Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Celebration Station:Day 26-Susan Hillwig

Day 26

Today we visit with Susan Hillwig as she presents us with an epic of an article, The Illustrated History of Jonah Hex. Buckle up folks, this is a fascinating look at one of the weirdest western to ever hit the newsstands. 
(Don't forget you can click on the images to make them larger. And trust us, you are gonna wanna see these pics.)


In the world of comics, Jonah Hex has always been an oddity.  The Western genre he usually inhabits is constantly declared to be “dead”, yet he’s had his own title in every decade since his creation.  His sales figures have always been notoriously low, seemingly an indicator that no one cares for the character, yet whenever there’s a mention of the Old West within a DC comic book, he’s there more often than not, sometimes as the sole representative of the entire era.  And at a time when the trend is leaning towards updating or streamlining classic characters to make them more appealing to a modern audience, Jonah Hex unabashedly remains rooted in the 19th Century, and worse yet, he wears a uniform that is viewed by many as racist.  He’s a surly, murderous drunkard with a nightmarish visage, attributes that seem to go against every notion of mass-market appeal and longevity, yet here he is, four decades later, still sitting pretty in a world full of capes.  In fact, with the release of All-Star Western #28 on February 26, 2014, Jimmy Palmiotti & Justin Gray have managed to add another 100 tales (and counting) over the past eight-and-a-half years to the bounty hunter’s legacy.  And they’re not even the first Jonah Hex writers to reach that milestone: Michael Fleisher penned 126 Hex tales over a thirteen-year period, one of the longest runs for a writer on a non-creator-owned comic.  What is it about the character that has enabled him to achieve the 100-issue mark twice with two different sets of writers?  It states plainly in his tagline, “He had no friends, this Jonah Hex...”, but somehow, someway, he manages to inspire a fierce loyalty in both his fans and creative teams.

What follows here are the first two installments of a kind of unauthorized biography for Jonah Hex, focusing on the stand-out moments in his life, both on the page and behind the scenes.  This portion covers the entirety of his five-year run in All-Star/Weird Western Tales, and gives you a glimpse of many notable firsts, as well as some lasts and what-might-have-beens.  You’ll learn the names of those who had a hand in his creation, as well as those who helped him live as long as he has without forgetting where he came from.  You’ll also see things that are probably best forgotten, but I’m going to drag them out into the light one last time, because sometimes it’s good to remember the mistakes we’ve made.  It’s what makes us human, and as you’ll find out, Jonah Hex is one of the most human fictional characters out there.

1972-1974: Birth of a Bounty Hunter

“Cold-blooded killer, vicious, an unmerciful hellion without feeling, without conscience -- a man consumed by hate, a man who boded evil...that was Cody Corbert -- better known as...THE COBRA -- and twice as deadly!”

This was almost the introduction to the lead feature in All-Star Western (vol. 3) #10, dated Feb./March 1972.  Luckily for Western fans and the world in general, writer John Albano crossed out all that “Cobra” nonsense (the first name of “Cody” is pure guess on my part, going by what little I can see of the original word) and wrote “Jonah Hex” in its place.  It’s just the first in a series of decisions that would shape the scar-faced bounty hunter into a character that would hang around the DC Universe for years to come.

Jonah’s life started with a conversation between Albano and artist Tony DeZuniga regarding the way Westerns were represented in comics (which, at the time, were dominated by clean-cut Roy Rogers/Lone Ranger types) versus the Clint Eastwood spaghetti Westerns that had become popular in the mid-1960s and were now reshaping the genre on the movie screen.  They both wanted to bring that same level of gritty realism to comics.  As DeZuniga told Michael Browning in Back Issue #12 (Oct. 2005), “John Albano, when we talked together, he was telling me, ‘Hey, Tony, let’s get away from like the Rawhide Kid and all those Western super-heroes because, you know, they’re shooting the guns out of the hands of the bad guys and all that.’  And I said, ‘I agree.’... Jonah Hex is an anti-hero, like John was telling me.  Even the towns in those days, they weren’t all asphalt roads.  They were dirt roads.  The cowboys really dressed really, really rugged -- I would say filthy and dirty -- and I liked doing it that way.”

