EDITOR'S NOTE: With "Jonah Hex" hitting theaters this weekend, I enlisted longtime "Jonah Hex" comics co-writer Jimmy Palmiotti to share his thoughts on why the character has endured in comics and pop culture for so many decades. -RM
Justin Gray and I have been writing the monthly "Jonah Hex" comic book for DC Comics for over five years now, and its still going strong. A lot of people ask us what the appeal of the character is to readers, and I like to think the appeal happens on a number of levels — some not so obvious.
With the series published now, each and every issue is drawn by the greats in the comic industry, and these stories are told in single-issue fashion, so non-readers can pick up any issue and get brought up to date about the who, what, and where of the character. But when a person looks at a drawing, the brain decides in a split second whether the image is of interest to them — like it or don’t like it, cool or not cool. One look at Jonah Hex and most people think, “Ew, what the hell happened to his face?” This is soon followed by “But he does look cool,” and finally, “What's he about?”
And it's that last stage where the story comes in.
The Jonah Hex character has been around since 1971 and his adventures still happen monthly from DC. That means for almost 40 years people have been enjoying the adventures of this scarred bounty hunter — and who can blame them? This is a guy that makes his living tracking down thieves and killers, and brandishes his own form of instant justice. He doesn’t take sh-- from anyone, and that alone is of interest to people. Hex answers to no one.
Sure, he can be abusive, a bit of an alcoholic, have his way with prostitutes, and kill anything in his way — but that doesn’t make him a bad guy. He's just a classic anti-hero in every sense.
In the end, Jonah Hex is still a somewhat decent individual. This isn’t a John Wayne, clean-cut cowboy. He's not like the other western comic book characters that dress meticulously and save the day each and every time. This is a character that has grown up being abused by his father, sold to Indians, fought in the Civil War, been disfigured, and learned the hard way that trusting someone is like putting themselves blindly in front of a firing squad.
The stories in the "Jonah Hex" series happen after the end of the Civil War right up to the turn of the century, and represent what was happening in the states at the time — how the modern world was slowly putting an end to the idea of America as a wild country. History isn’t that interesting to some readers and that’s a shame on a number of levels, but where Jonah is concerned, the history is just a colorful backdrop in his overall story, and readers of all ages have come to enjoy these books.
The character never lost appeal for the simple fact that Jonah is an interesting character, as well as a complicated one. There is no simple way to define him and — even better — with each new story, he takes the reader to a place they didn’t expect. Most of the time this is a dark place, but deep, deep down there is the shimmer of hope and the spark of justice beyond all the blood, sweat, and tears.
There is optimism and a Neanderthal nature to Jonah Hex that hits us on a level where we can cheer his success and understand his failures. This is a flawed character, and we understand why — and the only mystery left to readers is just what the hell he is going to do next. And for the past 39 years and multiple series, re-launches, and now a feature film, it's exactly that fact that keeps everyone coming back for more.
The next time you're in line in a store and someone cuts in front of you, just think for a second what Jonah Hex would do. Imagine the bloodshed and violence, the satisfaction — and the unwanted attention. That's the appeal of Jonah Hex.
- Jimmy Palmiotti
Jimmy Palmiotti and his writing partner Justin Gray script the monthly adventures of Jonah Hex for DC Comics.You can follow Jimmy Palmiotti online at http://jimmypalmiotti.blogspot.com/ and on Twitter at http://twitter.com/jpalmiotti.
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