Monday, April 5, 2021

The Con is on for 2021!

 



I am ridiculously excited to be prepping for cons again!  At the moment, the only one I have on my schedule is the Toy & Comic Show at the New Baltimore Trade Center, but I'm keeping tabs on some others that may be opening up for vendors soon.  To be frank, I was hoping to have sold 200 copies of my novel by now, but between COVID last year and my Mom's health issues the year before that, meeting that goal has been nearly impossible (I'm at around 162 right now).  The cold, hard fact is it's easier to sell in person than online, so no cons essentially means no sales.

But enough grumbling: The cons are coming back, and so am I!  I even ordered some new tote designs to sell, both because the stock on the first design was getting low, and because I actually have an entire dang booth to fill at the New Baltimore show...yes, a whole booth, not just a table!  Reckon it pays to be one of the first people signing up for it.


I have the new designs up for sale on my online store, so if you can't make it to the con but still wanna show off your love of Swords & Sixguns, feel free to order some (and maybe a book too), and I'll get 'em out to ya as quick as I can.

Saturday, November 14, 2020

An Explanation, an Announcement, and Asking a Favor.

 Well, it's two weeks late, but the latest installment of "An Illustrated History of Jonah Hex" has finally been posted in its entirety.  Normally, I can write up an entry in a few weeks, no problem, but to be honest, I think I'm going through a spot of depression because this one was darn hard to complete.

I imagine there's many of you who've gone through a depressive swing this year because...y'know...frickin' 2020, but I figure most of mine stems from the fact that my Mom passed away about 2 months ago.  Before you ask: No, it wasn't COVID.  She'd been living with Parkinson's for over 18 years, and things had gotten worse for her health-wise early last year (for those who remember me having to cancel some appearances in May 2019 due to family issues, this was part of it).   It all came to a head this past summer, and the docs had a frank discussion with her that they were quickly running out of options, so they gave her a choice: Exhaust every option they had left to keep her alive but put her in tons of pain with little improvement to her quality of life, or stop everything and let go.  We talked together quite a bit about this, and in the end, she decided she was tired of fighting the inevitable, and she passed away three weeks later.

Most days, I'm pretty good emotionally: I know my Mom isn't in constant pain anymore, which was a big concern those last few months she was alive.  But sometimes -- like right now typing this -- it hits me hard, and it wasn't until I was struggling through writing this latest Hex history entry that I noticed it was likely effecting my ability to work.  I'm normally a pokey writer, so I thought that's what it was, but then I realized the drive wasn't there.  I know that one of the signs of depression is not finding pleasure in things that you normally enjoy, so that kinda shocked me, especially because I've got plans.

You might've noticed this latest entry is structured a little differently than the others, namely there's virtually no external links.  That's because -- prior to COVID turning the world upside-down -- I'd decided to work on getting "An Illustrated History of Jonah Hex" published.  The old man's gonna turn 50 in 2022, and I feel that's something to celebrate, so my goal is to cover all of Hex history up to that point, then publish via Amazon's printing service, same as I do Swords & Sixguns. This will be an unofficial work, naturally, but that's not for lack of trying (DC has made it impossible to contact them -- even industry pros I know have no idea who I should talk to about such a project), and I've already spoken with some fans with collections of original Hex art who'll provide the "illustrated" portion of the work, as opposed to the page scans I've been doing (this should help get around any copyright issues).  With all that in mind, I decided to write the next few entries so they're mainly text as opposed to a mix of text, pics, and external sources, just to cut down on work later on (I need to go through all the previous entries and do the same, probably fatten up the really early ones as well because they were light on info compared to later ones).  It's a bit of an undertaking, but not impossible...or at least that's what I was thinking before this one entry took twice as long as usual.

My Mom was proud of my writing.  She had absolutely no interest in the genre, preferring Nicholas Sparks and James Patterson, but she was proud that I wrote a book, got it published, and had fans who appreciated my work.  She loved telling people her daughter was an author, and always wanted to know how things were going with cons and such.  I'd even tell her about the Hex history project and the pros I'd interviewed for it (she was tickled by how Johnathon Schaech contacted me and the chats we've had).  So it's a bit disconcerting for me that this depression is cutting into my ability to do something my Mom actively encouraged me to do.  I know it's going to take a bit to work through, to find a way back to where I need my head to be in order to get all this done in a timely manner.  Right now, I'm thinking of working on some Hex fics to get back into his world in a fun way (besides, I've seriously neglected my DC2 work the last couple of years!), then crack down on the history stuff once we reach January 2021.  As I do that, I was wondering if'n y'all could help me out in a few ways.

First up, if you haven't already, go become a member of the "Jonah Hex, Via Pony Express" posse.  As I write this, we currently have 913 members, and I'd love to have over 1,000 when the book gets published.  So join up and ask others to do the same so we can beef up that number.  Also, if you own any original Hex art, be it pages, covers, or sketches, drop me a line at swordsandsixgunsnovel@gmail.com so I can add you to my list of potential contributors.  I'll be honest, I can't pay you for your contribution other than give you credit in the book, but the bigger variety of art I have to pull from, both in terms of eras and artists, the better it will represent all 50 years of Hex history.  Lastly, I just began a sale at my online store: From now until December 12th, you can pick up autographed copies of Swords & Sixguns: An Outlaw's Tale for 20% off, along with a few other exclusive items.  That might sound unrelated to the Hex stuff, but in truth, buying those books will help me raise capital to print the Hex history book, as I'll need to get cover work done for it, and last time around, that cost me a few hundred dollars.  If we were still having cons on a regular basis, my revenue stream would probably be a lot better right now, but we're not, so it ain't.

That's about it for now.  Thanks for listening, and I wish y'all a happy and healthy holiday season.

