DC Histories: Jonah Hex

Welcome back to another DC History. We’re well into the New 52 at this point, but there’s still much that can be gained by examining how we got here. Only by looking back at what came before can we understand where we’re going.

This week, we’re looking at Jonah Hex, the ugliest bounty hunter in DC’s stable of western characters.

All-Star Western (Vol. 2) #10 (1972) Cover

Jonah Hex sprang from comic book pages visually fully formed in 1972. Originally created by John Albano and Tony Dezuniga, Jonah dressed in an old Civil War-era Confederate uniform that stood out like an anachronism during the height of his adventures in the 1860s and 70s. Half of his face was scarred, causing one of his eyes to be useless and placed a permanent sneer on his lips. Perhaps most striking of all, a flap of skin extended across one side of his mouth.

Our own Paul Montgomery has coined this deformity a “skin isthmus.”

From Weird Western Tales (Vol. 1) #18 (1973)

Living only by his own code, Jonah could shoot a man without question if he felt it was necessary. Years of hard living had proven Jonah to be the best shot in the West, and he found himself in situations where he had to use this ability constantly. If you crossed Jonah, either by going against your word or by getting in his way, his vengeance could be harsh.

From Weird Western Tales (Vol. 1) #14 (1972)

Jonah’s past came to light sporadically over the years. Other stewards of Jonah, including Michael Fleisher, who wrote Jonah’s tales from 1975 through 1987 or so, and the writing duo of Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray, delved into the character’s past. They flushed out the reasons behind Jonah’s personality and just where his face came from.

The Hex home was a troubled one. Early in Jonah’s youth, his mother ran away from the family to go be with a salesman. Jonah’s father, already a hard drinker, fell even further into the bottle and took his frustrations out physically on his son. In an attempt to make his fortune, the elder Hex packed up the family’s belongs and headed west to pan for gold. Along the way, Jonah and his father rode through Apache territory. As collateral for future gold, Jonah was forced to live with the Apaches until his father returned to collect him. This turned into a long wait as Jonah’s father never came back.

From Jonah Hex (Vol. 2) #14 (2007)

From that moment forward, Jonah was a slave to the Apache. This changed when, at age 15, Jonah saved the life of the chief from a puma attack. In reward, he became a full fledged member of the tribe. Not everyone agreed with this and when Non-Tante, the chief’s son, saw that Jonah had eyes on the same girl he did, Jonah was wounded by friendly fire and left behind during a raid against another tribe. Having barely survived, Jonah struck out on his own, eventually joining the Civil War on the side of the Confederacy.

Years later, Jonah returned to the Apache to challenge Non-Tante in a fight to the death. If Jonah won a tomahawk duel, it would restore his honor with the tribe. If Non-Tante won, Jonah would never bother the tribe again. The two fought and even though Non-Tante cheated, Jonah cheated second and less subtly. Jonah claimed victory in the duel by stabbing his opponent with a knife. The chief, enraged at Jonah, tied him down and scarred his face with his son’s heated tomahawk.

From Jonah Hex (Vol. 2) #15 (2007)

From then on, Jonah was a man without a people. His parents abandoned him. The Confederacy lost the war. The Apache scarred him. Jonah was completely alone. He threw himself into the life of a bounty hunter, tracking down those whom society deemed to be even less value than he did.

In 1875, Jonah’s life changed. And that change was insane.

I’m about to describe, in no small measure of detail, the 18 issues of Hex, which launched in 1985. Brace yourself because this is going to get weird.

Hex In-House Ad (1985)

In 1985, word came down the the DC offices that they wanted to publish a story featuring a post-apocalyptic Mad Max-esque setting. Michael Fleisher, then the current writer and editor on Jonah Hex (Vol. 1), saw that sales of Jonah’s current title were weakening. Instead of simply publishing Jonah Hex for another year or so and then have it be canceled, Fleisher pitched that Jonah be the character who lived in that future setting. His proposal was agreed to and Hex began publication soon after.

In the far future of 2050, the world has been ravaged by nuclear war. The government of the United States collapsed and a corrupt system of gangsters took hold of the population. For reasons never fully explained, a lone scientist with a working time machine took to staging fights between different historical armies to see who would win in a fight. For instance, he once made a battalion of World War I era French soldiers go up against World War II Germans.

From Hex #3 (1985)

Between bouts of this nature, this scientist was also trying to undermine the cartels running the world, which was a very strange plot point and one that never panned out. Interesting ideas that got thrown together willy-nilly without any payoff would be a reoccurring theme for this series.

Into this world came Jonah Hex. The scientist decided he wanted an old fashioned Western showdown and Jonah was selected to be a participant. He was plucked from between seconds in 1875 and transported into the future. Rather than simply live in a status tube between bouts, Jonah escaped his cage and ventured out into this new world.

From Hex #1 (1985)

After escaping, Jonah hooked up with a gang of motorcyclists who answered to no one. These turned out to be some not-so-nice guys so Jonah killed their leader, stole his clothes and his bike, and took off on his own. He also took a shine to a woman named Stiletta who only occasionally tried to kill him.

