Pulp Appeal: Jonah Hex: Two Gun Mojo (guest post by Anthony Perconti)

In 1993, editor Karen Berger at DC Comics forged a new imprint that focused on stories geared at a more mature audience and creator owned works as well. The end result was the creation of Vertigo Comics. Such early titles included, naturally enough, a transfer of already established titles such as Shade the Changing Man, The Sandman,[1] Swamp Thing, Hellblazer,[2] Animal Man and Doom Patrol. Soon after, new titles, both ongoing and limited premiered under this imprint including Neil Gaiman’s Death: the High Cost of Living, the Matt Wagner-helmed Sandman: Mystery Theatre and Peter Milligan’s Enigma. The summer of 1993 re-introduced readers to a preexisting DC character, who was inactive for a considerable amount of time; this figure received a Vertigo Comics makeover of sorts, with a five issue limited series. Written by veteran crime and horror writer, Joe R. Lansdale, and illustrated by the incomparable Tim Truman, Jonah Hex: Two Gun Mojo made its debut.

Jonah Hex was a character created by writer John Albano and illustrator Tony DeZuniga and made his first appearance in All Star Western, number ten in 1972. Two issues later (issue #12) the book’s title changed to Weird Western Tales, with Hex being the headliner until he graduated into his own series after issue thirty eight.  The Jonah Hex character is a morally ambiguous bounty hunter roaming the Old West plying his trade. A veteran of the Civil War, Hex still wears his Confederate grays, basically daring all comers to mess with him. Half of his face from his eye down is hideously scared from a burning tomahawk wound that he received while being tortured at the hands of his adopted Apache tribe. His series lasted ninety two issues; in 1985, the series was rebooted, with long running writer Michael Fleischer helming it. Hex lasted eighteen issues, in which Jonah Hex is transported into a post apocalyptic 21st century New York and goes on Mad Max style adventures.  The character of Hex is a response to the Spaghetti Western genre that was such a huge hit throughout the 1960’s and ‘70’s; you can see Leone and Eastwood’s Man with No Name’s fingerprints all over the amoral bounty hunter. When Lansdale and Truman debuted Two Gun Mojo, this was in turn a way to bring the character back to his roots, namely in an Old West setting. However, this being a work of Joe R. Lansdale, he put his off kilter spin on it; the miniseries falls squarely in the genre of Weird Western, a story form that Lansdale helped create. Two Gun Mojo acts perfectly as a companion piece to a previous Lansdale novel, the 1986 novel Dead in the West, the connective tissue between the two works being the author’s fictional East Texas town of Mud Creek.

The series starts out in media res, where we meet Hex being dragged behind a horse about to be lynched by a revenge seeking gang of criminals, the Traywicks. As he is strung up and dangling on death’s door, the gang is ambushed and killed by elderly bounty hunter, Slow Go Smith. Smith saves Hex’s life and collects the heads of the gang to be cashed in at the closest town of Mud Creek. Unfortunately for the two bounty hunters, the sheriff does not have the funds to pay them (he gave the cash to another group who claimed the bounty, utilizing the bodies of innocent men as proof). Slow Go and Hex are stuck in Mud Creek for a couple of days until the bounty money can come through. After spending the day threatening several obnoxious townsfolk and roughing up a couple of bullies in the town bar, the two associates head off to sleep. Unfortunately for Smith, he is a snorer and Hex kicks him out of their shared room to sleep in the barn, along with the corpses of the innocent men.  The plot accelerates from this point in the story when Smith gets into a gunfight in the barn with a resurrected corpse and loses (he ends up dead) and Hex, nearly killed by a reanimated famous gunfighter from Deadwood is framed for the murder of his partner (along with corpse stealing) and sentenced to hang. I don’t want to give away too much of the plot, but poor Hex has to bust out of prison, contend with a blood thirsty mob robbed of their entertainment (the double feature of a picnic and a hanging) and track down the person behind the murder of his associate.

