REVIEW: DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS JONAH HEX
The DC Universe is a vast and complex place, and not every prominent character fits into the conventional role of super-hero, or super-villain. Indeed, some of the DC Universe's well-known characters aren't really super-anything, they're not in the habit of wearing spandex, and for that matter, may not even exist in the same time period as the modern-day heroes and villains such as Superman, Batman, Lex Luthor, and the Joker.
In a typical action figure line, this might tend to exclude them from being rendered in plastic. But Mattel's amazing line of DC Universe Classics figures has expanded to the point enough where such characters can, from time to time, be included, and indeed, have been. Mattel is clearly taking the name "DC Universe" to heart. If you're part of the DC Universe, you have a chance.
One of the first, most obvious characters of this type came along a couple of assortments back, in a group that was part of a Walmart exclusive wave. This was Kamandi, known as the "Last Boy on Earth", a Jack Kirby creation who lived in a future world where mankind had largely been wiped out, and what was left was subject to the rule of intelligent, anthropomorphic animals.
In fairness, Kamandi did have occasional encounters with heroes from the DC Universe, not the least of which was Superman. But for the most part, he existed in his own particular corner of the DC Universe.
But then there are characters from other time periods, from the past. I believe it's fair to say that comic books from both of the major comics publishers, DC and Marvel, over the lengthy decades of their existence, have fallen into a number of categories: super-heroes, of course, are certainly the best known. But there have also been military titles, western titles, humor titles, romance titles, and monster/horror titles. Both DC and Marvel tended to rely on westerns, humor titles, and romance titles somewhat during a time when monsters and super-heroes not only fell out of favor, but came under some suspicion.
For myself, I can't say that I'm especially interested in seeing action figures from the humor, romance, or horror genre. And any military action figure showing up from any line is immediately going to be compared to the 400-pound gorilla of that toy genre, G.I. Joe -- which doesn't mean there aren't a couple of contenders in the comics universe that I wouldn't mind seeing show up.
That leaves the Westerns. I'll admit, I'm not a particularly big fan of Westerns. I've always been more into science-fiction. And those are a couple of genres that don't tend to cross paths very often, "Back to the Future Part III" and "Cowboys and Aliens" notwithstanding. I never watched "Bonanza" as a kid, and I think I've seen all of two John Wayne movies in my life. I did enjoy Clayton Moore's adventures as The Lone Ranger, and used to have some of the really cool 10" scale Lone Ranger action figures that a toy company called Gabriel produced. But let's face it, the Lone Ranger was the western equivalent of a super-hero.
DC Comics has long had a fairly healthy stable of Western characters, and when they were published more extensively, and advertised in all of their titles, you couldn't help but come across advertisements for them. Even so, the first time I really came across characters such as Bat Lash, Scalphunter, and a number of others, in an actual story, was when everybody who had ever been published by DC got mixed up in the Crisis on Infinite Earths.
Certainly DC's best-known Western character is -- JONAH HEX, and he's recently been added to the DC Universe Classics line, as of Wave 16. Maybe we should consider this a consolation prize for having such a poor movie.
Although a Western hero, Jonah Hex has managed to get embroiled in things well beyond the Western genre over the years. He's well aware of the super-hero world beyond his own time, and has even done some time travel of his own. He's turned up in various animated series, including Justice League Unlimited, and when Jonah Hex pegged Batman, Green Lantern, and Wonder Woman for time travelers - despite their disguises, and Batman asked him how he could possibly know that, Hex replied that he'd "lived an interesting life".
That's one way of putting it. Before I review the figure, let's consider some of the history of this individual, with a little help from some online research.
Jonah Hex first appeared in a full-page in-house ad for "All-Star Western #10", which was published in various late 1971 DC comics. Interesting, since western comics were not as strong a genre in this time as they once had been. This advertisement contains the first published images of Jonah Hex, whose full name is Jonah Woodson Hex. He was created by writer John Albano and artist Tony DeZuniga. Hex is described as a surly and cynical bounty hunter whose face is horribly scarred on the right side. Despite his reputation and personality, Hex is bound by a personal code of honor to protect and avenge the innocent.
