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“He’s Not Human, Jim…I Swear!” Comics! Sometimes They Knife You In The Back!

John Kane

Gonna talk about a cow puncher who punches hard. And shoots. Yeah, sure is partial to some shooting this fella. Daggnabit, someone’s gonna get hurt you don’t quit that!

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Came The Millennium came the reprints! DC celebrated the year 2000 by re-printing one old comic a month for a year (I think). These were, according to the intro by Paul Levitz, “the best and most vital examples of our art form”. And W.I.L.D. CATS.

I bought some of them and what with the appearance of an all new All-STAR WESTERN#1 I thought I’d cast a boggly eye back at Jonah Hex’s first appearance. And also because I’d just read it.

(Jonah Hex’s first appearance in) ALL-STAR WESTERN #10
By Tony DeZuniga (a), John Albano (w)
(Reprinted in Millennium Edition: ALL-STAR WESTERN 10, $2.95, DC Comics)

When Hex was first introduced in ALL-STAR WESTERN #10 (1972) he was a quite exciting breath of fresh air. Instead of the customarily clean cut Marshal driven by a wholesome hankering for Justice John Albano and Tony DeZuniga delivered an ornery bounty hunter with a face as scarred as his psyche and driven by earthy lusts. By today’s standards I guess its tame stuff but back then I can imagine it was quite a bracing change.

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The very clever thing about Hex’s first appearance is that Albano and DeZuniga set this atypical character in a story built from the most typical of Western elements. Cliches, if you will. Hex is hired by the usual sweaty businessmen in waist-coats and stove pipe hats to track down the usual sweaty gang of varmints; complications ensue and a young but not sweaty widder woman and her tow headed child are involved. The story around Hex tries to stick to the agreed and expected shape but Hex himself keeps resisting it, pushing the clichés into new shapes through sheer force of his sour temperament. Sure, he gets the gang but, shockingly for the time, kills Big Jim (clearly modeled by DeZuniga on Lee Marvin) by knifing him in the back and this after Jonah has sadistically chased his quarry and haplessly ensured that the widder woman is needlessly endangered. The widder’s wee moppet takes a shining to Hex and Hex clearly figures on settling down with the widder, after all he saved her life, and her boy in the town whose safety he has just ensured.

Which is what would usually happen. It’s certainly what Jonah Hex expects to happen. Alas, throughout the course of the tale Jonah Hex has been so unlikeable that by the end of the tale…no one likes him. Except the kid. The widder woman runs him off and the sweaty businessmen block his plans to buy a home and so Jonah Hex hoists up his bag of woe and his sack of trouble and heads off out into the territories. Just time for one last tearful scene with the youngster then:

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Mebbe not. Because Jonah Hex is an @sshole.

As comic writing goes it’s good stuff. The whole thing has an easy familiarity due to the use of clichés and the playful undermining of these very cliches lends it an arresting quality. It’s only 16 pages long but by the end you’re pretty clear who Jonah Hex is (an @sshole) and more likely than not wanting to see what he gets up to next. Crucially you have no idea why Hex’s face looks like a bison’s chewed it which is a smart move. Piques the interest, doncha know. DeZuniga does some smart art here but not as smart as the art he would go on to do. There’s some really stiff staging and his photo referencing (back when that was quite hard to do) works against him at times but it’s atmospheric stuff with a couple of really swell panels. For me the most impressive part of the whole thing is the fact that Hex’s scarred visage isn’t revealed until page 7 and rarely thereafter. C’mon, that’s pretty great.

Hex soiled the pages of ALL-STAR WESTERN through its name change to WEIRD WESTERN TALES (#18) and up to #38 when he starred in his own series for 92 issues. Which ain’t bad for an old cowpuncher but even better is the fact that he’s still knocking about to this day. While the character may not embody that which is best and most noble in us he does embody at least one undying element which burns in each and every one of us to varying degrees. Jonah Hex is an @sshole but aren’t we all. Sometimes.

Jonah Hex’s first appearance in ALL-STAR WESTERN #1 (1972) is very old but that doesn’t stop it being VERY GOOD!

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5 Responses to “ “He’s Not Human, Jim…I Swear!” Comics! Sometimes They Knife You In The Back! ”

  1. Yes, it’s true…Jonah Hex IS an a-hole. But dagnabit, he’s a fabulous one.

  2. No mention of the tree stump that looks like Jonah and distracts the bad guys?
    That part cracked me up – they didn’t even bother to have him put his hat on the stump to fool them, it was just a tree stump that looked like Jonah Hex.
    ‘Hate you like poison’ had me laughing as well.
    In fact, I think I first read this in the Showcase volume after coming back from the pub, and laughed my way through the first few stories.
    Then the next day, with a sore head, I re-read it, and saw how awesome Tony DeZuniga’s art is. It’s pretty awesome.

  3. @SallyP: He shorely is, ma’am. He shorely is. Don’t you be getting your gingham all ruckled up over him, though. He’s a heartbreaker that man, a heartbreaker.

    @Ben Lipman: Being a dirty foreigner I just assumed trees that looked uncannily like men in hats were a natural phenomena in The Big Country! Nah, you are right I should have mentioned the tree. Comedy gold right there for the taking and I muffed it!

    Yeah, DeZuniga’s dusty doings really give those Showcase stories a real sense of place and grittiness. Man, Tony DeZuniga is great. But everybody knows that. Don’t they?

  4. and how did you know John that, just last weekend, I picked up what seems to be the last available copy in all of Canada of the Jonah SHOWCASE?

    That’s come good comics, I tell you what.

  5. @Corey (Ottawa): It was only a matter of time before someone with such fine taste purchased such a fine book. You tell me that’s good comics, sir, you tell me true. SHOWCASE: JONAH HEX rocks with bells on as boozy Ben Lipman will testify also!

    Dagnabbit! You people have good taste!

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