Saturday, March 1, 2014

An Illustrated History of Jonah Hex (Part 11)

1985-1987: Future Shock

As befits a series built around time travel, we’re going to start off this extra-long installment by skipping ahead one month into the future so we can look at the letter column for the second issue of HEX, wherein Michael Fleisher tells us how he got the inspiration to move our favorite bounty hunter into a new environment.  Unlike the tale related by Bob Greenberger -- who thinks Andy Helfer may have been the influence behind dropping Hex into a Mad Max-style setting -- Fleisher credits someone else with providing the initial inspiration.  Designer Ed Hannigan (who’d been put in charge of the covers for Jonah Hex in 1984) dropped into the DC offices one day with a HEX logo hand-painted in violet and hot pink.  While he was responsible for creating  many great designs for DC over the years, Fleisher wrote that Hannigan “had not been asked to design any such logo and had no expectation whatever of being paid for it.  It was electrifying, certainly, but it was totally unsuitable for the then-running Western series Jonah Hex.  ‘Ed, it’s gorgeous,’ I said, ‘but what the hell is it for?’  ‘I don’t really know,’ shrugged Ed.  ‘But I really like the name ‘Hex’ and I thought you might be able to use it for something.’”  According to Fleisher, he had been dabbling with an idea for “a bleak, war-torn world” before Hannigan walked in what that logo (meaning Helfer’s influence could still be in there somewhere), but it wasn’t until seeing that graffiti-style rendering of HEX that all the pieces came together in his head.  Hannigan also provided some additional character designs for the new series, which Mark Texeira used as a starting-point for his own work once he was hired on as artist.

We can only estimate that this incident with the logo happened around the same time the axe came down for the Jonah Hex title, and therefore made it easier for all concerned to see this as a viable way to keep the character alive in the DCU, albeit in a future whose exact date had yet to be determined.  In fact, a memo written by Greenberger dated May 30, 1985 (which you can find a copy of in 2008’s The DC Vault from Running Press) shows the company was still trying to nail down exactly when this new series was supposed to take place in the post-Crisis timeline just a few months before HEX#1 hit the stands.  It’s interesting to see that such notable creators as Paul Levitz, Marv Wolfman, and Dick Giordano weighed in on Hex’s fate (all of whom agreed that the new series should be set at least 500 years into the future), but as Greenberger himself said when I asked him about it in 2012, “The editorial edict that we have one timeline, one consistent throughline from 1985 to the 30th Century was paid more lip service than actual adherence,” meaning that Fleisher’s eventual decision to have HEX  take place in the year 2050 won out over everyone else’s concerns.

Another thing Fleisher mentioned in the letter column was that, unlike Jonah’s previous titles, HEX would be a non-Code book, which had heavy implications: back in the 1980s, only titles that bore the Comics Code Authority’s seal of approval could be carried on newsstands, so not submitting a title to them implied that it was for “mature readers” and a far cry from the “kid’s stuff” many folks still thought comics consisted of.  In reality, DC simply decided to make HEX a direct market-only book and not offer it to newsstands in the first place.  As Greenberger put it, “The company didn’t want to pay for a seal that was unnecessary.”  In hindsight, the decision to keep Jonah’s new title off the newsstands -- where his numbers remained consistently good -- was probably not a smart move, though DC did make an in-house ad promoting HEX in order to give him a leg-up in the comics shops (I’m sad to report that the saber-toothed tiger in the ad turns up nowhere in the series).  But the biggest irony of HEX not having the Code seal is Fleisher never seemed to take full advantage of the freedom that gave him, especially when compared to other non-Code titles published by DC around the same time (even the swears in HEX are of the “#@*&%!” variety).  It’s not like anyone at DC was holding Fleisher back, either: Mark Texeira was quoted on the subject in Back Issue #14 (February 2006), saying the company “sort of left us to our own mini-universe.  As long as deadlines were met, they left us alone.”  Despite this hands-off approach, HEX was indeed part of DCU continuity, even after it had ceased to be, but we shouldn’t discuss the end before we look at the beginning...

The first two pages of HEX#1 (dated September 1985) ease both Jonah and the reader into this new world.  The bounty hunter wakes up in an ordinary-looking saloon, wondering where Emmylou and Brett have gone.  Before he has a chance to get over his confusion, El Papagayo barges in and begins shooting -- Jonah dives for cover, shoots the bandito in the gut, and is shocked to see wires and metal spill out of his innards.  Jonah also realizes his gun -- which only contained one shot -- is just a lightweight piece of junk.  Tossing it aside, he runs out of the saloon and into what he immediately categorizes as “a nightmare”:

