Category Archives: DC Comics

The Character of a City-Gotham Nights

Hello there, Legions of the Unspoken!  I hope you have enjoyed the debate I had with Paul O’Connor of Longbox Graveyard over 70’s vs. 90’s comic books, and I hope you come down strongly on my side that the 90’s are the best!

Seriously, though, we had a good-natured conversation about 90’s comics myths, 70’s comics, the differences between the two eras, and all sorts of cool stuff.  Take a listen here if you haven’t, or give it another one if you have!  The classics never get old, do they?

I sure hope not because today I’m taking a look at one of the all-time classics in superheroes, Batman!  We won’t be looking at him in the traditional sense, however.  We’ll be looking in particular at one of the most important supporting characters in the Batman mythos.

The supporting characters are almost what drives Batman.  If Batman’s rogue’s gallery are counted as supporting characters, then they’re almost certainly the most important element to Batman’s tapestry.  Even if we don’t count the Joker or Calendar Man, the supporting cast makes the Batman comic book come alive in ways many other comic books do not.  Robin, Alfred, Commissioner Gordon, Batgirl, Nightwing, Lucius Fox, Leslie Thompkins, and more bring out the “man” in Batman, and that’s good, because otherwise Batman would just be a weird rich dude who beat up the criminally insane and street level criminals.  Thanks to them, he is now a weird rich dude who beats up the criminally insane and street-level criminals  while having relationships with various folks.

The most important character in the Batman books, though, could possibly be Gotham City.  Gotham City gives a vibe few other locales, fictional or otherwise,  in comic books of any genre can match.  I think it may be the only location in comic books, especially superhero comic books, that can actually say it is a character (other than Danny the Street, of course).  Gotham City means as much to Batman as Batarangs, the Batwing, and Alfred’s snide comments.

I think we can all agree that the architecture in Gotham City reflects the environment that it is, but it is often people that determine the character of a city.  We speak differently about the people of New York City than we do the folks of Los Angeles.  In fact, we think of people within those cities as being vastly different!  Beverly Hills and Compton aren’t the same, and neither are Staten Island and Queens.  The people of Gotham City are a proud lot, but they are also a hard lot.  Their city reflects them, even as their hero reflects their city.  Gotham Nights was a 4-issue mini-series published by DC Comics in 1992 that attempted to show us Gothamites, and by doing so also showing us their city.

John Ostrander handles the writing chores, while Mary Mitchell and Bruce Patterson are on top of pencils/inks.  The book reads well, although it is not as good as some of Ostrander’s other works, such as Suicide Squad, Grimjack, Punisher, or Spectre, but it is a very solid read.  Of course, it is also important to note that Ostrander’s high marks are so high that is no surprise that some of his other works don’t measure up to them.  Even Justin Verlander can’t throw 100-MPH every pitch!  What he can do, though, and what Ostrander does here, is deliver a solid outing each time.

We get an enjoyable read that may not quite reach its potential, but I think some of that is due to space limitations.  If one is going to do a mini-series about the people of Gotham City in a way to bring the city to life in a new way to Batman fans, it seems like it would need to be longer than four issues.  The stories about the individuals are charming, but they feel rushed.  Just as we start to get to know the varied types of folks that comprise the human landscape of Gotham City, the series ends.

But for something to end, it must begin, yes?  This series starts with Batman chasing a mook.  Doesn’t it seem like all Batman titles are legally required to start that way?

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That mook looks a bit more like he is doing the Batdance than he is running away from Batman. Remember Batdance? I don’t think anyone does except me.

The very start of the series has most of the action you’ll see from Batman in this story.  That doesn’t make it bad, but it does mean that if you are buying this because you wanted to see Batman swoop down on every mugger in every alley of  Gotham City then this book isn’t for you.  I think the covers sort of told someone that, but I can only imagine how ripped off someone might have felt if they got this on an impulse buy hoping to see Batman doing Batman stuff.

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This is the cover that I think could have inspired the most of those regretful impulse buys.
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The first time I saw this cover, I thought it was Catwoman enticing some hapless mark. It isn’t, but that isn’t bad.
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All I can imagine when I see this is the idea that Batman is enforcing one of the vast array of anti-homeless ordinances that have sprung up across the United States. “It’s illegal to sleep on a park bench after dark, citizens! Let the Shadow of the Bat remind you!” Seriously, though, those laws are bunk.
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The pastries and the gun make for a beautiful dichotomy.

