Friday, February 22, 2008

The Many Phases of Jonah Hex - The Historical Hex

Michael Fleisher picked up the reins of Jonah Hex with WWT #22 and he never looked back. Starting in that issue we got hints of Jonah's past in the Civil War and the first glimpse of Quentin Turnbull. The Historical Hex lasted from WWT #22 through Jonah Hex #41, a full 60 issues if you include the Christmas special.

Fleisher took a great character and made him even better. The bounty hunter is a romanticized figure in American culture. A mysterious bounty hunter is even better. A hideously disfigured mysterious bounty hunter is the icing on the cake. But, realistically, how far can you take a character on mystery alone? You can get a load of creepy stories, but they are just creepy stories and they eventually fall flat. Look at El Diablo as exhibit #1. Fleisher took a character that was good for probably 50 issues, max, and fleshed it out so that is survived for over 160+ issues and three different incarnations (Jonah Hex, Hex, & Vertigo).

During this time, the presentation of Jonah's face actually started mirroring his past. With Albano, Jonah's scars and his past were hardly seen, both were something only hinted at. With Michael Fleisher at the keyboard, Jonah's scarred face was seen constantly and we were also treated sporadically to hints of his past, mostly his childhood and his years in the Civil War. The more we saw his scars, the more we saw of his past. There were a few times we saw Jonah post war, his scarring and his first foray into bounty hunting. The years that were mostly missing were 1854-1861 (his escape from the Apaches until the Civil War, ages 16-23), but this gap is addressed later on, near the end of the run of the first series.

During this time we learn that Jonah's dad, Woodson, is a drunken child abuser. Jonah's mother, Ginny (possibly short for Virginia) helped raise Jonah as well and we learn more about her in issue #57. Woodson was a single father for three years and then sold Jonah into slavery to the Indians. Jonah saves the chief from a puma and for the first time is accepted by a 'family' and adopted into the chief's family. But this would be short lived as well, since Jonah is abandoned once again by his step-brother (the chief's son).

So before Jonah has turned 20 he has had a pet raccoon slaughtered for dinner, has been abandoned by his mother, been abandoned by his father (in exchange for pelts), & left for dead by a 'brother'. This abandonment obviously set Jonah up for not having many emotional attachments as he got older. We never see his having steady friends, the few he has show up only to die later in the story and while this is obviously a mere plot device, it also tells us a lot about a man that is content with his chosen profession of constantly being on the move and constantly hated.

But what steered Jonah towards the Confederacy? We know of hints that he worked as a scout for the U.S. Army even as late as 1859 (we learn this in issue #65), but we can only assume by Jonah's 'accent' that his family was originally from the South and that after more 'abandonment' (#65) he heads back home to his roots. Somehow, he becomes friends with Jeb Turnbull and they both join the Confederacy. Then in Jan. 1863, Jonah actually has a chance to take control of his life. He quits, or abandons, the Confederate army in the most noble way he knows and refuses to betray his fellow soldiers. But Jonah is betrayed by an evil Union Corporal, leading to the death of his best friend and the constant hounding by Quentin Turnbull.

Sadly, Turnbull, who Jonah had obviously turned to as a father figure, being the father of his best friend, morphed into a copy of Jonah's real father. Turnbull, former friend, was now a constant threat in Jonah's life, seeking not to just abuse him, but to kill him.

It is undocumented (except for here) how Jonah returned to the Confederacy but the why can be assumed. Jonah saw the Union forces as the side fighting on the side of righteousness, but after the betrayal and slaughter at Fort Charlotte, he obviously turned his back on the Union and rejoined the Confederacy to exact some level of vengence. But Jonah has been branded as a turncoat by many in the Confederacy and by Turnbull as well. Jonah also ends up firing the bullet that takes the life of Stonewall Jackson, a superior as well as a respected father figure.

After the war, Jonah ends up encountering his Apache 'father' and confronts him, trying to settle an old score with his step-brother. But through deception and lies, Jonah is once again cast into the role of a liar and a cheat and his Apache father rejects Jonah, branding him with a tomahawk.
Every authority figure in Jonah's life has left him and/or rejected him. His mother leaves; his father sells him; his 'brother' leaves him for dead; the Union corporal frames him; Turnbull vows to kill him; Stonewall Jackson dies by his hand; and the only father figure that accepted him, the chief, not only turns Jonah away but places upon Jonah a permanent albatross, the hideous disfigurement, a symbol of rejection so that everyone will know that Jonah is refuse, a castaway, a pariah.

And since the disfigurement encompasses Jonah's mouth, Jonah is reminded of rejection by all cultures every time he eats, every time he drinks, every time he encounters a mirror. Every time he sees a child, he is reminded of his own painful past. Every time he meets a woman, he is reminded of the horror that his face has become and he is convinced that the ugliness on the outside is merely a window into the ugliness within. He must be ugly within, otherwise, why would everyone reject him?

Jonah turns to bounty hunting. A lonely life of killing, danger, isolation. This step completes the rejection of Jonah Hex. He is no good for decent society, but his own moral compass won't allow him to turn to the other side of the law. By becoming a bounty hunter, Jonah is also rejected by the lower elements of society. A force of good, he is shunned by the evil in the world. A vision of horror, he is shunned by the good in the world. On top of everything, Jonah insists on wearing the uniform of a defeated army, wrapping himself in the symbolism of a lost cause bearing the colors of a way of life that has been rejected, defeated, and crushed by the country at large. Jonah walks a line, hated by everyone and though that appears to be fine with him, we'll soon find out that it isn't and Jonah finally finds a way to change all of that.

That will be the next Phase of Jonah Hex.

1 comment:

SallyP said...

Nice. Very nice.