Sunday, November 1, 2020

An Illustrated History of Jonah Hex (Part 18)

 


2009-2010: Old Wounds and New Scars

As mentioned back during our overview of the Fleisher era, one of the most important lessons Jonah learned from a young age was how to endure just about anything life -- and more specifically, his father -- could throw at him.
  Gray & Palmiotti gave us a clear example of that lesson being put to good use in Jonah Hex (vol. 2) #42 (cover-dated June 2009), half of which is flashback to Jonah’s childhood in Colorado, rendered beautifully as always by Jordi Bernet.  In an effort to physically strengthen his boy, Woodson Hex tied rocks to young Jonah’s arms to weigh them down, then made him stand out in the yard all night.  Pa imparts a little family history during this (as we’ve discussed elsewhere) before falling into a drunken stupor, after which Ginny sneaks out and unties Jonah for a while to give him a respite from this new torture.  This earns Ginny a beating the next morning when Woodson finds out, and he later drags Jonah into town, muttering that he never wanted children, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to let her turn the boy “inta a daisy”.


Jonah soon gets a chance to prove himself when a group of older boys approaches him, asking, “What’s yer name, puke?”, to which Jonah replies that he “ain’t a Missourian” , in reference to the nickname folks from that state earned back in the 1820s (this throwaway line will take a new twist in about 4 years).  
His denial doesn’t stop the boys from giving him a whuppin’, and when Woodson finds out, one would think the man would perhaps give Jonah a few licks of his own for not coming out on top, but instead Woodson seeks the boys out and pistol-whips the entire lot of them.  “Never look fer trouble with a Hex,” he tells them once he’s done, and later on says to Jonah, “Nuthin’ should humiliate ya more than havin’ yer father fight yer battles!”  Young Jonah takes those words to heart, but probably not in the way Woodson intended: seeing as Jonah’s biggest battle at this point is with Woodson himself, he takes a whiskey bottle one night and pisses in it, then puts it within reach of his drunken father so he can watch the old man unknowingly take a swig.

Cut to a couple of decades later, where the adult Jonah is facing off against three of his former childhood tormentors, now grown and looking to get revenge on Hex.
  Having weighed his arms down with chains and iron balls, they figure there’s no way Jonah can draw his guns...but of course, Jonah is fully capable, thanks to what Woodson did to him all those years ago.  After Jonah shoots his assailants (not to mention bludgeoning one of them with the very ball-and-chain they’d encumbered him with), we get the biggest surprise this tale as to offer.  All throughout the “present-day” scenes, an old man can be spotted in the background -- as Jonah walks away, the old man thinks, “That boy is a mean son of a bitch”...and the reader realizes this is Woodson Hex himself, bearing witness to what his abusive “lessons” had finally wrought.

Paul Gulacy returns in JHv2#43 for a mostly-silent issue containing a fair share of violent deaths and barely-obscured nudity...in other words, it ain’t exactly kid-friendly, which is ironic since it hit the stands around the same time that a third cartoon iteration of Jonah Hex was on the airwaves.
  Batman: The Brave & the Bold was a star-studded series on Cartoon Network that teamed the Dark Knight with various and sundry DC characters in every episode, but with a lighter tone than we’d seen during the “Timmverse” era.  Surprisingly, Jonah not only got to be a guest-star on the show, but he’s also featured in the title sequence of every episode!  His first in-story appearance was on February 20, 2009 in the opening “teaser” for the episode “Return of the Fearsome Fangs”, wherein he and Bats take on an Old West version of the Royal Flush Gang.  Sadly, Jonah doesn’t get to participate in the main story, but a few months later (June 12th, to be precise), Jonah was front-and-center for “Duel of the Double-Crossers” as he’s forced by Mongul -- who apparently saved Hex’s life, thereby putting the bounty hunter in his debt -- to capture Batman and bring him to Warworld’s gladiator arena:


Later on, as the title suggests, Mongul reneges on his deal to return Jonah to his proper time, so our favorite bounty hunter frees Batman and the other prisoners, sacrificing the time machine in the process.  In both appearances, Jonah is voiced by Phil Morris, best known for his recurring role on Seinfeld as
lawyer Jackie Chiles.  Morris (who also voiced the villainous Fox in “Return of the Fearsome Fangs”) gave Hex a harsh-yet-clear voice, and always added a tinge of sarcasm when appropriate, such as when tells Batman in their first meet-up to get a proper cowboy hat because he “cain’t be partnering up with someone who parades around in thet ridiculous bat getup!”  Speaking of which, Jonah's own outfit in this series is traditional but with a Dick Sprang influence to the linework, matching the look of the entire series.  And just like in his JLU appearance, Jonah is quite familiar with time travel, and even sports a pair of laser-zappin’ six-shooters (which appear to be rather dependable this time around).  There’s also a hint of his way with the ladies in “Duel of the Double Crossers” when Hex and Lashina -- who’s also working for Mongul -- go from down-and-out brawling to something a mite more frisky, leading to them riding off into the sunset together by the end of the episode (keen-eyed viewers can also spot Hex making silent cameos in “Siege of Starro, Part One” and “Mitefall”).

Back in Jonah’s own title, Jimmy & Justin switched their tactics for a spell: after nearly four years of writing single-issue or two-part tales, they presented fans with a six-issue arc titled (naturally) “The Six Gun War”, drawn by Cristiano Cucina.  Sadly, neither of them actually had any desire to write the story, as I learned during one of our talks back in 2017.  Palmiotti flatly admitted that “DC had pressured us into doing it, thinking if the stories were continued, they would sell more.”  Gray concurred, saying, “‘Six Gun War’ was one of the few times when we were directed, because of weakening sales brought on by a publishing incentive that strangled anything unrelated to the core superhero line, to craft a specific kind of story that was intended to feel like DC’s version of a Wild Bunch movie. All the main characters had to play a role, but ultimately I still feel like those six issues are not as solid as the rest of the run.”  Despite being forced into this situation, the duo used it to bring back to the comics page two classic Hex villains, as we’ll soon discuss.