Stunned into submission, Jonah is dragged off to meet Reinhold Borsten, the man who brought him to this strange place.  As to why he did so, Borsten declines to say right off, instead telling his “guest” that he has “long been a devotee of the fighting man and a dedicated student of the art of war.”  Borsten then shows Jonah various images of battles throughout time, up to and including footage of nuclear holocausts -- the latter proves too much for Hex’s 19th-Century mind, and he goes catatonic.  When Jonah recovers, he’s been locked inside a glass tube, which is slowly filling with a paralyzing gas -- he busts out to find he’s in a room filled with similar tubes, all containing soldiers from various eras, along with cases of weaponry.  After grabbing some guns (good ones this time, not single-shot phonies like before), Jonah makes a break for it with the guards hot on his tail, and even though he silently admits that all this craziness has him “shakin’ in muh boots”, he eventually manages to sneak out of the compound.  Not that being outside is much better: the surrounding area is nothing but a wasteland, and Jonah has no choice but to trudge across it on foot.  Borsten had told Jonah that he was now in Seattle, but Jonah knows that “Seattle’s a far damn cry from the town of Red Dog, whar thet saloon wuz!”

While his mind is still trying to puzzle it all out, he comes across a gal in the middle of the desert being assaulted by three thugs.  Seeing as how this is a situation he can actually relate to, he throws himself into the fray and rescues the girl (who must look stark naked compared to what Jonah’s used to seeing women wear).  Afterward, she leads him to where she left her motorcycle -- since her arm’s sprained, she asks Jonah to drive, a request that causes Jonah to sit there like a lump until she explains how to start it.  As he gets it going, she says to him, “If you can’t even jockey a cycle, how do you manage to get around?”

“Horse,” he answers plainly, and the two of them speed across the wasteland, with the girl, Stiletta, directing him to where her gang is camped out.  The Road Reapers are very much cast from the same mold as the denizens of the Mad Max films, and I can only imagine what Hex must be thinking the first time he lays eyes on the giant grasshopper they’re barbecuing.  Stiletta introduces Hex to Falcon, the leader of the Reapers, who apparently thinks of Stiletta as part of his harem -- she defiantly plants a kiss right on Hex’s lips as a thank-you for saving her life, which leaves Falcon fuming and Hex looking confused.  All the talk going on about raiding a nearby community for water baffles him as well, but he throws in with them anyhow, even though, in his words, “It don’t smell right.”  Sure enough, as soon as the raid goes south and the gang scatters to the four winds, Hex hears Falcon spouting off about how he’s going to “ride back here and turn this community into a graveyard!”  Now knowing for sure that the Road Reapers are the bad guys (but holding on to the notion that Stiletta isn’t like the rest of them...that must’ve been some kiss), Jonah turns on Falcon, leading to some good ol’-fashioned fisticuffs in the desert.  Around the same time, the sky opens up and it begins to rain, but this isn’t a good thing: Stiletta had warned Hex earlier about the “acid storms” that pour down on the wasteland, and he immediately feels it eating through his fine Confederate-gray coat.  Luckily, Stiletta also told him about the protective “zone suits” the Road Reapers wear, so after knocking out Falcon, he ditches his own clothes, strips the suit off of Falcon, and leaves the skunk to dissolve as Jonah roars off on his cycle.

In twenty-five pages, we’ve watched Jonah’s past life get torn from him in bits and pieces -- his environment, his weapons, even his uniform -- until all that remains is the man himself, clad in strange clothes and riding a tricked-out chopper.  And if all these changes weren’t jarring enough for ya, HEX#2 starts in 1968 as a pair of military helicopters ferry American troops out into the field.  One of the soldiers on board, Marty Berkowitz, is reading a book about Old West gunfighters, and has just begun the chapter about Jonah Hex when a familiar beam of light engulfs both hueys.  Borsten’s men have struck again, but in their eagerness to pluck more soldiers out of time, they accidentally dump the helicopter containing Berkowitz and his buddies in the middle of the wasteland.  In a nice bit of coincidence, they nearly crash into Jonah himself on the way down -- although he doesn’t know what’s going on, he recognizes people in danger when he sees them, so Jonah pulls as many of the soldiers to safety as he can before the helicopter blows up.  Assisting him in this is Captain Stanley Harris, a black man who takes an immediate dislike to Hex.  “I don’t make a practice of shakin’ hands with you Southern boys!” he snaps the moment he hears the gunfighter’s drawl.  Berkowitz and Hank Winslow -- the only other soldiers to survive the crash -- try to smooth things over, but they don’t have much time to chit-chat before a trio of machines reminiscent of War Wheels come barreling down upon them, guns blazin’.  The weapons our ragtag bunch carry can’t put a dent in the machines, but then Hex takes careful aim at the one part of the machine that’s unshielded:

