In 1985, DC had it’s first major crisis. And once it ended, they set about rebuilding their universe. At that time, super-hero comics had pretty much forced all other genres into the indies or just out of the picture entirely. So DC was looking at other ways to use some of their non-super-hero properties. Jonah Hex was the rough and scarred anti-hero bounty hunter who debuted in the All Star Western Comic in 1972. Starting in 1977, he had his own series that ended with Crisis on Infinite Earths.
Michael Fleisher (who had written the Jonah Hex series for much of it’s run) wrote the new series which decided it was time to update Jonah Hex. Simply titled Hex, Jonah finds himself in the late 21st Century. He slowly discovers that there was a nuclear war and the society that has risen up is pretty “Mad Max the Road Warrior”.
It is a world of crime, exploitation and giant blood sucking worms. Pretty much modern America.
Hex ends up friends with Stiletta, a young woman who runs with a futuristic bike gang. She turns out to be the daughter of the guy who brought Hex into the future, Reinhold Borsten. He uses time technology to bring people from the past into the future for entertainment.
Jonah manages to escape with the help of Stiletta and a black soldier from from the war in Vietnam named Harris. The series had a long general arc about Jonah trying to get himself back to his own time. About half way in, it appears that his hopes are dashed, with Harris getting transported back to Vietnam and the time travel machine being destroyed before Hex could get away.
The series was initially coy about it’s place in the DC universe, but midway, they clearly established it ask existing in a future between the modern heroes and the Legion of Super-Heroes. Hex even runs afoul of a future Batman.
The series seemed to be setting things up for a return of Borsten, as he survives the accident that prevented Hex from returning to 1885. But the main storyline that drives the second half of the series is the reveal of a guy from the far future and his super powered team called the Dogs of War.
After Harris got back to Vietnam in 1968, we see him stumble upon something and then he disappears until several issues later, when we find out he is one of the members of the Dogs of War.
The guy from the future is actually trying to prevent an alien race from conquering the earth in the future (actually, he is not even trying to do that, he is trying to cause a genetic defect that will make them easier to defeat in the future).
At one point, Stiletta disappears, which sends Hex on a mission to find her (the stories seem to hint that thar is a romance abrewin’, but it never really happens). He runs afoul of a group called the Combine. For some reason they dress like they walked straight out of a 1930’s Gangster flick. Anyways, this leads Hex into a conflict with the Batman of the future (the Combine hoping he kills Batman). After a fight, Batman and Hex work it out. Hex goes on to discover that Stiletta has been brainwashed into being a wrestler girl.
After Stiletta recovers, she discovers she has some super powers, which help her, Hex and the Dogs of war stop some aliens who showed up to stop them. The series closes with a one off short story where Hex gets some hope of returning to 1885 someday. It is a really weird “sign of hope”…but it is what it is.
It feels like Fleisher had some long term stuff being planned that got cut short or never fulfilled due to the series being cancelled with number 18. For example, I am almost certain that Fleisher intended for Hex and Stilleta to go off with the Doggs of War for an adventure. Issue 18 feels like something meant to give closure, so the Dogs of War fly off to complete their mission and Hex moves on. And while Borsten was shown to have survived the destruction of his base, he never shows back up, which I suspect was intended for something after what ended up being the final big storyline.
Much of the series features early artwork from Mark Texiera (pencils) and Carlos Garzon (inks). And this is a pretty solid team. Tex always has had a grit to his artwork that works really well for a post apocalyptic setting and Garzon leaned into that roughness. The series finishes off with Keith Giffen as penciller, and his heavily Kirby influenced style works well once we are introduced to aliens.
Something that stood out (to hammer home that this was created in the 80s) is the future is super white. Harris is the only supporting cast member who is not white pretty much until the Dogs Of War show up in the eleventh (or so issue). They include a Japanese Ninja and a Maori warrior. Except, the Maori warrior is a guy who has been turned into a flying stingray who shoots lasers. I don’t think this was a conscious act of racism on the creators part. I think it is “this was the 80’s and nobody involved thought about it. It was not malicious, but it certainly is a shortcoming, especially as the demographic trends we see regarding the faces of the future predicted have been known for quite some time.
But Hex is a fun idea, especially in the decision to not reboot the character, but rather, reboot his setting. There are some fun ideas and characters, and I give DC credit for trying something different. They did not try and figure out how to make Hex fit in as some sort of super-hero. Instead, they tried a new approach which allowed him to be still recognizable from his gunfighter/bounty hunter incarnation.