The covers have a cool design, and I especially enjoy the bordering.  I feel like that alone sort of set these apart as “not your typical Batman book”, although with the first (and possibly the fourth) issue(s) I can see a casual fan picking it up and being disappointed that there isn’t more Batman in it.

But just because there isn’t more Batman doesn’t make this title a disappointment.  In fact, I’d say it is almost worth it for the great art of Gotham City alone.  Mary Mitchell and Bruce Patterson make the city come alive as a character in and of itself. Some of their work makes the buildings of Gotham seem like the night solidified  as they reach as high as they can into sky in an attempt to embrace their ethereal cousin…

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That quote about Gotham being for giants sums up the way Gotham City has looked in nearly everything except the Batman ’66 TV show.
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Man, is there anything one can’t quote Churchill about?
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With just that single train, Gotham City has better mass transit than Atlanta.
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Different parts of a city make a city’s personality so varied. I love that Gotham City is no different.  Of course, someone just out of the panel is bemoaning the lack of English being spoken, because, hey, Gotham City is no different.

The pages almost allow the city to breathe.  If it could breathe, you just know Gotham’s breath would be rank.  Thankfully, you don’t have to smell that, while you still get to enjoy the scenery.

Of course, as I stated earlier, cities become characters due to the folks than inhabit them.  While it seems like Gotham City is populated solely by guys who are part crocodile or have clocks for faces, most of the people in Gotham City are quite normal…some of them appallingly so.  Take Jimmy and Jennifer.  These two folks remind me of that non-couple we all know.  You know the one.  They obviously like each other, but neither do much of anything about it other than act in a flirtatious way toward one another that annoys all around them.  That having been said, they are nice people, even if Jennifer has little to no idea how to act in regard to talking about sexually transmitted diseases in public.

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Jennifer’s way-too-loud discussion about AIDS in public followed up by her assumption that Jimmy is gay due to his concern over AIDS and his never having made a pass at her sort of tells you what sort of lady she is.  Jimmy also seems to be judging her because she has sex and dates a lot, so you can tell what sort of person he is fairly quickly as well.  They are nice enough folks, but there is a bigger picture they aren’t getting.

You may not have noticed the doughnut lady who dealt with Jimmy’s ever-so-clever order.  That seems to be par for the course for her, as she is perpetually building her own world in her own head.  I don’t blame her; I spend a great deal of my time dreaming about what my life would be like if I won the lottery.  (Basically, it would be more or less the same but with more comic books, less work, and probably an Unspoken Decade magazine.  Maybe it will happen!  Keep dreaming, Legions!)

Her name is Rosemary Hayes, and she is something to behold in her dreams.  Aren’t we all?

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Man, she sure makes Wonder Woman fat in her dreams!  I love it!  Her character is a tragic one, whose loneliness reaches out and just grabs you through the page.  I feel so badly for her after this next page, when she wakes up and the reality of her dreams dissipates with ever beam of light that makes its way into her eyes.  We’ve all felt that way after a dream, right?

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I have felt that too, Rosemary. It just ain’t fair.

Life, of course, isn’t fair to many folks, but it seems decidedly harsh on Joel and Emma, an older couple who have all sorts of problems, ranging from health to money.  Being broke is bad, but it is also tough to watch the world change around you when things are going poorly for you, especially as you get older.  That gets really tough if you recall when things were different, when you were younger, and when you could do something about it.  Things could not be going much more poorly for Emma and Joel, so Gotham, being the harsh mistress that it is, ups the ante just a little.