Once the crews of all three machines are wiped out (and Harris makes an anachronistic reference to a Gillette Trac II razor, which wasn’t invented until 1971), they commandeer one of the machines and head out.  As they travel, the soldiers do their best to convince Jonah of what they figured out easily, namely that they’ve all been transported to the future.  Hex, of course, ain’t buyin’ it, even after being shown the book Berkowitz had been reading, which contained an eyewitness account of Jonah disappearing from the Red Dog Saloon in 1875 (we can only presume the rest of that chapter got destroyed in the crash, or else something else about Hex’s history might’ve come to light right then as well).  Despite his disbelief, Hex does offer up information about Borsten’s complex and what he saw there, and the soldiers figure it must hold the key to them all getting back to their proper timeframes.  They’re gonna need more firepower before they attempt to break in, however, and Winslow directs them to the remains of a military research base -- seems he grew up in Seattle, and his father worked at that base in the time he came from -- but while the base’s personnel are long-gone, they left behind three laser-packin’ robot hounds (everything’s coming in threes this issue).  A grenade wipes out one, and a rotten piece of floor takes care of another, but the third hound damn-near clamps its metal teeth around Hex’s throat before a high-powered round blows it up.  And who’s the one to save Hex’s bacon?  It’s Stiletta, though the question of how she tracked Hex down is never asked...or rather Jonah doesn’t seem too concerned about asking it:

That night, after they fix up one of the flying machines found at the base, Stiletta leads them to the Needle (the name for Borsten’s complex) and helps them break in.  As they make their way down a corridor, a laser grid suddenly fires up, killing Berkowitz and Winslow instantly.  Harris immediately accuses Stiletta of betraying them, and after yelling at her for a moment, shoots her as Hex looks on in shock.  “Yuh kill-crazy lunatic!” Jonah hollers, slugging him, but Harris quickly shows the gunfighter the truth: “Stiletta” was actually a robot, sent by Borsten to lure Hex back to the Needle.  Harris had seen a flicker of light in her eyes, betraying her machine nature, but Jonah can’t comprehend this any better than the rest of the madness he’s seen.  When Borsten’s guards show up, though, he can comprehend that just fine, so he and Harris blast away at them while the pair try to escape.  Unfortunately, another laser grid pops up, separating them, and Jonah ends up escaping the Needle alone.

While Jonah flees across the wasteland on his cycle, we’re going to veer off for a moment ourselves to talk about the DC Challenge, which was featured in a subscription ad this issue.  I’m not even going to attempt to explain this 12-issue epic because, as others have pointed out, it’s somewhat inexplicable.  Suffice it to say that it’s one last hurrah for the pre-Crisis DCU, with a different creative team each issue trying to one-up whomever came before them while leaving the next batch of creators baffled.  In issue #2, Len Wein and Chuck Patton decide to add Jonah Hex into the mix, using a mysterious glowing stone to pull Jonah out of 1876 and toss him into 1985, where he promptly freaks out.  He later gets captured by some gangsters -- one of whom is the spitting image of Peter Lorre -- that want the stone in Jonah’s possession.  The issue ends with Jonah trying to keep a car from sliding into a group of children and nuns, and he succeeds when we see him again in issue #3, where Doug Moench and Carmine Infantino have him square off against a djinn before returning the bounty hunter to 1876 (it’s interesting to note that, over 13 years after making suggestions as to how Jonah Hex should look in his debut story, Infantino finally gets to deliver his own rendition of the character).  Now, for those of you keeping score, the Jonah who’s running for his life in HEX got yanked out of 1875, which means that (if we dare to count the DC Challenge as in-continuity) his part in this crazy tale takes place one year afterward.  We’ll speak more on the implications of this in the next installment, because right now, we need to get back to the other future.

HEX#3 opens right where the previous issue left off, with Jonah still on the run from Borsten’s men.  He wipes them out easily enough, which certainly doesn’t please their boss, and we soon learn the reason why Jonah got snatched up from 1875, along with all those other soldiers: Borsten is in the reenactment business, using real people from history to fight battles for his wealthy clients to bet on.  According to Borsten, the soldiers “are heavily sedated the moment they arrive here, are revived only in settings and habitats nearly identical to those they came from, and are housed securely in my own stasis capsules in the intervals between battles!”  The fact that these soldiers are also dying for their amusement seems lost on everyone -- the closest we get to concern is when one of the spectators asks if the mustard gas being used on the battlefield will leak into the viewing booth.  Jonah Hex was supposed to be his newest attraction, and Borsten had advertised this in advance, which explains why he’s been putting so much effort into getting the gunfighter back.  It doesn’t look like that’s going to happen anytime soon, though, as Jonah put some miles between himself and the Needle after hitching a ride with Barnaby Blossom, a fast-talkin’ fella who travels the wasteland selling a pacifying drug called Lotus.  Like most everything else in the future, it takes Hex a while to realize this Lotus stuff is dangerous, but he gets the message once Blossom demonstrates the effects of the intoxicating smoke on a crowd, including a little boy who almost dies after getting a snootful:

Now we all know you shouldn’t hurt a kid when Jonah Hex is around, so it’s no surprise when Jonah breaks up Blossom’s operation, knocking the man out of his flying machine in the process...which Jonah then crash-lands in the middle of nowhere that the beginning of HEX#4.  For this issue, we’re changing up artists: Ron Wagner penciled this tale, while inker Carlos Garzon (who also worked with Texeira on the previous issue) provides some continuity to the art style.  A lot of backstory gets filled in this time around, starting not long after Jonah -- who’s just about to drink from a small spring he’s found in the desert -- meets Stiletta once again.  He immediately pulls a gun on her, gasping, “You--you ain’t human!  Yo’re some kinda machine!”  Stiletta has no clue what he’s talking about, but reasons that he must’ve seen a robot that looked like her.  “Honestly, Hex, I can’t imagine how you got to be so ignorant about some things,” she says, then begins to show him how to purify the water with a chemical wafer called a Soames -- after the bombs dropped five years earlier, all open sources of water became heavily irradiated, and if he’d swallowed so much as a mouthful without treating it first, it would’ve killed him -- they’re so indispensible that they’ve become the de facto currency in 2050.  Her willingness to tell him such things must’ve convinced Jonah that she truly wasn’t going to hurt him, because in-between panels, he ‘fesses up to her about where he’s really from.  Stiletta’s surprised, but not shocked, and later on, we find out why: Reinhold Borsten is her father (okay, this kinda explains the robot...).  Seems in the year 2042, Borsten was a liaison for NSA assigned to a time-travel project, wherein he stumbled across what was to happen in only three years’ time:

Stealing designs for both the time machine and several other technologies, Borsten figured he’d bypass the nuclear holocaust and set himself up as king of the wasteland (the reenactments are just a hobby, I guess).  He didn’t count on a criminal organization known as the Conglomerate gaining a foothold before him, thanks to them controlling the world’s supply of Soames, but he’s working on a way to bring them down using his time-travel tech.  After that info-dump, we have a lovely scene involving Hex, Stiletta, and a cave full of bloodsucking mutant earthworms -- once they get out of that scrape, a flying machine tears outta the sky lookin’ to cut them down.  We find out in HEX#5 (which has Texeira back on penciling duty) that Blossom worked for the Conglomerate, and they’ve sent their goons out to search for whomever scattered that shipment of Lotus all over the desert.  Jonah and Stiletta kick the snot outta them and steal their ride so they can get back to civilization (or at least what passes for it these days).  The Conglomerate doesn’t take kindly to this, especially after one of them -- who was looking forward to seeing the gunfight Borsten promised a couple of issues ago -- recognizes Hex in some surveillance footage, and figures Hex must be working for Borsten.

In retaliation, they send out their own “hired gun”: a bruiser named Chain with a buzzsaw hand and titanium body armor.  After a five-page brawl, Jonah manages to flatten him in a car-crusher, but this doesn’t mean his troubles are over, as some of the Conglomerate’s other goons take him and Stiletta captive at the beginning of HEX#6.  Surprisingly, they’re not interested in killing him, and instead the Conglomerate offers Hex a job: taking down Reinhold Borsten and destroying his time machine before he can use his stolen tech to neutralize the radiation in the water table, which would makes Soames worthless and bankrupt the Conglomerate.  A few of their men have already infiltrated the Needle’s personnel, but Hex is “a regular one-man army”, so they want the gunfighter to “surrender” to Borsten’s forces in order to gain access to the time machine, and guarantee Hex that they’ll send him back to 1875 before they destroy it.  Stiletta wants to help out with taking down her father -- when Borsten escaped to the future, he didn’t bother to warn his family, and Stiletta survived the nukes by sheer luck -- but Jonah refuses, saying that he doesn’t want her to “gum up muh plans tuh get back tuh whar Ah come from,” then rides off alone to a spot where Borsten’s men can capture him (though he first puts up a bit of a fight to make it look good).

By HEX#7, Jonah is getting stuffed back into one of those stasis tubes. but he’s not in there for long, as the Conglomerate’s inside man shows up to release him and assist in the plan.  Unfortunately, a guard kills the man right afterward, and accidentally triggers the explosives they were going to use to blow up the time machine.  This sets off a chain reaction throughout the Needle, and Jonah has to try and get to the time machine alone before the whole place blows sky-high.  Little does he know that backup is on the way: Stiletta has ignored Jonah’s request and snuck into the Needle, and she soon runs into Harris, who’s been tortured for the last few issues by Borsten and just managed to escape, hiding out in the Needle’s ventilation shafts.  After an off-screen confab, they realize they’re on the same side and head off to find Hex, releasing all the other captives along the way.  They finally meet up with him in the chronal chamber in time to save him from being shot by Borsten.  After a quick review of the time machine’s controls, Hex and Harris prepare to depart, but more guards bust in, rescuing their boss and shooting Stiletta -- while Harris vanishes, Jonah jumps off the platform without a second thought to save her, and the time machine is destroyed as more explosions tear the chamber apart.  Hex and Stiletta escape the Needle by the skin of their teeth, while Reinhold Borsten is shown being engulfed in flames (we find out a few issues later that he survived, but like Wu Bong Phat four years earlier, Borsten’s vow of revenge will never be fulfilled).

