Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Many Phases of Jonah Hex - The Tragic Hex

Once we moved past the mysterious bounty hunter and started fleshing out the past and the motivations of the character, the next obvious step is to put that character into situations that test what the character is made of.

Fleisher did the unthinkable for a Western loner, turn him from a loner into a couple and on top of that, give him a child. I, like many other readers at the time, thought that Mei Ling would end up chewing on a lead biscuit, sending Jonah into a vengeful bloody aftermath that would hold us through several issues. Weren't we surprised!? Mei Ling survives, and ends up holding fast to her word that she would leave Jonah if he didn't change his ways.

Jonah had been wounded in so many aspects of his life. Rejected as a child by his mother & father, rejected as a brother by his Apache step-brother, rejected as a soldier by the Fort Charlotte brigade, rejected as a man (branded a liar and coward) by Quentin Turnbull, rejected as a human by most of society. The love of Mei Ling bypassed all of that and accepted Jonah on all of those levels and included those of husband and father. However, Mei Ling could not accept violence, but she and Jonah both failed to realize that violence was not a path that Jonah had chosen.

It was a path that had chosen him. Violence was as much a part of Jonah's life as peace and serenity was ingrained into Mei Ling's. Violence was not something that Jonah could stop doing, it was the only response that he had learned and even though he set down his guns, guns kept seeking him out.

Jonah's life, never one full of sunshine and daisies, takes a tragic turn that is probably worse than if his wife & child were dead. Mei Ling leaving him, rather than being taken away from him via the end of a gun, meant that it was a conscious decision on her part to wound Jonah again and this time in an area of his life that had been wounded before. As anyone can tell you, a wound inflicted consciously hurts so much more than one inflicted by accident. Even though some would say that Mei Ling was justified in leaving and taking Jason, maybe even saying that she had no choice in the matter, she knew what she was doing, and Jonah would perceive it as a selfish act, the same as all of his other wounds.

With Mei Ling and Jason still alive, but forever removed from Jonah's life, he returns to his old life, losing himself in his work, as it were. However, since Jonah's life is one of tragedy, he will be constantly reminded of Mei Ling, crossing paths with her and having his suppressed feelings resurface.

Jonah eventually finds some level of comfort in the arms of Emmy Lou, but that also turns tragic when Emmy Lou is kidnapped (oddly enough, the reason had nothing to do with her relationship with Jonah). Jonah ends up turning from one woman to another in what becomes an almost revolving door of feminine comfort, with one woman leaving his life and then another popping up unexpectedly.

Near the end of his Life, Jonah is reunited with Jason, but refuses to acknowledge the relationship with his only son. When forcefully and violently confronted with it, he does ask about Mei Ling. Her death has sealed the door for any hope of reconciliation on that wound of Jonah's. He drunkenly rides off, never knowing of his grandson.

In his last days, Jonah finally finds companionship in Tall Bird, the last woman he will love and one that will stick with him for decades past his death.

Probably the most tragic part of Jonah Hex's life is his attempts to reconcile his entire life with the concept of God. It's been said that in every man's life there is a God-shaped hole, an emptiness that only God can fill, but man constantly tries to fill it with other endeavors or diversions. Some people dismiss the idea of God and learn to live with that concept, others, like Jonah, look at their circumstances and decide that there is a God and He is one who hates them. All of the rejection in Jonah's life can either be confronted or cast aside. He can deal out vengeance against the offender or busy himself elsewhere, removing himself from the rejection. However, once a man acknowledge the existence of God, he can never truly be alone. And if God is supposed to a be a father, a loving father to us all, how does one who has only known physical & mental abuse from their real father, reconcile that reality into a father who is omnipresent, omnipotent, and omniscient? Most likely their concept of God turns to a heavenly being who delights in the torture of the creation. Of all the wounds against Jonah Hex, this one is probably the most tragic in that no matter what Jonah does, where Jonah goes, he can never destroy or run away from this vengeful God.

He may try to lash out at God; crying into the storm, shaking his fist at the sky. He may attempt to reason with God; silently asking for reasons, striking deals in an attempt at some relief. But Jonah is never able to reconcile with God and find the peace that he yearns for.

Jonah Hex finally ends up being swallowed by grief and tragedy his entire life and even in death, where everyone seeks some rest on heaven's shore, the body of Jonah, stuffed and on display, remains stuck in the "belly of the whale".


Michael Xavier said...

Excellent commentary!

I think one of the reasons why Jonah Hex has remained so popular is because he is such a strong example of what a life of adversity will eventually turn a man to. Yes, on one hand, Hex is a horrible human being committing sin after sin, yet after all that Jonah has been through he commits these sins to punish those that often go unpunished. It bears wondering how different Hex's life would've been if someone like himself came along and "set things right" for Jonah. In a way, Jonah Hex tries to find redemption in his own life by helping the oppressed not be destroyed like he was throughout his life.

Dwayne "the canoe guy" said...

Your last sentence brings up an excellent point. My favorite scene in the new series is when Jonah witnesses a young boy being beaten by his drunken father. Hex shoots the man & the boy says " You killed my dad." To this Jonah replies, "You're welcome."

That episode speaks volumes.

SallyP said...

Nice. Very nice.

Sea-of-Green said...

Marvelous essay, Dwayne -- probably the best description I've read of what motivates Jonah Hex and secures his uniqueness as a comic book anti-hero.