Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Many (Scarred) Faces of Jonah Hex

I LOVE a good western.

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.

The Apache treated him fairly but worked him constantly, he was their slave.  One day he saves the Chief from a large Puma and the Chief adopts Jonah as his son.  It is 1853.  The Chief's real son, Noh-Tante is jealous of his father's attention on Jonah.  Jonah also has a thing for Noh-Tante's girl (White Fawn) who kind of has a thing for Jonah too.

 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.  

The U.S. Calvary run into Hex incidentally while slaughtering the Kiowa.  They shoot Jonah in the gut when he tries to stop them.  It is 1854, Jonah is 16 years old.

 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.

His Apache family give him the scar. Jonah becomes a bounty hunter shortly there after.

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?                                                                                     
1.  Make it a good western.  Some times people forget what a good western can be.  I often try to remember and make a list in my head of the westerns that really had an impact on me. The Searchers, The Wild Bunch, The Magnificent Seven, Shane, The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, Fist full of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, Hang'em High, High Plains Drifter, The Outlaw Josey Wales, Pale Rider, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, Little Big Man, Once Upon a Time in the West, BLAZING SADDLES, Tombstone, Silverado, Unforgiven, Deadwood, True Grit (Cohen brothers).  Read Cormac McCarthy's Border Trilogy.  Let me know when you get to Blood Meridian.

 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.

This is Jonah Hex Volume 2, #4 April 2006.

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 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.


Bill Sienkiewicz.  Autographed at Big Wow in San Jose.

He's just an amazing talent.  I never get tired of looking at his stuff. I was fortunate to live in the SF bay area during a time when he attended conventions there frequently.
I have Batman: The Widening Gyre #1 2009, The Shadow #1 1987, and The New Mutants #18 1993 all autographed by him at different times.

Also: Outlaw Josey Wales...completely.

Jonah Hex volume 2 #31 July 2008.

Richard Corben.
Looking at Corben's stuff makes me think he is a big influence on Chaykin.  Same fat head, but Corben's got better detail.

Richard Corben was 68 years old when he did this.

We'll see what you're doing when you're 68.

Jonah Hex volume 2 #33 September 2008, cover by Darwyn Cooke.  Pale Rider...High Plains Drifter...

It's even layed out like a western movie.

 The paneling is wide and expansive, the action shots, the close up, the gun shot.

Maybe they could get Darwyn Cooke to direct a Jonah Hex movie.  Palmiotti and Gray write the script.  Did they not even consider in-house?

Also this...



Jonah Hex volume 2, #35 November 2008...

And another girl and python...symbology folks.  But seriously, women ARE NOT snakes kids, they're wonderful, beautiful, delicate and graceful creatures full of beauty and and all encompassing tingly warmth all over.  But they'll steal your breath if you let be careful!


This is why J.H. Williams III is just amazing.  I could look at this all day.

Definitely Eastwood influenced.

The scarring around the cheek and eye, the way the cheek is melted into a permanent scowl.
The hair too.  Hex's eye almost looks like the Eye of Ra.

Look at the snake's head, the hair on Hex's chin, the scarring of the flesh...and the boobies too.
J.H. William III's interior art, Jonah Hex #35.

If I remember correctly, and there is no guarantee I do, this issue came out around the same time the movie did.  The cover might be Megan Fox inspired.  The lines are great, love the pin-up...there is a distinctive difference in the figures image texture, she is clean and smooth, he is dirty and rough.  She's a pre-slashed...Tallulah Black...or just another prostitute?

You know who did a good job of portraying sex workers in the old west was Deadwood.  I don't think they glamored it up at all.  I want to see Hex with older, dirty, missing tooth, looking haggard kinda women...everyone is damaged goods.

This girl isn't damaged enough for me.

The actress who'd portray Tallulah Black would have to be able to pull off a Charlize Theron kind-of Aileen Wuornos roughness. Yeah okay, not the easiest thing to do in the world.  But we should all aspire to greater things. 

Not Clint Eastwood.

Jonah Hex volume 2, #62 February 2011.
I love this cover.  I got Risso to autograph it at Big WOW 2013. Where's the story behind this picture?  That's a good movie.  Probably a better TV show if you get down to it.  The source material already lends itself to episodic treatment, why fight it.

