Is Jonah Hex Chivalrous?

Decoding DC – Part 12

Jonah_Hex_Shadows_West_2Extremites, what makes a hero?

Is it a character’s actions or morals that define heroism?

Is it a collection of both?

These questions underly both our Journey Into Marvel and Decoding DC series.

In the first issue of Shadows West, Jonah Hex guns down a horse to stop an outlaw that was trying to escape his onslaught. This act is not heroic. A heroic character would not have played dirty. Jonah Hex is far more concerned with survival than heroism.

Chivalry is a concept that has been wrapped up in heroes since medieval legend. Birthed out of a German code of military conduct, Chivalry was the prevailing etiquette of late Dark Age Europe. It, at first, dictated the way warriors should conduct themselves in the field, but later, became a model for conduct at court. Starting with Thomas Malory’s Mort D’Arthur and going through all the later romanticizations of the knights of King Arthur’s court, chivalry became synonymous with relationships with women.

I would never suggest that Jonah Hex is chivalrous.Sometimes Jonah Hex is downright unpleasant to women. Look to Joe R. Lansdale and Tim Truman’s Two Gun Mojo arc to see what I mean. After reading this issue of Shadows West I notice, in a twisted way, Jonah embodies a kind of Vertigo specific chivalry.

The Shadows West arc is about a squaw who has a half human/ half bear baby. When Jonah witnesses how this woman is forced into prostitution to care for the child, he breaks the two free, with the aid of his friend Spotted Balls. The plan is to reconnect the mother and son with the father.

The reaction Jonah has to forced prostitution is hypocritical. Jonah has no problem with prostitution if the woman is complicit in their subjugation as shown in the first issue. Upon seeing the squaw, he has an immediate aversion to her predicament and breaks her free.

Chivalry preached courteousness in male and female interaction. In depictions of the courting of Guinevere by Lancelot, a kind of flowery respect defines the relationship.

I have noticed this same relationship between men and women, when it comes to other publications in Vertigo. John Constantine of Hellblazer has always had a respect for besotted women and acts rash when a woman is forced to do something against her will. Swamp Thing — another Vertigo imprint, although not birthed there — often concerns itself with these same themes. Truman and Lansdale continue with this theme.

Beyond this novel addition to the definition of Jonah Hex this issue is unremarkable. Like all the issues of the Lansdale and Truman Jonah Hex period, the stories are always run of the mill. Take away the supernatural angle this issue just a chase story.
Sure, there’s some good banter, some neat penciling, the fall of the shot horse for example, but it all feels flat. I already feel like I know the ending of this arc.

So is Jonah Hex chivalrous?

I’d say he is.

I’ve said before, women in Jonah’s wild west are either whores or monsters. It makes sense that a homicidal deformed bounty hunter would be a knight in shining armour.

Until next time, Extremites, I remain: Julian Munds

Story I Read: “Part Two: Gathering Shadows” (Jonah Hex: Shadow’s West #2 Mar. 1999)”

Rating: 2 1/2 out of 5.

Pros: Great art, Jonah Hex is understated and compelling, the relationship between Jonah and Spotted Balls is well thought out.

Cons: There’s a simple plot but despite the simplicity of the plot the characters are left two-dimensional and archetypical. The squaw is quiet… this bothers me.

Upcoming Review:Part Three: Final Shadows” (Jonah Hex: Shadows West #3, Apr. 1999)

Previous Review:Part One: Long Tom” (Jonah Hex: Shadows West #1, Feb. 1999)

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About Julian Munds

I possess a degree in Theatre and Drama from the University of Toronto. I own my own theatre company called Snobbish Theatre. We focus our work on new versions of classics.

Posted on April 26, 2014, in DC, Jonah Hex and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

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