Saturday, June 26, 2010

My Top Ten Favorite Jonah Hex Stories

10. Hex #18

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"Thanksgiving"

Thanksgiving is the final issue of a follow up series to the original Jonah Hex title that started in 1985 following the events of the DC Maxi-Series Crisis On Infinite Earths. This took Jonah out of his previously established setting and flung him into a dystopian Mad Max type future complete with acid rain and Motor Bike gangs made popular in comics with the manga Fist of The Northstar or the Cursed Earth from Judge Dredd. While some dislike the abrupt change of setting for the character, I myself am a sucker for science fiction even when it goes off the beaten path. Also the series was still being penned by long-time Jonah Hex writer Micheal Fleisher, who while not the creator of Jonah Hex, wrote the majority of Jonah Hex stories after his creation in the early 70's. The first dozen or so issues sported the early art of Mark Texeria who is best known for his work on the Marvel Comic Ghost Rider. The pencils in Thanksgiving are those of Keith Giffen who was just starting a new art style with blacks and shadows that is almost cubist in nature.

The art style and setting was also revisited in a fairly humorous manner in Justice League Europe Annual #2, where one possible future for team member Metamorpho that the all-seeing Waverider discovers is a witty exchange with Hex.

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What is great about the final issue of Hex is that while the premise of time travel to the far future and back is usually apt to give most people splitting headaches, Fleisher does not ignore the big pink elephant in the room. In fact he has Hex stare it straight down in the face. Of course the Hex series was conceived long after Fleisher wrote the final Jonah Hex story in 1978, but that provides a rare opportunity to showcase Hex facing a tragic fate any long time reader and follower of the character is sure to know that would bring chills down any man's spine.

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9. Justice League of America v1 #198 - 199

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"Once Upon A Time, In The Wild, Wild West..."
and
"Grand Canyon Showdown"

Gerry Conway writes this 2 part Justice League team up story which involves the Justice League facing off against master villain the Lord of Time. The Lord of Time ends up sending 4 amnesiac League members, Green Lantern (Hal Jordan), The Flash (Barry Allen), Zatanna, and Elongated Man, back in time to 1878 where they team up with American West DC Icons Jonah Hex, Bat Lash, Cinnamon, and Scalphunter respectively.

This is a classic Justice League team-up tale with each pair of Heroes working together and finally facing off against the Lord of Time's robot cowboys in the finale. I particularly like the juxtaposition of Hal Jordan's aversion to killing versus Jonah Hex's notion that GL's ideals are out of place, Luckily it's just a robot cowboy Hex shoots down so they don't have to go at it or anything, but it still cracks me up when Hal after being rescued from near death by Jonah Hex, turns on a dime on the guy because Hex doesn't exactly follow the superhero code against killing.

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Also more than likely this two part comic story served as the inspiration for the first half of the Justice League Unlimited 2-parter "The Once And Future Thing." Throw in Batman, Wonder Woman and John Stewart for the League side, replace Scalphunter with Pow-Wow Smith, Cinnamon with El Diablo, and the Lord of Time with Chronos and you've still got a cowboy-Justice League team-up where they fight robots from the future.

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8. All-Star Western v3 #10

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"Welcome To Paradise"

I'd feel remiss if I did not include a tale by the creators of Jonah Hex, John Albano and Tony DeZuniga, so I figure why not include the very first Jonah Hex tale from All-Star Western? This story lays the groundwork and framework for pretty much every single one-shot Jonah Hex story I've ever read. Sure the details will get changed ever so slightly, but the key elements remind the same. A small frontier town. Bounties on wanted men. Gunfights. Both saving and being shunned by town locals. The art has a realism and grit to it that makes it grounded and reflective of the harsh reality of life on the frontier and the writing usually leaves you thinking, "Well doesn't that just figure?"