Gotham Nights #1 - Page 9 Gotham Nights #1 - Page 20They will support and care for one another as best they can through these issues, but at least they do have each other.  Dio is an ex-con on parole, who insists on pushing away anyone who is close, especially his pregnant wife.  He also has words with Batman, who says he’ll be keeping an eye on him.  I love that; it’s so small-town sheriff in a western, but it is also so Batman.  Those two genres don’t line up that neatly very often…

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Dio’s path in life hasn’t taken him anywhere awesome thus far, except maybe for his wife, Migdalia, but all he seems to do for her is to threaten to hit her and demand beer.  I am a big fan of beer, but I am not so much a fan of a violence against women.  He also appears to have a past as a high-end henchman, having worked for The Penguin.  I like that Batman has such a memory that he recalls this guy; Penguin must have stopped dressing his guys like he did in Batman ’66, where they’d have a hard time being told apart.

Dio’s tale is a sad one, and no tale in the book is devoid of heartbreak.  The question is is how will these people that comprise the great city of Gotham survive their personal tragedies?

Gotham Nights reminds us that each city, even the fictional ones, are full of people.  These people have dreams, hopes, fears, bouts of depression, hankerings for ice cream, and all of the various feelings that go together to make up human existence.  You’ll see these folks rise, fall, get up, stumble, sleep, eat, and engage in all sorts of activities just to keep their lives moving along.

Normally, I go through bit by bit and give you the story, but that seems a disservice to such a character-drive story as this one.  Instead, go out, find the book, and see yourself in these characters for yourself.  See yourself and your choices in a new light.  See yourself in Gotham Nights…and never forget one thing always remains constant in Gotham City…

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Hope you had fun, Legions of the Unspoken!  Next week, Emily Scott brings you Bill and Ted’s Excellent Comic Book, and Darry Weight takes a look at Cable. We’ll talk Rob Liefeld’s Avengers in an upcoming podcast, and Super-Blog Team Up returns on 4/21 with Top 10’s!  Hope to see you there for all of it, folks!

The Golden Age #4-Bravery When Battling The Enemy Within…

Ah, the end.

There’s something so bittersweet about the end.  We’ve been keeping up with The Golden Age here at The Unspoken Decade, and this tremendous tale is drawing to an end.  Despite its dour nature, despite how dark everything has been for our heroes, one cannot help but feel like the sun is about to come out and shine brightly upon this age.

Unfortunately, as we all know, it’s always darkest before the dawn, and for some of the Justice Society, it’s going to get so dark that the sun will never shine again.  For others, this will be a new beginning. For the readers, we will get both, as it’s going to be the end of something Golden and the start of something Silver.

All new births must hurt, though, as we are all well aware, and the birthing of the Silver Age would be no different, as the Golden Age’s death throes echo in me to this day.  The final issue of The Golden Age is a sort of perfect amalgam of pain and beauty, chaos and stability, and hope and despair.  One thing is for sure as we start off this issue: things don’t look good for the JSA right now.

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That’s correct, as we told you last time, American hero, Tex Thompson, Senator and WW2 Hero, is really the Ultra-Humanite.  The comic has thus far shied away from telling you who is in Daniel Dunbar’s body, and we will save that reveal for you as well, but you know that if they are only hinting then whoever it is must be rather dastardly…

The problem is that no one will listen to the JSA.  I see this happen all of the time in our real world.  Despite evidence that shows that this behavior is counterproductive, folks are always very willing to simply kowtow to leaders and pundits.  Folks seem ever so eager to believe the biggest and smallest of lies, provided that they are uttered from “official” sources.  Those that question or peruse “unofficial” sources are marginalized as quickly as is possible.  It’s fascinating to see the JSA in such dire straits, as they are usually portrayed and perceived as the elder statesmen of the DC Universe.  In fact, in one of my prior articles here at the Unspoken Decade, I mention that even Superman revered these guys.  To see them on the opposite side is fascinating!

The first few issues of this fantastic mini-series dealt with the character of the JSA and their Golden Age pals.  This issue is no different,  as the few heroes in possession of this secret are testing their own character in order to forge some sort of plan that would give them a of chance against Ultra-Humanite and Daniel Dunbar…

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The HUAC continues to dog Alan Scott as well, and as the government and country that he has held so dearly continues its hideous assault against him and his character, his character deepens, thrives, and becomes as strong as steel.  No committee, whether it was the committees we established here in the USA to witch hunt the different people we dared not attempt to understand, nor a communist pogrom would have had the ability to pierce the spectacular moral fortitude Alan Scott possesses.

