two letter columns prior to the series coming to an end (once The New 52 started, those 2 extra pages would instead be used for in-house promotion).
Sweet Tooth creator Jeff Lemire brought his distinctive style to JHv2#69, an unusual Hex tale in that more than half of the book consists of two people talking...namely Jonah Hex and his dear old Pa, who’d taken to gold prospecting by the time 1881 rolls around (though no specific date is given, a reference to him trying to forget his wife and son for the past 30 years lets us presume it, if’n we use him dumping young Jonah with the Apache in 1851 as a starting point). Too bad some unsavory fellas clue in to Woodson striking a rich vein, and though he manages to kill every last one of ‘em, he catches a bullet in the gut while doing so. As he sits in a pool of his own blood and surrounded by gold nuggets, Jonah comes riding up -- he’d overheard the other fellas talking and, apparently aware that it was his father they were talking about, decided he should make sure Pa actually died this time (seeing as how Woodson fooled him on that matter back in JH#20 over 32 years earlier, you can’t exactly blame him).
Despite all the years of abuse he suffered through as a boy, it seemed like Jonah always held back when it came to confronting his father, limiting himself to yelling and the occasional comeuppance, with the end of their last encounter in JH#34 being a priceless example of the latter (that issue even gets referred here in a roundabout manner). Now that Woodson’s final moments have arrived, you might think that he’d perhaps take his own pound of flesh before the end comes, but no, Jonah continues to exercise restraint, setting himself up with a bit of shade and grabbing a bottle of whiskey from his saddlebag as he waits for Pa to breathe his last. Jonah tells Pa about his mother dying not long ago (thereby letting us narrow down the date for No Way Back a little), and confesses that he’s glad Pa never came back to collect him from the Apache because “Apache ain’t half as mean.” He even ‘fesses up to pissing in Woodson’s whiskey bottle as a kid (as seen in JHv2#42), adding that he’d done so one more than one occasion.
For his part, Woodson alternates between insulting Jonah and begging for forgiveness, expending every last bit of energy he has in an effort to find the magic word that’ll either get him the bottle Jonah holds out of reach or will tick off his son bad enough for him to draw leather and put ol’ Woodson out of his misery...but Jonah never takes the bait. He never yells at the old man or pummels him or shoots him. Jonah just sits there waiting, while his father stares back at him with sunken eyes like tiny black holes, looking small and pathetic, a great contrast to the monster he must have appeared to have been when Jonah was young. The closest Woodson comes to getting under his skin is when Jonah lets slip that he doesn’t torture his son -- that opening causes Woodson to poke and prod about whether Jonah has a woman, “Ah mean regular-like, not some whore ya see now an’ again.” Jonah stays silent, and Woodson declares him to be “a chip off the old block” in regards to how they’ve both treated their families. If you recall the drunken hallucination Jonah had right after Mei Ling left him in JH#53, then you know this is a truth he faced up to long ago, so the impact Woodson hoped for is likely dulled.
And now the time has come for Jonah himself to pass on from this life. Sad as this occasion may be, it was not unexpected. As Justin Gray told me during one of our many email discussions, “We were planning on a series ending from day one. I’ve said many times neither of us imagined the book would last a year. With that in mind as each month went by I felt more and more that it was a book with a timeline and that eventually we would have to say goodbye. It was very important to us that the book end in a way that felt rewarding and of course left the door open for future Jonah Hex stories."
The story in Jonah Hex (vol. 2) #70 (October 2011) was given the title “Weird Western”, which you’ll soon see was very apt. We begin in 1904 with a scene immediately familiar to those who’ve read 1978’s Jonah Hex Spectacular: an elderly Hex is sitting at a card table in a saloon wiping dirt off of his glasses when George Barrow busts in, shotgun in hand, and blasts Jonah with both barrels (not only did J&J riff on Fleisher’s original dialogue for the scene, they also kept the same BOOM and BAM sound effects for the shotgun blasts). As Jonah lays on the floor bleeding to death, the saloon begins to fade away, revealing a pockmarked battlefield and a young man in Confederate gray standing over Jonah, saying, “This is how you think it ended? Gut-shot by George Barrow? You said it yourself, Jonah, and I quote, ‘Lord only knows how an ornery cuss like me ever managed tuh live tuh be sixty-six years old.’ It’s the same thing over and over, Jonah. When will you make it stop?”
The young man quoting Hex so exactly is Jeb Turnbull, long dead and apparently here to usher Jonah (whose appearance shifts from mid-sixties to mid-thirties as Jeb helps him to his feet) into the afterlife. Jonah doesn’t seem to be fully grasping the situation, though, especially since Jeb keeps pressing him as to why it took him so long to die. Between his dangerous profession, his excessive drinking, and the large amount of whores he’s bedded down with, Jeb’s of the opinion that Jonah should’ve died a long time ago, while Jonah writes it off as being just plain lucky all these years. “You were on this battlefield as a member of J.W. Whitman’s company, battalion militia,” Jeb tells him. “You were in the Sixty-Sixth Infantry. The Yankee that put that hole in your head was named Private George Barrow.” Jeb then knocks him into a mass grave and says, “Ask yourself one more question, Jonah...why haven’t you ever taken off that uniform?” The implication seems to be that Jonah’s been dead since the Civil War, and every story we’ve read about his career has been one long hallucination, rather like the plot to the 1990 Tim Robbins movie Jacob’s Ladder. Neither we nor Jonah get much time to contemplate this before everything fades to white, and Jonah finds himself stumbling through a blizzard not unlike what he faced in JHv2#65 -- or that long-lost Mark Texeira story from 1985 -- before ending up back in the saloon as an old man, only this time, the other players at the card table are El Diablo, Bat Lash, Mei Ling, and Tallulah Black. “Husband, we are all waiting,” Mei Ling says, holding little Jason in her arms, just as Tallulah is holding their infant daughter.