JHv2#44 opens on a rather odd sight, as a tornado makes its way across the Texas plains, tossing Comanche and their mounts this way and that.  Hex manages to avoid the bodies raining down upon him, and when the skies clear, he meets up with Major Newberry, who summoned Hex to help with the aforementioned Comanche, but it turns out it was all a trap set up by Quentin Turnbull, who we haven’t heard from since Jonah Hex #85, well over 25 years ago.  He’s teamed up with El Papagayo to take down Hex once and for all...which is an odd thing, considering the last time we saw Papagayo (the real one, not the robot in HEX #1), he damn-near killed Turnbull just for being in close proximity of Jonah (go flip through JH#81-82 if’n ya need a refresher).  But it appears the old man and the bandito have since bonded over their mutual hatred of the bounty hunter, and proceed to shoot and beat him until they’re satisfied that he won’t live much longer, then bury him alive in a cemetery.  Lucky for Hex, some grave robbers come by and dig him up before he suffocates:



The story then jumps ahead two weeks to a saloon in Chihuahua, Mexico, where Bat Lash gets his butt saved by Tallulah Black after some cheating card-players don’t take kindly to his superior skills.  As they vacate the premises, they run into El Papagayo, and we soon learn that he’s very familiar with Bat Lash, as he and Hex apparently busted up a gun-running scheme of Papagayo’s some time ago.  The bandito brags about killing and burying Hex, then decides he should do the same to Lash and Tallulah, so his men lasso them and begin dragging them through the street.  Elsewhere, Jonah staggers into a town that was slaughtered by Papagayo, save for one soul: Lazarus Lane, who’s locked up in a jail cell.  Jonah passes out cold before he can free Lane, though, so at the beginning of JHv2#45, El Diablo -- who can slip out of the cell with no problem -- rouses Jonah and has him move Lane’s body since Diablo can’t touch him  After the two of them compare notes, Diablo forcibly insists on joining Hex in his quest for vengeance, due to what Papagayo and his men did to the town.

Back in Chihuahua, El Papagayo’s men try to have their way with Tallulah, but once they strip her naked and get a look at how badly scarred she is, none of them can bring themselves to do it.  Even Papagayo himself has to walk away from the sight (not to mention her cruel taunts), after which he orders his men to toss her in with Lash, who’s been beaten bloody.  The two of them begin to hatch an escape plan, unaware that Jonah Hex and Lazarus Lane are making their way towards the town.  Before they get there, they run across a band of Comanche warriors, the only ones who remain of the tribe Turnbull used for bait.  Their leader, Blue Eagle, is also eager for revenge, and tells Hex that Turnbull is down in Mexico mining for gold, which explains what he’s doing so far away from his Virginia plantation.  As they continue on to their destination, Lash and Tallulah make their escape, but are quickly caught.  Papagayo decides he’s had enough of their shenanigans, so he lines them up against a wall and is about to have his men shoot them...but Hex and his new posse ride in on the first page of JHv2#46 and take out the firing squad before that happens.  Jonah himself runs down El Papagayo and takes him captive, but not before shooting the bandito’s beloved parrot out of the air.

Once all the fighting is over, Tallulah runs up to Jonah, leading to the bizarre sight of them kissing each other, then her slapping him and calling him a bastard, then more kissing, then him shoving her off.  “I shudder to think of the unholy offspring the pair of you would bring into this world,” Bat Lash quips, an innocent throwaway line that’ll carry a ton of weight in a few issues.  We’ll get to that later, though, as we need to get over to Turnbull’s compound, which is located deep in the jungle near what looks like an ancient Mayan ruin.  One of Papagayo’s men got away and has warned him that Hex is very much alive, but Turnbull apparently counted on that -- makes sense, seeing as how Hex has survived multiple attempts on his life by Turnbull over the years -- and summoned a half-dozen skilled fighters from around the world to take on the bounty hunter.  Why Turnbull didn’t just send them after Hex to begin with is unclear, but no matter, we’ll get to them soon enough.

After Jonah sets El Diablo to the task of torturing El Papagayo for information, he and Tallulah bed down together -- during a break in their lovemaking, Tallulah says to him, “This Turnbull bastard has ya mighty vengeful an’ full up on hate.
  Reminds me a’ me not that long ago.”  Jonah only tells her that the matter goes back to the War “with a fair amount of unresolved bloodshed” and nothing more, but for the reader, the story shifts to a retelling of the Fort Charlotte Massacre in 1863, one that hews close to the original version in Weird Western Tales #29, even going so far as to make him a member of the 4th Cavalry once more.  Though Gray & Palmiotti don’t borrow Michael Fleisher’s dialogue word for word, certain turns of phrase do jump out, like Jonah saying he’ll spend the rest of the War “twiddlin’ muh thumbs”, which is present in the original and Jonah Hex #35.  Another thing that jumps out is a huge continuity error, as Jeb Turnbull comments that, once the War is over, Jonah doesn’t have a home to go back to, saying, “You think them Apache gonna take ya back?  After ya killed their chief’s boy?”  Since we all know that Jonah won’t kill Noh-Tante until 1866 -- not to mention it’s the incident that led to him receiving the “Mark of the Demon” -- we’re gonna have to ignore this flub, as there’s no real way to reconcile it.  The rest of the flashback plays out the same as it has before, though it does omit the bit about the fort’s commander (who we finally find out was named Tennison) letting the prisoners escape so he can kill them all in the attempt, and it refers to the red clay splashed on Hex’s horse as simply “mud”, thereby removing the significance of it (however, Cucina does make the soldier who discovers it Black, as he was in the original version).  Also, while Hex killed that Union commander at the end of WWT#29, here he killed a fellow Reb that kept calling him a traitor.  Overall, it sums up well for new readers why Quentin Turnbull wants Jonah dead, though they probably should’ve referred to Jeb by his last name at some point in the flashback, just to make the connection between father and son more clear.

By the beginning of JHv2#47, they’ve gotten the information they need out of Papagayo, so Hex and the others hit the trail, leaving the bandito broken but alive and hanging like a piƱata outside the saloon.
  After a brief shootout with a band of Mexicans -- which is peppered with some grand insult-filled banter between Jonah, Lash, Tallulah, and Lane -- they reach a small town about six miles from Turnbull’s compound and decide to stop to get a drink at the saloon.  While there, who should appear at Jonah’s elbow but Chako Jones, last seen in JHv2#20.  Seems he knows about the trap Turnbull is laying for them, including the paid killers, so Jonah sends Chako outside to inform Blue Eagle and his men, who are standing guard.  That night, Jonah awakens to find all the Comanche have been slain, and we learn in the opening pages of JHv2#48 that the “little mosquito” is working for Turnbull!  “How many times can a man kick a dog before the dog bites the man?” Chako asks Hex with a smile as the killers emerge from the shadows:


The majority of the issue is taken up with Hex fighting off his attackers one by one.
  First up is a pair of whip-wielding femme fatales who knock Jonah off his pins so a Persian assassin and a Masai warrior can move in and finish him off.  Unfortunately, they made the mistake of bringing knives to a gunfight, and both earn bullets in their braincase.  The women quickly move in with knives of their own, and though they manage to draw blood, Jonah gives ‘em matching bullet holes in their knees.  Then comes Mike Flannery, a burly Irish boxer who’s familiar with Hex’s reputation but isn’t impressed.  “I heard ya knocked out a trained pugilist with a single blow,” Flannery says -- a reference to a scene in JHv2#24 -- as he lays a couple of rabbit punches on the back of Jonah’s skull.  That doesn’t stop Jonah from stabbing Flannery in the leg. bringing the Irishman low so the bounty hunter can scalp him.  Thinking the fight is over, Jonah tells the two women to go back to Turnbull and tell him “his money can’t buy me a grave.”  As they hobble off, Jonah goes over to Chako, who’s laying the street thanks to a bullet Hex planted in his leg earlier.  Chako begs for his life, but Jonah soon realizes he’s just acting as a distraction for the last killer, a huge Mexican.  Jonah shoots Chako in the head before opening fire on this new target, who deflects the bullets with a pair of machetes.  Deciding that it’s time to go old-school, Jonah grabs a tomahawk from his saddlebag and proceeds to hack and slash the Mexican until his opponent finally falls dead.

Bleeding and possibly concussed, Jonah staggers back inside the saloon and awakens the others, who somehow managed to sleep through the whole ordeal.
  After getting patched up between the end of this issue and the beginning of JHv2#49, our four remaining cowpokes make the final leg of their journey to Turnbull’s compound.  Looking down upon it from a nearby cliff, Bat Lash observes that they’re outnumbered thirty to one, but Hex and Tallulah point out something he didn’t consider: all the locals Turnbull has enslaved to work in the mine.  All they have to do is get those people on their side, and taking over the compound should be easy.  Knowing that Lazarus Lane is badly suited for this mission overall, Jonah literally chokes him out so he can rouse El Diablo from inside the man and send the demon to free the miners.  After moving Lane’s unconscious form to safety, Jonah, Tallulah, and Lash gallop in for a direct assault on Turnbull’s compound.  Gunfire and dynamite soon sets everything ablaze, and Turnbull escapes in the chaos with Hex hot on his tail.

Unlike previous encounters between the two men, Jonah decides he’s through pulling his punches with Turnbull, opening fire on the man’s horse and belting him good across the face once Jonah reaches him.
  Surprisingly, Turnbull isn’t the helpless old man he’s always been portrayed to be, as it’s revealed that the eagle-headed cane he always carries contains a stiletto blade in its tip, which he uses to repeatedly stab Hex with until the bounty hunter breaks the blade and makes ready to stab Turnbull himself with it.  “Ah didn’t kill yer boy, but Ah don’t care anymore!  Yore gonna die now, old man,” Jonah yells, but before he can dispatch his longtime foe, a posse rides up and demands he release Turnbull.  As is his way, it appears Turnbull pulled some favors with the Mexican government and arranged for an escort across border...and if Jonah kills Turnbull in their presence, he and his friends will die very quickly.  So Jonah drops the blade and lets him ride off, but he promises Turnbull that he’s not done with the man.  Indeed, they will cross paths a few more times in the years to come, with two of those meetings being in entirely new venues for both of them.

Looking at these six issues as a whole, you can see the story was padded out a bit, which is sadly common in an era when “writing for the trades” is encouraged by the major companies (this has also led to an increasingly-common habit of “waiting for the trades” by fans).
  Nearly every issue has a scene that could be cut due to having little bearing on the story overall -- in fact, Blue Eagle and his men could be excised altogether since their main purpose appears to be cannon fodder, and not even in the final battle at that -- meaning you could theoretically reduce this arc to five or perhaps even four issues.  It’s possible some fans came to a similar conclusion at the time, because when looking at the sales numbers for the title during the “Six Gun War” arc, there’s only a brief uptick of an extra thousand copies in the midst of it before the number settles right back down to a little over 11,000 copies a month (if you recall, Jonah Hex was moving about 14,000 copies just a year prior).  For all the pressure DC put on Jimmy & Justin to deliver an ongoing story, “Six Gun War” barely moved the needle.

Though it sounds bleak, DC still appeared to have faith in Hex, as they chose him as the subject for the company’s annual holiday card.  Not usually seen by fans, these cards were sent to out to licensors and comics shops in late 2009, bearing the signatures of various DC execs like Bob Wayne, who was apparently still championing for Hex in his position as Sales VP.  In previous years, the cards were illustrated by top-notch artists like Alex Ross and Bruce Timm, and this one was no exception, for they drafted the legendary Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez to render an image of Hex on horseback, his saddlebags loaded with toys as he looks down a hillside at a snowy cabin, a single star lighting the entire scene.  One could go so far as to think of it as an epilogue to the Hex tale in the 
Super-Star Holiday Special three decades prior, and imagine Jonah is bringing gifts to the little girl whose pet fawn he’d saved in that story.



Another sign of faith was JHv2#50, an extra-large issue that was the first in Jonah’s career to come with a variant cover, both of which were done by returning interior artist Darwyn Cooke (Cooke’s presence may also be why the sales on this single issue spiked to over 15,000 copies).  The stark contrast of the covers perfectly captured the two plot threads running through the story, with the variant showing Jonah surrounded by flames and a swirl of wanted posters, while the main one has a remorseful Jonah kneeling in front of a small grave.  No matter which of these the reader got in their pull box, the images were certain to grab their attention.