All that matters to Alan Scott is what is right and just.  All that matters to Alan Scott is that he stand up for it.  All that matters to Alan Scott should be all that matters to us…

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In my regular life, many people have seen me stand up many times against oppressive forces.  Obviously, I never stared down a committee like HUAC, but many times, I have stood up to entities that looked to hold me, my family, my co-workers, or my society down.

In my case though, any dirt on my adversaries that I got, I was more than happy to use.  The moral fiber of Alan Scott is truly tough, as I think very few would face the committee as head-on as he plans too.

Of course, the challenges and obstacles we all face are never the same.  Just as Alan Scott stands poised and ready to face HUAC with a most noble streak, Libby Lawrence has her own cross to bear, but in her case, it is trying to find the courage to break free of something bad.

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Vices and people with vices can easily get a hold on any of us.  In Libby’s case, she allowed herself to become complacent and to submerge her dreams as her boyfriend, Jonathan Law (Tarantula) has drowned his and tried to beat hers out of her.  She’s finding the courage to not just break apart from Law, but to also say yes to herself.  Too many of us never find that courage.  In his defense, Law is sorry and is finding courage of his own, but it seems to be too little, too late…

In the meantime, the heroes gather, as they always do.  From the moment I found myself hopelessly in love with the garishly colored superheroes, I have been a sucker for the moments when all the heroes gather together and stand around in their costumes, moments before uniting to combat a threat to the world, the galaxy, the universe, or reality itself.  These are the times when we naturally see the heroes as people rather than just a bunch of loud costumes with a bunch of powers.  These are the times, much like us, when pals get together, and just like us, those times for the heroes seem to be fleeting and rare, and the gatherings only occur during the best and the worst of times.

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Of course, one of the most special things about superheroes, and the mystery men of the Second World War is that they represent hope for the future.  The future is always happening, even when folks aren’t aware of it yet.  Here, we see the unbridled ambition of youth, that devil-may-care spirit, and that eagerness that youth has to prove itself so that it can belong, and we see it in the form of an as yet to be named Superhero that none of the other folks have heard of yet.  That matters little to him; what matters is that he has a place to belong, even if many of the others don’t quite realize it yet.

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I think at one point we were all that young man.  We were all so angry, so eager, so dejected, so determined, and since I was young in the 90’s, so EXTREME.  What we all now know, and what this young man will soon learn, is that maybe we should not be in such a hurry to grow up.  Growing up means hard choices, facing tragedies, and never really knowing or understanding why your life goes the way that it does.  Many of the heroes assembled here are going to be wondering what happened shortly, as a force of nature is about to upend their entire status quo, as it does for many of us adults.

In the meantime, the heroes with the skinny on what is actually going down with the Ultra-Humanite are beginning to put their plan into motion.  One of them, however, calls an audible.  One of them had decided she just hasn’t done enough to thwart this plan.  One of them is going to jumpstart the plan on her own.  One of them won’t survive her gambit, although she certainly inspires many of her fellow heroes to take up arms against their oppressor.

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American culture is jazz and baseball, although I think we have to add in pro wrestling and superheroes as well.  These things are inherently ours.  We brought them to the world.  I know folks would like to believe in a lot more of what she said, but, well, as an anarchist, I think it is a pipe dream.  The state is the state, whether it is called The USA, the USSR, the UAE, or Uganda.  We will see that even as our heroes expose the corruption of Thompson and how he is actually the Ultra-Humanite, that things will go along in a similar fashion, as the Joe McCarthy of this Earth rises to fill the vacuum Thompson leaves.  He will engage in the same red-baiting that Thompson did, just as McCarthy did on our Earth.  No nation, regardless of the ideals it purports to espouse, is immune from the power mongers and the need for the elites to maintain the status quo at the expense of the non-elite.

Robotman, as you see, has no qualms with this.  I love Robotman (especially the often-forgotten Golden Age Robotman), and it is a shame to see him make such a dastardly heel turn, although it makes perfect sense.  Robotman would be cold and efficient due to the dichotomy between his organic brain and his steel body, and one of the heroes most likely to buy into the law and order nonsense of those like Thompson or McCarthy.  So it is he who smashes Miss America in a vain attempt to silence her truth.  She dies; the truth lives on.

