Not long ago, I was doing a bit of research on Jonah Hex, after reading the Christos Gage Deadshot miniseries. In it, mercenary shootist Floyd Lawton made reference to reading a history book about the legendary gunslinger and how he identified with the notion that every time he tried to settle down, some spectre from his dark past was going to rise up and come after him, never letting him have that kind of peace. I began to wonder about the historical record in the DCU about how Hex eventually did meet his end.
Apparently, he was gut-shot to death during a game of cards by a man named George Barrow in 1904 at the age of 66. That struck me as a rather anticlimactic end for an ornery cuss like him. It would seem Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray felt the same way, as Jonah Hex #70 gives us a much grander take on the notoriously gritty bounty hunter as a fitting farewell to the pre-reboot version of the character. J&J have indicated that not much is going to change about Hex in the New 52, but still, this issue serves as a hell of a final chapter.
We open with that gutshot in question, after we see an old, gray Hex who seems to have mellowed out enough to refer to his fellow card players as 'gentlemen.' The first face he sees after what should've been leaving this mortal coil is that of Jeb Turnbull, who was once his best friend before some Union soldiers pulled some devilish tricks after capturing Hex and got ol' Jeb slaughtered. Seems Jeb is as incredulous as the rest of us that Hex got his outta nowhere in a card game, while Hex just figures he's 66 years old and his time was up. Jeb has some different idea – that a soldier by the name of George Barrow came up on him when Hex was in the South's 66th Infantry during the Civil War and put a hole in his head, and that there's a mysterious reason why Hex never took off that Confederate uniform. That right there is a hell of a thought, that Hex might've died on the battlefield, only to be given new life, such as it was, as some kind of angel of death. Or maybe something more like a demon of death.
After that, more apparitions. The same gutshot, only this time perpetrated by his father, whose grave he'd pissed on last issue. Then he wakes up again to the sight of the daughter he never had with Tallulah Black, scarred up just the same as he is, carrying around three broken hearts in a basket and agitatin' Hex somethin' fierce before buryin' him alive, all the while singin' "Dixie." Then Tallulah herself gets a shot in before we see that Hex is actually on some kinda vision quest, under the watch of a shaman while Black and ol' Bat Lash are hopin' he'll come out of it. There you go, there's your out. It's all some kinda strange hallucination, nothin' metaphysical about it.
Or maybe there's somethin' to it after all.
As I've said before, J&J should write Hex forever, and thankfully, they're on board for All-Star Western in the post-reboot world. Whether that's gonna be a cold snap of continunity or not remains to be seen, but there's a good chance of that, as this issue definitely feels like an end point, full of call-backs to their entire run – including a page by Ryan Sook calling back to its beginnings, when Hex was drawn to look exactly like Clint Eastwood's Man with No Name, only missing half his face. That's what initially sold me on this book back then. It's not an exact likeness here, but it's close enough to get the gist. Sook's work on the first half of the book outpaces Diego Olmos' second half, but to be fair, Sook's got a lot more action and meat to work with, as he's the one handling the visions.
So what does this all mean? Is Jonah Hex some kinda spirit of vengeance? Maybe a form the Spectre took way back then? Should we really consider him part of the DCU and thus subject to laws of magic and such? Should we pay attention to that time when they flung him into the year 2050 and he played at being Mad Max for a while? Or do we let this grizzled bastard exist in his own world as an ornery cuss, a dead shot, a surly whoring drunk and a bounty hunter with a legendary body count who always gets his man… as well as an old crank who gets gunned down by a chump during a game of cards?
As Hex might say, who gives a damn?
Just let the stories be stories, and be glad Gray and Palmiotti are sticking around to spin some more yarns, because they're damn good at it.