Jonah Hex: The Great American Apologist
Decoding DC – Part V
I don’t think anyone would refute the claim that American History is extraordinarily bloody. The shear amount of past blood weighs heavily upon their national consciousness. The United States is haunted by the lives it has taken through genocide and civil war. It must be terribly hard for that country to move into the future. This sorrow continues to poison that culture today. It is seen in the countless school shootings, gun deaths and general insanity that floods international media everywhere. Naturally, their literature would share this anxiety. Jonah Hex, in the final chapter of Two Gun Mojo, attempts to make amends for those very mistakes of the past. He, in a sense, is apologizing for all the blood of the Wild West.
I have largely spent these last articles, dealing with the stories of Two Gun Mojo, discussing Jonah’s individualism. Whether it is his apparent refusal to adhere to any belief system or any law, Jonah is the consummate individual. This individualism is much more then outlaw reality, it is an anachronistic belief of equality.
Spurred on from the early days of the civil rights movement, the United States started to come to terms with the way they had treated different races. Americans began to see the humanity in all faces, not just the white ones, even though, to what degree can be debated until the cows come home. Because of this introspection American culture began to falter under the strain of the extraordinary guilt wracked up by generations of blood.
Out of this strain came the creation of characters that could fix the mistakes of the past. Look at most “historical” movies, television shows, and books, and you will find idealized American characters that live their life by a modern code of morals. The movie Dances With Wolves comes to mind. Jonah Hex, in this issue, takes on the mantle of one of those characters.
We left Jonah, at the end of the last issue, stuck in a foxhole with Doc Cross’ posse of freaks and a Yankee army surrounded by an Apache onslaught. But this is not where the issue begins. Each chapter prior to this one, began directly after the events of the preceding issue. The narrative, here, begins with a focus on an unnamed Apache warrior going off to war which turns out to be this attack on the desert foxhole.
Why does Joe R. Lansdale break narrative form to show this backstory?
He does this to show the humanity of characters who, in older Westerns, would be faceless villains. By showing the Apache brave, saying saying goodbye to his young son, Lansdale applies a sentimental eye to both sides of the war. It is also interesting that this is maybe the only sentimental moment, aside from possibly the Squaw in the earlier chapters, that takes place in Two Gun Mojo.
The American Whites are depicted as brutal and barbarian, while the Indigenous Peoples are sympathetic and human. This successfully subverts all traditional Western tropes.
This sympathy for the the Indigenous continues through the very end. After the battle ends, in a terrible defeat, Jonah dukes it out with the reanimated corpse of Wild Bill Hickock in a Sergio Leone style duel to the death. After defeating the legendary zombie, Jonah leaves Doc Cross’ to the mercy of the Apache who have been pursuing them through the desert for days. Jonah says that instead of killing Doc Cross’ for the death of Slow Go Smith, he will leave the wizard for the Apache in hopes that they will exact revenge for the murder of the their people. As I stated before, in the prior review of Chapter 3, Doc Cross’ was a symbol of a misappropriation of other culture’s beliefs. The Indigenous get to punish those who stole their lives. The Cowboy atones to the Indigenous for the sins of his kind.
The Indigenous genocide is not the only moment that is apologized for in this issue. The Civil War, that great stain on American history, is also corrected by the actions of Jonah Hex.
Jonah, through out Two Gun Mojo, has warn the traditional Greys of his Confederate Uniform. Though the story happens some years after that tumultuous war, Jonah still identifies with his defeated brotherhood.
In the foxhole, as I noted before, a group of Yankee troops are attempting to hold off the Apache onslaught. When the battle turns south, and it is clear the soldiers will loose, Jonah Hex comes to the aid of an old battle scarred Yankee soldier. Hex notes that all uniforms are the same in battle. He and the wounded soldier mount a steed and retreat. During the retreat, the two old Civil War enemies come to a simple moment of understanding that there are no divides in humanity. Though that soldier later is killed, like all companions of Jonah Hex, both make simple amends for the war. This is the idealized version of the what Amercans think happened at the end of their Civil War: all fighting stopped and every American was friends again. Surely, historically we know this not to be true and that divide can still be felt to this day.
This issue is as fitting an ending to the meandering Two Gun Mojo arc as can be written. It feels a tad anti-climactic but then, again, the story was never terribly arresting. Perhaps, there was too much symbolism going on for its own sake. Perhaps, all of this dragged down what could have been a great story. Nevertheless, this final chapter was satisfying and indeed haunting as a good Western should be.
Can comics work out the demons of the past? I doubt it. But it never ceases to amaze me how art is the reflection of those who write it.
Who would have thought the modern Jonah Hex would be so politically important?
Rating: 3 out of 5
Pros: The Apache backstory. The brutality of the battle. The duel with zombie Wild Bill. The artwork of Tim Truman and Sam Parsons.
Cons: The lack of development for Doc Cross. The weight of the issue which doesn’t balance the rest of the arc.
Upcoming Review: Chapter 1 “No Rest for the Wicked and the Good Don’t Need Any” (Jonah Hex: Riders of the Worm and Such, May 1995)
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