The government’s witch hunt against Alan Scott and others like him is continuing even as the Ultra-Humanite is being revealed.  Scott is defiant, and he, like me, has nothing but contempt for government apparatuses that are utilized to hold down those who would dare to be different and question the integrity of the powers-that-be.  I wonder if this cycle will ever stop.  Alan Scott and I both certainly hope so.

As he faces down those small-minded men, the mystery men go to war with Dunbar, and to say they did not fare well would be such an understatement…

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I have heard that the bright colored superheroes are like our gods and mythology, and there are few moments that reinforces that notion better than this one.  Here we see the gods rise up as they attempt to crush their challenges, but like many of the powers that would face a god, Dunbar is in possession of a nearly limitless power all his own.  We see Hawkman, Black Condor, and The Ray attempt to subdue Dunbar, and their story isn’t over.

Some gods stay grounded, looking in vain for advantages against overwhelming odds.  Some gods look for inspiration in  the Earth, the sky, or themselves, but some look for inspiration in the cold realm of vengeance…

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Robotman vs. Tigress seems a one-sided affair, but how could one not admire the vehemence with which Paula Brooks attacks the steel monstrosity in the name of vengeance for her friend?   Despite how Robotman just murdered her pal with nary a second thought, Tigress is displaying nerves of steel that despite being made of metal, Robotman could only wish he had.

The Ultra-Humanite, running low on cards in this high-stakes, high-powered game of poker, pulls a pair of kings. Just like all the demagogues of the ages, the Ultra-Humanite uses misdirection and manipulation to create rifts between friends and heroes.  Johnny Thunder and The Atom, recruits in the Ultra-Humanite’s wave of the future, have fallen victim to him and his lies.  Of course, who could blame them?  As the outcasts of the JSA, they felt like they found a place to belong under Ulta-Humanite, and so they fight.

They fight their own family, as families do on occasion.  Some would say families only stop fighting when they have someone else to fight, but here, even though the JSA has plenty on its hands now, The Atom and Johnny Thunder fight.  Thunder even commits an act so despicable that I find it shocking; his pet Thunderbolt finds it even more so…

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The family makes up and unites against a common foe, but certain parts of the family remain apart from the rest, engaging in the tasks that make others in the tribe cringe.  Vengeance once again shows up, as Paul Kirk finds Ultra-Humanite, and he is going to get revenge for his friend, Tex Thompson!

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Still the Tigress and Captain Triumph struggle against Robotman, searching for a way to honor their fallen friend, Miss America.  Captain Triumph also struggles against the ghost of his brother, and whether he wins or loses said struggle, is really up to the reader.  One thing is for sure, he wins the struggle with Robotman…

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Captain Triumph will no longer be bothered by his brother.  Other heroes attack Dunbar in waves, one at a time, or from afar.  None of it seems to matter, as the death toll climbs and climbs.  At least Captain Triumph and his brother won’t be lonely as Dunbar sends so many to greet them…

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Wouldn’t that be awful?  To see one’s moral opposite showing more courage than one’s self?  Especially if one was supposed to be a hero, and had looked down on his opposite with such disdain.  Surely, Alan Scott has no choice but to join the battle, because if he was willing to come out of retirement to stop Sportsmaster, now he has to come out to avenge his death…and to prove he has the courage he has been showing in standing up to HUAC, this time in another arena.

And it is a good thing he does arrive, as the heroes keep falling, including Johnny Quick.  Green Lantern hits Dunbar with a right fist that not only removes a few of Dunbar’s teeth, but it also instills something the JSA has lost a lot of very quickly…hope.

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Even Alan Scott falls, however, and the heroes last hope against Dunbar appears to be Starman, mental illness be damned. We see Johnny Quick rushing off to grab him above, and this echoes one of the best things about superheroes to me, which is that no matter how down things look, there’s always one last chance.  This is why so many sports appeal to me as well.  Your team’s down a touchdown with 0:03 on the clock?  Maybe they can hit that Hail Mary pass to the end zone.  Down one run in the 9th?  Maybe your team will score two.

