March 28, 2009

The origin of Jonah Hex

If I ever read the origin of Jonah Hex, the DC Comics Western hero, I don't recall it. Someone mentioned it to me so I decided to look it up.

Alas, it seems to encompass a lot of negative Native stereotypes. This doesn't bode well for the upcoming Jonah Hex movie.

Significant dates in Jonah's lifeJuly, 1851: Jonah's father, a physically abusive alcoholic, sells him into slavery to the Apache in exchange for either a pile of pelts (JH V1, #7) or safe passage through Indian land (JH V2, #14). The two Jonah Hex series have different explanations, and it is unclear which is the correct version of the story.

1853: At the age of fifteen, Jonah saves the tribe's chief from a puma. The chief expresses his gratitude by adopting Jonah as his second son. Jonah eventually exceeds the chief's son, Noh-Tante, in the chief's eyes. (JH V1, #7)

1854: Jonah & Noh-Tante, in a tribal ritual of manhood, raid a nearby Kiowa village to steal ponies. Noh-Tante ambushes Jonah and leaves him to the Kiowas and tells the chief that Jonah is dead. Jonah is either 'rescued' by scalphunters who slaughter the Kiowas and shoot Jonah, leaving him for dead before a trapper finds him and nurses him back to health (JH V1, #7), or Jonah manages to defeat the Kiowas but does not return to the Apache village. (JH V2, #14) Once again, the records are conflicting.

1859: Jonah is engaged to Cassie Wainwright but she is killed by Indians the day before their wedding. (JH V1, #65)

1866: Jonah locates his old tribe and tells the chief how Noh-Tante betrayed him years before. The chief decrees that this must be settled by a tomahawk battle. Noh-Tante secretly sabotages Jonah's tomahawk so that the handle will break. In an act of desperation during the fight, Jonah pulls a knife and kills Noh-Tante. As punishment for breaking the rules, Jonah is bound and the chief presses a heated tomahawk to the right side of Jonah's face giving him "The Mark of the Demon." The tribe then banishes Jonah. (JH V1, #8)

1874: While tracking down the kidnapping of Laura Vanden, Jonah once again comes in contact with the Apache chief and is captured. The chief admits to taking Laura and announces that he will kill Hex at sunrise. Jonah is rescued by White Fawn, his former girlfriend and widow of Noh-Tante. The chief kills White Fawn and Jonah kills the chief before he rescues Laura Vanden. (JH V1, #8)
Comment:  I don't know enough about Apache lore to say this couldn't have happened, but it sounds like a lot of stereotypical fighting and killing. The white guy who becomes a better Indian than the Indians and rises to be the chief's substitute son is certainly an old clich;eacute;. Moreover, I don't think the Apache used tomahawks in actual or ritual battles.

For more on the subject, see The Best Indian Movies and Comic Books Featuring Indians.

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