[4 November 2013]
PopMatters Comics Editor
Can a character become a genre? During the ‘70s and ‘80s, publishing house DC’s main competitor, Marvel, had phenomenal success in that arena with characters like the Hulk, and particularly Wolverine. With a story setting that had Dr Bruce Banner (the Hulk’s alter ego) wandering the cultural landscape of ‘70s America, Incredible Hulk became the perfect platform for a wide array of genres—everything from romance to conspiracy theory to epimythic struggles against polluters or the politically corrupt. Wolverine was even more successful. Breaking away from his comparatively sedate life with the X-Men, Logan saw himself unleashed to his full feral potential in the pages of Wolverine.
In 1985, with flagging interest in the Old West, DC experimented in the same concept with the legendary scar-faced, Old West bounty hunter, Jonah Hex. The original 1985 book ends on a serious cliffhanger, one only resolved in the successor title Hex, which explained that Jonah Hex had in fact been rocketed into the distant future, there to begin his surly, steely-eyed, scar-faced search for justice all over again. But this time, among the stars and in the new genre of space opera. Hex failed to find its audience, and soon enough, found itself cancelled.
Maybe Jonah Hex didn’t have the character-to-genre integrity that DC of the ‘80s assumed he did. Maybe the Old West was far more essential to the character’s DNA than anyone realized. Maybe, maybe. Maybe Hex in Space was just a misstep. Whatever it was, it did mark a long slow wrestling with the character. What exactly was Jonah Hex? Who was he, what was he about? What was that essential cowboy DNA that made him so attractive to a generation that was rapidly falling out of the habit of buying comics?
It would take the long pub crawl of 21 years before Jonah Hex became culturally viable again, to the point where he could stand in for himself. It was in 2006 that co-writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray wrote a Jonah Hex back in the Old West, following the genre prescriptions of the western. Hex’s world was a fluid morality play of not-good-and-bad-but-right-and-wrong. And it was a seminal reinvigoration of the character following on from such ‘90s experiments as Joe Lansdale’s Jonah Hex: Two-Gun Mojo (which saw Hex infused with supernatural horror elements) and Hex tangling with a time-warped Batman in episodes of The Batman Adventures.
Back in 2011, the suspension of Jonah Hex, the 2006 Palmiotti-Gray scribed series, felt prescient. Not only were there great changes afoot at DC that would see the ushering in of the New 52, but also, Jonah Hex seemed to exhaust the narrative scope of the character. What more could be said about Jonah? He gets into scraps, he gets out of scraps. The narrative possibilities seemed to get less endless, exclamation mark, and more interminable. Could Jonah Hex be reinvigorated once more, perhaps by another team?
The solution of course was to have Gray and Palmiotti themselves reinvigorate Jonah Hex, a second time round. All-Star Western, a second Hex successor title, would elevate Jonah Hex from being at play in a period drama, to being awash in a character epic. It’s the late 19th century, and Jonah heads Back East, to Gotham. And rather than contend with the usual band of rogues and miscreants (which he actually does anyway in All-Star Western), he watches as the roots of a world that will one day host superheroes and mad scientists, Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, grow slowly over time.
This coming full circle of Jonah Hex as an idea, one that back in the ‘80s struggled with being frozen out from the DC mainstream only now to find itself returned to witness the birth of that exact same fictive world, is only underlined in All-Star Western, vol. 3: the Black Diamond Probability. It is in this book that Gray and Palmiotti balance considerations of Jonah Hex’s unique character, with a broader reintegration of the character within the DC Universe, and the infusing of trans-genre elements in the form of immortal shadow-demon, Eclipso.
All-Star Western feels like what it is—a homecoming for a DC hero, too long cast adrift. Please enjoy our exclusive preview of All-Star Western vol. 3: the Black Diamond Probability.