Tales from the Long Box Vol. 3 # 1: JP Revisits Hex # 1

Every week this summer, we’ll be bringing you a new installment of a 12-part series of reviews of meaningful comics found in the collections of our writers. “Long Box” refers to the lengthy, white cardboard boxes most comics find themselves stored within – bagged, alphabetized and numerically ordered.

These reviews, then, are the tales of those collections: illuminating characters, artists, writers – even eras – in addition to the personalities of the very owners of those fine collections.

Hex # 1
Writer: Michael Fleisher
Artist: Mark Texeira
DC Comics

Jonah. Hex.

The name of the scar-faced western gunslinger from DC Comics; a ruthless bounty hunter dressed in Confederate soldier garb, a man as likely to shoot a hole through the head of a cheating poker player as he is to rescue an orphanage from a corrupt clergyman.

Jonah. Hex.

A hard-drinking rogue feared by most and hated by more; a scoundrel whose only faith is found in the righteous currency that only gold provides, whose only spiritual solace is found in the company of a pitiful woman.

Jonah. Hex.

The man, they tell us, who has two companions: death itself and the acrid smell of gun smoke.

These days, Jonah Hex is a name that even non comic book fans recognize. And that’s an unfortunate thing. It feels strange for me to say that but Hex has a strange history. Firstly, let me say that I love the character and have for a long time. Jonah Woodson Hex first appeared in the pages of DC’s All-Star Western #10, back in 1972, created by writer John Albano and artist Tony DeZuniga. He was based, partially, on Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name series of western films and has gone on to inspire, in many ways, characters like Marvel’s The Punisher. The western outlaw hero was always a more fully-formed character, however. Of course, he had his own, relaxed moral code when it came to right and wrong, good and bad but he was also a conflicted character. Inner demons drove the rogue, a well-planned back story of child abuse and hardship continually pushed him. Ultimately, Hex was a man who fought others – and sometimes himself – to do good in the world. And, most importantly, he was a fan favorite.

Today, if you know the character’s name and you’re not a hard-core comic book fan or collector, you know it because of a the v-e-r-y poorly reviewed film, released last week, staring Josh Brolin, Megan Fox and John Malkovich. And that’s what’s unfortunate.

In the Jonah Hex movie, the writers, producers and director have added some very, shall we say, Hollywood nuances to the character: he can speak with the dead; he carries a mechanized gaiting gun on his horse – all things that steer away from the heart of who Jonah Hex was in the comics. Sort of. (More on that in a bit.) If there’s anything we have learned over the past twenty years it’s that when adapting comics to the silver screen, success means staying true to the heart of the character. This film hasn’t really done that, hence box office and critical failure.

All Star Western only lasted until issue #12 when it was renamed Weird Western Tales. Hex would star in the series for another two years before jumping into his own, self-titled monthly in 1977. The nineteenth century, western range, gun-toting exploits of the scoundrel would last for 92 issues – quite a successful run. And then a strange thing happened. In the summer of 1985, Hex found himself in the first issue of a new monthly series, simply titled Hex. The bizarre thing was that Jonah found himself waking up from a hangover (nothing new for the character) except that he had been transported into the late twenty-first century! The post-apocalyptic, Mad Max-styled series would see Hex trade in his six-shooter for laser guns, his horse for crazy, gravity-defying “motor-cycles,” and Wyoming dust storms for acid rain thunder storms! Very, very odd indeed.

The future-based Hex would go on to meet superhero characters from the Legion of Superheroes as well as a late twenty-first century Batman. Although it’s deemed a bit of a cult hit these days, the series would last just over two years and whimper out with eighteen issues.

And then another strange thing happened.

Six years later, in 1993, the character of Jonah Hex was moved from DC Comics proper over to their mature comics imprint, Vertigo Comics, the home of such fantastical titles as Neil Gaiman’s Sandman and Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles. Joe R. Lansdale, acclaimed horror novelist was enlisted to bring Hex back to his nineteenth century roots – only now with an edgier slant. Teamed with acclaimed and rising indie artist, Timothy Truman, in three entertaining mini-series titled, Two-Gun Mojo, Riders of the Worm and Such and Shadows West, the anti-hero faced zombies, cthutulu-styled monsters and strange spirits. And then he rode into the sunset. Again.

Jonah Hex did make the odd appearance during this time period. He found himself in an episode of the cartoon series Batman as well as Justice League Unlimited and The Brave and the Bold, not to mention cameos in various comic books in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s.

In 2005, writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray launched a new Jonah Hex monthly series to much critical acclaim, returning the character to both his western gun-slinging roots and to DC Comics proper. Five years later, the series is still going strong with the entire run being collected in various trade paperbacks. With the launch of the film, DC Comics has released Jonah Hex’s first stand alone hardcover graphic novel No Way Back, also written by Palmiotti and Gray and teamed with original Hex co-creator, the legendary artist Tony DeZuniga. The story delves even deeper into Jonah’s back story and introduces audiences to his half-brother, a sheriff-preacher in the small mid western town of Heaven’s Gate, under siege by Hex’s arch villain, El Papagayo. Late July sees the DVD release of the new Batman animated film, Batman: Under the Red Hood, in a standalone short feature.

Despite the woeful film, the future for DC’s great western rogue looks bright in comics and, it would seem, that the “acrid smell of gun smoke” will continue to follow Jonah Hex throughout the twenty-first century.

Which is a much better scent than the acrid smell of box-office death, wouldn’t you say?

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