Monday, April 28, 2008

Jonah Hex #44 "Showdown of the Century"

Jonah Hex #44 Jan. 1981
"Showdown of the Century"
Michael Fleisher, story - Dick Ayers & Tony DeZuniga, art - Joe Kubert, cover

Part 3 of our epic (and the start of basically an almost 50 issue run) has Jonah Hex and Marshall J.D. Hart pulling themselves out of the river and the Spast boys are drawing a bead on them. Hart is hit first and Jonah runs over to him, throws him over his shoulder and heads back to the river. Before Jonah can make it to the safety of the water, he too, is hit and crashing through the cat-tails before they both sink below the surface.

The Spast boys search for the bodies which never surface so the brothers leave, convinced they have killed both the lawman & the bounty hunter. However, Hex and Hart have both survived by breathing through the broken cat-tails that Hex grabbed as they went down. Hart, with a head wound ends up getting carried by Jonah for several miles before they can find a farmhouse.

The farmer treats Hart's head wound and Jonah's shoulder wound. He also tells Hex that both of their horses showed up a couple of hours earlier. Probably because the Apache thinks it is bad medicine to keep belongings of those that escape. Jonah writes a note and tells the farmer to give it to Hart when he comes to. Jonah then mounts up and heads for Feldon's Gap.

Meanwhile, Mei Ling is leaving the farmhouse where she has been recovering and she is heading for Feldon's Gap as well to check on Jonah. Her leg, badly sprained and not broken, is only slightly bothering her to the point where she has to use crutches to get around. She drives a buggy into town and hobbles into the saloon asking about the whereabouts of Jonah Hex.

Sadly, the Spast brothers are at the saloon and they inform her that Jonah Hex is dead and that they are supposed to 'take care' of any women that come asking about Hex. Mei Ling starts crying and demanding that they release her when Jonah walks into the saloon. The Spast brothers grab Mei Ling, using her as a shield but she ends up biting the hand of the brother holding her. Jonah shouts for Mei Ling to hit the floor. She hits the floor, crying "Jonah, please".

Jonah opens fire, shooting over Mei Lings body and killing all four of the Spasts. Jonah tells Mei Ling that he has to clear himself of the murder charge and then he'll be done with the gunfighting.

J.D. Hart has come to and is having dinner with the farmer and his family. Suddenly a lit lantern comes crashing through the window and sets the cabin on fire. Hart tells them to smother the flames and the farmer explains that he is being run off of his property. Hart has the farmer help him up the chimney with a rifle.

Outside, several men on horseback are firing into the house, waiting for the family to come out. Hart makes it to the roof and jumps off the roof, knocking out two of the men. He punches out another one, clubs a fourth on the head with the rifle, knocks out a fifth and shoots the rifle out of the hands of the last man. he takes them all into custody and they head off for Feldon's Gap.

Back in town, Mayor Bilgewater is worrying. Worrying about the plan to run people off their land before word leaks out about the railroad coming through, worrying about getting rid of Jonah Hex, worrying about J.D. Hart possibly learning about everything. His cohort walks in and tells him that Hart is in town and is gunning for Hex, so all of their worries may be over.

Out in the street, Hart has called Hex out and is arresting him. Hex protests that he has been framed but Hart is having none of it. Hart pulls his gun and Jonah pumps three quick rounds into him. A doctor runs out into the street, leans over Hart and announces that he is still breathing. Hex kicks the doc in the ribs, stands over Hart and coldly plants another slug into the downed lawman.

Bilgewater's cohort, having witnessed the entire thing, runs back to the mayor and explains that everything has gone to hell. Just then Hex walks in and sits down. Jonah tells them that he is on to them and since he is getting married, he wants whatever cut that Sugar Wallace was getting, plus a third of the bank loot. They tell Jonah their entire plan, including killing Jeffries and that's when Jonah asks if J.D. heard everything.