With the direction of their project quickly decided upon, a character had to be made that best fit with their newfangled ideas.  As Albano worked on the script, DeZuniga submitted a few sketches of what this “Jonah Hex” fella should look like, with the one of a man with a hideous scar dominating the right side of his face being the most favored, though Albano questioned why the character was wearing a Confederate coat and hat.  As DeZuniga explains, “I said he was a Johnny Reb who was blown up by a cannonball.  I said, ‘He’s a comic book character and nothing’s impossible.’  But they said okay and they really liked the concept of that face.”  He has remarked elsewhere that the idea for the single flap of skin connecting Jonah’s upper and lower jaw came from anatomy illustrations showing the underlying musculature of the face.  There was one other element added at the request of Carmine Infantino, who was head publisher for DC at the time: he wanted Hex to be bulky, “like the Incredible Hulk.”  Though this idea was slowly phased out of Hex’s design over his first few stories, it’s most obvious in the promo ad that ran in some DC titles a month before his debut:

An interesting side note: in addition to writing, Albano worked as a cartoonist, and the very first Jonah Hex script was actually a hand-drawn affair, complete with panel layouts and dialogue balloons.  It currently resides in the collection of aforementioned Michael Browning, and I took the liberty of reproducing the first page of it here, next to the published version by DeZuniga (who followed Albano’s layouts almost to the letter):

It’s thanks to these surviving pages that we know of Jonah’s short-lived “Cobra” alias, as well as a bit of narration that didn’t make it into the first story:

“That was Jonah the gunfighter, but what about Jonah the man?  Was he really a wild, immoral, and incorrigible savage who had best be kept forever isolated from civilized human beings...?”

Though it never made it to print, that question pretty much forms the basis of every Jonah Hex story to come.  Albano and DeZuniga (and all the creators who will follow them) constantly put Jonah in situations where he can be an “incorrigible savage” one minute and a rather tender-hearted sort the next.  His debut story gives us a mix of both: as seen above, the first shot is of him dragging two dead bodies behind his horse as if out for a Sunday stroll, and all throughout, we witness him cutting down owlhoots left and right like a grey-clad angel of death.  Yet in the middle of the tale, Albano and DeZuniga use up half a page to show Jonah knocking a man out cold for whipping a horse -- a pure character moment, with no relation to the overall story -- and at the end, Jonah uses nearly all the reward money he earned to pay off the back taxes owed on a widowed mother’s farm.  Unaware of this, the widow later tries to blow Jonah’s head off with a rifle because her boy has taken a shine to him, but instead of trying to smooth it over by pointing out his altruism, he simply acts like the mean-spirited bastard everyone assumes he is the moment they lay eyes on him.  As we’ll learn in the years to come, this is almost a knee-jerk defense he’s developed when dealing with most of humanity, as more often than not, whenever the bounty hunter makes a new friend or we’re introduced to an old one, that person will be dead by the end of the issue.  With a track record like that, it must be easier to let everyone hate you than to show them otherwise and risk watching them die.

Another aspect of Jonah Hex that will wax and wane over the decades is also featured in his first outing, namely his implied “supernatural” nature.  With a name like Hex and a face like a hell-spawn, it seems an unavoidable notion -- to be sure, one of the men he hunts down in the story seems convinced that Jonah is a demon, and another gets spooked so bad he starts shooting at tree stumps -- but other than unerring tracking skills, Jonah never displays any unearthly powers, so you could write the outlaws’ behavior off as a lack of nerve.  Viable excuses like that constantly crop up in Albano’s Hex stories, therefore leaving up to the reader’s imagination to decide if Jonah is indeed “an immortal apparition” (as the intro to his tale in WWT#19 suggests) or just a very skilled hunter of men.  The closemouthed position that his creators continually take regarding both Jonah’s past and his scars only serve to add to the mystery.