With Jonah’s only way back to the Old West removed from the equation, both he and the reader have to face up to the fact that this hellish future is now home.  This new status quo was referenced in many places throughout the DCU at the time, from Crisis on Infinite Earths #12 to Jonah’s double-page Who's Who entry (Stiletta and El Papagayo also earned their own entries, the only two Hex-related characters to do so) to a caricature of Jonah in his new duds slipped into a tongue-in-cheek story in the back of The Outsiders #6 (April 1986).  There was even a role-playing module published by Mayfair Games in 1986 called HEX: Escort to Hell, the first piece of merchandise -- aside from comic books, of course -- to feature the bounty hunter.  But those who yearned for one last taste of “classic” Jonah Hex could find it if they knew where to look: the two-issue History of the DC Universe gave a nod to his former life as well as his current predicament, and a limited-edition portfolio set by the same name included a lithograph of Jonah on horseback by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez.  In the aftermath of the Crisis, it was good to know that not everything about the old days would be forgotten.

Wagner returned for HEX#8, a fun romp involving a rigged game in a shooting gallery.  This issue also features Jonah gaining some new guns -- a pair of .357 Ruger Blackhawks -- but by the end of the story, he’s lost Siletta!  From the looks of things, she got kidnapped while he was in town getting supplies, and though he searches high and low for her, he turns up nothing, and by the beginning of the next issue (as illustrated by Texeira again), he’s turned his attention towards getting shit-faced instead.  Considering his previous track record with the bottle, this is perfectly understandable, especially when you factor in that Stiletta may have been the only thing in this entire time period keeping Jonah anchored in reality.  There’s also the possibility that Jonah’s in love with Stiletta, but aside from lip-locking with the robot version of her in HEX#2, very little evidence exists in the series to suggest that they’re a romantic couple and not just two people that’ve thrown their lot in with each other.  Whatever the makeup of their relationship, the gal stays on Jonah’s mind through the next couple of  issues, despite distractions like the Stepford Wives-esque community he encounters in HEX#9 and rescuing a well-heeled man’s daughter from a “Sin Killer” cult in HEX#10 (the last one penciled by Ron Wagner).  The latter contains two things that I’d like to bring to your attention, the first occurring right at the beginning, where Jonah mistakes a house of pleasure for a regular roadside inn: he acts almost confused over the fact that he’s in a whorehouse, which makes no sense when you think about all the soiled doves he’d already encountered and/or bedded down over the past 14 years (even presuming he was sweet on Stiletta, I doubt he’d turn down a roll in the hay if it meant he got a room along with it).  Once again, Fleisher didn’t appear to be taking advantage of that lack of CCA oversight, even though he crowed about it more than once on the letters page -- Jonah gets so little action in this title compared to his previous Code-approved one that it’s almost like the gunfighter was afraid of catching some mutant venereal disease from these future-folk.

The other thing of note about HEX#10 is that it’s the first time characters from another title -- specifically the Legion of Super-Heroes -- appear in Jonah’s own book, as opposed to the usual practice of Jonah being the guest-star (like his appearances in Justice League of America). Sadly, these two pages don’t have any bearing on the plot at all, nor do they effect anything in Legion of Super-Heroes #23 (June 1986), where an abbreviated version of this scene appears:

Despite them having no impact upon this particular issue, the presence of Superboy and his pals does signal a turn in the title’s overall content.  Michael Fleisher remarked in HEX#2’s letter column that, in the world of 2050, “there are no hordes of costumed men and haul your keester out of the fire.”  His statement was rendered false the moment he introduced a brand-new incarnation of Batman in HEX#11.  Five years earlier, he’d been a criminology student in New York named Cohen (first name unknown).  While researching the Dark Knight’s career for his college thesis, he deduced Batman’s true identity, and just so happened to locate the Batcave in Gotham the same day the bombs dropped -- he survived thanks to being so deep underground.  When he finally emerged, he found a world in turmoil, ruled by the Combine (the East Coast version of the Conglomerate) and other murderous organizations, one of which targeted his parents for the dual crimes of being Jewish and gun-control advocates.  With Bruce Wayne long dead, Cohen took up his mantle and vowed to keep firearms of any sort out of New York.  While his actions appear to have helped the Big Apple recover faster than the rest of the country (for one, they’re using actual greenbacks as money in addition to Soames), the Combine isn’t happy with Batman’s “No guns in New York” policy, and sends a couple of goons all the way out to Seattle in order to get someone both skilled and unknown to kill him.  Wouldn’t ya know it, Hex fits the bill, and we can presume these guys are the ones who kidnapped Stiletta three issues ago, because they feed Hex a cock-and-bull story about how Batman -- whom they describe as some kind of kinky freak -- tortured and killed her, even going so far as to show the bounty hunter Stiletta’s bloody clothes and footage of the deed.  They fly him to New York so he can get “revenge” on Batman, and thanks to Jonah wearing his guns right out in the open, Batman finds him first.  We get a great five-page tussle that ends with the two of them falling off a rooftop, but luckily HEX#12 opens on them working together to avoid becoming street pizza.  It’s not long afterward that Jonah discovers he’s been bamboozled, and Batman is not only kind enough to give him a lead on where the Combine might be holding Stiletta, he also lets Jonah keep his Rugers, so long as he gets the Hell outta New York once Hex finds his gal.