Hart walks in and Jonah states that they have just done the greatest performance since the Booth brothers played Hamlet. The entire shootout was a ruse to make the banker and his bunch think that Hart was dead and then confess to framing Jonah. Hart arrests the men and takes them to jail.

The next day, Jonah and Mei Ling are strolling and talking with Hart. Hart says that he's glad the shootout was fake since he didn't want to go up against Jonah. Jonah states that there will be no question as to who will be the fastest gun since he will be hanging his pistols up. Mei asks Hart to stay for the wedding, but J.D. has trouble up in Lincoln county that he has to handle. Jonah mentions that they may settle here since Mei Ling has a brother in the area.

Jonah and Mei Ling ride off in a buckboard and J.D. Hart, watching them leave, ponders at the strangeness of Jonah hanging up his guns. He knows that some men get settled down "but other men, and I think Jonah is one of them, well, it seems like the good Lord above just did not mean for them to be happy."

More ominous words were never written.

Statistics for this issue
Men killed by Jonah - 4
Running total - 303
Jonah's Injuries - Shot in left shoulder
Timeline - This one spans two days with the bulk of the action taking place in the first day and then the next day Jonah & Mei Ling riding off. What year does it happen? No clues here but we'll probably have to come back and retrofit a year in here somewhere.

Of the three issues in this arc, I enjoyed this one the best. The art was better and we didn't see so much of Hart's homelife, so it wasn't so sappy goody goody where he was concerned. I do wonder about the fake shootout that has no blood. How believable could that have been, especially since Jonah shot Hart at point blank range after he kicked the doctor outta the way?

Next Issue: "Blood Wedding"! What else do I hafta say?

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

And now, a quick word about Mei Ling

Ya know, I want to set something straight. I have been re-reading some of my recent posts concerning the current story arc with the reintroduction of Mei Ling. They sound cynical and bitter, angry at the direction Fleisher took Jonah regarding Mei Ling, but I want to clear something up.

When this happened back in 1980 I was astounded at how daring it was and I think this is something that could not have happened with a regular superhero book. Taking a loner anti-hero and having him get married was pretty much unheard of back then. The only real mainstream character that was married was Barry Allen. I know that Ralph Dibny was married but he never had his own book. Barry's marriage was a good one, but Iris was murdered and then eventually Barry as well died during Crisis on Infinite Earths. Was there any other title character getting married?


And the bizarre thing is that Mei Ling didn't up and die a few issues later, throwing Jonah into a long revenge story arc. She stuck around and even though she seemed to be a constant nagging bitch, I have to say that she wasn't. If she was, she would have constantly brought up her father's death due to Jonah's inaction. What we got to see was a series of instances where Jonah was beset by either his past trying to get even or financial worries that he couldn't handle without reverting to what he knew best. Therefore we saw Mei Ling, in her own way, trying to show her husband that he could change, that he didn't have to live a life of anger. And I keep reminding myself that when I first read these books 28 years ago, each one was separated by 30 days. A 30 day gap between issues provides a breather for the reader so that repetitive characteristics aren't so obvious. We also have to remember that the timeline between the issues ranged from one day to probably months. During this time when we weren't privy to the private lives of the Hex family I'm sure that there were happy times for the Hex household (sheesh, I'm writing like these are real people).

But conflict of some sort is the driving force in storytelling and let's be honest, how many of us would have kept buying the book if Jonah hadn't picked his guns back up? But, just as honest, I would have liked to have seen Jonah face a problem that didn't require a pistol to solve. All in all, this was a brave move by Fleisher to change the direction of the book as well as making a major change to a character that wasn't going to be re-booted. This was a road, once taken, that could not be undone. Fleisher had done this before with Death of a Bounty Hunter, with the Fort Charlotte massacre, and with the entire early history of Jonah.