Presumably taking place not long after their reunion in “Six Gun War”, the story opens with Jonah and Tallulah taking down a band of outlaws, then celebrating their newly-acquired bounty at a local saloon.
  “Come back in the mornin’...not too early,” Tallulah tells the barkeep after the duo has driven everyone else out of the saloon and paid said barkeep for his trouble.  Though we don’t get to see the randy night that follows, we are treated to the (shadowed) image of Jonah waking up stark naked the next morning, sprawled across the top of the bar and very much alone.  Seems Tallulah rode off at dawn, and while Jonah is still contemplating what to make of that, a man by the name of Mr. Green comes up to the now-dressed Hex on behalf of his wealthy employer and asks Hex to participate in a massive bounty-hunt involving fifty wanted men, each worth two thousand dollars and all belonging to a gang that, among other crimes, killed his employer’s youngest son.  Jonah replies with a grin that his price is three apiece, but Mr. Green tucks the folio full of bounty posters under Hex’s saddle anyhow, saying his employer may be willing to pay more if Jonah brings in the majority himself, seeing as there are other parties working on this and there is no set time limit.

The next two pages are a montage of Jonah capturing and/or killing various owlhoots, some in downright humorous ways.  It also serves as a great example of what Darwyn Cooke spoke about on his blog around the time this issue was released in regards to how he approached it artistically.  
“Working with a full script from [Jimmy and Justin] frees me up to stretch some artistic muscles I mightn’t otherwise,” he explained.  “My previous outing on Hex was quite rewarding, but very much within the type of work I’m generally known for; brushwork with an economy of line and dense blacks.  I really wanted to switch it up for this one, and see if I could come up with something that looked somewhat more fitting technique-wise...Working with line only and leaving large areas I’d normally fill with black open for colour was a lot of fun for me.  I had to forgo all my usual approaches and come up with solutions that worked for this approach, from the panel design on up.”  In a moment of self-depreciating humor, Cooke noted, “The technique applied to the inks on Hex is an amalgam of several great adventure artists filtered through the hand of a guy many are convinced normally inks with a corncob.  Moebius, John Severin, Reed Crandall, Jack Davis and Walt Simonson all had immense effects on me as a young artist and you’ll see that in the linework on Hex.

Cooke also praised Dave Stewart’s coloring job on this issue, saying, “As I paged through the colour for the first time, I was astonished at the range of palettes created.  The story is an epic of sorts, and takes place over a full year with every type of terrain, climate, and time of day imaginable.  Each and every scene felt unique and a moment of its own.  As I reached the last few pages of the issue something dawned on me.  I flipped back through for confirmation and was stunned to realize that somehow Dave had coloured every daytime sky something other than blue.”  Indeed, upon closer examination, the “blue” skies seen throughout the day shots are more akin to a pale gray, with only night shots bringing a deep blue hue to that great expanse.


Moving back to the story, the next scene has Tallulah riding into the quiet town of Silver Springs.  The sheriff sees Tallulah and, noting that she looks “like trouble”, inquires as to what she’s doing there.  After a bit of back-and-forth, Tallulah says, “I’m runnin’ away from everythin’ an’ everyone I know.  Ain’t nobody chasin’ me either.  I’m just runnin’ till I can’t see my past ‘round every corner.”  The reason this isn’t entirely clear until many months later, when we see that Tallulah -- nicely settled into Silver Springs and garbed all in white -- is very much pregnant.  It’s unknown as of yet why she chose to flee Jonah and not tell him of her condition, but at the moment, there’s other issues cropping up: for one, a dressmaker named Abigail has been acting rather hinky around Tallulah in regards to her unborn child, and for another, the last remnants of that fifty-man gang Hex has been hunting down have decided Silver Springs is the perfect place to set up a trap for the bounty hunter.

As winter sets in, the gang rides into town, intent on driving out every last citizen...and unfortunately, this also happens to be the time Tallulah goes into labor.  With all Hell breaking loose and the sheriff shot dead, Abigail immediately turns on Tallulah, knocking her out and dragging her into the dress shop so she can cut “the little bastard” out of Tallulah’s belly with a pair of sewing shears.  At that moment, Jonah arrives in Silver Springs, just as the gang planned -- before they notice him, Jonah hears Tallulah screaming in pain and comes to her rescue, but not before Abigail runs off into the night with the child.  As Jonah carries her out of town, Tallulah has a vision of the little girl we first saw in JHv2#16-17, once again asking Tallulah if she’s dead and warning her about “bad man” in the woods.  “Who are you?” she croaks, and for the observant reader, they may’ve figured it out by now, but for narrative purposes, we’re gonna hold our tongue a little longer on that.

Later on, with Tallulah safe and her wounds tended to, she confesses as to why she ran off.  “I didn’t know what else ta do, Jonah.  I thought if I gave it all up...”  She tries to justify her decision by saying, “In yore heart, ya know what I did was right.  You wouldn’t have wanted it anyway.”  Jonah points out that she didn’t even give him the option of deciding this for himself, a situation that likely stings even worse if we presume this turn of events occurs sometime after his marriage to Mei Ling and the birth of his son Jason.  This time, however, the wayward child is in the hands of someone who will likely do it harm, so Jonah isn’t about to give up and get drunk if the trail goes cold.  Before he departs, he promises Tallulah, “Ah’ll save the child, but from here on out, we’re done as friends and lovers.”

A few days later, Jonah has tracked Abigail -- who’d hopped a train south -- to a small town and learned she’d already been apprehended by the law...and that the child had apparently died on the train.  As the lawman in charge tells Jonah that she’ll be standing trial for the child’s murder, Abigail raves in her cell about how the child was an “unholy spawn” and that both Tallulah and Jonah have the devil in them.  Enraged, Jonah pulls leather and tries to shoot Abigail, but inconceivably, the bullet caroms off one of the cell bars.  The lawman pulls out his own gun and tells Jonah to holster it, but instead, Jonah asks him plainly, “Boy or girl?”  With a sad expression, the lawman says it was a girl, then mentions that it’s time to do his rounds, which should take about an hour, and he expects Jonah to be gone when he gets back.  What Jonah does to Abigail after the lawman departs is not seen, but likely it wasn’t fit for human eyes anyhow.

Three months later, the gang is still waiting for Jonah for fall into their trap at Silver Springs, totally unaware that he’d come and gone a long time ago.  Unfortunately for them, Jonah does indeed return...with knives, tomahawks, dynamite, and a Gatling gun.  After he dispatches the last of them, we’re treated to a full-page portrait of Jonah Hex lighting cigar as he utters a single word: “Fifty.”  That triumphant image leads to the final, heartbreaking page, wherein we witness Tallulah finding a tiny wooden coffin laid upon the doorstep of her cabin outside Silver Springs.  From a distance, Jonah watches her fall to her knees before the coffin, the two of them bearing their loss in silence.

