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by Eric S Brown
Part 1 is available in Abandoned Towers issue #1 In 1985, DC Comics was trying to update its image by making all of its heroes more modern, and also solidify its multiverse, along with various versions of Earth, into one all inclusive world. Jonah Hex, despite being a western comic that was set far in the DCU past, was caught up in the change. The original Jonah Hex series was ended with the publication of its ninety second issue, and much to the horror of the loyal American readership, was rebooted like the rest of DC’s heroes, and updated for the times. Under the creative control of author Michael Fleisher, a new era in the life of Jonah Hex began. Hex issue one hit stands at the end of 1985. During the Crisis on Infinite Earths event, the character had been swept up by a mysterious white energy that had been flashing in the skies of the old west. This energy acted as a temporal gateway tossing Jonah into the mid 21st century. He awoke to find himself in a world devastated by nuclear wars, famine, and disease- and alien to everything he'd ever known. This new world was not unlike the one depicted in the internationally famous “Road Warrior” trilogy, though it did have a few elements of the cyberpunk genre as well. Jonah was forced into the role of a Mad Max, lone wolf type of hero who traveled the wasteland helping others when he felt like it and could, using his 19th century gun fighting skills against mutants, monsters, and high tech bad guys. The new Hex series bombed instantly in the eyes of his American readership. They liked and wanted their old west hero back and they felt that the idea of Jonah driving a car instead traveling on horseback was unacceptable. However, with its apocalyptic setting, Hex was devoured by international audiences in Great Britain, Italy, Spain, and Japan, who were already accustomed to the post apocalyptic genre and who didn’t know Jonah Hex the way that the American readership did. None the less, the new Hex series was brought to an end by DC after only eighteen issues. American fans had always expected Jonah to return the old west because DC history had previously chronicled his death as occurring in a rural bar in the year 1904 when he was gunned down in cold blood by a shotgun blast to the chest while in the middle of a game of cards. Michael Fleisher had planned to end the series by showing Jonah’s return to his home to face his death, but the abrupt cancellation of Hex in 1987 prevented this. Instead the title’s final issue shows Jonah discovering his own corpse before walking off into the sunset in true to form western style. The explanation gave was that after his death in the year 1904, his body had been stolen by a crafty business man who had the body stuffed and preserved. He'd dressed the corpse in a white hat and far fancier clothing than Jonah had ever worn in life, then added the body to his traveling show. When the show was finally closed, the body ended up in storage where Jonah discovers it in the year 2048 in one of the most eerie, and darkly funny, moments of comic history.
Jonah had lost many of his fans due to his year and half spent in the post apocalyptic world, so DC shelved him except for a few appearances in odd, off the wall titles like Swamp Thing and DC history titles such as Secret Origins. By 1993, the company was ready to give Jonah Hex another shot at the success but they feared a return to a straight western title would flop as surely their futuristic update of the character had. Horror author Joe R. Lansdale and artist Tim Truman were recruited by DC for a brand new take on Jonah which would be set in the old west. The series was titled Two Gun Mojo and published in 1993 by DC’s mature readers imprint, Vertigo, and released as a five issue mini-series. Lansdale and Truman added supernatural elements, making the comic a gory, splatter punk adventure that just happened to be set in the old west. This mini-series plot revolved around Jonah facing off against a traveling, shady snake oil salesman who was well versed in the dark secrets of Voodoo. This man surrounded himself with a small army of zombies including Wild Bill Hickok who, despite being a walking mound of rotting flesh, rivaled Jonah’s speed and skill in gun fighting. The series ended in an epic bloodbath. Both Jonah and the salesman, with his ghouls, were caught in the middle of a huge battle between the US Calvary and the Apache and were forced to join forces in order to survive the rampaging Indians’ attack. Two Gun Mojo recaptured many of the character’s previous fans and added a slew of new horror fans as well. Lansdale, Truman, and DC followed with a second, five issue mini-series entitled Riders of the Worm and Such in which Jonah stumbles into a town besieged by Cthulhoid monsters. Riders of the Worm and Such quickly matched the success of Two Gun Mojo, more than living up to DC’s hopes in terms of sales. Sadly, the series also bought huge legal troubles to the company. The series contained two characters called the Autumn Brothers. They were the pig humping, not too bright, murderous offspring of raped humans and the supernatural worms of the series. The brothers served as the worms’ surface world minions. The fourth issue of the series was even titled “Autumns of our Discontent” in a direct take on the famous Shakespearian phrase “The winter of our discontent.” In 1996, Johnny and Edgar Winter filed suit against the company and Lansdale for defamation, mantaining that the characters were an intentional attack on them by DC. The supreme court ruled that parody was protected by the First Amendment, but DC’s legal woes were far from over. In June 2002, the National Organization for Albinism and Hypo pigmentation filed suit again, but the California supreme court upheld the previous ruling. DC was free at last from the charges, but the Jonah Hex series had received much negative attention on and off throughout the years of the legal battle. During that period, DC had released only one mini-series featuring Jonah entitled Shadows West and reduced its run to three issues. Shadows West involved ghost people and indeed was quiet both in terms of hype, and sales. Fans who had been expecting an exciting series were left in a state of apathy towards the character. Again Jonah Hex was shelved by DC and essentially vanished from the DCU.
By the early 2000s, the comic industry was starting to recover from the crash of the 1990s, and comics were becoming cool again to a wide audience. This was due in part to Hollywood blockbusteres such as Spiderman and the X-men, and TV shows like Smallville and the new Justice League cartoon. With its legal troubles with Jonah behind it and the industry headed towards what looked like another booming period, DC launched Infinite Crisis, which was a follow up to the Crisis on Infinite Earths published twenty years before. The success of this event shook up the industry and allowed DC to stand toe to toe with Marvel in overall sales. In order to maintain sales momentum, DC turned to many of its older characters who were out of circulation and in 2005, launched a wave of rebirths. Jonah Hex was resurrected and returned to his roots with the series becoming a full fledged, real western once more. Drop by Abandoned Towers again next month for an in-depth look at the current Jonah Hex title and how it compares to the original series!
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