Don't let the movie fool you -- while that Jonah Hex was on some old bullshit, the monthly by Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti is one of those series I've been kicking myself for not reading sooner. I made too many assumptions about the content and the lengths of story arcs, and I'd been missing one of the most consistently great non-superhero comics on the shelf. Issue #65, “Snowblind,” was an excellent jumping-on point, but this issue, “Casket Canyon,” is a revelation.
The artistic talent that has passed through this book has been staggering, but issue #66 finds new blood with the impressive Fiona Staples, whose style resembles a cleaner Sean Phillips. Her pencils and her muted palette are a change from Jordi Benet's poppier style, but are considerably better suited for the content of this issue, the aptly titled “Casket Canyon.” The lack of brightness makes the blood appear darker and rustier and visceral -- it feels real, most noticeably on Staples' destined-to-be-classic cover. A brilliant panel of Jonah Hex looking through a frost-covered window has to be one of the most downright fascinating pieces of art I've ever seen in comics.
Gray and Palmiotti write some stark fucking stories, and “Casket Canyon” has to be one of the pitch-blackest in the series' run. Jonah Hex stumbles into a town that has been cut off from supplies by a harsh winter, and he uncovers a cabal of murderers and cannibals and killer prostitutes all seeking to kill him for food and profit. As a lover of comics cacophony, Jonah Hex has consistently provided some of the most awesome onomatopoeia, and Hex's showdown with some gunmen is no exception. While “show, don't tell” is a steadfast rule of thumb, Palmiotti and Gray orchestrate the gunfight via sound effects, and then a full-page aftermath shot makes it a chilling vision, rendered to be excruciating and brutal by Staples' pitch-perfect pencils.
Artist Jordi Benet resumes his duties in #67, but “Casket Canyon” is a superlative piece of Western fiction, from Gray and Palmiotti's metered, visually oriented writing style to Fiona Staples' exemplary pencils. I look forward to seeing more of her work, preferably on this book, but as long as she's doing anything that'd be great. I regret not jumping onto Jonah Hex earlier, and I'm certain that readers of this issue will feel the same. When comics hit their mark, they hit it, and this issue nails it dead fucking center.
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