Jonah’s preference towards animals over people comes back into the picture when he picks up a sidekick of sorts in Weird Western Tales #12 (All-Star Western’s new name starting with this issue).  Ironjaws was a pet wolf belonging to a little Indian princess who died at the hands of white settlers, a tragedy that riled Jonah up to a point we had yet to witness -- years later, we would learn that he has very personal reasons for his animosity towards anyone who hurts an innocent child.

Swearing that he’d look after the animal, Ironjaws tagged along with the bounty hunter until WWT#14, which also marks a slight change in Jonah’s appearance.  The story begins with Ironjaws suffering from a rattlesnake bite, and after Jonah leaves the ailing wolf in a doctor’s care, he’s ambushed by a few outlaws out for revenge.  They haul him out to the desert, strip him down to his blue jeans, then tie him up to die under the blazing sun.  Ironjaws somehow makes its way out to the desert to chew away the ropes binding Jonah before dying from a combination of snakebite and exhaustion.  Outraged, Jonah stalks back to town and demands the doctor give him some clothes and a gun so he can go and kill the skunks responsible.  When he leaves the office, Jonah has inexplicably acquired a new Confederate coat (maybe the doc just happened to have one laying around?) but the rest of his outfit is brand new: the gun holster rig, which has been left-handed since his debut, now rests on his right hip with a second gun tucked beneath his belt, and he now wears brown cuffed boots with rawhide stitching.  These features will be part of his standard look for years to come.  Luckily, he won’t grow so attached to the other item he wears for the first time here: a blue-black hat with a tiger-striped band, like he’s some sort of crazy cowboy pimp.  DeZuniga must’ve wised up to the fact that this looks rather silly on him, and by WWT#20, he’s back to his old officer’s hat.  This ain’t the last we’ve seen of Jonah’s pimp hat, though, so stay tuned.

Just before his change in attire, Jonah took part in an odd little adventure which wouldn’t see the light of day for another four years, when it was finally printed in The Amazing World of DC Comics #13 (dated Oct. 1976).  In the early ‘70s, as editor Paul Levitz explained in his preface to the piece, the company was in the process of cooking up some kind of humor/horror mag for their line of “Weird” comics (in addition to the newly-dubbed Weird Western, DC was already cranking out Weird Adventure Comics, Weird War Tales, and Weird Worlds).  By 1972, they were calling this still-unpublished title Zany, and one of its features was to be parodies of their own DC characters.  Sadly (or is that happily?), by the time the magazine (now and forever known as Plop!) hit the stands in September/October 1973, that particular idea had been scrapped, but not before Albano and DeZuniga finished a four-page Jonah Hex story.  The result is something you have to see to believe, and I chalk it up to Albano’s cartoonist background that he so effectively knocks the piss out of his own character without being mean:

Though absent from WWT #15 (El Diablo takes the lead for this issue), Jonah gets back in the saddle with WWT#16, and by WWT#18, not only has Jonah taken over the front cover art, his name is also printed bigger than the name of the magazine (rather like how Batman’s name usually overshadows Detective Comics).  There’s no doubt now that Hex’s departure from the norm when it comes to Western comics heroes has won out.  More landmarks will follow, like the first dated story in WWT#19 (which takes place in August 1867), and WWT#20 features a story by Arnold Drake, the first person besides John Albano to write a Hex tale.  Drake also gives us a novel concept by introducing an old flame of Jonah’s by the name of “Widow” Lacey (she ain’t no widow, folks, she just calls herself that to sound respectable) and she actually lives until the end of the issue!   Unfortunately, Drake only does the one tale, and we never get to see this particular soiled dove again.  Albano comes back to the writer’s desk for WWT#21, but this will be the very last time he does so: after penning only ten stories, he decides to leave Jonah behind.  Before he moves on, though, he bestows upon us a glimpse of Hex before he got his scars, courtesy of a hallucination brought on by a bad head wound:

As I noted earlier, both Albano and DeZuniga preferred to leave the origin of Jonah’s scars a mystery (the “blown up by a cannonball” notion never making it into any story), so this is first time they even acknowledge that Jonah wasn’t just born ugly.  Overall, it’s a fine story for creator and creation to part ways on, and for a brief while, it was nearly the last one: despite solicits on the last page saying otherwise, Weird Western Tales was cancelled after #21 (dated Jan./Feb. 1974), due to a nationwide paper shortage -- considering its bimonthly status and the old adage of “nobody reads Westerns,” DC must have thought it a small enough book to sacrifice.  This marks the first time Jonah got the axe, and the book’s return four months later would mark his first resurrection.  Coincidentally, this also heralds the entry of a new writer, one who would make more than a few marks of his own upon the character: Michael Fleisher.

1974-1977: Losses and Gains

“I begged Joe Orlando to let me write the series,” Michael Fleisher told reporter Mike Browning in Back Issue #42 (Aug. 2010).  Orlando, who edited Jonah’s stories in Weird Western Tales, had worked quite a bit with Fleisher already, so this wasn’t exactly a call out of the blue.  Nor was Fleisher one who needed to beg for work: he’d already done a series of Spectre tales for DC’s Adventure Comics, as well as three volumes of The Encyclopedia of Comic Book Heroes (which, for their time, were so exhaustively researched that they’re still being published today).  But when he found out that creator John Albano was leaving Hex behind, Fleisher was “very eager” to fill his dusty cowboy boots.  “I read the Albano issues and the idea of the character was somehow exciting for me, and when Albano dropped out of it I was overjoyed.  There was something about it that struck home for me, and I wanted to do it very much.”  Having grown up on a steady diet of Saturday matinee Westerns, Fleisher more than familiar with the genre, and was just as adamant as Albano and DeZuniga that Jonah Hex wouldn’t be a squeaky-clean gunslinger, because “the idea that you’re facing someone with a gun and you sort of have a moral code that prohibits you from actually hitting them with bullets is just so stupid.  Nobody would do that.  I liked it that Jonah Hex was serious.”  That seriousness showed in Fleisher’s first issue, Weird Western Tales #22 (dated May/June 1974), as the bodies are falling left and right throughout (and not always due to Jonah’s gunplay).

Before we go any further, we should note the contributions of Fleisher’s friend, artist Russell Carley, who is listed in WWT#22 as “art continuity” (though DeZuniga is doing the actual art), then as “script continuity” all the way up to WWT#26, after which his name disappears from Hex lore.  Fleisher explained in an interview with The Comics Journal that “when I first began to write comics regularly, I really had no experience in coming up with the plots for example, or in breaking down the stories.  Those were both intimidating things for me to do.  So Russell and I would get together and we would work out a plot together.  We'd sit together on a Saturday afternoon and we would throw ideas back and forth and we would produce a plot.  And when I'd gotten the plot okayed, Russell would take the plot and he would make a breakdown of it -- that is, he would take sheets of paper and divide them into panels, and he would describe in each panel, very briefly, what was to take place, and then he would give me these pieces of paper and I would write the script.  When we started out we wanted to say, ‘Story by Michael Fleisher and Russell Carley,’ but Joe Orlando felt that we should distinguish between what he did and what I did...there was no standard title in comics for what Russell was doing, so we made up a term.”