His first full story was published in the pages of All-Star Western #10, which was renamed Weird Western Tales with its twelfth issue. Jonah Hex largely dominated the title up until issue #38, at which point Scalphunter took over the spotlight while Jonah Hex moved into his own self-titled series, Jonah Hex, in 1977, which had a run of 92 issues with Michael Fleisher as the main writer.
Jonah Hex was canceled during the Crisis on Infinite Earths in 1985, during which time Hex and DC's other western heroes in the pages of Crisis, but later that year, Hex moved to a new series titled simply "Hex", where he found himself somehow transported to the year 2050, and became somewhat of a post-apocalyptic warrior, not unlike the "Mad Max" character portrayed by Mel Gibson in a series of movies. This series ran for 18 issues and was also written by Fleisher. The series had moderate success in the United States, but was far better received in Europe and Japan.
Subsequent to this, Jonah Hex starred in three mini-series under DC's Vertigo imprint, in 1993, 1995, and 1995. These titles, in keeping with the Vertigo theme of "dark fantasy", placed Jonah Hex in his original western time period, but had the character dealing with horror and supernatural threats.
Jonah Hex returned to an ongoing monthly title in 2005, which continues to this day, written by Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti. Although largely rooted in Hex's western adventures, the writers have stated an interest in depicting the character from across the full length of his life and career.
Jonah Hex's history is an interesting one. He has battled alcoholism, and although he is based largely in the American West, he has also turned up in South America and China. At one point he quit bounty hunting, married, and had a son, and took up farming, but this didn't last.
Hex's facial injuries can be traced back to being sold into slavery by his father to some Apache for safe passage through their area. Jonah eventually saved the chief from being killed by a mountain lion and was made an honorary member of the tribe. He was soon betrayed by the envious son of the chief while on a raid. He returned years later to challenge him in a sacred tomahawk battle, but the chief's son sabotaged Jonah's tomahawk. Jonah used his knife in self-defense when the tomahawk broke. The tribe saw this as breaking the rules of the sacred battle and sentenced Jonah to wear the "mark of the demon" by pressing a searing hot tomahawk to his face.
Jonah Hex served in the Confederate Army during the Civil War. He surrendered to Union forces after the passage of the Emancipation proclamation, but refused to betray where his fellow soldiers were camped. This actually took place before his face was scarred and he began his bounty hunting career, both of which are listed as 1866.
In 1875, he marries and promises to give up bounty hunting and gunfighting. His son, Jason, is born less than a year later. A month after his, his wife leaves him, taking their son.
The year recorded for Hex's transport to the year 2050 is listed in the online research as 1878. It is not known how long he spends in the future, but he is returned to the Old West at some point, not terribly far removed from the time from which he left, as in 1880, his mother dies and he learns that he has a half-brother living in Colorado.
In 1899, Jonah meets his grown son, Jason, in Mexico. He learns that his ex-wife has died, but leaves before he finds out that he now has a grandson, Woodson Hex II.
In 1904, Jonah Hex is gunned down and killed. He was playing cards in a local establishment. As he took off his glasses to clean them, a man named George Barrow storms into the establishment and shoots Jonah in the chest with both barrels of a shotgun. Barrow was then confronted by the local law, who killed Barrow.
In a rather unpleasant epilogue, Jonah Hex's body was actually stuffed and put on display. It is located in 1987 at the Frontier City Amusement Park in Laramie, Wyoming, and is recovered from an evil western memorabilia collector. What may have happened after that is unknown, although Jonah Hex was among the deceased heroes brought forth by the Black Lantern rings during the "Blackest Night" storyline, although these were largely artificial constructs created by the rings.
Jonah Hex, not being a super-hero, had no unusual powers or abilities. However, he was an outstanding marksman who rarely missed his target, and was extremely fast on the draw and can be seen in any number of stories gunning down multiple foes before any of them can get off a shot. He can wield two guns, one in each hand, with equal efficiency.
He is also a resourceful combatant, often relying on stealth, tricks, and improvised weapons and traps to defeat enemies. He is an exceptional tracker, able to follow trails several days old through rain and mud in spite of his quarry's best efforts to cover their trail. He often displays a keen sense of danger which warns him of ambushes and traps. This is not a supernatural ability: it is simply an instinct honed through years of experience in battle.