The rest of the issue is split between Batman’s investigation of the giant laser-wielding robots the Combine is donating to the city (the Combine’s ulterior motive being that they’ll use them to take over New York), and Jonah checking out the “cat club” (read: an illegal fighting ring) Batman directed him to.  Jonah immediately recognizes “The Blonde Spitfire” in the ring as Stiletta, but the bouncers at the door beat the snot out of him before he can even get close.  When he eventually comes to in the alley out back, the Combine already has the giant robots rampaging across the city, and for some inexplicable reason, Hex runs off to help Batman instead of trying to rescue Stiletta again.  They manage to destroy all three robots (again with the groups of three!), but dusting off the last one apparently costs Batman his life, as we never see him again after his plane crashes into the Hudson River.  In HEX#13, Jonah dares to jump into the river to try and save him, but can’t find Batman’s body, and is grabbed by a pair of sewer-dwelling, cannibalistic mutants before he can make it back to shore.   Now I don’t know about you, but I’d think taking a dip like that would be lethal for anyone -- remember, one mouthful of irradiated water is enough to kill a person -- so either Fleisher forgot about that stipulation or New York has managed to decontaminate the surrounding waters (the latter could explain why paper money is slowly coming back into use).  It doesn’t matter much in the long run, because Jonah manages to take out the CHUD wannabes and escapes through the sewer system, ranting along the way about how much he hates water (nice to see some things don’t change).

Meanwhile, “some three thousand miles to the west” (presumably the Seattle area), we discover that Stanley Harris is back in 2050, only now he’s teamed up with the Dogs of War, a bunch of other soldiers who’ve been plucked out of time, including a Viking, a demon-possessed ninja, and a Maori war chief who’s been transformed into a flying manta ray with deadly eye-beams:

We find out by the end of the issue that Harris and his new friends are rounding up gang members to be used as slave labor at the behest of some guy who looks an awful lot like the Watcher.  It’ll be a couple more issues before we get any real information on this pointy-eared fella, so for the moment, we’re just gonna ignore the fact that Jonah is being crowded out of his own book by a bunch of long-underwear types and concentrate on our favorite bounty hunter instead.  Jonah’s managed to track down the skunks who kidnapped Stiletta, but it turns out they sold her to some other “cat club”.  He finally locates her in HEX#14, but rescuing her isn’t as easy as he thought it’d be: Stiletta has not only been pumped full of mind-controlling drugs, they’re given her implants to boost her speed and agility, meaning she damn-near kills Jonah before he works up the nerve to beat the everlovin’ tar outta her.  She recovers both physically and mentally some time later, so Jonah takes her someplace where she can change out of her “Blonde Spitfire” outfit and they can get a bite to eat.  While ordering up some food, Jonah gets knocked for a loop when he overhears a guy talking about how he escaped from the work camp that the Dogs of War are dragging folks off to, and that he thinks the strange man in charge is actually a time-traveler!

We get another good shock with HEX#15, as Mark Texeira is no longer on art duties, and the legendary Keith Giffen has taken his place -- Carlos Garzon sticks around as inker, but Giffen’s style still comes through loud and clear -- it’s a jarring change to say the least, but we’ll just have to roll with it.  The issue opens with Hex telling Stiletta about what he’d overheard, and that he wants to investigate in case it’s true.  There’s a bit of a geographical anomaly here, as the work camp was supposed to be three thousand miles away from New York, so we can only presume that the “cat club” Stiletta had been sent to was closer to the West Coast, and the previous issue glossed over all the cross-country traveling Jonah had to do in order to find her (maybe we could pretend this is where that Escort to Hell RPG adventure fits in, since Stiletta’s not in the game and it appears to take place in the middle of nowhere).  To be sure, they are near Seattle once more, as the next scene shows Chain (last spotted in HEX#5) talking with some Conglomerate bigwigs about how he wants to get even with Hex.  They refuse to back him up, though, since Hex helped them out by getting rid of Borsten, and they now consider Chain to be washed up.  Chain kills a few of their goons to prove otherwise, then goes off to find Hex on his own.

Before we see that confrontation, however, we have to wade through  four dense pages of exposition from S’ven Tarah, our pointy-eared, time-traveling friend.  The short version is that he’s from a very distant future where Earth has been conquered by an H.R. Geiger-esque alien race called the Xxggs, who travel across space in generational ships and enslave any planet that crosses their path.  S’ven Tarah used a time machine to try and escape to a past era where he could find help -- knowing of the Legion of Super-Heroes, he aimed for the 30th Century, but Borsten’s time-meddling ensnared him somehow.  Trapped in 2050, he struck a deal with Borsten, assisting the despot while he secretly worked on a way to stop the Xxggs from this earlier timeframe.  After Borsten’s empire fell, S’ven Tarah was free to carry out his plans, which include endowing Harris and the other Dogs of War with superpowers, because why not?

Back on Jonah’s side of things, he and Stiletta are checking out the devastation caused by the Dogs of War as they picked up some more slaves for the work camp.  Hoping to find a clue as to where they’ve gone, Jonah and Stiletta split up, which is too bad, because Chain jumps him moments later and proceeds to beat him to a pulp.  Jonah manages to take him out by making Chain’s armor short out and explode -- we’ll presume Chain is dead this time, as we never see him again.  After passing out for a bit, Jonah eventually staggers off to find Stiletta, but before he can get far, that manta ray-lookin’ fella comes outta nowhere and zaps him good.  We find in HEX#16 that the Dogs of War have hauled Jonah off to be enslaved just like all the other folks they’ve picked up, and seeing as how Jonah already knows that he doesn’t like being a slave, it’s not long before he breaks out and tries to find the man in charge.  Meanwhile, Stiletta has her own problems: in addition to not knowing what happened to Jonah, she’s been having blackouts where she becomes rather destructive.  A doctor discerns that the blackouts are caused by the mind-control drugs still working their way out of her system, and he also discovers the strength-enhancing implants that’d been put in her -- after she thrashes some guys who try to rob the doc, Stiletta decides to keep the implants, then goes off in search of Jonah.  Back at the work camp, Jonah is still wandering about, taking out guards where he can, until he comes up against Starkad the Slayer, the Viking member of the Dogs of War, and they have a good tussle before Harris steps in to break things up.  Jonah is surprised by this turn of events, but not as surprised as Starkad, who exclaims, “By the yellow god!  Y-you mean you’re friends?!?”  S’ven Tarah’s reaction is about the same when Harris takes Jonah to meet him at the beginning of HEX#17:

Stiletta shows up not long after, as do a trio of Xxggs, who traced S’ven Tarah’s chronal trail back to 2050 (more bad guys coming in threes!).  As the Xxggs begin to tear the place apart, S’ven Tarah sends his Dogs of War to guard the spaceship his labor force has been building.  His long-term plan involves intercepting the Xxgg mothership centuries before it reaches Earth and using a “nucleotide injector” to alter the Xxgg species genetic makeup, thereby making it easier for the Earth forces in the far future to defeat them (the invasion can’t be stopped outright before it happens since it’s already a part of history, albeit hundreds of years from now).  Don’t worry if you don’t understand the plan, because neither does Jonah -- “Ah’m only a poor country boy, Harris,” he says as his friend tries to explain it to him -- yet he’s still willing to help out.  Since the Xxggs appear to be almost indestructible and all five of the Dogs of War are needed to operate the spacecraft, he and Stiletta cook up a distraction so the boys can lift off.  Right before they implement their plan (and after Jonah gets his hands on a long duster-style coat -- his “Road Reapers” jacket was destroyed last issue), Stiletta says that he may have bitten of more than he can chew this time, which prompts Jonah to ask, “You tryin’ to say you love me, sugar?”

“Love you?!?” she replies in disbelief, thereby putting the kibosh on any notion that she’s ever harbored romantic feelings towards him (though I’m fairly certain she just broke Jonah’s heart right there).  Such things don’t matter when you’re trying to save the world, however, and the plan moves forward, with Hex and Stiletta tricking the Xxggs into following them down a tunnel adjacent to where the spaceship’s exhaust ports are located.  The duo slips away just as the engines fire up, and the Xxggs get obliterated in a page sequence that takes advantage of Giffen’s unique sense of design:

With the spaceship containing Harris and the Dogs of War safely underway and all the prisoners released (they were used as cannon fodder for the Xxggs, I’m sorry to say), the only ones left in the facility are Jonah, Stiletta, and S’ven Tarah, who tells them that he is about to depart back to his own era -- he knows the Xxggs will never stop hunting for him, so he’s going to erase his memories about what he’s done in 2050 to keep the Xxggs from learning about his plan once he arrives home.  “By the time they interrogate me, I will have nothing to confess to them,” he says.  He then thanks Jonah for his assistance, but the bounty hunter doesn’t care about being thanked, all he wants is to go home himself, which leads to the reader having to watch as Jonah Hex practically begs S’ven Tarah to send him back to 1875.  He’s not falling to his knees or sobbing or anything like that, but the fact that he says “Please” -- one word, hanging all by itself in a single sentence -- when the man has rarely said that regarding anything in his entire life makes you realize just how worn down and desperate Jonah must be getting after all these issues.  When S’ven Tarah tells him that his time-travel device only has enough energy left for one trip -- and he uses it before Jonah can convince him otherwise -- we can only speculate on how crestfallen the bounty hunter must feel as he silently stares up at the night sky, trying to see the spaceship amongst the stars.