The process Fleisher described sounds like a variation on “the Marvel method”, as well as bearing a strong resemblance to what John Albano himself did with the first Jonah Hex script.  No matter how they arrived at the finished product, the transition from Albano to Fleisher is nearly seamless: Jonah’s just as coarse as ever when dealing with “civilized” folk, and the touches of deadpan humor that peeked through in previous Jonah Hex stories are evident here as well, such as when an illiterate bumpkin asks Hex for his autograph, and he signs the paper “Buffalo Bill”.  The only sour note is an unfortunate bit of stereotyping on the part of the main bad guy, a huge African-American named Blackjack Jorgis, who repeatedly talks about how much he likes “watermelly”.  But what’s most notable about Fleisher’s debut is what he introduces to Jonah’s world in general: continuity.  Aside from the “Ironjaws Trilogy” of WWT#12-14, all Hex stories up to this point have been interchangeable, with no need to read them in a specific order, nor has there been much reference to his life before he became a bounty hunter, aside from the occasional acquaintance who’d turn up only to die by the end of the story (which also occurs here, the victim in question being a sheriff named Hank Brewster).  From this issue onward, however, we’ll begin to see ever larger swatches of Jonah’s past, and the seeds that are sown throughout these 20 pages will bear fruit for decades to come.

The glimpses into Jonah’s past begin when he hitches a ride on a passing stagecoach, and one of the other passengers (who bears striking resemblance to Lee Van Cleef) recognizes him from an old photograph he’s carrying, which shows a much younger an unscarred Jonah standing in front of a Confederate flag.  Later on, the man meets up with a group of former Rebs and tells them about his encounter, who declare that they would’ve won the Civil War “if’n it hadn’t’a been fer vicious men the likes’a Jonah Hex!”  These men ride out and end up saving Hex from Blackjack’s gang...only to declare that they’re going to hang him themselves!  Jonah manages to give them the slip for a while, but by the end of the issue, there’s a nasty four-on-one shootout, and Jonah is nearly killed by an ex-Reb who decides to speechify a bit before finishing him off:

Jonah’s a traitor?  What the heck did he do?  We won’t get any answers here, as Hex promptly shoots the Reb and shuts him up.  On the very last page, however, we witness a scene between a colored servant and a man holding an eagle-headed cane -- we never see the man, but it appears that he wants Hex to be dead just as badly as those Confederates did.  In addition to the “traitor” subplot, we get reference to both Jonah’s disfigurement and his father, courtesy of an offhand exchange between Hex and Brewster.  We get no real details about either (Jonah gruffly cuts off Brewster’s inquiries the moment he makes them), but still, after 12 issues, this is the most we’ve ever learned about Jonah Hex, and we get it all in one gulp.  Overall, I daresay what Fleisher does here is the antithesis of what Albano ever had planned for the character, as he and DeZuniga almost seemed to pride themselves on revealing nothing about Jonah’s past.  That may have been one of the factors behind DeZuniga’s departure after WWT#23, the plot of which revolves around an assassination attempt of President Grant.  We also get more clues as to the identity of the mysterious man with the eagle-headed cane: apparently, he’s an important man in Washington, one of “the nation’s leading captains of industry and commerce” (no run-of-the-mill baddies for Jonah Hex, no sir!), and whatever it is that Jonah’s guilty of, it involved this man’s son.  Suffice it to say, Jonah manages to escape another attempt upon his life, but he later gets caught in an explosion while foiling Grant’s assassins, and on the last page, Jonah’s essentially declared dead!  He’s not, of course (the blurb at the bottom of the page even advertises Hex’s next adventure), but it’s an odd note for Tony DeZuniga to go out on: “killing” your creation as you part ways with him.

Noly Panaligan takes up the artist’s reins with WWT#24, making him only the second interior artist to draw Jonah Hex (a few other artists besides DeZuniga -- such as Luis Dominguez -- had already done various covers featuring him).  This story picks up not long after the previous issue, and we learn that, while Hex may have survived the explosion, it has rendered him temporarily blind.  Don’t worry, folks, he’ll be fine by the end of the tale.  We don’t hear another peep about the man with the eagle-headed cane or Jonah’s supposed treachery, though, and over the next few issues, it seems like Fleisher’s forgotten all about that subplot.  Not to say that the stories aren’t noteworthy: WWT#26 gives us a third Hex interior artist by the name of Doug Wildey (his only time on the character), and more importantly, it’s the very first rendition of Jonah’s now-infamous tagline, seen here in the upper-lefthand corner:

