I’m a sucker for the underdog and I’ve got to say that, by far, the most interesting backstory in the DC Universe belongs to Jonah Hex. He’s probably one of the most fascinating characters in all of literature for me because his history is so rich; his character so idiosyncratic, and his life so full of hardship and curiosity.
Countless characters have endured tragedy resulting in their taking on a masked alter-ego or discovering they have superpowers, but very few fall victim to the tragedy of having been born. With a violent drunk for a father and a mother who ran off with a traveling salesman, Hex’s origins start off about as well as you’d expect for a man with his hardened exterior.
After his father traded him to the Apache for safe passage to California, along with the empty promise that he’d return for his progeny with gold in hand once he’d found his fortune, Hex spent the remainder of his formative years as a slave to the tribe until he saved the Chief from a mountain lion and was adopted in as an honorary member. However, after being left for dead by the chief’s jealous son, fate and circumstance led him to the Confederacy.
There’s a comic irony to be found in a former slave finding himself fighting on the side of slavers, and Hex, himself, found that it was too much to bear when he decided to surrender to Union forces later in his military career. However, his efforts to alleviate his conscience proved ineffective when a corrupt Union colonel led an ambush that massacred his former friends and compatriots and blamed the treachery on Hex.
A man without friends; without a country, and wearing the uniform of a hated and losing side as a perpetual mark of shame, Hex returned to the only family he had known: the Apache. After confronting the Chief’s son and demanding he be held to account for his betrayal, Hex was granted a trial by combat, wherein he and the Chief’s son, Noh-Tante, were to battle to the death with Tomahawks. Noh-Tante tampered with the weapons beforehand, however, ensuring that Hex would both lose and die, but his efforts proved fruitless when Hex killed him with a Bowie knife, instead.
Despite the circumstances and the treachery of Noh-Tante, Hex was viewed as a cheat and a murderer and sentenced by the Chief to carry “The Mark of the Demon” for the remainder of his life; by which Hex had earned his distinctive facial scar after having his deceased opponent’s scorching hot Tomahawk held to his face.
I think what makes Jonah Hex so fascinating to me is that, despite the relentless misfortune, wherein everyone who hates him hurts him and anyone who loves him most certainly suffers or dies from it, he doesn’t allow it to turn him into a monster. He may look like Two-Face gone to Texas, but belying the gritty exterior, violent nature, hard drinking, womanizing, and general malcontent is a man with a code, who, more often than not, finds himself doing the right thing and helping others even when he pretends not to care. He has no powers, he has few friends, and DC history remembers him as little more than a monster who murdered for money, and yet, despite all the hardship, he still persevered and tried to be just, however unjust the weird wilds of his untamed West may have been.