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Jonah Hex: Bullets Don't Lie

Posted: Wednesday, May 13, 2009
By: Patrick Wedge

Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti
Various
DC Comics
Up front, one has to realize that the world of Jonah Hex is not going to be pretty. He’s a disfigured killer in the Old West with a bad habit of getting involved in sticky situations beyond even his twisted imagination--and that is truly where the stories shine in the latest Jonah Hex collection.

After reading a Jonah Hex trade, the reader will come to realize that while each story is built as a stand-alone work, each also deepens the character of Jonah Hex. Using a variety of artists for their stories, the writing team of Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti seem to have a great sense of how to play up the skills of each creator’s artistic strengths--such as design elements, visceral rendering, or specific storytelling methods. Since this trade collects numerous “one and done” stories, I will focus on some key chapters that make this the best Jonah Hex trade paperback collection to date.

In the first story, illustrated by Paulo Siqueira, the citizens of a town are hell bent on finding a thief who has been robbing them. The story delivers a classical take on a ruse employed by the thief to throw both the town folk and Jonah Hex off his trail. Pulling elements from both Native American lore and classical western themes, Hex dupes the thief with his own deception game.

The tale was executed in a clever manner so the reader can pick up the clues of the ruse as it moves forward without spoiling the ending. Some books and stories suffer from having to spoon feed the reader, but this story is an example of how proper execution can engage and entertain the readers instead of hitting them over the head.

Siqueira’s art reminds me a lot of Chris Bachalo’s earlier style. It’s animated, and it’s enjoyable to see how well it matched the tone of the story as the narrative progressed.

Another saga in this volume is illustrated by legendary artist Jordi Bernet in a tale of Jonah Hex being manipulated by a jealous husband to track down a spurned lover in a Mexican town. Mostly known for his work in Europe, Bernet’s strengths lie in giving the visuals a gritty, western feel--and in portraying great “damsel in distress” moments. So, much like his previous work in Torpedo, this story plays right into Bernet’s artistic wheelhouse. The bullfighting arena and gunplay sequences are depicted with such great realism that the readers might feel they are watching a TV show drawn before their eyes.

The story focuses on Hex being brought into a town by a high profile town leader and his accusations against his wife. We not only learn that the town leader is corrupt, but his treatment of both people and animals reveal his true colors. Hex struggles with the dilemma of doing a job for money to benefit himself, or doing what is right.

As one might expect, Hex walks away from the money and does the right thing--but that doesn’t come without violent repercussions. After barely making it out of the deadly circumstances, it forces him to look within himself and to realize that he may not be as immune to greed as he once was.

Another joyful tale in the book is one in which Jonah Hex helps a local sheriff track down a gang of ruthless killers. After the gang has been eliminated, Hex is invited back to the sheriff’s house where he and his wife have crafted a plan to use Jonah for something elses. I’m not going to spoil the purpose of their deception, since it’s an extremely clever story twist for the seemingly thoughtful invitation by the sheriff.

Hex may be a deadly shot and have the focus of a cold-blooded killer, but when drugs and trickery are thrown at him, he must use his brain rather than his guns to get out of the situation. It makes an interesting problem for a very straightforward character.

JH Williams III always strives to implement design elements into his artwork, and this story here is no exception. Two great examples can be found in the first part of the story with the chase sequence. Williams has illustrated a subtle snake and mouse frame sequence that perfectly mimics the main story--adding another layer to the story.

A second instance is when the narrative shifts to the sheriff’s house and mind-altering drugs are introduced. Williams tailors the art to give the reader a hallucinogenic window into Jonah’s mind--which helps highlight the confusion for Hex on how deadly the situation has become. Instead of implying mayhem, the readers feel like they are immersed in it.

The final story highlighted in this trade takes Hex to the cold, snow-covered lands of Canada where a father and son are hunting. During the course of their outing, the father passes along survival techniques and travel knowledge to his son. After tragedy strikes the father, Hex stumbles across the boy in peril and saves him from dangerous wildlife.

Unfortunately, the local Mounties then question Hex about his purpose in the country. Unsure of his story, they attempt to kill him but fail to realize his resourcefulness is not to be underestimated. As a result of the fray, Hex is thrust into being a surrogate father to the boy--a situation that Jonah is clearly not thrilled to be in because of his own childhood.

Jonah’s focus turns to revenge, while the boy’s focus is finding family security. In the end, the boy will learn that sometimes what you need is a harsh wakeup call and Jonah is the perfect character to deliver that. The story has a very interesting take on Jonah’s upbringing, and I hope that Gray and Palmiotti touch on this aspect later since it really helps define the character.

However, what is truly special about this story is the presence of Darwyn Cooke’s art. His work is the love child of Jack Kirby and Alex Toth. He captures the fire within Hex in the battle with the Mounties, but he also can build the quiet moments with the boy in the snow as his father is dying.

Storytelling has always been one of Cooke’s greatest skills, and each panel of this story can be followed and enjoyed without any text without confusing the reader as to what’s happening. It’s wonderful to hear that Cooke will be making a return trip to the Jonah Hex title later in the year.

For fans that have been holding off on giving Jonah Hex a try, this is the trade to sample. The entire team delivers stories that aren’t bogged down by decompressed stories. The results are extremely satisfying and unique. There are no punches pulled and no clichéd moments. Instead, there is constant action and solid stories with great character depth.



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