His autograph (far left) looks just like his cover signature.  My wife told him it looked Japanese, he liked that, I got the impression that was part inspiration for it.

Hex and the circus family portrait.  Genius. I really love it, more importantly,  I believe it. 

Eduardo Risso interior art.

He gets it.

This is how a western starts.  Notice: no double Gatling gunned horse.

Jonah Hex volume 2, #66 June 2011.  Fiona Staples autographed this at the first Image con.  She was there with Brian K. Vaughn promoting Saga.

When I saw the word "Saga" at the booth, I kept mispronouncing it, saying"sega." and I think it annoyed BKV....I was a little high... I realized it, then I couldn't stop myself from saying it over and over...and I said it to Fiona Staples too. 

They looked at me all crazy.

It was fun.

Fiona Staples interior art.

She also gets it.

Notice: No talking to dead people.

But dead people are definitely involved.

I really like the color here.

Screaming danger.

Look out Jonah that btich is gonna cut you!

Also not Clint clarify, I think that's a good thing, it shows a drive toward originality...and that's no disrespect to Tony DeZuniga or the origin of Hex.  Part of what makes comics truly sublime experience is the chance to see the same character interpreted by many different artists and writers.  I like to see the transitions and variations on a theme, the change in lens.  It's how it becomes art for me.  

I follow Jeff Lemire's work closely.

The vulture is perfect.

I enjoyed Sweet Tooth much more than I initially thought I would.  I ended up sticking with every issue right up to the end.

Now that's an eff-ed up Jonah Hex.  So good.  Thank you Mr. Lemire.

I see Jeff Lemire as part of this post-millennial comics resurgence.  I think, as do many others, that we are living in a new creator-owned golden age for comics.  There is so much good work going on out there.  

Lemire's interior art.

Jonah is confronting his father that sold him to the Apache, as his father dies.

This is why I love comics.
Last issue of Jonah Hex volume 2.  70 consistently drawn and written issues that never failed to entertain.  I have very few full runs of any titles. Over the course of collecting comics for the last 25 years, I have found I get more enjoyment by following specific artists and writers than titles.  I have grown to appreciate quality over quantity first and foremost.

This is right before the New 52.
I feel I need to say this: getting people to buy issues solely based on early issues numbering only produces a temporary spike in sales.  It has never sustained any successful monthly title, ever.  The work will always speak for itself.  People will support it or they won't, but by creating a situation where you know beforehand it will only be a temporary bandage as money is hemorrhaging, you should be fired.  It's so insanely desperate. I believe all the artists and writers at DC are incredibly talented and creative people.  I believe they are not being allowed to express that fully, by what I can only guess is a army of middle management editors and creative VPs. Maybe I'm wrong, but someone in the chain is fucking things up man.

Ryan Sook is awesome though.  Hex has a crazy death dream with this little girl in it...I got the impression she was Hex and Tallulah's daughter.  It was great way to mark an ending to an awesome volume of issues.
In the volume one histories, this is when Hex dies.

Jonah is gunned down and killed by George Barrow. Jonah was sitting playing cards in a local establishment. As he took off his glasses to clean them, George Barrow stormed into the establishment and shot Jonah in the chest with both barrels of a shotgun. Barrow was then confronted by the local law. Barrow dropped his weapon and surrendered but the local sheriff killed Barrow (In cold blood, Jonah Hex Spectacular).

It's the offspring of Turnbull this time, here in volume two.

As Jonah lies near death he has a dream guided by Turnbull through his life, and realizes he has to go after the Barrow brothers, so he lives, rides off, broken, into the sunset...and we never see him die.

He reappears in Steampunk Gotham, many a comic nerd's wet dream for a long time...(see Mignola's Gotham by Gaslight) and just when you think DC is killing one of its best franchises, SURPRISE! DC didn't fuck it up.  Gray and Palmiotti stayed on.  Moritat and Ladronn left Elephantmen though, effectively killing that comic for me as monthly buy.

The timeline gets pushed back to sometime after issue #69 of Jonah Hex but before #70 (1904).   Hex is paired up with professional psychologist and Arkham Asylum architect Amadeus Arkham. 

This is a ripple from the DC title-wide cross over Flashpoint event...and it totally works.

I think Gray and Palmiotti churned out 70 great issues of Jonah Hex, and did not waver in this transition.

