Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Weird Western Tales #22 "Showdown at Hard Times"

Weird Western Tales #22 -May/Jun 1974
"Showdown at Hard Times"
Michael Fleisher - story, Tony DeZuniga - art

This story starts off with two outlaws caught in a downpour coming up on a prospector in a lean-to. They decide to rob the prospector, but they learn (too late) that it's Jonah Hex in disguise. During the shootout both outlaws are killed, Jonah's horse is killed and the outlaw's horses run off. Jonah is now on foot.

In a scene straight out of Stagecoach, the next day Jonah flags down a passing stage and hitches a ride. In the stage are a spinster, a deputy sheriff (Fred Caro), a black prisoner in handcuffs (Blackjack Jorgis), & and another man in black. During the ride, Jonah takes a swig from a bottle he is carrying. The spinster acts offended. In a nice bit of comedy, Jonah apologizes for being rude and not offering her any. She is even MORE offended. Jonah realizes his mistake and wipes off the top of the bottle to sterilize it and offers it to her again. She tells Jonah off and Jonah replies "Jonah, boy, ah'm thinkin' it's about time tuh keep yore mouth shut, an' enjoy the scenery." (Side note: How did Fleisher write like this? Did he get paid by the apostrophe? Did he write in normal English and then run it through a Hex-ifier?)The man in black (aka Lee Van Cleef) takes notice of Jonah's name and pulls out a photo of Jonah, unscarred, standing next to a Confederate flag. Cleef pencils in the scars on Jonah's face and makes a positive ID. Just then, burning tumbleweeds roll down a hill, spooking the horses. A couple of shots ring out and the driver & the guard are both killed.

The horses are running wild & Jonah climbs out of the stage to stop them, but the stage takes a sharp turn and the whole thing tips over. When Jonah gets up, he is being held at riflepoint by a couple of Mexicans and an Indian that are trying to free Blackjack. Blackjack kills the deputy and offers the spinster to one of the Mexicans. Jonah attempts to defend the lady, insults the Mexican and then Blackjack notices Jonah's Confederate jacket.

Blackjack then decides to show the 'Johnny Reb' some 'courtesy & respect' by beating the tar out of Jonah before he & his gang escapes. Jonah recovers and then takes the stagecoach on into the nearby town, Hard Times.
In town, Jonah meets the sheriff, Hank Brewster. Hank hasn't seen Jonah in 15 years and makes mention of hearing how fast Jonah is with a gun, figuring it was some of the things that Hank had taught Jonah that made him so fast. Jonah says that Hank taught him everything he knows. The next morning Hank & Jonah are talking. Hank states that he heard about Jonah's scars & is sorry about that. He then asks "How's yore paw? Is the old coot still..." "thet's right, Hank. He still is." replies Jonah.

In that quick little 3 panel exchange we get some nice early glimpses into Jonah's past. Here is someone that taught him about shooting, knew him before his scars, and knows his family (& his father is still alive.)

Jonah & Hank continue drinking & then Jonah decides to track down Blackjack. Meanwhile, Cleef has ridden to a cabin full of men that appear to be associated with the Confederacy. He tells of finding Jonah and they state that they must now find Jonah & kill him.
Later that day, Jonah tracks down Blackjack & his gang. He breaks into their cabin, but one of the gang gets the drop on Jonah. They drag him outside to kill him, but they are suddenly cut down in a blaze of gunfire. Jonah thanks the men, but they are the men that Cleef contacted. They prepare to lynch Hex, but Sheriff Brewster shows up with a posse. Brewster observes how much the bounty will be for the dead Blackjack gang, but Jonah points out that it should go to Cleef's men.

Everybody heads back to town where Jonah is begged by the village idiot for his autograph. Jonah complies and the man is elated to get the autograph of Buffalo Bill. Later that evening, Brewster interrupts Jonah's dinner to tell him that the four men from earlier in the day have told Brewster to give Jonah the altered photo. Brewster offers his help but Jonah declines.