So, even though I may gripe about Mei Ling (mainly because she sounds like a broken record when read in a Trade format), I want everyone to be sure that I admire Michael Fleisher for his bravery to take a character into unexplored territory and do it in such a way that there was no turning back. So, Michael Fleisher, my hat is off to you, sir.

Thank you for your sense of adventure and thanks for sharing it with us.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Upcoming Jonah Hex story

Looks like Jonah will be fighting the mounties soon with artwork by Darwyn Cooke. That's one book I can hardly wait for. I have always enjoyed stories with bad weather, just the sick way my mind works. Written well the weather can become another character and act as a great leveler between adversaries in a conflict.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Jonah Hex #43 "Death by Fire!"

Jonah Hex #43 Dec 1980
"Death by Fire!"
Michael Fleisher, story - Gerald Forton, art - Joe Kubert, cover

Part 2 of our 3 part epic opens with Marshall Hart looking at the body of Banker Jeffries while the murderers explain that Jonah Hex is the man that robbed the bank and killed Jeffries. Hart makes special note of the bullet wounds and then heads over to the jail to check in on the killer, Spast, that he caught last issue.

While at the jail, Spast tells Hart that his three brothers will be gunning for Hart. Hart shrugs it off and leaves the jail, only to find the aforementioned brothers waiting outside for him. They draw on him and Hart shoots all three of them in their gun hands and then loads them up in the jail.

Meanwhile, Jonah has taken the doc to the house where Mei Ling is. The doc announces that Mei Ling is only suffering from a sprain and bruise and that she'll need to use crutches for a few days.
Once the doc leaves, Jonah goes in and he and Mei Ling talk about their love for each other. Mei says that she will stay with Jonah forever, only if he gives up a life of violence. Jonah agrees but he says that he has a commitment to hunt down the killer of banker Jeffries.

Hours later, Jonah is searching for tracks but can't find any (probably because there are none, since the killers are still in town). Suddenly he has a lariat thrown over him and he is pulled off his horse. Marshall Hart got the drop on Hex and makes him drop his gunbelt and inspects his pistols. Seeing that Jonah only has his .44 Dragoons and his rifle, Hart mentions that the bullet wounds were of a smaller caliber. Jonah states that it's obvious that someone is trying to frame him. Hart decides to take Jonah in anyway to sort things out.

Meanwhile back in the jail with the Spast brothers one of them reveals a hollow heel in his boots and shows his brothers that he had gunpowder. They put the gunpowder in a cigar, tie the cigar to the bars in the window and manage to blow a hole big enough for them to squeeze through.

Back to Hart & Hex. Jonah is handcuffed and he and the Marshall stop at a river to get some water for themselves and the horses. They are suddenly set upon by several Apache. hart ends up shooting one in the head and Jonah battles one in the river, drowning him. Hart & Hex are overpowered and the Apache recognize the Mark of the Demon that Jonah bears. There is a three page recap of issue 7 and issue 8 covering Jonah's past and his scarring.

When they arrive in the Apache camp, the chief orders them tied up and burned at the stake. The Indians club the two men unconscious and tie them to a stake. Hex and Hart come to when the fire is blazing pretty well . Hart comes up with a way for them to escape. They gouge each others wrists until they bleed and the blood causes their rawhide bonds to stretch. Suddenly freed, Jonah & Hart beat the living tar outta the Indians with Jonah saving Hart's life.

The two run from the camp and jump off a cliff into the river below. Jonah ends up hitting his head on a rock, knocking himself out. Hart pulls him to shore and the issue ends with the Spast brothers drawing a bead on Hart & Hex.

Statistics for this issue
Men killed by Jonah - 2 Indians
Running Total - 299
Jonah's Injuries - Knocked out 3 times. ouch!
Timeline - Well, it is right after the prior issue, so until we can determine when that was exactly, I'll have to leave this one blank.