He also has a reputation that precedes him throughout the West as a ruthless and prolific killer. On many occasions, this by itself has proven enough to deter potential foes, or make them careless when they realize who is on their trail.
Apart from the live-action movie, about which the less said the better, Jonah Hex was the star of an animated "short" a while back, which was released on DVD with one of DC's animated features. Hex was voiced by Thomas Jane, who had campaigned to play the role in the live-action movie, but lost to Josh Brolin. And is probably grateful at this point...
So, how's the figure? Extremely impressive. You're probably not going to want to stand him right next to Superman or Batman, but you certainly could if you wanted to.
Jonah Hex is an entirely unique figure. He has to be. Jonah Hex doesn't fly, doesn't have a power ring, doesn't run at the speed of light -- and he doesn't wear spandex. As such, the figure has to be entirely unique, since he can't use any of the existing body molds that are used for those more inclined towards tight-fitting super-hero costumes.
I'll admit I was a bit concerned about this figure, based on photos that I saw of early prototypes. While I certainly knew that Hex would not be wearing tights, the early photos showed a figure that to me, looked far too bulky, as if Jonah's Confederate Army jacket was some sort of heavily stuffed, padded winter coat. While one would assume that Hex would find ways to bundle up in cold weather, if he's traveling in the American West, especially the southwest -- take it from someone who lives here, you don't need a parka all that often.
However, such is the nature of prototypes that while they may have to be used on packaging that opts to show a photograph of the figure, simply because the packaging has to be ready to go when the figures reach production, that doesn't mean that there aren't some "tweaks" possible between prototype and final product. And this certainly looks to have been the case with Jonah Hex. While everything looks to be very close indeed, I will maintain that it looks like his upper body is far more agreeably proportioned.
No one seeing this figure in and of itself would think it was a super-hero. They'd probably think it was some sort of historical military or western figure, until they got a look at the face. Then, unless they were familiar with the character of Jonah Hex, they'd probably really wonder what it was.
That burning tomahawk did some serious damage to Jonah's face, so that he's almost Two-Face in reverse. The one funny line from the live-action movie was when someone asked Jonah Hex, "What happened to your face?", he replied, "Cut myself shaving -- what happened to yours?" One gets the impression that making any sore of wisecrack about Hex's disfigurement is a good way to get hurt, or worse.
The left side of Jonah Hex's face is intact, and it's interesting to look at the figure in profile on that side. You can get a good idea of what Jonah Hex may have looked like before the incident, and he appears to have been a fairly handsome if rather stern-looking individual. He has blonde hair, and gray-blue eyes. His hair is cut not atypically for the time period, fairly short but a little ragged in the back, with a fairly long sideburn past the ear.
But then there's the front view, and that right side of the face. I mean, really, did his former honorary tribe just press a searing hot tomahawk to the side of his face, or did they use it as a meat tenderizer?! Hex's lower eyelid is effectively gone, giving his right eye an enlarged and somewhat dropping look. The entire right side of his face is pitted and scarred, and the flesh around his mouth is almost entirely missing, except for a tendril of flesh that rather gruesomely links his upper and lower lips -- or what's left of them. Even his sideburn on this side is not as long, as if the flesh has been so scarred that hair will no longer grow there.
One wonders, just a bit, if Hex's frightening face has aided in his reputation as much as his skills. In the first place, you're certainly not going to mistake him for anybody else. In the second place, you have to consider that someone who has had this done to them is probably always in a certain amount of pain, likely in a perpetually bad mood, and isn't going to be especially inclined to put up with any sort of nonsense from his quarry, and if any bounty that he's after happens to be equal measures of "Dead or Alive", he's likely to shoot them just to save himself any trouble.
Jonah Hex is wearing a Confederate Army hat that manages to look sufficiently Western without looking stereotypically "cowboy". It's gray in color, with a crossed-swords medallion on the front, and a decorative rope at the base of the hat near the brim.
Hex is wearing a Confederate Army jacket. It is also gray in color, and has clearly seen better days. It has an upturned collar, looks rather worn, has a button missing on the front (nice touch), and a couple of holes and small tears, one on the front and one on the back large enough to see flesh tone through. How many of these might be bullet holes that Hex recovered from better than the jacket, I'd rather not speculate.
