With the news last week of the imminent cancellation of Jonah Hex this August, I find myself reflecting on what was, is, and could be. I am disappointed the title is ending. There is an inherent bitterness in Jonah Hex's world and he carries it with him much more prominently than the scars on his face....and much more ugly than that horrible movie with Josh Brolin.
What I argue here is that there exists the potential to make an AMAZING JONAH HEX MOVIE, if only DC looked right under there nose.
Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti's Jonah Hex (top row, 4th book in from the left) was everything a good classic western is supposed to be. Most issues were stand alone, but there was definitely an element of old Saturday matinee serials present in some issues. It had rough living and rough language, accents were embraced and the writing reflected it. Story lines were tight, dialogue spot on, and the pages hosted the lines of some of contemporary comics best artists. I want to share my collection with you, my awe, and my disgust.
All of the issues below are in my collection. I've caught myself staring at them often. The more I look, the more I enjoy them, the more I appreciate them. I often feel transported some place else while gazing at them...and I hope you do too.
To understand what Hex could be, we have to understand who he is first.
|This guy is so afraid of Jonah Hex he doesn't realize his testicles are on fire.|
This is Weird Western Tales #13 September 1972. Hex's first ever appearance is WWT #10, July,---but I don't own that book so you get this. Written by John Albano, illustrated by Tony DeZuniga. DeZuniga is responsible for these first images Hex. He came up with the scar. There are excellent write ups here...and here on his inspiration for the character, how he developed the western anti-hero. DeZuniga says straight away the spaghetti westerns were popular and had a direct influence on the concept.
Albano even wanted him to look more like Clint Eastwood, DeZuniga wasn't so crazy about that. The scar was the compromise ...and it worked.
Poor Josh Brolin, he was the best and only thing good about that movie. From the horse mounted double gatling guns to his scar origin to the talking to friggin' dead people, c'mon! and Megan Fox's portrayal of Tallulah "Lilah" Black. She needed to be harder...Michelle Rodriguez would have worked. Summer Glau does the vulnerable killer very well...Rosario Dawson, Erica Cerra, Anna Paquin, Katie Sackoff. More Jodie Foster and less...well...Megan Fox. Dammit, Natalie Portman could have done a better job. You see where this is going.
I don't think there is a comic book fan alive that doesn't realize the movie adaptation of their favorite-fill-in-the-blank hero is not going to get it completely right. It is the collaborative nature of movie making that makes it special...and can completely shred a concept to shit.
When I found this issue in my uncle's old collection I got really excited. Then I found almost the first full run. Most were moldy, but I salvaged what I could. Jonah Hex debuted as a character in 1972, but didn't get his own title until Jonah Hex #1 was published in 1977. Spaghetti Westerns were all the rage and DeZuniga and Albano knew it.
I love this cover. The hero is in peril before you even turn a page.
The perspective is great too.
Let's start with Hex's origin, his original-origin. Hex's father was a physically abusive alcoholic who in 1851 sold Jonah to a tribe of Apache when he was 13.
Noh-Tante tricks Jonah into the territory of their tribe's enemy, the Kiowa. They are ambushed by a party of Kiowa and Noh-Tante leaves Jonah for dead.
|Jonah's first villain was a Mexican bandit leader...go figure.|
In 1861 Jonah joins the U.S. Army and becomes a Calvary scout. The Civil War breaks out soon after that and Jonah goes home to defend his land.
In Sept. 1862 President Abraham Lincoln signs the Emancipation Proclamation. Hex feels he can no longer accept the Confederacy because it condones human bondage (having himself been a slave to the Apache). He doesn't want to fight his fellow country men so decides to go home and wait out the end of the war.
Hex surrenders at the nearest Union post. They track his path back to the Confederate camp. They arrest the rebels and throw them in a military prison camp. Hex and the other southerners escape, in a convoluted manipulation by the camp Captain.
The Union soldiers slaughter the escapees. The escape attempt becomes known as "The Fort Charlotte Massacre." There really wasn't any Fort Charlotte massacre. There was a siege during the revolutionary war at a place called Fort Charlotte, but it wasn't a prison camp.
Hex gets out alive, wanders awhile, then goes back to the Apache in 1866. Noh-Tante has married White Fawn.
Hex tells everyone of Noh-Tante's attempted murder of Jonah by leaving him in Kiowa territory. There is a trial by combat (seen left).
Noh-Tante rigs Jonah's tomahawk to fail, so Jonah uses his knife to kill Noh-Tante. This breaks Apache law.
Jonah's punishment for that "THUK!" (far left) is the Mark of the Demon.
See in the movie John Malkovich gives Josh Brolin the mark because he thinks Josh let his son, Jeb Turnbull die. Jeb Turnbull died in the Ft. Charlotte Massacre in the comic. Okay could be good motivation. But why try to fix what isn't broken? I will concede, Jonah Hex volume 2 #13, a retelling of Hex's scar has a Union officer give it to him...and I didn't question it at all.
All the actors in the Jonah Hex movie are good, some even great actors. Josh Brolin, John Malkovich, Michael Fassbender, Will Arnet, Tom Wopat, Lance Reddick, Wes Bentley, Aidan Quinn.
Jonah Hex could have been a good movie. But Warner Brothers went about it all wrong. They ignored the quality source material that draws people to the character....and I'd argue they did the same thing with Green Lantern and Catwoman.
DC/TimeWarner figured out a way to take people who were great in other things and make them completely terrible together.
So how do you make a good Jonah Hex movie?
2. Draw on source material. Jonah Hex's life is a dark, dark world maybe-sometimes punctuated with nice moments, but they are rare.
3. Make a contemporary adult western with a hard "R" rating. No less than PG13, but I'd argue Jonah Hex's world is no place for children. Make a statement. The money will follow. Jonah Hex could be an awesome neo-spahgetti western if produced the right way.