In later years, some people will mistakenly attribute this tagline to John Albano, but Michael Fleisher alone is responsible for it...though he does admit to cribbing the “acrid smell of gunsmoke” portion from (naturally) the TV show Gunsmoke.  Whatever the source, the entire paragraph sums up Jonah quite well, and it’s stayed with him ever since, his own warped version of Superman’s “Truth, justice, and the American way,” or Spider-Man’s “With great power comes great responsibility.”  WWT#27 focuses upon early attempts at getting women the right to vote (which Jonah isn’t in favor of at all, but the suffragettes pay him good), and WWT#28 is a tale based upon the true story of the Jake Hauschel gang, plus it’s the first time we get George Moliterni on the book -- he and Noly Panaligan will share art duties for the next few issues, each of them taking a turn on a two-parter running through WWT#29 and 30, wherein the subplot started in #22 over a year ago finally comes to a head.

It begins with a teenager confronting Hex out in the street, calling him a traitor and swearing that he’s going to kill Hex for letting his father die at Fort Charlotte.  The bounty hunter blows him off, and the boy tries to shoot him, but only succeeds in spooking Hex’s horse, which promptly whacks Jonah in the head with one of its hooves and knocks him unconscious.  We are then witness to a device that Fleisher will use many times over the next ten years: the flashback to Jonah’s past.  We learn how Jonah was friends back in1861 with a fellow Confederate named Jeb Turnbull, whose father, a wealthy Virginia plantation owner, is the man with the eagle-headed cane that’s been trying to kill Jonah over a decade later!  We also learn that Jonah is more of a “state’s rights” kind of Reb, and after the Emancipation Proclamation is passed, he makes a decision:

Jonah travels alone to Fort Charlotte  and, since he feels it’s “a point of honor tuh surrender tuh th’ top man”, sneaks into the C.O.’s quarters to do so!  We then find out that Hex is a lieutenant with the 4th Cavalry, and while he’s willing to turn himself in, he won’t betray the rest of his unit and give their location.  Unfortunately for him, the Yankees figure out for themselves where the Rebs are, and after they’re all captured, the C.O. “thanks” Hex for his help in front of all his friends.  This and the massacre that soon follows as the Confederates try to escape the fort is the reason why the elder Turnbull and so many others want Jonah Hex dead: his desire to no longer be a part of the War inadvertently led to the deaths of nearly three dozen people, including Jeb Turnbull.  After he wakes up from this issue-long flashback, Jonah finds the vengeful teenager again and lets him have his “showdown”, even going so far as to fall over in the street and feign death so the boy can have some closure.  But what of Jonah himself?  An incident such as the Fort Charlotte Massacre is sure to weigh upon a man’s conscience, and as the issue closes, the reader can be sure of one thing: under Fleisher’s tenure, there will be little allusion to Jonah Hex as some supernatural creature.  He’s a human being, with a soul scarred worse than his face.  The next issue has Jonah traveling to Virginia, ready to set things right between himself, Turnbull, and the few soldiers who survived the massacre twelve years earlier.  What he gets is more hate, more death threats, and one of the best splash pages ever:

To top it all off, Jonah is ambushed and forced to sit through a mock trial, with Turnbull as judge and his former friends as jury, who quickly find him guilty as sin.  Deciding to execute him by firing squad at dawn, they lock Hex up in a shed for the night, but he soon escapes, only to be confronted by Turnbull’s colored servant, Solomon, who’s holding a shotgun on him.  Lucky for Hex, Solomon is a kind-hearted sort, and actually listens to Jonah’s explanation of what really happened at Fort Charlotte.  Jonah manages to sway Solomon, but when Turnbull shows up, he won’t listen to anyone, and as he charges Jonah in a fit of rage, the bounty hunter (who refuses to fight Turnbull) steps out of the way, causing Turnbull to accidentally impale himself on an upturned pitchfork.  The reader (and possibly Jonah himself) is led to presume that Turnbull is dead, but in a few years, we’ll learn different.