Jonah Hex has brown, leather-like gloves, with extensive sculpted detailing, and brown boots. These are also extensively detailed, with thin ropes tied around them, and silver spurs. Jonah Hex is wearing denim blue trousers. He has a brown leather belt around his waist with a silver "CSA" (Confederate States of America) buckle, a second gun belt around his waist with a holster, silver buckle, and a row of bullets, and another belt slung over his right shoulder and going under his right arm that has a number of bullets, in groups of five, attached to it, as well as a couple of feathers at the base. There is a clasp on the back for a larger firearm.
All of these costume details have superb sculpted details, and excellent paint jobs. The bullets are all painted gold. The shirt buttons are all painted silver. Metal snaps on the belts are painted in copper. The shoulder belt appears to have been molded as a separate piece and secured in place. It is not in and of itself removable.
Jonah Hex's jacket and trousers have been painted in such a way as to look worn. This was accomplished with dry-brushed streaks in colors similar to the shirt and trousers themselves, as well as with light airbrushed areas of dirt brown. Normally I don't care for this sort of weathering, but in Jonah's case it makes sense. If he's on the trail in the wilderness, up against some bad guy who's trying to both elude and kill him, laundry isn't going to be the first thing on his mind.
Articulation of the figure is superb. Jonah Hex is fully poseable at the head, arms, upper arm swivel, elbows, wrists, waist, legs, upper leg swivel, knees, and ankles. Despite the fact that this is an entirely new figure, he doesn't have the horrible double-articulated elbows and knees that a lot of other figures in this wave were afflicted with.
Also notable by its absence is the customary mid-torso articulation, but it's not really missed. Mattel wisely determined, I believe, that it wouldn't have worked well on this figure. This can be a tricky thing. Some figures can get away with it. Other more super-heroic members of the DC Universe can get away with it because it can be worked fairly well into the design of the musculature. Star Wars Clone Troopers can get away with it because it can be worked into the design of the armor. G.I. Joe doesn't get away with it as well because it's hard to work it into the design of the "loose fabric" costumes that most of them wear, and I think Mattel realized that the same thing was likely to happen with Jonah Hex, so they left it out. Some G.I. Joe figures have tried to accommodate this with harnesses and vests and the like, covering the articulation point as much as possible, but this also was not an option for Jonah Hex.
Any complaints? A minor one. The lower part of his jacket, below the waist articulation, is not quite centered with his legs. And I don't know if it can be shifted around. But it's not that bad.
Jonah Hex comes with two accessories, a pistol which can fit in the holster on his right hip, and a larger piece, a shotgun, which he can carry on his back. Both weapons have been very nicely sculpted, detailed, and painted. The pistol is fairly small, though, and I might recommend a Ziploc bag for storage purposes.
Before I get to my usual "final word", I'd like like to say this -- we've got Kamandi. We've got Jonah Hex. Those are two reasonably prominent characters that have been made part of the DC Universe Classics line, whose participation in the mainstream DC Universe of super-heroics is peripheral at best. I'm very pleased to have these figures, but as long as Mattel is this prepared to think "outside the box" every so often, I'd like to suggest to them that there's a third popular character outside of that box, that deserves the DC Universe Classics treatment. He is DC's best known military hero -- SGT. ROCK!
So, what's my final word? I'm impressed. I'm not sure what sort of reception Jonah Hex is going to receive from super-hero fans, but anyone who's enjoyed the DC Universe to a reasonable degree over the years is certainly aware of the character. I'm not much of a Western fan, and I certainly know who he is. And if a line calling itself "DC Universe Classics" is going to live up to its name, then it needs to consider the entire DC Universe as fair game. That includes characters line Jonah Hex.
I am also extremely impressed by the fact that this is an entirely distinctive figure, and likely to remain such. I really can't imagine any other figure at this time using any of these body molds. And certainly the expert design and sculpting team of the Four Horsemen have turned out an absolutely spectacular rendition of DC's best-known Western character.
The DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS figure of JONAH HEX definitely has my highest recommendation!