The JSA is down a lot more than touchdown, however, and unfortunately, it will take more than the bipolar genius of Ted Knight to win this day…

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Just when it seems that all is lost, the forgotten weapon of this story, the young man who wanted to be a hero at the start of this tale, joins the fray, and while he may not be the one who delivers the killing blow, his demeanor in the face of what appeared to be absolute defeat lives on in the minds of his world.  For if only each and every one of us were to stand up to those whose tyranny we are told is inevitable.

And let’s not discount Liberty Belle and her role in the victory.  Her ingenuity and resourcefulness save the day, and isn’t that how it usually goes?  Youth, in combination with the defiance that goes along with it and the ingenuity of a lady with very few powers in comparison to many of the heavy hitters who had tackled Dunbar prior, saves the day.  More importantly, it saves the future…but you will have to get the book to see that and to see how Paul Kirk dealt with the Ultra-Humanite.

The Golden Age is unfairly overlooked.  I truly wish that these characters and their reality were as embraced as other critical darlings of the era, such as Kingdom Come or Marvels.  I wish that with all of the hullabaloo at DC right now in regards to their “Multiversity” that Grant Morrison or someone of that ilk would look back to The Unspoken Decade for a universe that is ever so real and hurtful in so many ways, with so many delightful characters to incorporate into “Greater DC.”

Or they could at least bring Dynaman back.

You’re doing yourself a tremendous disservice  if you do not go buy this right now. This is truly a masterpiece. If this had come out in 1985 or 2005, it would be revered.  Since it came out in the 90’s, it is tossed aside and possibly even reviled.  That’s more than a damn shame, as James Robinson and Paul Smith truly capture the horror, wonder, and charm that is superheroes.  Perhaps, that’s the same horror, wonder, and charm that is America…

Hex for the Holidays by Emily Scott

Hello, Unspoken, and happy holidays! Many of you are probably reading this as you look forward to a relaxing few days of food and fun with your families….haha, yeah right. It’s far more likely you are scoping this out as you curse whatever airline has delayed your travels or are hiding from some drunk, overbearing relative, so I hope this article provides a welcome respite from whatever familial hell you find yourself in. Grab some pumpkin pie, liberally douse in Cool Whip, try not to fall into a food coma, and enjoy Hex for the Holidays!

Even though I am still relatively new to actually reading comic books, I have acquired a lot of peripheral knowledge about a myriad of characters over the years from friends, but before reading the subject of this article, I knew only two things about Jonah Hex:

1. He is a Western character.

2. They made a movie about him starring Megan Fox, and everyone hated it.

That’s it. Trying to get a better sense of what I was about to read based on the cover didn’t help much either. I ended up assuming he must be some sort of demon or undead creature in the vein of Ghost Rider.

I also could have gone with Ol' Timey Terminator based on the glowing red eye and skull imagery.
I also could have gone with Ol’ Timey Terminator based on the glowing red eye and skull imagery.

Imagine my disappointment, then, when I started the comic, 1993’s Jonah Hex: Two-Gun Mojo, and realized that Jonah Hex was just a guy without any sort of powers, demonic or otherwise. The Western is far from my favorite genre, so when I was introduced to Hex while he is in the middle of being strung up by outlaws and no lasers came out of his glowing eye, I settled in for what I imagined would be pretty rote five issues of saloon shootouts, horses being hitched, and people saying things are “mighty fine.” (Of course, anyone who knows anything about Jonah Hex would find this to be a silly and unnecessary thing to be disappointed by, but we’ll get to that.)

Hex, of course, gets rescued because it would be a very short story if he didn’t. His savior is a fellow bounty hunter by the name of Slow Go Smith, who was tracking the gang attempting to make my read a quick one. Slow Go could have very easily devolved into an insanely cliched Old West character, but as soon as he cuts the heads off the gang to collect his bounty rather than transport the bodies, I was won over. (What can I say, I’m a girl of simple tastes.)

That might be the most beautifully rendered decapitation of a corpse I've ever seen.
That might be the most beautifully rendered decapitation of a corpse ever.