From Hex #6 (1986)

It’s worth noting that Jonah was able to pick up the art of motorcycle riding in his first 15 seconds of sitting on one. I suppose horse riding isn’t too far away from that activity. At least Fleisher acknowledged that Jonah’s flying abilities were subpar after Jonah immediately crashed the first aircraft he attempted to pilot.

From Hex #4 (1985)

It was the world that Jonah found himself in that Fleisher seemed most interested in. As Hex continued, Jonah’s role in several issues was secondary to the supporting cast around him. For instance, a Jewish Batman based in New York City became a central character for two issues and a group called the Dogs of War gained prominence in a later extended storyline. But perhaps my favorite image of this world, and one that wouldn’t be brought up again, was when Jonah came across a motorcycle gang roasting a giant grasshopper.

From Hex #1 (1985)

I guess nuclear war resulted in giant insects? Well, if it did, they became very rare because none were seen again.

Sales of this series started strong but the writing was on the wall after the first year that the series would be canceled due to sales. Keith Giffen came on to do the art chores on the series’ final four issues. His art style, with its emphasis on close-ups and its lack of panel gutters, was a tough style for many readers to acclimate to. It didn’t matter anyway, as the series was on its way out.

From Hex #15 (1986)

The series ended with Jonah still in 2050. There was no explanation about how he returned home.

After Hex was canceled, Jonah was out of comics for a while. He’d occasionally show up whenever a superhero found himself time traveling back to the 19th century, but that was about it. Finally, in 1993, Vertigo began publishing a few miniseries featuring Jonah. In these, he fought a variety of supernatural beings including Lovecraftian creatures, spirits, and zombies. One such zombie was Wild Bill Hickok, an actual wild west outlaw.

From Jonah Hex: Two-Gun Mojo #5 (1993)

Jonah would again get his own ongoing series when Palmiotti and Gray began writing Jonah Hex (Vol. 2) in 2006. There, the occasional tale from the end of Jonah’s life would be told.

After Jonah’s father dropped him off to live with the Apache, Jonah only saw him again once. This meeting came about decades later when Jonah’s father had been ambushed by outlaws after his gold. While his father slowly died from a gut shot, Jonah sat and watched.

From Jonah Hex (Vol. 2) #69 (2011)

As nonexistent as Jonah’s relationship with his father was, his relationship with his son wasn’t any better. During Jonah’s elder years, Jason Hex tracked his absentee father down so the pair could talk. Jonah, not being much of a talker, proceeded to get into a bar fight with his own son. When all was said and done, Jason walked away not knowing any more about his father than when they’d started talking.

From Jonah Hex (Vol. 2) #25 (2008)

Jonah died in 1904 while playing poker in a saloon. His body was stuffed and became a prop in various wild west shows. Eventually, it ended up in California where it languished as an unsuspecting movie prop. After it was broken open by accident one day, Jonah’s earthly remains were finally discovered.

From Secret Origins (Vol. 3) #21 (1987)

Jonah Hex returned to the modern DCU one final time during Blackest Night. There, he became a Black Lantern and killed the descendant of an old enemy.

From Weird Western Tales (Vol. 1) #71 (2010)

So where is Jonah in the New 52? He’s still there in the pages of All-Star Western (Vol. 3) and still a character in the 19th century. He’s now living in Gotham City working alongside Amadeus Arkham to clear the city of wrongdoing. It’s a new location for Jonah but it’s one he seems to be adapting to fairly well.

From All-Star Western (Vol. 3) #5 (2012)

How much of Jonah’s past is still considered canon and how much has been rewritten in the New 52 is up for debate. Chances are, everything that came before is still “true.” Well, except maybe that 2050 stuff.

If you have any interest in Jonah Hex, track down as much of Jonah Hex (Vol. 2) as you can. Some of it is available digitally and more is available in trade. It’s worth your time.

Jeff Reid wishes that he had some giant roasted grasshopper to eat right now. He’s hungry. Get more updates on Jeff’s diet by following him on Twitter.


  1. Two things regarding the the Hex series

    1) Jonah Hex does not say or think Brrrrr! Even if he was just unfrozen lol
    2) Apparently he shares my fear of giant bugs

  2. As awful as they look, I kinda want DC to release a collection of those future stories.

  3. Two things:

    1) I love the fate of Hex’s corpse. It totally fits with the character and it’s downright creepy.

    2) Hex in space? Eh…..not a good idea.

  4. I’d like to see a pic of this Jewish Batman.

  5. Man that Lemire penciled issue of Jonah Hex where he confronts his father was one of the best comics i read that year. It was my favourite of the entire series and I wish they had ended the book with that issue. Lemire was born to draw that book and i hope we see him draw an issue or two of All-Star Western!

  6. I recall the episode of Justice League Unlimited where the JLA meets Jonah Hex. He mentions to one of the characters that he recognizes that they’re from the future. Surprised by this, Hex responds to the stunned character by saying, “I’ve had an interesting life.” Indeed you have, sir, indeed you have.