7. Jonah Hex v2 #44 - 49

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"Six Gun War"

A six part saga probably crafted to be "written for the trade" as they say these days by Justin Gray Jimmy Palmiotti with art by Christiano Cusina. This one is just a huge bonanza featuring almost all the great elements and characters featured in the most current Jonah Hex volume. Hex's arch enemies Quentin Turnbull and El Papagayo are out for blood and they end up drawing in all of Jonah's friends and allies in this fracas to end all fracas'. On Jonah's side we've got Tallulah Black who could best be described as the female equivalent of Jonah Hex, Bat Lash eloquent womanizer and gambler and Lazerous Lane who becomes the vengeful spirit El Diablo. Even if you are not a fan of the pacing of comics from an earlier day and age, this story is still true to Jonah Hex and the other DC characters from the old west while being fast-paced, violent and action-packed. Even for long time readers there are twists and unexpected turns. The exchanges and relationships between the 4 characters in this super-team up extravaganza are laced with snark and humor that hides great comradery and friendship.

6. Jonah Hex v1 #61 - 63

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"In the Lair of the Manchu's"
"Belly of The Malay Tiger"
and
"Ship of Doom"

Not sure why I exactly like this 3 part story by Micheal Fleisher over some of the other stories that feature Jonah Hex's wife Mei Ling, but I think it has to do with the fact that Jonah Hex being abducted and sent to China is a real fish out of water story and that this particular adventure is the first reunion of husband and wife after they had long since parted ways. You kind of got the idea once Mei Ling left Hex, it was forever that she was never to return. While Mei Ling still loves Jonah very much, she too was abducted by the White Lotus Society who want Jonah to assassinate the current Emperor to make way for their reign of terror. Jonah wasn't fighting people or things he usually fought, and for 3 issues along with a long awaited reunion with his wife (which one can't help but think of Peter and MJ in Brand New Day) it was an interesting and complex change of scenery. Plus Jonah adds Shark-killing to his already expansive resume. Sadly the reunion was only temporary and bittersweet, but does end with a kiss, so it's not all down and out.

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5. Jonah Hex v1 #7 - 8

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"Jonah Hex Son of the Apache"
and
"The Mark of the Demon"

A two-part tale by Micheal Fleisher that reveals Hex's upbringing after he was sold into slavery to the Apache Indians. This tale ties directly into how Jonah Hex acquired his particular disfigurement referred to by the Apache's as "The Mark of the Demon." So if you don't buy the whole "I cut myself shaving" answer, this is the pair of books to check out.

This aspect of the origin was also revisited in the current volume of Jonah Hex, but I kind of like the romanticized version of the art in this story better. The current book makes some slight alterations in terms of story and perhaps Jonah's fight with the mountain lion is a bit more realistic for today's audiences, but I still dig the covers for the original version of this story as well.

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4. Weird Western Tales #29 - 30

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"Breakout At Fort Charlotte" and " The Trial"

Micheal Fleisher is at it again with this two part story that reveals all the details of Jonah Hex's time in the Confederate Army, his friendship with Jeb Turnbull and father Quentin and how after the Fort Charlotte massacre their relationship became a bitter feud leading to Turnbull putting Jonah Hex on this mock trial for his so-called crimes against the Confederacy. I'm sure to many people it's not very politically correct, but I really like the dimensionality of the relationship that Jonah Hex shares with Quentin Turnbull's manservant Solomon. He knows Jonah is a good man, but he also can't help but be loyal to the good man he remembers his master to be as twisted as he has become currently.

3. Jonah Hex v2 #50

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"The Great Silence"

Another Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti penned tale from the current volume of Jonah Hex that features a sad but memorable tale between Jonah and Tallulah Black. Darwyn Cooke does the art chores on the 50th issue and it is really great work that enhances all the moving and touching moments in this piece. You might know his work better from The New Frontier or as the main title animator for the Batman Beyond introduction. Don't want to spoil the ending for anyone who hasn't read this story yet, but much like the end of the movie Seven, the ending is something that fills one with a lingering haunting feeling for some time after you finish digesting the events that occur.

2. Secret Origins v2 #21

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"Requiem For A Gunfighter"

In some ways this Micheal Fleisher penned story is a sequel or follow up to my #1 pick "The Last Bounty Hunter" which you can read more about next. The story is set in modern day and follows the trials and tribulations of a Professor Lawrence who is hired as a historical expert to confirm the validity of an old Cheyenne Woman called Tall Bird who claims to have been Jonah Hex's common-law wife in his later years. When a stuffed display of Jonah Hex is discovered on a film set, all she wants is the right to her man's remains, but unscrupulous collectors try to stand in her way. In visiting Tall Bird Professor Lawrence finds her to be the genuine article and she reveals the story of Jonah Hex's "Secret Origin." Also the story does tend to end on a happier note than we last see in "The Last Bounty Hunter" with the minor exception of Tall Bird briefly mentioning but not revealing a "horrible fate" that befell Jonah's son with Mei Ling, Jason.