“There must be sumpthin’ wrong with these spectacles...” Jonah mutters, followed by his Pa -- hale and hearty and full of rage -- busting in and shooting him. When he comes to again, he’s in a green-misted wood, and the little girl with the fishing pole is standing over him. “Hi, Daddy,” she says, confirming on paper that she is indeed the ghost of Hex and Tallulah’s dead daughter. Jonah -- once more shifting from old to young -- doesn’t make the connection, however, even when she says to him, “I never did get a name. Would you name me?” Her presence just serves to confuse him even more, though he does seem pleased when she offers him a bottle of booze. The wicker basket she shows him is another story: it contains three human hearts, which she says belong to Mei Ling, White Fawn, and “my Mommy” (the hearts are a theme running throughout the story, as a playing card for the Three of Hearts keeps showing up in the saloon scenes). She then says Jonah broke the hearts and asks him to fix them, so he lashes out at her, revealing that her face is a combination of Jonah’s (the scar) and Tallulah’s (the eyepatch). She then bids him goodbye as a tangle of roots erupts from the ground, pulling him under. “Ya ain’t real. None a’ this is!” Jonah shouts, while the girl fills in the hole and sings a few lines from “Dixie”.
The story then shifts visually, going from the eerie tableaus rendered by Ryan Sook &Mick Gray to the more-grounded look of Diego Olmos & Jimmy Palmiotti his own damn self, making this the first time his inking skills graced the title as opposed to just his writing. We now see Jonah laying in a cave bathed in firelight as an Indian medicine man performs a ritual over him. Bat Lash is there, asking if Hex will ever wake up, to which the Indian replies that “your friend is in the spirit world, and there are many things holding him there. He may be seeing his past or future.” He then tells Lash it’s up to Hex alone if he wants to find the path out of that place, and that it can be very hard for a man like him to escape. Lash relays the information to Tallulah, who’s waiting outside the cave, and the two of them mull over heading off after the Barrow gang themselves, basically writing all of the previous pages off as a very long dream sequence. When Jonah miraculously awakens the next day, he’s reluctant to talk about what he saw, even when Tallulah refers to her own trip to the spirit world in JHv2#17 -- upon her mentioning the little girl she spoke to there, Jonah gets up and moves away from her without a word.
Hear me out for a sec. At the beginning of the tale, Jeb said most men don’t need help dying, but Jonah’s not just any man. There is a possibility he really did need to be convinced that he finally kicked the bucket at the ripe old age of sixty-six, and all these visions, all these deaths, are just his mind’s way of dealing with it. Heck, we already have prior evidence that Jonah is a restless spirit, thanks to his stuffed and mounted corpse shooting two people in the aforementioned Spectacular and Secret Origins #21. It could be that, after the events depicted in Weird Western Tales #71, the presumed destruction or interment of Jonah’s Black Lantern-possessed corpse finally shook his spirit loose from this world and got him on the road to the next. Luckily for him, he’s got friends over there who’ve already passed on, and are now trying to help him complete the journey to the other side (or maybe Tallulah and Bat Lash aren’t aware that they’ve died themselves, and only sense that Jonah’s in trouble). So when he “wakes up” at the end....that’s his idea of Heaven. No angels or fluffy clouds here, just a good horse and some outlaws that need tracking down, same as always (the fact that the fella he’s after is the same one who killed him is just a bonus). “Me an’ peace ain’t much fer each other,” that’s what Jonah says at the end, so maybe he feels this is all the afterlife he deserves. Or maybe he’s still dealing with the notion of being dead, and he’ll one day wake up to something better, perhaps with no scars on his face and a loving woman beside him (Oh, but which one? There’s been so many!), and he’ll find that peace isn’t such a bad thing after all.
No matter how you choose to look at that final issue, it’s still a great note to end on, hearkening back to a classic tale while sending Jonah off to his new home in fine style. Sadly, the demise of this title meant that some stories written for it would never see publication. Remember, due to the stand-alone nature of many of these issues, Gray & Palmiotti could send out multiple scripts to various artists and let them work at their own pace, so anything still sitting on the drawing board when that last issue hit the stands would remain unfinished, hence the dangling plotlines at the end of both JHv2#59 and JHv2#60. It’s known for certain that both Tony Moore and Dan Panosian each had scripts written for them -- Moore had yet to start work on his when the title was cancelled, and Panosian has posted images on social media of the pages he’d finished for his -- so it’s possible there may be even more “untold tales of Jonah Hex” out there, sitting in filing cabinets or in email folders, destined to never see the light of day.
Jonah was not alone in this, mind you: by the end of August 2011, every single character in the DCU was in the same position as him, with abandoned storyarcs behind them and unknown futures ahead of them. In gambler’s parlance, DC was going all-in with “The New 52”, and Jonah’s survival in this new reality was dependent not only on whether this stunt brought in enough new readers to keep him on the racks, but whether longtime readers as well accepted what DC had done to their fictional universe. If the fans decided to turn their backs on these new iterations of classic superheroes, could an Old West bounty hunter hope to fare any better?
Tuesday, April 5, 2022