This is WB's missed opportunity. They should have seen the draw and made it a modern The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly...or Pale Rider, or any of the movies listed above. Less Underworld...and more Wild Bunch.
Can you imagine a Jonah Hex-ed version of Hang'em High?
Let the cinematography and the actors breathe. The sweeping plains, the painted sunsets. Such a huge, huge missed opportunity.
I look at this cover by Darwyn Cooke and think about what could have been.
The heart shaped hole in his shirt is perfect.
|Nothing stops an ELECTRIC WARRIOR!...yeah that's what your mom says too.|
I salvaged this is from my uncle's collection too. After Crisis on Infinite Earths (1985) Jonah Hex is thrown into the 21st century and becomes a post-apocalyptic hero ala Mad Max.
It's just hilarious.
Jonah Hex vol. 1 came to end in Crisis on Infinite Earths. The series was canceled. This was a limited series to give the title one more shot at being a monthly (my opinion).
I love seeing Mark Texeira's work at this early stage. He's got over thirty years of experience now, and his art is really great then.
In 1985 the future is totally okay with a chick and a python dancing at the club...although where you go now it is always a possibility. If you notice, in the middle and to the right--the mullet has obviously evolved into some sort of prehensile super-mullet. Let me say that again so it sinks in: PREHENSILE SUPER MULLET. Dancing with streamers also seems to be popular. Noteworthy: There are two topless chicks in this illustration. One is center, way in the background, she's leaning forward into her dancing partner. The other is top left, background, kind of coming out of dancing girl in forefront's shoulder. Both girls have visible red bikini bottoms, no tops. Bonus.
In the future Jonah drives a 5-wheel chopper.
The chopper on closer inspection looks like more of a scooter...or a Hovaround.
I really like the use of sound effect text on this page.
This is just great, do you see that? Jonah shoots this guy's leg off.....and he gets up. This freaks Jonah out. Not the python girl with the PREHENSILE SUPER MULLET or the streamer dancing or his chop-around...the cyborg guy freaks Jonah out.
This is the issue that started it all for me. I got Jimmy Palmiotti to sign it at Wondercon in April 2006. I had bought just a couple months prior. The Frank Quitely cover grabbed me and I had real hankerin' for a good western. In January of 2006 I was anticipating the last season of Deadwood. I was knee deep in blood and the F-word. I craved a good western and had a new standard to refer to.
Around the same time I was picking up Gray/Palmiotti's Hex, I was also purchasing Azarello's Loveless and Cassaday's Lone Ranger. Lone Ranger was drawn better than Love Less, but Jonah Hex was the far better overall comic of the three in my opinion.
Frank Quitely's Hex is a grizzled, scarred mess. This is one of favorite covers. Truly a scary individual. Imagine seeing this guy as you ride your horse in the middle of the night and the only other person you see on the trail for hours, is this guy.
The cover is by Howard Chaykin. I have mixed feeling about Chaykin. I like his writing very much, but not his art. They all look like they have really fat heads. Jonah looks part shark here, his scar has mutated into gills. I mean no disrespect to Mr. Chaykin. This is my opinion, that is all. I can't draw to save my life and I am awed by his talent and career. But it is not my thing. It is only my aesthetic preference.
The color is wonderful. Very vibrant. Michelle Madsen did the colors. When I looked her up I saw that she has done TONS of stuff...a lot of books that I had and didn't realize were her's. Lots of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
I can't imagine this being a very easy pose to capture. A man riding horseback twisting around and shooting at someone or something behind him...and kudos to Chaykin for not just drawing a picture of Clint Eastwood and doing something original. I would like to add, Mr. Chaykin is an incredibly talented man, and extraordinarily gracious. I have a handful of his titles autographed. Every con I've seen him at he is delightful and friendly. He truly enjoys talking with his fans.
I got Tim Bradstreet to sign this copy of JH #5 at the Big Wow Convention in San Jose 2013.
His details are great.
Close up it reminds me a little of Eduardo Risso's art in 100 Bullets. Not the same, but just as impressive. This looks like much younger Jonah Hex than we usually see. I don't see the same middle-aged man I usually do ...late twenties, early thirties maybe?
Jonah Hex volume 2, #9, September 2006. Tony Dezuniga comes back and draws the character he helped create once again. He was 74 years old when he drew this. He died six years later in 2012.
I love being able to see how characters change over time, but I enjoy watching artists change even more. This is from a page of Weird Western Tales #13. Seeing DeZuniga's art here in 1977, when he was 45 years old....
...and then again here, 30 years later...it makes me feel lucky to be reading comics here and now, in this place in time.
Jonah Hex volume 2 #10 October 2006. DC had a lot of talented artists work on this book over the entire series. That's rare, you don't see such a great rotation of artists on any title.
Phil Noto's work is just beautiful. The softness of the image, the colors, the struggle depicted, great stuff.
I like the blood and teeth a lot.
It's very impressionistic. The lines are soft, the colors blend. The water is just wonderful.
Noto's interiors are always pretty too.
The eyes are great. The right carries pain. The left is the result of pain, permanently frozen in agony at the moment the Mark of the Demon was given to him.
The scar loses some definition, but you get it, you see the permanent snarl.
Meet Tallulah Black (also Noto's).
When she was a teenager men came to force her family to sell their land her father said no. The men killed her entire family, shot her in the eye, and left her for dead.
A YEAR later when she was working as a prostitute, one of the men sees her and realizes who she is, rapes her and slashes her up all over her face and body...and leaves her for dead again.
This image is supposed to be around the time she has become a bounty hunter. Hex trains her so she can get revenge on the men who killed her family, raped her, scarred her, and left her for dead.
This is who Megan Fox could have been, should have been.