Once again, Forton's artwork is so jarring that I have not been able to get into this book at all. The character of Hart hasn't aged well either. Hart is the stereotype of the TV cowboy hero, he only shoots the gunhand, he has a sweet aunt, he has some sort of younger brother. I'm convinced that the man doesn't have blood, he's so sweet he has syrup in his veins! I'm guessing that he was supposed to be a polar opposite of Hex, but fans wanted Jonah Hex,, the hideous bounty hunter. If they wanted J. D. Hart they could have picked up old copies of Gold Key westerns for crying out loud.

Boy, I'm liking this story arc less and less.

Next Issue: Jonah's dead, Hart's dead, Mei Ling is crying on a saloon floor and the Booth brothers (John Wilkes & Junius Brutus) get involved. Oh, and DeZungia is back. YAY!

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Jonah Hex #42 "Wanted for Murder!"

Jonah Hex #42 Nov. 1980
"Wanted for Murder!"
Michael Fleisher, story - Gerald Forton, art & cover

Our 3-part epic tale starts with a band of outlaws stealing sheep and Bart wearing Jonah's hat and coat. They are gloating about how great it was to see Jonah swinging from that cottonwood tree after they clobbered him in the head. As they continue to gloat, a noose is lowered from a tree and snags the outlaw in the back of the pack. The rest of the bandits hear their compatriot choking and they turn just in time to see Jonah jumping out of a tree above them.

He knocks out Bart and stabs him then grabs a rifle to face off with the remaining two outlaws. However the rifle is out of shells and Jonah has to use it like a baseball bat. The last outlaw, "Sugar" Wallace turns tail and runs. Jonah packs up the three that he caught and heads into town to get his bounty.

In town, Jonah meets up with Mayor Bilgewater and two other business men, John & banker Bill Jeffries. The mayor explains that it was their good fortune that Jonah happened by after the sheriff was gunned down by Wallace. Jonah decides to drop the bodies off at the undertaker and get himself some breakfast. Jonah leaves and the three men go inside.

Once inside they encounter Sugar Wallace himself. They rant at Wallace saying that they hired him to run off sheepherders so they can buy up the land cheap. The discussion escalates into a verbal fight while the Chinese man servant serves drinks. Wallace says that he didn't hire on to go up against Jonah Hex, but he can find some more men so the Mayor and the others can buy the land to sell to the railroad when the new spur comes into town.

Later that night, Jonah is washing up before turning in for the night. There is a knock at the door. It's Caroline, a saloon-girl that Jonah met earlier and she is wondering if she can come in. Jonah suspects a trap and rightly so. Wallace is outside the door with three other men. Jonah props a chair against the door and blows out the lamp and then tells Caroline to come in.

When Wallace's men try to open the door they find it blocked. Wallace blasts the door open and they find the window wide open. Just then, Jonah, standing on the porch roof outside the window, tosses in several sticks of lit dynamite, blowing Wallace and the three men clear to hell.

Outside, three more of Wallace's men are standing guard but they are surprised by Hex when he jumps off the roof, boot smacking one and gunning down the other two. Personally, I think the frame with Jonah jumping off the roof looks like he is actually flying upwards, propelled by the his pistols, not unlike early steampunk hand-rockets. Turn the page and the caption reads:

"And the following..."

Following what? Minute, day, hour, week? Heck, let's go with day.

Our trio of terror are lamenting the loss of Wallace but they have a backup plan. A U.S.Marshall named Jeremiah Hart is probably the only man that can kill Jonah Hex and they plan to get him.

We then cut to Jeremiah Hart hiding behind an ore cart, trying to flush out a killer holed up in a mine. The killer is holding a woman hostage after murdering her husband. Hart starts pushing the ore cart towards the mine, using it for cover. The killer grabs some handy dynamite, slaps the crap outta his hostage, lights the boomstick and throws it at the cart. The cart explodes and Hart jumps out from alongside the mine and shoots the gun out of the killer's hand. The woman hostage asks why Hart doesn't kill the man and Hart explains that it the hangman's job, his is to bring the killer in. The woman starts crying about her poor husband and Hart rides off with the killer in tow, leaving her at the mine.

