Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Jonah Hex Spectacular "The Last Bounty Hunter!"

Jonah Hex Spectacular Fall 1978
"The Last Bounty Hunter!"
Michael Fleisher, story - Russ Heath, art - Jose Luis Garcia Lopez, cover

This appeared at what I guess was the pinnacle of sales for Jonah Hex. It was also a defining moment in the history of the character. It has become one of the most talked about stories in Jonah's timeline and was somewhat unique in comics history. It's also sad to say that this was published about the same time as the amazingly awful dreck that was in Justice League of America.

But let's forget that icky icky ca-ca and get right into our story.

Jonah is lying on a rocky outcropping, using binoculars to track the George Barrow gang who just robbed a bank in Cheyenne. They have broken up into two groups of four. Jonah, his face in shadows, walks back to his horse and contemplates how much the world has changed. Folks are riding in gasoline powered buggies, a couple of guys actually flew for 59 seconds and he is feeling too tired to try to take on all 8 guys in the Barrow gang. Yup, 1904 is a strange time to be in. We then see Jonah in the sunlight, 66 years old, wrinkled, haggard looking, wearing wire-rimmed glasses.

We cut to the Barrow gang setting up camp later that night. They know that Jonah has been following them and they have a plan to double back and get the drop on Jonah. Once the fire is going, Frank & Larry go off to 'collect firewood' but they actually climb the hills surrounding the camp and come up behind Jonah, laying on a rocky outcropping. But it is actually all of Jonah's clothes, laid out to look like he is lying there. Suddenly a lasso snakes out of the darkness, tightens around Frank's neck and Frank is yanked back into the shadows. Larry quickly jumps to his feet just as a Bowie knife is thrown into his heart. Jonah emerges from the shadows wearing red long johns.

back at the campfire, Zeke & Pete are getting nervous about Larry & Frank being gone so long. Jonah calmly states that maybe those two are dead. Zeke & Pete spin around to see Jonah calmly lighting up a cigarette. They start to draw on Jonah but he guns both of them down. Pete manages to get a shot off that goes through Jonah's right arm. Hex, fingering the hole thinks "Yo're gettin' slow, Jonah boy! Mighty damn slow!"

The next morning, the city of Cheyenne is greeted with the sight of Jonah dragging four corpses through the middle of town. Jonah heads to the police station and checks in with Hank, the chief of police. Hank tallys up the reward to $12,000 for the four men. While Jonah is signing the voucher for the reward, Ernie, the deputy, takes it upon himself to try to educate Jonah in modern police methods. Ernie states that the modern system really doesn't need old men from the 1870's doing dirty bounty work.

Jonah's reply?

Jonah walks out and Hank calmly tells Ernie that he got off lucky, Jonah could still stitch his name in bullets across Ernie's forehead. Hank then laments to himself that Jonah's world is gone now & that they don't make men like that anymore.

Jonah heads over to a general store to stock up on supplies. While he is there, he encounters Michael Wheeler, an American History professor at Princeton. Wheeler explains that he has traveled out west to meet Jonah. Hex replies that he hopes that it has been a scintillatin's experience and then walks out the door. Wheeler follows him, explaining that he wants to write the history of Jonah's life, of the entire way of life of bounty hunters. Wheeler wants people to be able to remember how it was for these men. After some thought, Jonah tells Wheeler he can come out to Jonah's cabin.

Several hours later the two men arrive at a cabin in the foothills. A beautiful Indian woman, Tall Bird, comes running out to meet them. Wheeler remarks on her beauty and asks if she is Jonah's daughter. Jonah replies "not hardly", pulls her close and kisses her deeply.

Over the next several days, Jonah recounts to wheeler his life with the Apache, being a buffalo hunter, his days as an Army scout (post Civil War). Oddly enough, nothing is said about the Civil War. Jonah then goes on to tell about his early days as a bounty hunter. Time continues to pass until Wheeler has stayed with the Hexes for months.

Winter has set in and Jonah and Wheeler head out into the snow to hunt some game. As they get ready to drop a moose they are rudely interrupted by two men and a gaudy wagon. It is Lew Farnham and his sidekick Simon. Farnham owns Farnham's Spectacular Wild West Revue. Farnham had been to Jonah's cabin and spoke with Tall Bird in order to locate Jonah. Farnham has a business proposition for Hex. He wants Jonah to join the show and travel around the world to perform before kings, queens, and emperors, displaying his amazing gunfighting talents. Farnham even had a white leather costume made up with Jonah's name across the back in genuine simulated rhinestone diamonds. Farnham also wants Jonah to ride bareback while juggling and even has plans for "that cute little squaw" that includes:
Needless to say, Jonah turns his back on the showman and leaves. Needless to say, Farnham doesn't like taking no for an answer and vows to get Jonah into his show.

