Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Jonah Hex #34 "Christmas in an Outlaw Town"

Jonah Hex #34 Mar 1980
"Christmas in an Outlaw Town"
Michael Fleisher, story - Dan Spiegle, art - Luis Domiguez, cover

I teased with this cover last year and now here is the whole story. Jonah is tracking the Boley Boys through the snow and reminiscing about how his old man used to get drunk during Christmas and beating Jonah as a child. Meanwhile, 40 miles away at the home of Clarence Dooley, Mr. Dooley is getting dressed as Santa Claus as he does every Christmas for the local orphanage. Sadly, the Boley boys break into the house demanding money. Dooley points them to the open safe and as the outlaws leave, they decide not to leave any witnesses.

The next day, Jonah is at the cemetery where Dooley is being buried. Jonah is talking to a local Sister, verifying that Dooley's valet survived to identify that it was the Boleys. The Sister mentions that the kids will be very sad since Dooley played Santa every year. Jonah says that there is nothing that he can do about that, but he will bring in the Boleys.

Jonah rides off, tracking the Boleys for a full day and night. The next morning Jonah rides up to the ghost town of Willow Creek, hoping to fill his canteen from a well. When he rides into town he finds that the town is just bursting with people, and not fine upstanding citizens but several outlaws that Jonah recognizes. However, he is centered on finding the Boleys and walks into the saloon to see if he can find any information.

He finds more than information, he finds the Boleys and when he draws on them, they calmly point out the "No Firearms" sign. Jonah is flummoxed and manages to just avoid getting smashed over the head with a chair by one of the Boleys. A huge fistfight breaks out and Jonah is on the losing end when the sheriff of the town walks in and breaks it up. Jonah stands up and finds out the sheriff is...

Jonah gets arrested and gets hauled in front of the judge...

Jonah gets no mercy and in addition to getting pistol whipped, he gets thrown into jail for 30 days. Pappy Hex explains that he is running the town as a hideout for every known criminal and gets a cut of every crime that they commit in return for protection. Pappy explains that he would love to chat but he has to rob the Transcontinental Limited along with the Boley Boys. Pappy heads out, leaving the deputy in charge. (we'll see how effective THAT plan is)

No sooner is Pappy out the door does Jonah pull the knife from his back and threaten the deputy. The deputy turns to get the key and manages to trip over a spittoon, fall, and knock himself out. Jonah then has to resort to dragging the deputy over to the cell, take his gun, and shoot the peg upon which the keys are hung. With the keys on the floor, Jonah uses his belt to drag the keys over to the door and he unlocks the door himself.

Later, the Transcontinental Limited has been stopped by armed bandits. The engineer and the fireman are forced to open the car holding the gold and even open the safe. The door to the safe swings open and there stands Jonah Hex, guns drawn. Jonah guns down the Boley Boys and spares his paw. Pappy pleads for his life and Jonah says that if Pappy doesn't do exactly what Jonah says, Pappy will be in the pen for a hundred years. Pappy agrees to anything.

The scene cuts to the orphanage with a huge Christmas tree set up and a ton of kids trying to sit on Santa's lap. The Sister is thanking Jonah for finding a replacement for Mr. Dooley/Santa. Jonah states that just hearing the laughter of the children and seeing the contented look on pappy's face is reward enough. Jonah wishes his paw a merry Christmas and heads for the door. The kids are now climbing all over Pappy, pulling off his beard, knocking his hat off and Pappy is screaming for Jonah to come back or he'll get Jonah in the end. Pappy screams that he is the craftiest Hex.

Jonah rides off, shouting Merry Christmas and laughing his head off.

Statistics for this issue
Men killed by Jonah - 3
Running Total - 261
Jonah's Injuries - Beat up in a fight and pistol whipped.
Timeline - It appears that this one takes place after the last meeting between Jonah & his dad, so that would be 1875 or after.

