Jonah Hex surveys his next challenge.


Medium: Comic books
Published by: DC Comics
First Appeared: 1972
Creators: John Albano (writer) and Tony Dezuñiga (artist)
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If your standard, average western hero is a handsome young gunslinger who wanders from place to place doing good, then Jonah Hex wasn't your standard, average western hero. One of his defining …

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… characteristics was that he was scarred and ugly, and he was apparently middle-aged when his series began. He didn't necessarily do good when he wandered from place to place, either, because his main motive for traveling was his occupation as a bounty hunter.

He was, however, a gunslinger. In fact, he gunned down more foes than Ms. Tree, probably the hardest-boiled private detective ever to come out of comic books. Even The Hangman, shockingly violent for a 1940s superhero, didn't kill as many bad guys per page as Jonah Hex. Maybe that's what made Hex the most successful western character DC Comics ever had.

Hex made his first appearance in All-Star Western #10 (Feb-March, 1972), in a story titled "Welcome to Paradise". It was written by John Albano (with credits from Archie to Batman) and drawn by Tony DeZuñiga (Conan the Barbarian, Black Orchid, Arak Son of Thunder). He was apparently based on the Clint Eastwood character in A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, etc., but had foibles of his own — aside from his hideously disfigured face (which wasn't shown clearly at first), he inexplicably wore a Confederate Army uniform, years after the Confederate States had ceased to exist.

Hex was a hit right from the start, and soon crowded the back-up characters out of All-Star Western. The title (which had been copied from the earlier DC Comics series that had starred Johnny Thunder, among others) was quickly changed to Weird Western Tales to go along with its weird protagonist, and Hex remained its star until 1977. After that, he moved out into his own comic.

DeZuñiga stayed with the series a long time, at least as inker, with Dick Ayers (Ghost Rider, Human Torch, another Ghost Rider) doing much of the penciling. But Albano moved on, replaced by Michael Fleischer, who showed a true flair for meting out grisly fates to evildoers (which he displayed not just here, but also in a series starring The Spectre). Fleischer gradually filled in Hex's back-story, which included an explanation for his scars and choice of apparel, and gave him a relentless enemy left over from his days fighting for the Confederacy.

Westerns had long been passé in comic books. Nonetheless, the Jonah Hex title managed to keep its circulation up until the mid-1980s. Eventually, tho, it wound down, and ended with its 92nd issue (August, 1985). But DC apparently still thought the character had series potential, so instead of simply dropping him, they moved him into a trendier genre. A month after his first series ended, the company launched Hex, in which he was suddenly transported to the middle of the 21st century, and was required to use his 19th century gunfighting capabilities against mutants, monsters and high-tech villains.

Even as this new series started, readers knew he'd eventually be back when he belonged, as the story of his death (in 1904, at age 66) had already been told. The exact mechanism of his return was never shown, however, as the Hex series proved predictably unpopular and was discontinued with its 18th issue (February, 1987), long before it could get around to that part.

Hex's death story, which appeared in a special (written by Fleischer) even while his first series was running, was among the less predictable in comics. He was murdered by an old enemy while cleaning his gun, and his corpse wound up in the hands of a traveling show business entrepreneur. The showman stuffed Hex, dressed him up in a white-hatted ensemble far fancier than he'd ever worn in life, posed him with a gun in his hand, and went from town to town, exhibiting him as an old-time western gunfighter. When the show folded, Hex was consigned to a warehouse, which he was eventually rescued from, only to go touring again. If he ever got a decent burial, readers didn't see it.

The character's media penetration has been minimal — a part in a DC Comics role-playing game and a guest spot in Batman: The Animated Series (where he was alleged to be an ancestor of Batman) is about it.

Today, DC Comics remembers its Jonah Hex series in three ways. Vertigo Comics, a DC imprint that deals in darker stories aimed at adults, has done several mini-series written by Joe R. Lansdale (well known for his western and suspense novels) and drawn by Tim Truman (Scout, Grimjack), starring Hex in his proper setting.

A contemporary super-powered character who calls herself "Hex" claims to channel his spirit — and she packs guns even bigger than his.

And tho its most recent known location is a western-themed amusement park in upstate New York, in 1972, Jonah Hex's stuffed carcass is still out there. How do we know? It was spotted once in the Hex series, in a story set in the year 2048.


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Text ©2002-09 Donald D. Markstein. Art © DC Comics.