But what of the little girl in Tallulah visions?  Who is she, and why does she keep turning up in Jonah and Tallulah’s lives?  Though it’s not explicitly stated in the story, this unnamed child is the ghost of their daughter, and somehow, someway, she’s been haunting them long before her parents even met, showing up only when death is near.  As Justin Gray told me, “We were so deeply immersed in that world and with Jonah that a lot of things were working on a subconscious level.  The stories were always meant to be puzzle pieces that made up the tapestry of Hex’s life.  As we kept working in the short form it forced us to become more creative and try different storytelling structures. The idea of the little girl with the fishing pole evolved with the book. We knew she was a ghost, but it wasn’t until much later that we realized who she was in relation to Hex or how his mind envisioned her.”  In regards to her initial appearance being conceived as a separate piece, and only later tacked onto Tallulah Black’s origin tale, Gray said, “[It] was one of those strange things that happen.  Initially she was intended to be a ghost that came about from inspiration of trying to set up a different kind of thematic scene for the book.  Later on it strangely coincided as the seeds of what was a story we didn’t know we would be telling. It was one of those ‘ah ha!’ moments.”

On the subject of death and ghosts, the modern DCU at that time was wrestling with such things on a large scale, as the Blackest Night brought numerous fallen heroes and villains back as zombified Black Lanterns controlled by Nekron, who rules a dark-matter-fueled realm of the dead.  As more and more long-forgotten characters turned up in the main title and various tie-ins, fans suspected it was only a matter of time before Jonah Hex’s stuffed and mounted corpse came back with a Black Lantern ring on its finger, ready to rip the hearts outta anyone living.  In early 2010, their suspicions were proved right when DC “resurrected” seven defunct titles to take part in the event, including Weird Western Tales, which had ended at issue #70 way back in 1980.

Written by Dan Didio and with art by Renato Arlem, plus a striking cover by Bill Sienkiewicz, Weird Western Tales #71 (March 2010) opens in modern times outside the decrepit Old West town of Illumination, which houses beneath it a high-tech energy research facility.  Going by the background shots, both the town and facility appear to be situated in Monument Valley, which is located near the Four Corners region where the borders of Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona intersect.  The facility is run by Joshua Turnbull, the great-great-grandson of Quentin Turnbull -- Joshua grew up in the area and possesses a slavish devotion to his dead ancestor, daily visiting Quentin’s gravesite outside town.  Right on the first page, we get a good look at Quentin’s headstone, which bears the epitaph “A patriot who died at the hands of a traitor” (it’s confirmed later in the tale that Jonah did indeed kill his old foe) as well as a birth date of 1815 (the last two numbers of Quentin’s death date are obscured, so it may have occurred as late as 1899).  There are numerous other graves as well, some of which -- according to Joshua -- belong to those who died during the Fort Charlotte Massacre.

Thanks to Simon Stagg and the Ray, Joshua has gotten hold of a Black Lantern ring for study, specifically the ring meant for the corpse of Don Hall -- the original Dove -- who died during 1985’s Crisis on Infinite Earths.  When Hall didn’t resurrect due to his soul being “at peace”, the ring went dormant, so Ray scooped it up in a light construct and brought it in.  When they begin to examine it, however, the black ring begins to react, throwing off tendrils of dark matter, and soon, an army of Black Lanterns made up of numerous DC Western folk busts into the place.  Joshua manages to escape the facility with the black ring, but as he steps out onto the night-shrouded streets of Illumination, he’s confronted by the fella we’ve all come here to see: the decaying, reanimated corpse of Jonah Hex, decked out not in the spangled rodeo outfit we usually see, but his traditional Confederate gray with Black Lantern embellishments (nice of the black ring to do that for him!).


“I’m a-hopin’ you’re one Turnbull that finally got himself some sense,” Hex says as he advances on Joshua, intent on retrieving Don Hall’s abandoned ring for Nekron.  Though Joshua fights back, it’s really hard to kill someone who’s already dead, and as he attempts to flee, Hex shoots Joshua in the leg.  He soon finds himself at the feet of Quentin Turnbull himself, resurrected the same as Hex and not caring a whit about Joshua being kin.  “Sorry, son...but some things are thicker than blood,” Quentin says as he shoots Joshua dead so they can collect the ring.  We can only presume Hex and the other Western folk delivered it to Nekron, because none of them are ever seen again, nor is Hall’s ring.

In terms of the Blackest Night event, this issue can be skipped entirely as it has no impact on the overall story, and in regards to Hex history, some of the information it adds to the mythos is confusing.  It’s never been said that Quentin Turnbull had other children, yet Joshua is his descendant.  Traditionally, the Turnbulls are based in Virginia, yet this town in Monument Valley is referred to as the “family home”, with the graves of Quentin and numerous Confederate soldiers located nearby (admittedly, we don’t know the exact location of Fort Charlotte, but the Four Corners is way off the beaten path from Jonah’s known wartime exploits).  The best assumption I can make is that Quentin Turnbull founded Illumination (home to “the South’s best and brightest”, according to a sign at the town limits) at some point prior to his death, just like he headed to Mexico to mine for gold during the “Six Gun War” arc.  He may’ve encouraged the surviving members of the “Fort Charlotte Brigade” and their families to move there for some scheme or another, bringing the bodies of the fallen along with them to be reburied outside town (yeah, it sounds crazy, but this is Quentin Turnbull we’re talking about, crazy comes with the territory).  During his time there, Quentin likely started a new family, and that’s who Joshua would be descended from.  As for Jonah’s corpse, it’s unknown what happened to it once the Blackest Night was over: many of the Black Lanterns fell to dust, but some remains were intact enough to be studied and/or interred in a more-secure area.  In the absence of any evidence one way or another, fans could only hope that, after all these years, Jonah’s remains were collected up once the battle was over and given the proper burial he’d been denied for so long.