Even when I was unfairly convinced this would just be a tale of a grizzled ol’ timey lone gun, I took solace in the fact that it was a gorgeously drawn tale of a grizzled ol’ timey lone gun. Every panel, no matter how gruesome the content, is beautiful to look at and seems rendered with the utmost care. The colors are simultaneously rich and slightly faded, like they’ve been left out in the hot desert sun. All credit where it’s due to the artists (pencils by Timothy Truman, ink by Sam Glanzman, and colors by Sam Parsons) for depicting events that you’d have a hard time looking at in real life with images you can’t look away from.

Hex and Slow Go make their way to town to drop off the heads and learn that the bounty has already been mistakenly split amongst the townsfolk, who apparently decided one dead gang was as good as any. While they wait for the bureaucracy to sort itself out (some things are universal), they head to the nearest saloon, where they teach these trigger happy townies a thing or two about race relations by defending the Indian saloon girl from their harassment. Fairly standard fare for a Western, sure, but Slow Go gets in one of my favorite all-time moves:

I like this so much it could happen once every gunfight and I wouldn't complain.
I like this so much it could happen once every gunfight and I wouldn’t complain.

Despite him saving his life multiple times in the, like, hour they’ve known each other, Hex kicks Slow Go out of their room later that night because he can’t deal with snoring, forcing his new friend to shack up in the barn with some horses and dead guys (the men mistakenly shot by the residents of this happy little hamlet.) This is the part in the story where my interest noticeably piques:

Yay, zombies! I know a lot of people are like, "Hur de dur, I'm tired of zombies," but whatever. Zombies make everything better.
Yay, zombies! I know a lot of people are like, “Hur de dur, I’m tired of zombies,” but whatever. Zombies make everything better.

The downside of this addition to the story means no more Slow Go, who can’t fend off a whole troop of what appear to be corpse stealing zombie sideshow folk. The upside is that I get to see him throw his gun at someone again.

Seriously, the comic could be nothing but this wisecrackin' ol' coot throw his gun at people, and I would be happy.
Seriously, the comic could be nothing but this wisecrackin’ ol’ coot throwing his gun at people, and I would be happy.

Hex shows up just in time to get a grazing by a bullet and the blame for Slow Go’s death, even though the sheriff has no plausible explanation for how Hex could have shot himself and hid the gaggle of missing bodies, let alone a real motive why he would have killed his snoring companion. The town prepares for Hex’s hanging like it’s Christmas, the Super Bowl, and the second coming of Christ all rolled into one.

While observing the preparations for the festivities, Hex is once again rescued, this time by the Indian girl from the saloon he defended the previous day. The girl uses one of the oldest tricks in the book, the seduce-and-shoot. (Real talk for a second here: all the time in fiction ladies use their feminine wiles to distract a guard long enough for them or someone else to get the drop on said guard. Would it really be so easy? I like it as a trope, but if some lady really just sauntered in and disrobed, how many dudes would not find that insanely suspicious?)

With the sheriff handled like a cheap piece of luggage, Hex and his new friend escape the jail and make a getaway that involves him shooting half the town in more incredibly artistic violence. The townsfolk who are left unscathed are more than a little upset that their entertainment has skedaddled and set off in pursuit. Most notable among them is the greatest old lady of all time:

Hex Picnic
Just as I wouldn’t mind a gun being thrown in every fight, I would be more than happy if this old lady appeared in everything I ever watched or read, demanding some fried chicken and an execution.

Hex shoots enough of the pursuing bloodthirsty bastards (including my new favorite character ever, unfortunately) to drive them back to their waiting chicken, but the escape is not without cost, as his new favorite lady succumbs to a case of being shot in the back. This seems to be a pattern with Hex, him making a new friend and them biting the dust within a 24-hour period. I assumed he would be a lone wolf like, say, the Punisher, who doesn’t want companionship, but Hex actually seems pretty adept at forming new connections with others, which makes it all the sadder when they keep dropping like flies.

It adds a layer of emotional complexity to the character that I was not expecting to find, but it also makes me imagine unintentionally funny scenarios where Hex introduces himself to a series of people and while he is extending his hand to shake, someone else comes along and cuts their head off with a sword or throws a stick of dynamite at them. Hex then mutters a, “Not again,” and rides off forlornly.