1. DC Special Series v2 #16 aka Jonah Hex Spectacular

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"The Last Bounty Hunter"

I think one of the reasons I like this Jonah Hex story by Micheal Fleisher so much is that it makes Jonah one of the few characters to have a beginning, middle and end in the DC Universe. Since the character in his prime is set in the 1870's, Fleisher had the luxury (unlike say Superman and Batman who perpetually stay 35 years old) of writing Jonah Hex's final tale.
I must admit I'm drawn to these kinds of final stories whether it be Spike facing off against Vicious for the final time in Cowboy Bebop or the finale to the Vertigo title Preacher. This is probably the Jonah Hex story I've read the most and come to have enjoyed the most.

I remember asking one of the employee's at my then Local Comic Book Shop, Comics Ink in Culver City, CA what his favorite Jonah Hex story was when I hadn't read very many. He of course suggested Two Gun Mojo, possibly because he really liked it, but also maybe because it had a trade paperback I could buy. While the Vertigo Jonah Hex stories are not bad (I think I prefer Shadow's West of the three the best) they are a little more fantastic in nature and how I feel about those stories is probably kind of how old school Punisher fans tend to feel about the Garth Ennis MAX run. Lots of Black Humor and gory violence that while not necessarily bad, just wasn't really a part of the character before the new imprint label took hold.

Anyway, "The Last Bounty Hunter" takes place in 1904 as Jonah Hex has taken to wearing spectacles and is the only remaining bounty hunter there is. By this point with Automobiles emerging he is a man past his prime and out of his time. After bringing in a bounty to a former friend and police chief from the old days, he runs into writer Micheal Wheeler who has arrived in town hoping to chronicle Jonah Hex's life and times for the history books.We discover along with Wheeler that Hex has been living with a very youthful and beautiful young Cheyenne woman who goes by the name of Tall Bird. Jonah agrees to regale Wheeler with tales of his past and the two men begin to learn a great deal from one another.

Unfortunately things aren't meant to go well for Jonah Hex for very long and sure enough his refusal to participate in Lew Farnam's dog and pony show called the Spectacular Wild West Review leads Farnam to hire a George Barrow's gang of thugs to kidnap Tall Bird and sets Jonah on a path for his final showdown. While Jonah shoots down the gang, Wheeler frees Tall Bird, but Jonah getting on in years only wounds Barrow and he escapes.

The next day while Wheeler takes a ride in an oldsmobile, Jonah sits down for a game of Poker in a local tavern. While cleaning his spectacles, George Barrow enters the saloon and shoots him with a double-barrel shotgun at point blank range. Jonah dies in Wheeler's arms and the Police Chief whom Jonah was friends with guns down Barrow in retribution.

Here's the part where you wish you could jump into the comic panel and stop what happens next like in the Ah-Ha video for "Take on Me." Wheeler returns Jonah's body to Tall Bird, who comforts him suggesting that men like Jonah choose their own time and place for going. Farnam and one of his goon's break down the cabin door intending to use Jonah's corpse for his Wild West show. Wheeler is shot dead, Tall Bird smacked into unconsciousness and Jonah's cabin burned to the ground. Farnam then has Jonah's corpse taxidermied and dressed in a ridicolous sideshow costume (this is the same costume Jonah sees himself when stuck in the future in the final issue of Hex). In a bit of poetic justice Farnam's thug who shot Wheeler, is eventually shot himself from playing around with the taxidermied Hex's pistols and Farnam is shot and robbed of his cash box by a group mobsters. Hex's corpse is shifted around to various antique stores until ending up as part of the West World Amusement Park in New York City. A very hollow feeling comes into your heart as you see the display Hex's body has become sitting out in the middle of the rain. Almost like the end of a surreal Twilight Zone episode.

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