Three days later Hart is coming home to his Aunt Gerry and Petey. It isn't clear if Petey is his son or his younger brother since Petey always calls Hart "J.D.". Anyway, Hart has the killer in tow and locks him up in the woodshed while they all have dinner. After dinner, Hart takes food out to the killer and then Petey asks to have Hart do a trick for him. Petey takes four silver dollars and throws them in the air. Before they hit the ground Hart manages to shoot all three of them dead center. Petey exclaims that nobody else in the whole world coulda done that, but Hart says that there is one other man, a bounty hunter.

Meanwhile, Jonah is riding is horse along, wondering why Sugar Wallace, normally a bank robber, started stealing sheep. Suddenly he hears a loud cry for help and he spots a wagon, minus a wheel, being dragged by two runaway horses. The woman in the wagon can't control them and Jonah manages to leap onto the horses and pull the whole shooting match to a halt just before they all tumble off a cliff. Jonah dismounts and starts to read the woman the riot act when he realizes....

it is Mei Ling!

Jonah helps her down from the wagon but she has broken her leg when the wagon threw the wheel. Jonah carries her to a nearby farmhouse while they recap their failed relationship. Mei explains that she is going to visit her brother who lives in Feldon's Gap.

Once at the farmhouse, they are invited in and Jonah lays Mei Ling onto a bed. Jonah starts to tell her that he loves her but she says that he actually loves the tenderness that is hidden deep within himself that he doesn't want to see there. Jonah says he knows that is what she said last time, but he truly loves her. Mei Ling reminds him that she could never love him as long as Jonah follows this life of violence and Jonah says that he will quit bounty hunting if only to have Mei Ling be his wife. She says that she will think about it.

Meanwhile, the trio of evil business men in Feldon's Gap are still working on their scheme to get Hart to hunt down Hex. Their plan involves framing Hex for murder (because that has been so successful in the past) and they pull pistols out and shoot banker Jeffries, thus having a crime to frame Hex for and allowing for a profit split of two ways rather than three.

Several hours later, Jonah rides into town to fetch a doc for Mei Ling when the Mayor runs out and explains that one of Wallace's men rode into town, robbed the bank and killed Jeffries.. Jonah says he'll drop the doc off and then hunt down the killer.

Back at J.D. Hart's place he receives a telegram from Feldon's Gap saying that they need him to hunt down the man that just robbed the bank and killed banker Jeffries. They want Hart to bring in Jonah Hex.

Statistics for this issue
Men killed by Jonah - 10
Running Total - 297
Jonah's Injuries - Prior to the start of the story he was clubbed and hung.
Timeline - This obviously takes place "more than a year" (according to Mei Ling) after issue #23, but there is no date given. Until we can backtrack a date, we'll just say this one is about 1874 or 1876. One of those. I know it's not 1875, because nothing happened to Jonah Hex during 1875, right?

This is the start of a three part story and the beginning of a story arc that lasts almost 50 issues! From here on out, each story builds on the one prior to it (except for a filler issue or two) and this can be a good thing or a bad thing. Ongoing stories are something I enjoy but at times throughout the remainder of the series it almost got way too much like a soap opera. But it also allowed for growth in Jonah's character that couldn't have been done without it. So was Mei Ling the best thing to happen to Hex or the worst? I'm divided on the whole topic and I'll recount the whole thing as we go along and let you decide for yourselves. Of course, the next several issues is going to drive some people nuts.

On a side note, I do not enjoy Forton's work. Jonah looks waaay too scrawny and the quality in the panels isn't very consistent. It looks too much like artwork in the old Charlton westerns from the 60's.

Next Issue: Captured by Hart, burned at the stake, and almost drowned!! Oh, and a Kubert cover to boot.