There wasn't a whole lot to this issue and no explanation as to how Jonah managed to survive being locked in a huge safe. BUT (and that is a big but) I enjoyed this issue an awful lot. It was a pretty light-hearted story with the sheriff/judge bit and the ending page with Jonah laughing that hard (which may be the only time Jonah ever laughed. I'll have to research that one) and it was a nice change of pace in the history of a man whose story ends up being about one of the most painful and tragedy filled lives in the history of comics.

Here's hoping you and your family have a blessed Christmas. We'll be back (probably after the first of the year, but you can never tell)

Next Issue: The return of Quentin Turnbull and the Fort Charlotte brigade.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Jonah Hex #33 "The Crusader!"

Jonah Hex #33 Feb 1980
"The Crusader!"

Michael Fleisher, story - ER Cruz, art - Luis Dominguez, cover

This story starts off with a bang, literally, as Jonah Hex is pursuing the Larson Brothers when he trips a dynamite trap and gets blown to Hell and back. The Larson brothers, riding away hear the explosion and celebrate the death of Jonah Hex.

Meanwhile in Shoshone Mills, Mrs. Flannery, a widow, walks up to the local bank. She meets Jeffrey Wilcox, son of the bank president. Jeffrey, on a break from law school, is sweeping the porch and Mrs. Flannery says that she is there to see about getting an extension on her mortgaged farm. Once inside the bank, Mrs. Flannery is running into trouble as Wilcox is sticking to bank regulations about granting extensions. The bank has already granted one extension and that is the limit. Wilcox points out that she is already late with this month's payment so he will be sending the sheriff out to foreclose. He gives Mrs. Flannery until 5 to vacate the property.

Mrs. Flannery leaves, a completely defeated woman. She goes back to her farm, her home for 35 years. Seeing no way out and feeling that she has nowhere in the world to go, she decides to leave this world as well.

Hours later, Jeffrey runs into his dad's office and announces Mrs. Flannery's fate. Wilcox tells the boy to calm down, the bank has rules and rules have to be followed. Jeffrey is disgusted with his father and storms out of the bank. Later, Jeffrey is speaking with Mr. Ashley (whom we have never seen before) about what happened.

Ashley states that he is part of an organization that is devoted to helping people live in equality and justice. Ashley says that he has friends that would agree that what happened to Mrs. Flannery was wrong. He then opens the door and introduces Jake, Morgan, & Al.....LARSON!!!! Jake explains that they want to strike a blow for freedom and dignity and Jeffrey is just the guy to help.

Their plan is to take all of the ill-gotten money from the robber-baron's bank in order to return the money to the folks that it was stolen from. Jeffrey is appalled that they want to rob his father's bank, but they remind him of Widow Flannery. Jeffrey turns to Ashley for counsel and Ashley confirms that this is the best way to help the poor.

Later that night, Jeffrey knocks on the door of the bank, which is now closed. Mr. Simms, obviously some sort of teller, looks out the window and sees Jeffrey. He opens the door and the Larsons shove their way in and demand the money. When Simms refuses, they gun him down and force another teller to load up the sacks with cash. The Larsons and Jeffrey mount up and head out of town.

Later, a posse is being organized and Wilcox grabs his rifle and joins in. The sheriff protests, knowing that Jeffrey was involved. Wilcox states that even if his own flesh & blood were involved in the robbery, it is his duty to see that justice is done. He mounts up and rides with the posse.

Up in the mountains, the Larsons +1 have gotten to the hideout and they are talking about splitting up the money. Jeffrey protests, saying that the cash was supposed to be for charity. The reply? "The Larson family benefit fund!" The Larsons explain that they have a dynamite trap set for the posse and then subdue Jeffrey and tie him up in the cabin and go inside themselves.

Shortly thereafter, Jonah Hex (remember him from back on page 1? We're on page 11 now.) is depicted climbing down a rope overhanging the cliff that the Larson hideout butts up against. Jonah is recounting what a hard day he has had. First; he barely sees the buried dynamite trap and leaps from his horse in time to avoid death; his horse is dead, which means he has had to walk, which makes him mad; third, he despises men that resort to explosives to to fight their battles because it is soooo messy (This is done as he takes a bundle of dynamite, lights it and drops it down the chimney.)

