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Have Wooden Gun — Will Travel – Jonah Hex #27

February 13, 2011

 

I’ve long had a soft spot for Jonah Hex, though the Hex that I grew up with was the one that lived in some random dystopian future. Seeing him in his natural Western setting always requires a little mental recalibration on my part — that ugly mug of his seems more suited to a radioactive Road Warrior milieu, I guess.

Because of that brain lock of mine, perhaps it’s fitting that this comic is a little off the beaten path, as you won’t find the familiar disfigured face or Mr. Hex on the majority of its pages. You see, most of the issue is told in flashback, in a time well before our gunslinger got his Phantom of the Opera scars. I wouldn’t call this an origin story, but there’s something of a beginning in it. How so? Well, we see how Jonah gets his first gun. I’d say that’s a pretty big moment in the life of any gunslinger, and in the case of Jonah Hex it’s like the first time Earl Woods put a golf club into Tiger’s little hands (or would that be paws?).

“The Wooden Sixgun!” (script: Michael Fleisher, art: Vicente Alcazar) wouldn’t be a flashback worthy of the name without a little framing story. One day a young boy witnesses Hex mow down three desperados with his quick-draw skills, and almost gets himself swiss-cheesed later that night when he tries to get a closer look at his new idol:

When the kid shows off his meager abilities with his whittled pistol, some memories are kindled inside Jonah’s grisley head:

And now for the flashback. Cue the wavy lines.

Jonah’s father was a cruel man (one who would sell him into slavery in later years — another story for another time), and when his son seems to be spending a little too much time playing around, he gives him the back of his hand:

The World’s Worst Father goes off to do some moonshinin’ while Jonah keeps on daydreaming instead of doing his chores. That is, until he finds something unexpected in the reeds:

Jonah takes the man back to his house and there bandages him up. Though he recognizes this guy for the notorious robber that he is, he’s still pleased when the fella (Bart Mallory) gives him some brief gunslinging lessons:

Knowledge for life.

When the posse knocks on the door, Jonah hides this killer who’s been nothing but kind to him, and after they’re gone Mallory repays his deception by making him his partner in a planned bank heist. Jonah goes along. He’s not forced to, mind you, but he seems to be quite taken by this smooth-talking criminal.

And what would an outlaw charmer be without a quick fling with a wench? Not much, because apparently Mallory can’t do any robbing without first getting laid:

I think a “Fifteen minutes later…” note would have been nice there.

The law is hot on their heels. They show up as soon as Jonah and Mallory have gone and coax out the crook’s destination from the poor lady with the threat of hanging her. What happens? Well, we learn that these lawmen are a bit crueler than is warranted (no pun intended):

That’s gratitude for you.

Meanwhile, Mallory gives Jonah a little something before the big moment — a real live gun:

Unfortunately for Mr. Mallory, the posse has beaten him there and are laying in wait for him. After he’s riddled with bullets like Sonny Corleone at a toll booth, he does one last semi-noble thing before he croaks:

Jonah is free to go, but that means he has to go back to his a-hole drunk of a father, who’s none too happy about the chores not being done:

But Jonah — when he’s alone that night — still has a little something with which to remember his brief friendship with a bad man:

Back in the present, Jonah has bored the poor kid right to sleep. He takes the boy to his parents’ house (it’s unclear how he knew where the kid lived — I don’t think telepathy is part of his normal arsenal):

“Come back, Jonah! Come back!”

I liked this story quite a bit. I’ll grant that it’s formulaic, and you can get a lot of the elements found in this one in many of the old TV Westerns of yore, hokey chestnuts like Laredo and The Rifleman and Wagon Train. But the blurred moral lines raise this one out of the multitude. The abusive father and the outlaw, who has a Han-Solo-in-the-original-StarWars kind of roguish charm to him, make you question who really is on the side of light, not to mention the lawmen WHO MURDER A WOMAN IN COLD BLOOD. It’s appropriate for a man like Hex, a hero who’s a stone cold killer, to have such a topsy-turvy day in his background. The whole “getting his first gun” bit made me think of that scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade where Indy gets his hat — we’re getting a little heavy with the Harrison Ford references here, but still, there are worse associations to have.

Alcazar’s art, while not the cleanest or easiest on the eye, has a visceral quality that keys into the script’s grim vibe. And the last panel, showing a lonesome Jonah riding into a rainy night, is a such a classic Western visual, one that gets me every time. I love Westerns, but I’m not a big fan of Western comics. Jonah Hex, though, has a hook that I enjoy, and I think this particular comic stands as a good example of why I like him.

Thanks, Hollywood, for making an unbelievably horrible screen adaptation of the character. And yes, Megan Fox and her horrible accent were a wonderful touch.

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