“Let’s talk cartoons.
“In particular, I’m thinking of those great “tortoise vs. hare” shorts in which Cecil the Turtle managed to get the better of Bugs Bunny, the great trickster of the 20th century himself.
“You know what made those cartoons work? First, they were just funny; let’s not overlook that. Second, it was a terrific, unexpected treat to see Bugs get it handed to him for once. One of those old Warner animators – Clampett? Jones? Freling? I don’t remember – once said we like Bugs because we want to be him – because he is smart and funny and just so damn smooth.
“But every once in awhile, we like to see our heroes, our cocky ones anyway, get brought down a notch or two. Every once in awhile.” – some douche-asaurus rex in a review of Jack of Fables #14.
In a previous review, I mentioned that I feared Hex might get repetitive, as almost every issue follows the same basic formula: Hex accepts an assignment, shows his nearly superhuman shooting skills while abiding by his odd, but strict, moral code, and kills his target in an unpredictable, and totally cool, fashion.
In that same review, I lauded an issue of Hex for following that same basic pattern but putting some variations on it, and for humanizing Hex by revealing a little of his backstory and showing he isn’t just a heartless killer.
Issue #27 does those same things, but to an Nth degree. Let me say it as plainly as I can: This is a damn good comic book.
Variation number one comes in showing Hex as flawed; he gets one-upped in two different instances in this tale, something almost unheard of for Hex. Even more shocking – minor spoiler here – he doesn’t “win” in the end. That is, he fails to collect the bounty he set out to get.
Now, as I said in the above excerpt from a review of another book, seeing seemingly-invincible characters get brought down a peg or two is often a fun thing, but only if they deserve it. Whatever one may think of Hex’s bizarre moral code, one is unlikely to think he deserves to lose. Life’s been hard enough on the poor, ugly bastard.
Yeesh, I can relate.
Nevertheless, readers will actually want to see Hex lose this time, as Palmiotti and Gray create a terrific, sympathetic antagonist for Hex, and one I hope to see lots more of in the future. In fact, let me say it as plainly as I can: A Star Man spin off would make for a damn good comic book, and keep the trademark alive for DC.
Variation number two comes in the form of the continued humanization of Hex. We get some more glimpses of his past – nothing new, just re-emphasizing what we already knew – which contextualize a kindness he shows in the future. Again, nothing startling, but the result is a more human Hex, one for whom one can more easily cheer, and it adds a real dimension of suspense, even dread, to the book.
Because we are so familiar with the formula, we assume Hex is going to win. Because we like Hex, we want to see that. But this time around, we also like his antagonist, so we don’t want to see that inevitable Hex victory, the one we have been conditioned to know is coming. But as though that weren’t enough of a variation, the further humanizing of Hex in this issue leads one to believe that Hex himself would rather not win, but feels compelled to go through with this conflict, as he knows of no other life than the hunt for the bounty. We see all this building to what we can only assume will be a victory for Hex and a downer of an ending, and then…
Well, as I’ve said, Hex loses. But the way he loses is the fun surprise, and it’s about as feel-good an ending as one can have when there’s a hanged man on the last page.
This read put me in mind of some of my favorite episodes from one of my favorite TV series, Columbo. On occasion, Columbo would sympathize with a murderer – he would understand that they had a pretty good reason for having taken someone’s life. The audience knows all too well that Columbo will crack the case in the end, and it becomes something like a classical tragedy, on a lesser scale, where the audience knows the whole time it isn’t going to end well, and of course it doesn’t.
The build to the climax in Hex #27 is also reminiscent of some of the best issues of Lone Wolf and Cub, the ones in which Itto’s target really didn’t deserve death, but Itto was beyond conventional morality by then and couldn’t visualize a life for himself other than the endless cycle of murder he was living.
There were episodes of Columbo where one wanted to scream at the TV, begging the lieutenant to just let someone go for once. There were many issues of Lone Wolf and Cub where I found myself almost pleading with Itto to just stop the killing, settle down, and raise his kid. And there have been a handful of times in Palmiotti and Gray’s run on Hex where I wanted that ugly bastard to just let up on the pursuit for once.
And one of them finally gave me what I wanted!
To mix my analogies to the point of being ludicrous, imagine sitting in the audience watching an excellent production of Oedipus Rex, but this time, suddenly, inexplicably, out of nowhere, and yet logically, not like a deus ex machina, getting surprised by a happy ending.
That’s the experience of reading Jonah Hex #27, and that’s a damn good comic book.
What did you think of this book?
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