The men are waiting by the stockyards. As Jonah prepares to meet them he comments that he doesn't mind going up against four men wanting to kill him, that sorta thing builds character. It's a cerftain fifth man that gnaws on him. Jonah climbs to a second floor balcony of a nearby building and ambushes two of the men. A third is preparing to shoot Hex when the cattle his is hiding among get spooked and trample him to death.

In the gathering darkness a fourth man comes up behind Jonah and calls his name. Jonah turns and shoots. While he is reloading, he is shot twice in the left shoulder by the fourth gunman. As the man prepares to kill Jonah, Hex grabs his pistol and kills the fourth gunman. Jonah then discovers that the man he shot in the darkness was Sheriff Brewster coming to Jonah's aid. Brewster dies in Jonah's arms. The townsfolk gather around, acknowledging the accidental shooting of the shreiff, but wondering why those men were gunning for Hex. One person commenting on Jonah asks "did you see them scars? I've heard it said it was the devil's own pitchfork what done it". Another comments, "Look at him, will you? Five men dead and he rides outta here like a parson going on a picnic." It's at that point we witness a tear rolling down Hex's scarred cheek.
The very end of the book happens two days later as a black butler, Solomon, tells a man with an eagle-topped cane that Jonah is still alive and the other men are dead. The mystery man mentions to his dog, Caesar, that they will have to try again.

Stats for the issue
Men killed by Jonah - 6 shot, 1 trampled
Running Total - 56
Jonah's injuries - Beaten twice, shot twice in the left shoulder.
Timeline - This is the start of the Turnbull saga and the only time clue we have is the reference to Buffalo Bill. Bill had gained some prominence by 1872 when he was awarded Medal of Honor while being a civilian scout for the Army, but he had not yet started his Wild West touring show by this time. I would place this between 1868 (when Buffalo Bill started working for the Army) & 1875, but it could probably be narrowed down more to take place after 1872.
This was a pretty graphic tale with 7 men dying by Jonah's hand , 6 others getting shot during the story, and an implied impending rape. The most disturbing part of the story has to be Blackjack's dialogue. I can understand wanting to portray people as uneducated, but allowing the ongoing use of the term "watermelly" by Blackjack (a black man weilding a watermelon like a weapon) was pretty offensive to me even back in 1974 at the age of 13. I'm just wondering if DC changed the text in the recent Showcase Trade of Jonah Hex.

This story also set the stage for so much more that was to follow, Jonah's scarring by a tomahawk, the Fort Charolette massacre, Quentin Turnbull, Jonah's father, and it also showed a compassionate side of Hex that he even denies to himself, when a good friend is killed. I would place this in the better half of Hex tales.

Next week: Jonah, President Grant, and the town gets blown to hell.


Brandon Bragg said...

Is this run available in a color reprint? That's some sweet-ass art. I've been holding off buying the Showcase trade until I find out.That DeZuniga feller shore can draw him some pretty pictures.

Dwayne "the canoe guy" said...

My understanding is that the Showcase books are in B&W. Hex had some great artists including Jose Garcia Lopez, Gray Morrow, & Mark Texeria and there were even some Kubert covers

Brandon Bragg said...

One of my favorite artists in the western genre is John Severin. Do you know if he's ever done any Hex stories? I'd probably run out and buy them if he did.

Dwayne "the canoe guy" said...

I don't think that Severin ever worked for DC. I enjoyed his Marvel stuff all the time.

Brandon Bragg said...

That's a shame. It's never too late though. That PUNISHER thing he did a while back looked pretty good.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the nice comments. If you'd like, I'd be happy to scan the issue & email it to you. Showdown at Hard Times is one of the better Hex stories. Drop me a line at my email listed in the "Who Drew Hex" post.

Anonymous said...

You may have found this information out by now, but they didn't change the "Watermelly" lines in the Showcase trade.

It was jarring to me as well.

Dwayne "the canoe guy" said...

I'm glad that they didn't change it. I think they need to present the work as it was originally shown, warts & all.