Several more days pass and when Jonah and Wheeler return from another of their hunting trips, they find the cabin ransacked, Tall Bird missing, and a note:

It is night, George Barrow and two of his gang are around a campfire, another is on lookout, and Tall Bird is tied to a tree. The two gang members are wondering if this is a good idea, will Jonah, a 'washed-up' bounty hunter actually come rescue an 'injun'? barrow assures them that he will. Barrow's dad fought alongside Jonah at Shiloh and Barrow knows what Hex is capable of. Of course, what Jonah is capable of is sneaking up a cliff, knife in his teeth, getting the drop on the lookout and stabbing him to death without a sound.

A few minutes later, 'Luke', the lookout, comes down to the fire to get some coffee. Barrow realizes that it isn't Luke's voice and draws his gun. When they rip the hat off of 'Luke' it's really Wheeler (whom they have never seen before). While Barrow and his men are demanding an explanation, Jonah is drawing a bead on them from the lookout post. He shoots all three men and they drop to the ground. Wheeler runs over to free Tall Bird. Tall Bird shouts that one of the men is escaping and Wheeler fires several shots into the darkness.

When Jonah gets down to the camp he asks about all the shooting and Wheeler explains that Barrow has gotten away. Hex apologizes for his eyes not being what they used to be. Since they can't go after Barrow in the dark, they'll just get these other three into Cheyenne in the morning. Tall Bird tells Jonah to be careful, she has a bad feeling. Hex and Wheeler head off into the dark toward Cheyenne while Barrow, wounded in the cold darkness vows that he will repay Jonah.

The next morning as Jonah and Wheeler are coming out of the police station there is a brand new 3 hp Oldsmobile parked in front. Wheeler is admiring it and the owner offers to take Wheeler and his 'dad' for a ride. Jonah takes a pass, observing that he only risks his neck when he gets paid for it. Wheeler rides off in the car as Jonah heads for the saloon.

In the saloon, Jonah is invited to join a poker game. After several hands Jonah takes off his glasses to clean them. Jonah is apologizing for holding up the games when suddenly George Barrow storms into the saloon with a double barreled shotgun. He smashes the butt of the gun into Jonah's face, knocking him out of his chair. While Jonah is on the floor, grabbing his pistol. Barrow unloads first one barrel and then the other into the chest of Jonah Hex. The barkeep quickly phones the Police station, where Hank grabs his rifle and makes tracks for the saloon.

The Oldsmobile arrives in front of the saloon just in time for Wheeler to see George Barrow emerge, arms over his head, holding the shotgun aloft, proclaiming that he has just killed Jonah Hex. Hank comes around the corner and orders Barrow to drop the shotgun. Barrow breaks open the shotgun to show that it isn't loaded and then Hank shoots Barrow twice in the chest, killing him.

Wheeler rushes into the saloon to find Jonah on the floor. He gently lifts Jonah's head off the floor as Jonah whispers:
and dies. Wheeler picks up Jonah's body and takes it from the saloon. Outside, some children are begging for souvenirs from Jonah's body and when one of them pulls a button from his coat, Wheeler gives the kid a swift kick. Wheeler takes Jonah back home.

Wheeler starts to apologize to Tall Bird, but she quiets him, telling him that men like Jonah die because they have willed it deep inside themselves. Tall Bird directs Wheeler to put Jonah on the bed. By Comanche tradition (Tall Bird's people), Wheeler must light the fire that will burn down the cabin and release Jonah's spirit.

Just as they start to do that, Lew Farnham and Simon appear in the doorway stating that they have better plans for the corpse. Wheeler rushes them but is quickly gunned down. Tall Bird protests, kneeling by Jonah's body, but Farnham kicks the living bejesus out of her. They then set fire to the cabin after stealing Jonah's corpse.

The next afternoon, they have delivered the body to the taxidermy studio along with the costume that they wanted Jonah to wear in the show. A week later, the stuffed corpse of Jonah hex is returned to the Wild West Revue. They place Jonah on a pedestal and Simon starts to place a pistol in Jonah's hand. Farnham warns Simon to be careful but:

So Simon becomes the last man that Jonah Hex kills. Oh, and Farnham just drags the body away.

The story doesn't say for how long Farnham showed off the corpse of Jonah Hex, but it appears to have been quite awhile, word has gotten around how much Lew has been making. So, one night, while Farnham is counting his money, three men come into the tent, kill Farnham, rob him and take the body of Jonah to sell to an antique dealer.

After that, Jonah's body is shown to have been in the back room of an antique shop in 1923 and then ended up in a warehouse in Detroit in 1949. In 1972, the corpse was purchased by the owner of Westworld Amusement Park on the outskirts of New York City. At the end of our tale, we see Jonah in the park with a small boy dressed in cowboy gear asking his mom if that is a real man. She assures him it is just a dummy.