Hex next picks up the trail of the weirdo undead sideshow that murdered his buddy, finding them peddling a miracle elixir that will not just cure what ails you but also give you unnatural strength and agility. And when I say weirdo, I am not just whistlin’ Dixie:

If you had nothing but comics and cartoons to go by, you'd think fat people never did anything but eat whole chickens.
If you had nothing but comics and cartoons to go by, you’d think fat people never did anything but eat whole chickens.

Hex sneaks up on their camp and sees the undead guy who shot Slow Go pulled out of a barrel and fed a strange elixir, just not the same miracle tonic Doc Williams was peddling. Hex seeks out the good doctor in his tent and learns that his buddy’s assailant is none other than the legendary Wild Bill Hickok, who has once again come back to life and is now in position to get the drop on Hex.

Doc Williams does some of the most bizarre black magic I’ve ever seen, including using bits of the thieved corpses to make this elixir, and informs Hex that he plans to turn him into a walking undead puppet, just as he has done to Hickok. In images that will faintly haunt my soul for a little while, Doc Williams starts the pickling process on Hex, who has kept his wits about his enough to vomit the stuff back up.

As a Yankee dating a Southerner, I know his remark in the last panel, well, them's fighting words.
As a Yankee dating a Southerner, I know that his remark in the last panel, well, them’s fightin’ words.

While Hex ferments, Williams tells us the story of turning Hickok into a zombie. I often wonder how Hickok would feel about becoming one of America’s best remembered badasses, when, at the same time, the facet of his life we remember best is that he was shot in the back in the middle of a poker game.

Hex takes his chance to escape and ends up rolling out of his barrel and down a cliff. He is rescued once again by a nice farmer and his son, who nurse him back to health, lend him a horse, and send him on his way. We don’t see them meet a grisly death, but I kept expecting to see them get mowed down in the background as Hex leisurely rides away. How little they know about how close they came to an untimely fate.

That's not your dad's hand on your shoulder, son; it's the cold, impersonal hand of the Grim Reaper.
That’s not your dad’s hand on your shoulder, son; it’s the cold, impersonal hand of the Grim Reaper.

Hex meets back up with Doc Williams’ sideshow, with the added complication that they briefly have to fight on the same side, as they both, along with the soldiers escorting the circus troupe, are being attacked by some Indians.  Hex manages to get away and make another new pal in the process, but we all know where this is headed, right? Yep, his new buddy, a sergeant, gets tagged in the back and apparently got the memo that the farmer and his son did not break the Hex friendship curse. He finishes himself off so Hex will not feel obligated to drag his dying body with him in his escape.

Hex Jersey
I like the idea that making fun of New Jersey is universal, regardless of the era.

Finding the very obvious trail left by Doc Williams’ dead associates and the smoke from his cooking one of them up, Hex must now face down the myth himself, Wild Bill Hickok. Hex cops to being nervous to face down an undead legend, especially one who can no longer die, but he displays more sense than most characters facing zombies and aims for the head. Now, you see a lot of brains splattering out the back of a head in this comic, but this time might be my favorite.

Hex Braaaaaains
The gore so nice, you see it thrice.

Bereft of any more undead bodyguards, Doc Williams is left defenseless against Jonah Hex, who does not give him the courtesy of a quick death. Instead he leaves him for the Apaches, shooting out both his knees so he can’t escape and letting him know just how vicious his death will be when he is found. Slow Go’s death now avenged, Hex is free to ride off into the sunset and make some unsuspecting new friends.

I thoroughly enjoyed this comic, even if Westerns aren’t my particular glass of sippin’ whiskey, and not just because of all the undead action. I’ve raved quite a bit about the beautiful art, but I would be remiss if I didn’t tip my hat to Joe R. Lansdale’s clever script, which takes some tropes that are about as worn as an old boot and breathes new life into them like they took a swaller of Doc Williams’ juice. (Look, I resisted the urge to use Old West cliches this entire article, so the way I figure it, I’ve earned the right to use them all now.)

It’s just about time for this article to hit the ol’ dusty trail, so I hope you’ve enjoyed sittin’ with me for a spell! If you’re still hiding out from your family, there are certainly worse ways you could spend that time than checking out this comic. Be sure to come ’round these parts again next week, when this blog’s exemplary proprietor Dean Compton returns to the Golden Age!