The antagonist of the piece is Doc ‘Cross’ Williams. He is the owner and mastermind of a travelling medicine show, selling his patented ‘sweet brown tonic’ (see snake-oil) along with his troupe of circus performers, that are just about straight out of Tod Browning’s 1932 cult film Freaks. The troupe includes Ramona the fat lady, String-bean Jones, a tattooed, rail thin giant and Half-pint the pumpkin headed little person juggler. These performers are under Doc’s control, along with his own personal bodyguard, that reanimated gunfighter from Deadwood.  Williams fancies himself a sorcerer, having spent time in Haiti, he learned the secrets of making zombie juice, a compound that will turn the living into mindless automata, combined with the Book of Doches, a grimoire he obtained from an old preacher in Waco Texas, is able to bring the dead back to life. Williams is a creepy customer, decked out in a cloak, a stovepipe hat adorned with astrological symbols, steam-punk goggles, teeth that are filed to points and talon like hands, he certainly looks the part of an otherworldly sorcerer. At the start of the fourth issue, Hex is captured by Williams and locked in a barrel to be ‘pickled’, force fed Doc’s zombie juice so he can join the troupe as the latest attraction. The bounty hunter busts out of his captivity and is taken in by a kindly widower and his son who nurse him back to health. The series reaches its climax with the fifth issue in which Doc’s medicine show, Hex and a troop of 10th cavalry buffalo soldiers are forced to fight together against a large Apache war band, hopelessly outgunned. For longtime fans of Tim Truman, the opening scene of issue five is (in my opinion) a shout out to the character  of Emanuel Santana, from his groundbreaking, creator owned series from Eclipse Comics, Scout and Scout: War Shaman, in which an Apache father and his young son share a tender moment.

What makes Two Gun Mojo such an engaging read is the fact that both Lansdale and Truman are having a blast with the series and this sense of enthusiasm on the part of the creators certainly shines through.  Joe R. Lansdale is in top form; by utilizing Hex as the narrator, he is able to deliver one deadpan piece of dialogue after another, you get a chuckle almost on every page. For example, a recurring joke in the book, when some new character encounters Hex for the first time they are often compelled to ask him about his scar, to which the bounty hunter replies in one instance, “Damn toothpick slipped.”In addition to the snappy dialogue, Lansdale excels in plotting; along with the gallows humor, he packs in lots of action and fast pacing between two covers. Tim Truman’s myriad talents are also on display in this book. As one of the original purveyors of the gritty art style during his tenure on Grimjack and Scout, Truman’s work on this miniseries certainly harkens back to those titles, but with more experience under his belt, his line work is more accomplished. His visuals convey the sweat, dust, gun smoke, buzzing flies and oppressive heat of Texas and the surrounding environs perfectly. Truman also accentuates Hex’s disfigurement; his eye is blood red and the scar tissue surrounding it looks raw, chaffed and half healed, with his teeth peeking through the corner of his scarred mouth. Truman’s version of Hex has aesthetically more in common with the Batman villain Two-Face than he does with Clint Eastwood. The inking of Sam Glanzman and the colors of Sam Parsons definitely complement Truman’s pencils.

For readers who are unfamiliar with the works of Joe R. Lansdale, Tim Truman or with the character of Jonah Hex, Two Gun Mojo is a fine place to start. Both creators are firing on all cylinders in this miniseries; dropping a heaping dose of Weird Tales level strangeness into a gritty Spaghetti Western inspired comic book. And if you like what you read, don’t worry. This series was the start of a long partnership between the writer and artist. Lansdale and Truman collaborated together again on two more Hex miniseries’, along with other works including Conan and the Songs of the Dead and the comic adaptation of the Lansdale zombie short story, “On the Far Side of the Cadillac Desert With Dead Folks.” I would encourage readers to track down this series. The collected edition is readily available on Amazon and other online book sellers or if you prefer the actual comics, they are reasonably priced through the online comic book back issue wholesaler of your choice. Jonah Hex: Two Gun Mojo, is an example of a modern pulp inspired comic at its finest.

[1] Note from the Editor (Cameron): Like most teenagers in the 1990s, this was my introduction to Neil Gaiman. I have several individual issues of the series and the collected TPBs. If you haven’t read them, you are in for a world of wonder when you finally do.

[2] Hellblazer is the chronicle of John Constantine, another series for which Cameron owns many individual issues from the late 90s and early-to-mid 00s. You ought to go back and read this series, too.

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3 Responses to Pulp Appeal: Jonah Hex: Two Gun Mojo (guest post by Anthony Perconti)

  1. Pingback: Sensor Sweep: David Lindsey, Robots, Hollow City, H. Beam Piper, Jonah Hex – castaliahouse.com

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