After this high-point of a storyline, Jonah’s remaining appearances in Weird Western go back to basics, with no more massive reveals regarding his past.  Instead, we get tales like WWT#31, wherein he’s tricked by a dying friend into fighting him for the amusement of the townsfolk, and a two-parter in WWT#32 and 33 has Jonah trying to rescue a businessman’s daughter, who was kidnapped by an Indian named Joe Bigfoot looking for vengeance against the businessman for poisoning his tribe.  The latter story stands out not for its plot, but for the artist: Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, who was still getting his feet wet at DC in 1976, having come to New York barely two years before with the phone number of Hex cover artist Luis Dominguez in his pocket (the two men had never met, but with both of them being from Argentina, they had some mutual friends).  Dominguez showed him the ins and outs of the city, as well as introducing him around the halls at DC Comics -- on his first day there, Garcia-Lopez met editor Joe Orlando, who would soon come to call the artist his “secret weapon”.  After numerous inking jobs, he was given a few Jonah Hex scripts to do, and the result is drastically different from every other Hex story up until then.  Whereas Tony DeZuniga started the mandate of “filthy and dirty” when it came to Hex, and both Noly Panaligan and George Moliterni carried on in that same fashion when they took over, Garcia-Lopez’s rendition is incredibly vibrant, with crisp lines and dynamic poses in nearly every frame.  And instead of the constant shadows the other three artists use, it seems like he’s gone to great pains to highlight every detail possible, both in terms to character expressions and backgrounds.  In short, he treats Jonah Hex in the same manner as he would DC’s spandex-wearing crowd, and the result is striking:

Moliterni is back on the job for the single-issue stories in  WWT#34 and 35, and for a blink-and-you-miss-it moment, Weird Western Tales is cancelled once again!  My notation of it here is mere formality, though, as the book was revived so quickly there was no interruption in its bi-monthly schedule.  When it returns with WWT#36, Jonah faces Joe Bigfoot once more, a yarn handled by the triple-threat art team of Bill Draut, Oscar Novelle, and Luis Dominguez (his first time on interiors, but certainly not his last).  Something else returns in WWT#37: Jonah’s pimp hat, last seen in WWT#19!  It makes little sense for it to suddenly turn up after three years, but there are two possible explanations for it, the first being that the artists -- Rich Buckler and Frank Springer -- may have used outdated materials when looking for references to Jonah’s look.  The second possibility is that the story might have been among the first written by Michael Fleisher when he got the gig (which was rather close to the pimp hat’s last appearance) and had simply been held in reserve for all those years in case they needed a fill-in.  The latter seems most likely, especially considering that the artwork is below the quality we’re used to on the title, and a real shock if you’ve ever seen how good the art from either Buckler or Springer usually looks:

  The story itself is an interesting take on Jonah’s normally-gruff attitude, as he takes a young man under his wing and trains him in the ways of the gun in order for the young man to avenge the death of his parents.  It turns out to be set-up of sorts in the end, but keep that plotline in mind, as a variation of it will resurface in Jonah’s life a few decades later with much different results.

As 1976 comes to a close, the news breaks that Weird Western Tales #38 (dated Jan./Feb. 1977) will be Jonah Hex’s last issue, and its headlining slot taken over by a new character called “The Savage” (soon to be known as Scalphunter).  But fear not, fans, for in two short months, Jonah will be back on the stands in his very own self-titled magazine, courtesy of the “DC Explosion” (which would turn into the infamous “DC Implosion” by the beginning of ‘78).  Yes indeed, Jonah Hex has finally hit the big time, with even bigger adventures on the horizon.

To read more installments of “An Illustrated History of Jonah Hex”, please go to for a complete index.


Susan Hillwig is a Michigan-based writer with a predilection for 19th-Century adventure.  Her debut novel, Swords & Sixguns: An Outlaw’s Tale, will released soon by Permuted Press, but in the meantime, you can keep up with her on “One Fangirl’s Opinion”, her semi-regular blog.

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