Inside, the Larson see the dynamite fall down the chimney and rush out in a panic but Jonah Hex is standing out front waiting for them. Jake decides they can take Hex. Morgan Larson decides to turn tale, but Jake shoots him for being a coward and then turns and draws on Hex.

Jonah unlimbers his pistols and guns down Jake, Al, and poor Morgan who had the unfortunate fortitude to still be standing after being gutshot by his brother. Jonah goes inside the cabin and finds the bound & gagged Jeffrey. Jeffrey is in a panic because the fuse on the dynamite is getting shorter by the second. Jonah unties Jeffrey and explains that there is nothing to be worried about. Jonah emptied the blasting powder out of those sticks in order to fool the crooks.

They get about a dozen yards from the cabin when it blows sky-high. Jonah says he must have forgot a stick or two. Jeffrey jumps onto a horse, he needs to warn the posse and his dad about the dynamite trap the Larson Brothers have set for them in Hitchcock pass.

The posse is approaching the pass when Jeffrey comes riding up wildly, shouting for them to stop. Wilcox pulls out his rifle. He is convinced that Jeffrey is trying to scare them away from the Laron's hiding place. He states that he is ashamed of his son and even though he may have raised an outlaw, he would rather kill his own son by himself that stand to watch him be hanged as a common criminal. He takes aim and shoots Jeffrey dead off his horse. Another rider approaches and Wilcox takes aim but the sheriff grabs the rifle from him.

The other rider is Jonah and he explains about the traps the Larsons had planted. He tells them that Jeffrey was only trying to warn them. Wilcox refuses to believe any of it and Jonah snatches the rifle from Wilcox, takes aim up into the pass and detonates the trap. Jonah returns the rifle to Wilcox and rides off, leaving the banker standing over the body of a son, murdered by his own father.

Statistics for this issue
Men killed by Jonah - I would have to say 3. Even though Morgan Larson was gutshot by his own brother and would have died, Jonah put the icing on his cake.
Running Total - 258
Injuries by Jonah - Getting blown up with no side effects
Timeline - Nothing here to indicate much of anything. The whole story seems to take place in one day.

For a story that didn't have much Jonah Hex in it, it was still a good story. The man who played by the rules, no matter who they hurt, ends up suffering by his own hand. The gullible hot-headed son pays the ultimate price for his own foolishness.
Jonah railing about the trials of his day was enjoyable, especially about the dynamite as he drops it down the chimney. I'm still kinda torn about having the cabin explode after he explains about how safe it is, seemed cliched. I would put this about in the middle of the pile of all Hex stories, even though it was a big letdown from last issue.
Next Issue: Jonah runs into the nastiest politician ever, he helps out a nun, and Santa bites the big one!!

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Jonah Hex #32 "Gunfight at Murphysburg!"

Jonah Hex #32 Jan. 1980
"Gunfight at Murphysburg!"
Michael Fleisher, story - Jose Luis Garcia Lopez, art - Luis Dominguez, cover

The cover blurb states that this is the most spectacular shootout in Jonah Hex's history. It is almost an understatement. This post is going to be pic-heavy, because that is the only way to do this issue justice.

But first, we start out with Jonah riding down into Murphysburg in the spring of 1874. Jonah is looking for Arbee Stoneham, a bounty hunter that humiliated Jonah 8 years ago. We have a nice 2 page recap of last issue and then Jonah arrives in town, heads for the saloon and starts asking about Stoneham's whereabouts. The barkeep says that Stoneham is staying at Minnie Franklin's boarding house on the other side of town, over by the stockyards. A man standing at the bar looks surprised and then sneaks out of the bar.