Returning to Jonah’s usual place in time, JHv2#51is a notable issue, not necessarily for its tale of faith, fraud, and unrequited love, but for its cover and interior art by Dick Giordano.  Though his name many not immediately spring to mind when it comes to Jonah Hex, his career was peppered with multiple connections to the character’s history, starting with his inking work on Jonah Hex #11 back in 1978, and followed by his rendering of numerous Hex cover appearances through the 1970s-1980s, both for Jonah’s self-titled books and his guest-spots in Justice League of America #159-160 and Crisis on Infinite Earths #3.  In his role as DC’s Vice-President and Executive Editor, he did his best to raise Jonah’s profile with a spotlight in his “Meanwhile” column, and also advised on the bounty hunter’s literal future in regards to the HEX series.  With all that in mind, it’s bittersweet that his return to the Hex mythos would be one of his final works, as JHv2#51 hit the stands two months before his death on March 27, 2010 at the age of 77.  The comics world lost another icon, and Jonah lost another friend.

We get more Jordi Bernet in JHv2#52, a story that can be placed firmly after his marriage to Mei Ling, as he mentions to a young widowed mother, “Muh wife left with our boy not long ago.”  She tosses this back into his face by the end of the story, after Jonah has been forced to kill off her murderous kin, including a boy who gutshot him in an attempted robbery (which is why he ended up on the widow’s doorstep in the first place), saying that his attitude about killing is likely why his wife and child left him.  The fact that it’s partially true likely stung Jonah hard, but he shrugs off her words as if they mean nothing to him.  Such behavior, of course, is typical for him, as he does more of the same in Jonah Hex (vol. 2) #53 (cover-dated May 2010).  Jonah enlists a dance hall girl named Lana -- lovingly rendered by Billy Tucci -- to help him take down a gang of train robbers, and later ends up crippling her when he discovers she’s been secretly working with them.  “I swear ta God I’ll get ya fer this!” Lana screams as she lays bleeding in the grass.  “Whatever it takes, I’ll kill you!!!”  For the most part, Jonah dismisses her threats, but he does say he’ll keep an eye out for her (which is ironic, because while he won’t ever see her again, the readers will, albeit briefly).

By this point in his life, it was damn-near impossible to faze Jonah: after close to four decades of existence, he’d already seen and done more than many other four-color cowboys, most of whom had faded into obscurity by the time the 21st Century rolled around.  For every well-known Western comics hero like Hex, there were numerous gunslinging characters whose names were barely known outside of their respective fandoms.  And then you had folks like Zorro or the Lone Ranger, who were both experiencing their own revival in comics around this time thanks to Dynamite Entertainment, and were already known far and wide by people of all ages thanks to multiple iterations over the decades in popular media.  Jonah had already made a few inroads on TV with his cartoon appearances, but was it possible for an irascible sonovabitch like Hex to carry a franchise all by himself like those masked men, and not just as mere ink and paint, but as flesh and blood?  In short, was the world ready for a Jonah Hex movie?


<< Part 17   |   Index   |   Part 19 (Coming 2021)
Appendix A   |   Appendix B

Saturday, September 19, 2020

See You Next Year?

 


In case you didn't hear the announcement last month, the upcoming Blue Water International Comic-Con has been cancelled once more due to COVID-19.  Originally scheduled for April, Fantasticon moved the show to November 21-22 in the hope that things would be cleared up by then, but obviously that ain't happening, so now the show is set for "a later date in 2021" (i.e. they have no idea when just yet).  As before, I'm letting them hold onto my table fee, as I still want to do the show, no matter how long it's delayed for.  It's a fun show, I've got a small collection of fans out in Port Huron, and we always manage to raise a good amount of money for Hero Initiative while we're there.

Also as before, I'm going to run a sale over on my online store starting the same weekend that Blue Water was supposed to be, and since that's right at the beginning of the holiday shopping season, I'll be offering up some appropriately-themed freebies along with that.  I'll put up more details as we get closer.  In the meantime, everybody stay safe, and remember to #ReadLocal!

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Pick Your Battles, Choose Your Class

Okay, kids, get ready for me to ramble on a bit.  If you're here, you're either already a regular follower of my blog (all six of you), or you clicked one of the links I have up on Facebook, possibly attached to my profile or cover pic.  To keep this in historical context for anyone coming across this in the years to come, it's been a little over a month since George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis by a cop who knelt on his neck for close to nine minutes.  Since then, the outrage over Floyd's death -- along with the deaths of Breonna TaylorAhmaud Arbery, and countless other people of color as of late -- has exploded into protests across all 50 states and around the world in an effort to end police brutality once and for all.  Over three weeks ago, we saw a protest outside the White House in Lafayette Square that led to an act that shocked people on both sides of the aisle.  I imagine the scope of these protests wouldn't be so large were it not for the fact that so many people -- especially people of color -- are out of work due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but it is happening.  It is still happening, and now that it appears to be bringing about actual change (even as a certain someone continues to push back against it), I don't think they'll be stopping anytime soon.  The wedge has been inserted, and it needs to be pushed in further to have real effect, lest things so back to the way they were once pressure is relieved.

Please understand, this is not a call to violence on my part.  Looters, rioters, and those who willfully bring harm to others should be charged, but those who are protesting peacefully should always be allowed to do so...and keep in mind, there are many ways to support the #BlackLivesMatter movement, as this lovely chart I found illustrates:


Going by this, I'm apparently classified as a Bard, as I do my best to share important information far and wide, as well as try to keep folks amused in an effort to give them a bit of a mental break.  You'd think that would be an easy job, but as I've discovered recently, it's not.  The current struggle has just about worn me out, at least in regards to being an ally on social media.

Nearly seven years ago, I set up a Facebook account, not because I'm a sociable person, but because I was getting ready to self-publish my novel and knew it would be a good way to reach potential customers.  Just setting up the account was a pain in the ass, but I did it, and soon found myself sucked into all the dumb shit people do on Facebook, along with my admin duties on both my book page and the Jonah Hex fan page started by Darren Schroeder.  The last few years, I've been trying to avoid the unending feed and just look at individual pages so I don't spend forever there, but with everything going on the past month or so, I couldn't help myself, and I've been sharing stuff and weighing in on debates and unfriending people as the divide between all of us grows wider and wider.  The last couple of days, my soul has been hurting over an argument that started just because I shared something I felt needed to be seen by more people (I'm not going to go into it, I don't want to go into it, I've already deleted the damn thread and wish I'd done so sooner).  I spent a good part of yesterday doing one of two things: crying because I'm already getting exhausted from fighting this battle, or getting angry at myself for deciding to self-censor and back away from a battle that is worth fighting.