It’s after this final scene that the reader discovers HEX will be coming to an end next issue.  Despite good numbers at the outset, the title just couldn’t find a large enough audience in the direct market to save it from cancellation.  Looking back, the biggest problem with HEX may have been that Michael Fleisher’s reach exceeded his grasp: as he noted in an interview with Dwayne Hendrickson in 2009, Fleisher wasn’t well-versed in science-fiction, and when Mike Browning spoke with him for Back Issue #42 (August 2010), Fleisher said that, despite the work he’d done on the Spectre and Ghost Rider, he “always felt awkward with superheroes”.  Considering the lion’s share of the tales in HEX revolved around either sci-fi concepts or superpowered beings, it’s almost as if Fleisher was setting himself up to fail by tossing Jonah into these large-scale, world-threatening situations where the bounty hunter just got lost in the shuffle.  The best tales in HEX were smaller in scale, like what we see in HEX#18 (February 1987), which revolves mainly around Jonah dealing out bloody vengeance one skunk at a time.  Titled “Thanksgiving”, the story begins with Jonah and Stiletta riding out to visit some friends of hers for the holiday.  From out of nowhere, a gunshot rings out, plugging Jonah in the gut and causing him to crash their cycle -- they manage to scramble to cover, but Jonah is in too bad of shape to make a run for it, so he sends Stiletta off to find help.  What follows is reminiscent of Jonah Hex #46 six years earlier, as Jonah takes out the nine-man gang by any means possible while trying not to bleed to death.  And just to make this even more like Old Home Week, the issue is interspersed with some classic Fleisher flashbacks, showing us Giffen’s renditions of Jonah’s childhood as previously seen in Jonah Hex #51 (young Jonah in a boxing match versus “The Killer Kid”) and the Super-Star Holiday Special (the incident with the raccoon, which is now established to have taken place on Thanksgiving).  It’s a sad sort of irony that Jonah’s hallucinating about his old life in the 1800s just as the series chronicling his new life in 2050 is coming to a close, and it becomes even sadder when he finally collapses, silently asking God to not let him die in this hellish place:

Despite being at death’s door, Jonah manages to bump off a couple more guys before Stiletta and her friends ride in like the cavalry.  Lucky for him, one of her friends, Vance, has medical training, and fixes Hex up right good once they get him back to the warehouse they live in.  He’s still not in the best shape, and is confined to a motorized wheelchair as he explores the place that he’ll be recuperating in.  It runs out that Marya, Vance’s wife, likes to collect vintage amusement park pieces like carousel horses, games, bumper cars, and a certain something we haven’t seen since the Jonah Hex Spectacular nearly a decade ago:

What must it been like for Jonah, to have come so close to dying earlier that day, then finding this thing covered in dust inside a ramshackle warehouse later on?  The only comment we get from him on the subject is “Ah guess it means Ah’ll be goin’ back home one day...after all.”  At the moment, I suppose that’s all the comment he can muster, and since the issue ends right there, we’re deprived of any follow-up, as well as any clue as to how Jonah actually gets home.  Just as Bob Greenberger said, the previous existence of that stuffed and mounted corpse in DC history guaranteed that, should HEX fail as a series, the man would indeed be returned to the Old West at some point, but to divulge the information to Jonah like this is both a blessing and a curse.  He has to look upon Death itself, the companion that follows him wherever he goes, now sheathed in his own skin and brandishing his Dragoons (last seen in Jonah Hex #83, right before he chucked them into a lake...did he somehow recover them once he returned to the past?), but offering Jonah no information beyond its own presence.  It cannot tell him of Tall Bird, the final love of his life; Michael Wheeler, the professor who wished to write the bounty hunter’s biography; George Barrow, the criminal fated to kill him; or Lew Farnham, the showman responsible for Jonah’s body ending up in that state.  All Hex can take away from this is that he will die in the past, not the future, and that he will be an old man when it happens.

And with that grim epilogue, the fifteen-year saga of Jonah Hex came to a least as far as his self-titled book was concerned.  Jonah Hex the character would live on, trapped not only in 2050, but in the same limbo occupied by hundreds of DC characters deprived of regularly-scheduled appearances.  But as we all know, Jonah doesn’t take kindly to being imprisoned, so there’ll be a few escape attempts, some of them aided and abetted by old friends who will help ensure his place in the past, present, and future of the DCU, because nothing can ever truly kill this ol’ saddle-bum.


  1. Ya know what? You almost make me appreciate Giffen's artwork.


    Another stellar job of giving us the History of Hex. Looking forward to your take on the Vertigo stuff.

    1. I'll admit, this was a tough slog near the end. I had to quit for a day or two because I just couldn't stand looking at it anymore. Not just the Giffen art, mind you, but the overblown story with page after page of dense exposition that had only a thimbleful to do with Jonah Hex. It was sad when I realized that, once you skipped over all the non-Hex portions, HEX#15-17 could be condensed into a few paragraphs.

      The Vertigo stuff won't be as hard for me (I do like parts of it), but I'm not ready to tackle it just yet. Next part will a kind of decompression, covering the six-year gap between the two eras.