DC Comics might be best known for its superheroes like Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman but removed from the tights and flights action that makes up so much of DC’s output there’s another character, one who’s been around for quite a while completely removed from superhero antics – Jonah Hex.
Bounty Hunter Jonah Hex may have first appeared way back in 1971 created by Tony DeZuniga and John Albano but it’s in more recent years that the character has really come to the fore. Back in 2006 critically acclaimed writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray started to write a new series featuring the scarred anti-hero. The pair would go on to write Hex’s adventures for 70 issues before the series ended and then the duo followed it up with 34 issues of the recently ended All Star Western featuring Jonah Hex. This was Hex’s new home when DC rebooted their whole comic line with the DC 52 launch. The pair also wrote the original graphic novel No Way Back in 2010.
What made their run on Jonah Hex so good was the deceptive simplicity. A comic set in the Wild West is pretty anachronistic in the modern age of comics, especially one coming from one of the “Big Two” publishers in comics. That’s part of Hex’s charm though in a landscape awash with do gooder superheroes flying around and saving people Hex was a surly, cynical, hard drinking, scarred anti-hero with a brutal past. Hex’s past included being sold to the Apache by his alcoholic father, being marked as traitor after being set up by a bitter love rival and being blamed for a massacre in the civil war which he found himself disillusioned with. Despite his belligerent nature though Hex had his own code that he lived by and would often help out those in trouble, even if he later regretted it.
Another reason that Jonah Hex stood out was due to the fact that the vast majority of its 70 issues were stand alone stories, which are a rare thing from DC or Marvel. Seldom is the case where you can just pick up an issue of a comic and just read it and enjoy it without having to know lots of backstory and mythology. The test of a writer is whether they can tell an engaging fully formed story in a single issue rather than constructing a massive epic which runs for years.
The first issue set the tone as Hex is hired to find a missing boy, only to discover that the boy has been kidnapped by a circus forcing young boys to fight dogs to the cheers of a baying audience. The story was gritty and surprisingly brutal but not in a contrived manner.
The title featured some recurring characters too the most important of which being Tallulah Bell a woman who was raped, mutilated and left for dead by a group of nefarious bandits. Hex helps Tallulah gain vengeance on her tormentors, she is by no means a damsel in distress though and becomes a bounty hunter with a reputation to match that of Hex himself with the pair eventually becoming on and off lovers as she drifts in and out of his life.
All Star Western transplanted Hex from the Wild West into the early days of the new DC universe’s Gotham City. Hex meets Doctor Amadeus Arkham who narrates the story and meets various figures from Gotham City’s past including Bruce Wayne’s great great grandfather Alan Wayne and Theodore Cobblepot great great grandfather of Oswald Cobblepot better known as The Penguin.
Despite changing into an on-going story rather than a series of self-contained stories All Star Western still featured everything that made Hex great in his previous carnation. Hex was a fish out of water with a distaste for what he views as “civilised city folk” who he finds are just as corrupt and vice ridden as those in the Wild West.
A host of artists worked on Jonah Hex and All Star Western including Hex’s co-creator Tony DeZuniga, Moritat, Andy Kubert, Staz Johnson, Darwyn Cooke and many more.
2010’s “Jonah Hex” film based on the character is one of the best examples of a missed opportunity in recent memory. The film does the character of Hex a massive disservice being an overwrought hamfisted mess instead of the gritty western it should’ve been and utterly wastes Josh Brolin as Hex.