So I'm trying to find a middle ground, starting with essentially "turning off" my personal FB page.  I can't fully delete it because that'd cut me off from my admin duties for the other pages, but I am going to reduce my postings on it to near-zero.  No more endless scrolling for hours on end, no more sharing stuff unless I really feel it's necessary.  Y'all need me for something, go to Swords & Sixguns or Jonah Hex, Via Pony Express because I'll still be posting stuff there on a regular basis.  Or send me a note through Messenger because that's actually a useful FB feature.  Or send an old-fashioned email.  Point is, I'm not really hard to find.

So, what am I going to do to be an ally that doesn't involve sharing news and info on my personal Facebook page?  Well, I'm still putting things of that nature up on my book page, I just usually make sure they have more of a historical bent to them (consider it my contribution to #WhitePeopleHomework.).  And on VPE, I recently addressed the big gray elephant in the room in regards to Jonah's uniform (if you go to the "About" section for that page, you'll find an essay titled "The Clothes Do Not Make the Man" -- it was reviewed by all members of the Via Pony Express podcast, so this is effectively our public statement on the subject).

Then there's the second book...yes, I'm still working on it.  That's the other reason for prying myself away from FB: so I can actually find time to work on my writing projects.  All this stuff going on recently has given me a renewed sense of urgency because -- in a roundabout way -- the plot of the second book addresses it on some levels.  Y'see, years ago, I wrote out the beats of where I wanted Richard's story to go, so as I wrote the first book, I already knew where he'd end up in the second one, and planted a seed.  You may recall a conversation between Richard and H'landa on Page 185 about the various countries that make up Arkhein:

“I have been to six of the Seven Known Lands,” [H'landa] said.  “Here, of course, and my birth-land of Nevasile, as well as Gobaira, Ikara, M’salnek...I even went to Keto once, but that place barely counts.”
“What’s the seventh?  Why haven’t you been there?”
His mouth twisted.  “Haru-D’keng.  No one goes there, especially Kana-Semeth.”
“Why not?”
“That country is full of madmen.  Their idea of ‘order’ and the Kana-Semeth’s have very little in common.”  He poked at the fire some more.  “The borders between Haru-D’keng and the rest of Arkhein were set long ago.  As long as we each stay on our own side, all is well.”
“Oh, come on, how bad can the place be?”
He gave me a sideways glance.  “The less you know, the better you will sleep at night.  Trust me.”

So, what is it about Haru-D'keng that's so awful?  That's what the second book is about.  Something happens near the beginning of the story that'll convince Richard he needs to travel to Haru-D'keng, no matter how much others discourage him from doing so.  He soon learns that the majority of the people there live in virtual slavery, yet the Kana-Semeth -- who otherwise swear to protect all people -- seem unconcerned with helping to end the situation.  Better to maintain the status quo than to provoke a war.  Richard does his best to go through proper channels, but it soon becomes apparent that he'll have to put his own life on the line in order to change things.  If he truly believes in granting the people of Haru-D'keng the same level of freedom that himself and others in Arkhein enjoy, he'll have to take on an entire country.

Or to put it in 2020 parlance, Richard is about to go a little Antifa on their asses.

When I came up with this idea years ago, I never imagined it'd end up reflecting current events, but it is to a degree.  He sees a people oppressed and wants to help, but those in charge want to stop him.  Going back to that chart, Richard's gonna act as a Tank at multiple points, literally putting himself between those in need and those who wish to harm them.  Will it bring about actual change in the end?  You'll have to wait and see...same as all of us in 2020 are doing in regards to what's going on right now.  We've all got to pick our battles and choose what class we're best suited for.  I'm a Bard, and I've got stories to tell.  Wish me luck.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Outlaw Down Under



Just mailed off the very first order from my online store yesterday...and yes indeed, it is headed to Australia! I was contacted by Ula Wilmott a couple of weeks ago about whether or not I could ship outside the U.S., and while it took some time to find a good price, I did manage to keep the shipping costs reasonable, and the same rates I set up for her are now available for all Australian orders placed at
https://susanhillwig.square.site.  This also means I can more-easily figure shipping to any other country as well, since I now have the weights for my book and other items entered into my store's database. So if you live outside the U.S. or Australia and want to have your very own copy of "Swords & Sixguns: An Outlaw's Tale", drop me a line like Ula did and I'll have the shipping cost for your country calculated within a day or two...and in honor of this new option, I'm gonna extend the sale I already have going on for another week, meaning you now have until June 7th to get the book at 20% off! So don't wait any longer, get your order in today!

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Time to do some "birthday" shopping!



You may recall that, in the early days of developing Richard Corrigan as a character, I gave the fella a birthday.  Specifically, he was born on April 5, 1854, which means he'd be 166 today if he was, y'know, a real dude.  Today would also be the second day of Blue Water Intl. Comic Con if the world hadn't decided to up and have itself a pandemic.  Had I been at the con today, I might've brought in some mini cupcakes or something to celebrate (nothing like free treats to bring folks to your table!), but instead, I'm at home doing my best to self-isolate.  After having missed two shows last year due to a family emergency, it's become obvious that I need another sales channel besides cons, Amazon, and a couple of indie bookstores.  Lucky for me, Square -- whom I do my credit/debit sales through -- offered me free website space just as everything began to go on lockdown.

So that's what I've been doing the past couple of weeks when I'm not working at my "essential" day job: setting up an official "Swords & Sixguns" store to debut on Richard's birthday.  The Weebly template is pretty basic, but that's fine, since I only have a few things to offer right now (as seen above).  At the moment, I'm only set up to ship within the United States, so if you live elsewhere, contact me and I'll see what I can do about international shipping.  Also, I have a small amount of secret freebie items that I'll be slipping into the first few orders, 'cause what's a birthday without gifts, eh?  So head on over to https://susanhillwig.square.site and put in your order so's ya got something to read while you're staying safe at home!