Moritat is pretty awesome too.
He drew a picture of Hip-Flask with a poncho spaghetti-cowboy style for me at Wonder Con 2007.  It is framed on my wall.

Steampunk Gotham that never gets corny.  Good job guys.  And thank you for your hard work.  I am sorry it is ending.  But I am not sad.  I think when these things happen, good books being canceled, all of the creators involved scatter out to other things, like a creative super nova, shooting out the raw artistic energy of these people back into the universe to make up other things.  I am extremely excited for the next thing all of these people are involved in.

All Star Western volume 3, #5.
Jose Ladronn draws Hex and Arkham in the Bat Cave in the 19th century. I have some other stuff of Jose Ladronn's, lots of Elephantmen covers.

See again: Not Clint Eastwood.

Jonah Hex volume 3, #33, December 2012, cover by Ariel Olveitti.  I love the softness of the colors here.

There is so much detail.

I really liked his work on Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight. 

Thank you Mr. Olivetti.

Hex fighting the murder clown tickles something deep down in me.

The fucking Arrow ad at the top doesn't, but that shouldn't be a surprise either.

Jonah Hex volume 3, #24 December 2013.  Booster Gold ends up in the old west and becomes a sheriff.  He and Hex cross paths, Hex ends up in the future.  It ties into another DC cross title event.  I don't care.  And I'm going to say it, the Superman/Wonder Woman relationship in The Dark Knight Returns is more romantic than what is going on right now.

 Part of what makes the Jonah Hex so good is the cover left.  Hex at a modern day gun store...looking like a kid staring in a department store window at Christmas time, so full of awe and wonder...the proverbial "kid in the candy store." I love it.

I don't think anybody saw this coming.

Palmiotti teased in an earlier interview something big was going to happen in #28, and it did.

Still in the present, there's an accident, EMTs take Jonah to the hospital, the doctors think he's all screwed up from the accident, so they do a bunch reconstructive surgery on him.  

The reveal is priceless.

It is done with such a touch of humor and's wonderful.  This is what happens when you have two wonderful writers and give them a character for 100 issues to develop. 

...and this takes me back to what we were talking about earlier...Clint Eastwood.

Jonah Hex volume 3 #29 March 2014, cover by Darwyn Cooke. Clint Eastwood and Betty Page getting tossed around Time.

I love the color, their expressions, the random things floating around them.  It looks like a time tornado ala Wizard of Oz.

Look at this.

Now look at this.

Everybody working on the books, ever, saw this connection, but the movie people who needed too didn't.

I made a whole list of things wrong with the Jonah Hex movie while I was watching it:
"terrorista" (dialog) seriously? Gatling gunned horse, not-Talulah Black, dynamite cross bows---which sound great in concept, but in execution...not so much. The heavy metal/modern hard rock soundtrack...oh my god!  Banjos motherfucker! Fiddles! It reminded me of Ladyhawke, do you remember that movie?  The soundtrack was completely electro-synth...and the visuals were medieval England...fcukityfcukfuck.  I wanted to punch the TV.  But Rutger Hauer was a badass.

Let's see what else...oh the medicine montage---crap.  If you're going to do it, do some real research, Carlos Castaneda/Terence McKenna kind of research.

...and the stupid fire punch.

That's it.  I'm done.  Thanks for reading this, it's a rant at times, for that I apologize.  I am truly saddened All Star Western is ending...again...but I'm excited to see what all those people who were responsible for Hex do now, and I'm excited to see who will work with the character next.  Characters that sell books don't go away in comics...they just go away for a little while and come back.

Justice League America volume 1, #159 October 1978, also from uncle's collection.  This is a great issue of JLA.

Hex being thrown through time is a popular trope DC has used in the past with him, and every other hero, ever.  I love this issue.

Mainly because of this super freak.

Epoch, Lord of Time.

At least I know Jonah Hex won't sexually assault me...this guy I'm not too sure of.  What a variety of DC writers do from time to a time travel story, it resurfaces regularly in story lines across titles, to the point now where multiverses are a regular part of the vernacular.  A lot of early comic book writers were influenced by early science fiction authors...Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, Twain (see Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court), as well as early 20th century pulps they read as children. 

I will talk more about Epoch next time.

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