It starts to rain and as the mom hustles her son off, the boy shouts, "Take THAT, badman! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang!" The rain continues to pour and we see the last of Jonah Hex, 1838-1904.

Statistics for this issue:
Men killed by Jonah: 7 of the Barrow gang and a post mortem shooting for Simon. 8 total.
Jonah's Injuries: Shot once in the arm. Double shotgun blast to the chest resulting in death.
Timeline: 1904 with quick stops in 1923, 1949, and 1972. I do have an item about the timeline (Surprise!). In several books, Jonah's birth year has been listed as 1838 and in issue 50 of Jonah Hex it was listed as November 1st. Jonah's death is listed as 1904 at the age of 66, therefore, Jonah died either in November or December. This is actually a pleasing item, something that actually fits!!!

At times I'm at a loss for words about this comic. DC actually killed a character, not a supporting character, but one that was currently in his own book. But there was one reason I see that they could get away with it. Jonah Hex, by our account, was already dead. Jonah's adventures take place in our past so we know that he is dead, but knowing it and seeing it is something else completely.

This isn't like Superman/Green Arrow/Green Lantern/Wally West dead. It's Ferro Lad/Barry Allen/Tasha Yar dead. Not 'mostly dead', he is all dead. And it's not a death that will ever be rebooted, it's a nasty needless death with a horrible ending that has been referenced in several other books already. I don't think that this death will ever change. You can read some of Fleisher's thoughts about this issue here. This concept of showing the death of a character but still have his book ongoing (and it would be ongoing for about 74 more issues!) was a totally new concept that I don't think had been done before.

A few other interesting things about this issue. It came out long before we learned about Mei Ling, but here it appears that Jonah is married to Tall Bird (she does appear much later in a copy of Secret Origins), so Fleisher, accidentally at the time, has made Jonah a twice married man. Also, when Jonah is relating his past, the Civil War is not mentioned at all. Did Fleisher do this because he didn't want Jonah talking about it, or was it an unintentional omission?

DC did get some disparaging letters (two I think), but I was among the ones that really really enjoyed this book. Sadly, I don't think we ever saw Russ Heath work on Jonah again. (UPDATE: Mr Heath did work again in Jonah Hex V2 #25)

Also in this issue was a Bat Lash story and a Scalphunter story ads.


SallyP said...

My God! That is pretty dadgummed fantastic. Granted, Jonah was a Western, and therefore, as you said "dead" anyway, but still...! A very powerful and moving story.

A pretty rotten way to go, and the stuffed corpse is just bizarre, and yet oddly in keeping with Jonah's whole life. He never did have a lick of good luck in his life.

Good stuff.

googum said...

Love it. I don't have that one, but I remember the Secret Origins. I've been trying to remember if I have Hex #20, the last issue of Jonah in the future, and one of the most numbingly depressing endings in comics I've ever seen...

Dwayne "the canoe guy" said...

Hex only lasted 18 issues. I think that the Hex comic really tanked when they brought Giffen in to do the chicken scratching he called art.

Mister Sinister said...

In Booster GOld's new book, he goes back & drinks w/ Hex & later puts his body in a good place, his new bar. Eh, better than rain in 1949

Anonymous said...

Actually the last man hex kills is at that amusement park much later.
I believe (from memory) his gun just goes off and kills a bad guy (unless it just wounds him?)
So I think you have one little error there. Other than that, brilliant article.

Doc Icenogle said...

Well all I can say is thanks. I read them all though 1970's and part of the 1980's but never knew they killed him.

PALADIN said...

Greetings, and please pardon the intrusion if I inadvertently post a redundancy (I just discovered this site)....

But I have always thought that the genesis of this story was the real-life discovery of a mummified western outlaw named Elmer McCurdy in 1976.
During the filming of a tv show at an amusement park in California, a crewman tried to move what everyone had thought was a 'dummy'...when the arm broke off and a human bone was exposed.

Investigation uncovered that this was the taxidermied remains of Elmer McCurdy, who had been shot dead by a posse after a robbery in 1911. When the body went unclaimed, it was 'stuffed' and put on display, eventually ending up in the amusement park.
Time had passed, and Elmer McCurdy`s fate had been lost to memory for 66 years... Jonah Hex`s age at time of death...Synchronicity?

C.Michael said...

Hex wonders how he made it to 66🤔 but one could be more impressed thinking how on earth that C.S.A.UNIFORM lasted into the 1880s...... let alone 1904!! 😯😲😃😄

God bless those southern seamstresses, You rEally couldn't best their handiwork. 👍🏻