Review of Showcase Presents: Jonah Hex Vol. 1
Showcase Presents Jonah Hex Vol.1
He was a hero to some, a villain to others... and wherever he rode people spoke his name in whispers. He had no friends, this Jonah Hex, but he did have two companions: one was death itself... the other… the acrid smell of gunsmoke...
“Hell, I ain’t nuthin’ but a hardcase bounty hunter”
Jonah Hex is DC Comics’ most popular western character and perhaps the most popular comic book gunfighter of all time. He’s a badass bounty hunter / gun-for-hire with an ornery attitude to match his grotesquely scarred face. John Albano created him in 1970 for All-Star Western. Jonah Hex was an enigma. Why did he wear a Confederate coat and hat years after the Civil War? How did his face get so messed up? What haunted him so much? He proved so popular that he practically took over this anthology title, and so the comic was renamed Weird Western Tales from #12 on. Michael Fleischer began weaving Jonah tales by issue #22 and added even more depth to the gunslinger. He revealed some of Jonah’s background and provided more context for his cold, loner behavior, but he was still a mystery. Jonah was promoted to his own title after issue #38 of Weird Western Tales and continued on for another 92 issues.
When the Jonah Hex comic was cancelled in 1985, Fleischer thrust the gunslinger through time to a post-apocalyptic world circa, 2050, in a comic titled Hex. Some fans were angry about the switch but others liked the mutant and robot infested world, especially overseas. Post-apocalyptic stories are really just disguised westerns anyway, so he fit right in despite the sci-fi clichés. Hex lasted for 18 issues. After that, Jonah usually made guest appearances in superhero comics whenever somebody went time traveling to the old west (yuck). He also had two well-received mini-series in the 1990s by Tim Truman, which could best be described as western-horror.
In conjunction with the launch of the new Jonah Hex comic in 2005, DC Comics decided to collect his early stories via their new, cheap and dirty reprint line Showcase Presents.
Let thet be a lesson to you, boy- never show yore back to someone aimin’ to kill ya…”
Showcase Presents Jonah Hex Vol.1 is a big trade paperback that’s 528 pages long and features 24 Jonah Hex stories. It’s printed on newsprint in b/w. It reprints his adventures from All-Star Western #10-11, Weird Western Tales #12-14 and #16-33. It seems strange the book doesn’t contain the last few Jonah issues (34-38) of Weird Western Tales, but perhaps a future collection will. The last few pages reprint the Outlaw stories from All-Star Western, which are inferior to the Jonah tales, but the art is just as good, so that’s something. Showcase Presents is basically DC Comics’ answer to Marvel Comics’ cheap reprint line called Essential. Showcase Presents one-ups Essential by having page numbers, so the table of contents is much more useful. Tony De Zuñuga drew most of the fantastic art (those Filipino artists don’t get enough credit), with Noly Panaligan, George Moliterni, Jose Luis Garcia–Lopez, and others adding great pencils of their own.
”You better kill me now, Hex… because if you don’t, one day I’ll succeed in killing you!”
This Jonah Hex collection is what you might call a “revisionist western,” meaning the good aren’t so good and the bad aren’t so bad, but the ugly sure are ugly. It’s obviously inspired by spaghetti westerns, and 1970s disillusionment. Jonah Hex makes for an interesting, if cold, hero because in a previous era he would have been a villain. He’s a hideously scarred vet of a failed war, who kills others for money; it’s quite chilling. One wonders how the creators ever got the violence past the censors. Hex isn’t without merit though; he does have his own sense of justice, and often helps out victims during his adventures. Good or bad, Hex can’t seem to settle down, as no one wants him around except when they need his skill as a gunslinger. He just can’t seem to escape his war-torn past (Firefly fans take note). His last name implies a curse and cursed he is. You get the feeling that he would be roaming the old west as a ghost if he weren’t still alive.
The Albano stories are good action yarns with the antagonist usually takin’ a dirt nap via poetic justice, but the stories do get a little formulaic towards the end. When the Michael Fleischer stories begin, the plots pick up a real edge and you begin to see the horror that is the soul of Jonah Hex. Good examples are “Breakout at Fort Charlotte” and “The Trial” where Hex is forced to confront his Confederate past. These tales illustrate how this comic was ahead of its time. It often approaches Unforgiven in its depth and drama. Fleischer is not all gloom and doom, though, as Jonah is quite adept at sarcastic jabs throughout. “The Meadow Springs Crusade” story is rather humorous with Jonah reluctantly defending suffragettes in Kansas. All we’re missing is some Deadwood style cursing. These stories make it very easy to forget that this bounty hunter is supposed to be part of DC Comics’ ever-expanding, spandex universe.
The realistic art (read: no superheroes) of Showcase Presents Jonah Hex Vol.1 is very refreshing and you don’t miss the color too much. There are a few stories where the art didn’t reprint well, but hey, it’s newsprint. When it comes to character depiction, most of the males look like they’re straight out of a spaghetti western (i.e. grimy), while most of the women look like they’re from Big Valley (i.e. stunning). The action sequences so important to westerns, like gunfights and horse chases, are usually entertaining and excellently illustrated.
”Mite early fur Halloween if’n yuh ask me”
No superheroes, super heroics or convoluted superhero continuities, (Whew!) Showcase Presents Jonah Hex Vol.1 is straight up western storytelling with a morally ambiguous hero. The stories are nearly plausible. It has great gun-fighting action and fascinating characters, especially Jonah Hex, all of which is well illustrated. Native Americans are more than just crazy savages. The trade paperback collects most of Jonah’s early stories in one volume. It’s lightweight and cheap at $16.99 for 528 pages. You can loan it to friends without hanging your head in shame, unlike your Transformers comic books.
”Ah killed him real quick-like! If ah had left him with you, he’d probably been slowly talked to death!”
Because of the Comics Code Authority fascists, there isn’t much sex to go along with the violence. The “Outlaw” stories are mediocre. The last few Jonah Hex stories from Weird Western Tales aren’t in this volume. It’s a black and white reprint of a color comic. No superheroes… oh wait, that’s a good thing.
Who would find it useful?
”Careful now girls an’ boys! One strange move an you’n yore eyeballs are gonna’ be partin’ company”
Western fans, people interested in historical or realistic comics, those looking for ideas for their modern or western role-playing campaigns, veterans, folks who want to read Jonah’s early (non-superhero) appearances, folks who like action-adventure, Firefly fans, and tough guys.
”He’s a might older now, an’ whole lot uglier-- but thar ain’t no doubt about it! It’s him! Look…!”
To be honest I haven’t enjoyed reading comics this much in a long time, with the possible exception of Conan and Red Sonja, which are kinda similar to Jonah Hex if you think about it. These Hex stories are the real deal, and are as cruel and fascinating as the real west. So if you’re from the North, South, East or West, you’re sure to find an engaging trip to the dark side of the American frontier. I was surprised by the quality of Jonah Hex, and I just bet you will be too.
”Go ahead, boy… Reach fer it… if you have a mind to”
NOTE: DC Comics is publishing a new monthly Jonah Hex comic book, written by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray