Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A Bounty Hunter's Best Friend

Jonah Hex, the hideously scarred bounty hunter, first appeared in All-Star Weird Western #11 (March 1972). Writer John Albano and artist Tony DeZuniga obviously had Spaghetti Westerns in mind when they created the character. In fact, as I said in another post, if a Jonah Hex movie had been made in the 1970s, Clint Eastwood is the only actor who would have been right for the part.

Jonah introduced a more raw and brutal Western hero into the comic book genre. Hex was still kind-of, sort-of a good guy--he hunted legitimate crooks and he would help the innocent (though he'd often be ill-tempered about the necessity of doing so). But he did have a brutal streak--perhaps most noted in his tendency to bring his own personal brand of justice down on the heads of evil-doers.

All-Star Weird Western become Weird Western Tales beginning with the 12th issue. Jonah acquired a pet in that issue--a timber wolf named Iron Jaws. This is fortunate, because in Weird Western Tales #14, Iron Jaws saves his life twice in the course of a 12 page story.

The tale begins with Iron Jaws killing a rattler, but getting bit in the process. Hex takes the wolf to the nearest town and insists the local doctor treat him.

But he's recognized by the two outlaw brothers of a guy Hex once killed. They slug him and take him into the desert, leaving him strung out under the hot sun to die. Only another appearance by Iron Jaws, who uses the last of his waning strength to follow, saves Jonah's life. The wolf dies just as he finishes chewing through the ropes.

Hex holds the two outlaws responsible. When he tracks them down, he kills one and leaves the other to die an appropriately horrible death.

The original Jonah Hex stories were short, sharp tales with a lot of emotional bite mixed in with the overt violence. Jonah is one of those characters that is interesting to think about. As portrayed by writers such as Albano and Michael Fleisher, he's without question Made of Awesome--he's the death penalty personified and those who fall before him clearly deserve it.

On the other hand, his personal sense of justice leads him to do some pretty brutal things--such as allowing a rabies-infected man to die alone in the wilderness as vengeance for the death of an animal. The heck with all that due process and fair trail nonsense.

If Jonah existed in real life, he wouldn't be all that admirable. But perhaps that's one of the functions that fiction serves--we can get a more immediate and visceral sense that criminals are being properly punished than we do in real life. In reality, vigilante justice does not work out that well, but in a fictional universe, where the writer can make sure the bad guy really has it coming, we tend to be more accepting of it. And, since most of us are sane enough to know the difference between real and pretend, this might not such a bad thing.

I certainly know the difference between real and pretend. Jonah Hex, sadly, is pretend. Not at all like Two-Gun Kid and Phantom Rider. Those guys were real, of course.

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