Jonah orders a steak and the surprised man hightails it across town to the livery stable where he tells everything he has just heard to Jason Crowley and his gang. Crowley wonders if Hex is telling the truth about looking for Stoneham or if it is a cover for tracking down Crowley. Either way, Hex has to pass by the stockyards and Crowley decides that is the best way to ambush Hex.

However, there is an old man up in the hayloft sleeping off a drunk and overhears everything. He crawls out of the loft and finds Jonah has Hex exits the saloon. The old man tells Jonah everything, telling him that Crowley has eleven men in his gang, plus Crowley. Jonah tosses the man a $20 gold piece and decides that Stoneham will have to wait. Hunting down Crowley is business and paying back Stoneham will be pure pleasure and he heads off towards the stockyards.

There is no way that I can do this story and art justice, so I'll just let it speak for itself (with very little commentary)

I love how Jonah in the second frame extends to the bottom of the page.

A wonderful, fantastic page with so much going on, it barely stays on the page.

A perfect angle in the last frame in order to get everything in that we need to see.

Take a close look at the first and second frame to see Jonah hiding by the gate.

I love the corncob pipe!

Statistics for this issue
Men killed by Jonah - 12
Running Total - 255
Jonah's Injuries - shot in right shoulder, shot in left ribcage
Timeline - The whole story takes place in one day in early 1874.

How can I even begin to explain how much I love this story? I realize that 80% of it is due to Lopez's art. The man can set an entire scene and then show us that location from every angle possible and never deviate from it or surprise us with some unexpected element. In the opening shot of the stockyards you see the barn, the windmill, the haywagon, the cattle pen, everything. Each member of the gang is an individual either by dress, choice of hat, or ethnicity. On top of that, you can see all eleven members of the gang in the opening shot in the livery. This man is such an incredible artist and storyteller with his page layouts spilling out of the panels, overlapping and almost leaping off the page. Lopez is one of the three greatest artists/storytellers of all time.

But what about the story? We start with a Jonah that is bent on personal revenge, puts that on hold to conduct a little business (and granted, to save his own live), returns to his mission and then in the end, forgets his personal vendetta and shows some surprising compassion in his final treatment of Stoneham, probably seeing his own possible future in the life that Stoneham now leads. This is near perfect storytelling by Fleisher and coupled with Lopez's cinematic work, this turns out to be one of the top 3 Jonah Hex stories of all time. I just wonder how it would have worked with less dialogue on Jonah's behalf.

Next Issue: Jonah battles predatory sub-prime lending practices. Ok, he doesn't, but a bank mortgage IS involved!!!

Jonah Hex #31 "Arbee Stoneham..Man Killer!"

Jonah Hex #31 Dec 1979
"Arbee Stoneham..Man Killer!"
Michael Fleisher, story - Luis Dominguez, art & cover

Winter, 1866. Jonah has been forced into joining a posse and has just witnessed the hanging, without trial, of the outlaws that he captured. The sheriff suggests that Jonah take up bounty hunting and hands him a wanted poster for Eddie Cantwell, and old Civil War buddy of Jonah's.
Later in town, Jonah is mentally recounting how Eddie saved Jonah's life during the war and finds it hard to believe that Eddie has turned to crime. As Jonah is strolling down the street, he bumps shoulders with a bearded gentlemen who turns and recognizes Jonah. It runs out to be Eddie Cantwell. Eddie explains that he is now a wealthy cattle buyer and that he & his associates are on their way to close a big deal. Jonah wants to sit down and talk to Eddie, but Eddie suggests that they meet in the saloon around 11 that night. Jonah agrees and heads for his room at the hotel to grab a few winks before then.

None of this, however, has escaped the notice of the sheriff, who has remembered that Jonah had previously mentioned that Jonah didn't know anyone in town. The sheriff gets somewhat suspicious.

Later that night, shortly after 10, Jonah rises and starts washing his face, getting ready for his meeting with Cantwell. Down the street, the express office is being robbed by Edie Cantwell and his two sidekicks. They gun down a man shouting a warning and ride out of town. In his room, Jonah hears the shots and then the sheriff kicks open the door to Jonah's room. The sheriff states that earlier he saw Jonah talking to the men that just robbed the express office.

Jonah quickly draws and shoots out the lamp in the room and then dives out the window onto the roof of the hotel porch. He jumps to the ground and rides off.

The sheriff makes tracks back to the jail and starts rounding up a posse when a black-hatted man in a dark overcoat strides in, stating that the sheriff has no need for a posse. The man, heavily armed and even MORE heavily mustached, states that he has been tracking Cantwell since Apache Forks and that he deserves the reward for Cantwell's capture. The sheriff backs down and the man rides off. One of the deputies questions the sheriff's actions and the sheriff tells him that was Arbee Stoneham, The Man-Killer!!!!

Dawn breaks, finding Jonah on Cantwell's trail and in turn Stoneham on Jonah's trail. Stoneham, in an inner monologue states that at 52 years old, he isn't about to let anyone steal his bounty, even a wildcat fighter like Jonah Hex (at this point I would like to point out that Jonah hasn't started bounty hunting yet and therefore doesn't have the huge reputation that he would earn later on. However, it appears that he does have quite a rep just from his exploits during the Civil War.)

Jonah tracks Cantwell for hours until he finally locates Cantwell and his men in an abandoned mine. Jonah tries to figure out a way that he can talk to Eddie alone. Inside, Cantwell and the men are splitting the loot, when they hear an owl outside. Since owls sleep during the day, the sidekicks are alarmed and think that Indians may be nearby. One of them exits the mine and Jonah jumps him from above , knocking him out and then punching the other one unconscious.

Jonah quickly tells Eddie what happened to him after Eddie robbed the express office. Eddie apologizes for getting Jonah mixed up in it, but he had no idea Jonah was in town and robbing is such good business lately. Their discussion is interrupted by Arbee Stoneham slowly riding up on his horse. Cantwell gasps at the sight of Stoneham.

Stoneham slowly dismounts and offers Jonah some bounty hunting advice:
  1. Don't horn in on another feller's bounty. Plenty of hunters will kill ya for that.
  2. Try to do as little hard work as possible. He let Jonah do all of the hard tracking for him.
  3. When your bounty is wanted dead or alive, dead is much better because no matter how tight you tie them a crook will get loose and kill you on the way back.
During this lesson, Stoneham slowly cocks his double barrel shotgun and shoots both of Cantwell's accomplices, reloads and then shoots Cantwell. Stoneham says that he has nothing personal against Jonah, be he is gonna take Jonah's pistols and run off Hex's horse, just for Stoneham's safety. Arbee Stoneham rides off with the three corpses, telling Jonah not to fret about getting beaten this time, because he was beaten by the best there ever was.

The flashback from last issue is over and we are back to the Spring of 1874. Jonah has reached the end of the street and confronts the Anderson's. Jonah tells Anderson and his two brothers that he is gonna kill them. The men draw and Jonah guns them down right where they stand. Hex turns and walks off (presumably to collect the bounty) and decides that it is about time that he look up Arbee Stoneham and pay him back for making Jonah look like an ignorant jackass.

Statistics for the issue
Men Killed by Jonah - 3
Running Total - 243
Jonah's Injuries - none, whew
Timeline - Winter of 1866, shortly after Jonah was scarred and the Spring of 1874.

I enjoyed this story, especially Arbee Stoneham who reminds me of Sam Elliott. The idea of an old hand showing Jonah the ropes, although through humiliation, coupled with the fact that Stoneham is not that honorable of a man, really added flavor to this tale. It seems like Cantwell was merely a plot device to have Jonah involved in a bounty hunt, but I can overlook that. It would be nice for a secondary character to be involved for more than two issues and then die (but that will happen much much later)

Next Issue: The best damn gunfight ever seen in a western book, the confrontation with Arbee Stoneham, and Jose Luis Garcia Lopez returns!!! (Yes, I just wet myself)