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He’s a vicious monster, a maelstrom of violence and twisted morality.
There’s that outward appearance of calm, the silence of a man of the desert.
But it’s the eye of the tornado.
On the trade dress of Luck Runs Out, the fifth Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray written Hex collection, the back cover boldly proclaims “justice can be brutal.” The front cover features a Wizard magazine quote – “more than a simple cowboy book… there’s something inside for everyone’s taste.”
But it’s questionable if any true justice can be found on these pages and there are moments gruesome enough to make those with a light palette gag.
And it’s the best modern Jonah Hex I’ve seen yet.
While Hex may not be a good man, he’s more often than not the “good guy” in these tales. It’s still the same west he started out in, but all that wanton killing in the Bronze Age comics just seems a lot darker in this post-Vertigo world. Luck Runs Out tells some of the darker stories – a couple downright insane.
In fact, this book is proof that DC doesn’t need a separate imprint to tackle the kind of horror it once reserved for it’s “adult” line. I was surprised that it doesn’t say “For Mature Audiences” anywhere on this trade – perhaps that’s simply assumed in today’s comics.
As the first issue collected here, My Name is Nobody is Gray and Palmiotti’s attempt to deal with some of the past events in the first Jonah Hex series and bring them into the contemporary ongoing. I haven’t read any of the uncollected works, so my knowledge of these plotlines is secondhand at best, but I felt the story stood on its own.
The violence is of the more standard western shoot em’ up variety and the darkness here is mostly to do do with the sadness of Hex’s character, what his life has brought him towards.
Without giving away too much, I think the story was the right way to start this volume.
It’s not Hex’s end, perhaps (which has already been told, though remains uncollected) but it explains much and allows the events included in this book to play out with a stated moral.
For the big nerds in the audience, there’s an amusing in-story reference to a prior Hex creator.
Russ Heath draws a relatively smooth faced Hex, but his action is sharp and the man knows his way around a sad cowboy.
Rob Schwager, our dedicated colorist, lends a dull sunset and muted purples and blues that add much to this parable.
The next bit is absolutely terrible and probably the best of the book. I almost tried not to like it, but it’s just very well done. The title is Four Little Pigs: A Grindhouse Western and the subtitle is perfectly descriptive. This is the Hex issue for horror movie fans (and while I’m not, it won me over with its excellent execution. Er, storytelling and art.)
As with any good horror film, the plot is both straightforward and entirely reliant on a few good twists, so I won’t discuss it in detail beyond the teaser images I’ve chosen to display. Suffice it to say that on his bad days, Hex makes some very interesting decisions.
I’m happy to tell you how much I loved the art, though. Worked by the team of Giuseppe Camuncoli (credited on layouts) and Stefano Landini (finishes), it’s disturbing, perfectly stylized, and beautifully, if not quite tastefully, detailed.
The faces here are perfect. That panel with Hex (the one I used to head this review) is one of my absolute favorite drawings of him. The man looks like a veritable zombie in these pages, a fitting visage for the rawhide angel of death.
Even suffering from this skull-like half grin, he’s more expressive here than I’ve ever seen him. Sometimes subtly, sometimes wildly, always spot on. Great stuff.
The other characters are all superlative – just look at that sheriff, perfectly full of shit.
The following story is well placed, as Star Man is as close as we get to an upbeat story in this volume. Again, no real boy scouts here, but at least human motivations and characters I can cheer on.
The “Star Man” is a great creation. A bit of classic western and comic style vigilante origin all mixed up. I hope we get to see more of him.
Jordi Bennet illustrates this one, and it’s a good fit. I think that he has a problem with drawing women that don’t all look exactly the same, but there aren’t many in this sequence (though there’s definitely one passing by the front of a panel near the start just so we can get a good look at her tits in the foreground. Bad Jordi, Bad!)
Much of the first half of the story takes place in a city, showcasing Bennet’s seedy streets and interiors. And the man has quite the knack for drawing a huge variety of hats atop frowning faces.
I thought this was my favorite issue at first, though Grindhouse pulled me back (kicking and screaming, I assure you). So perhaps it’s a tie or Star Man is my second favorite.
While the first story could be a bit of a guilty pleasure, this one is dark to the core. It’s right though – “true” to the character and the world he inhabits. So don’t misunderstand me when I say it isn’t enjoyable – like a tragedy or the middle act of an epic, it’s a story that works, lending texture to the myth of the man.
The art here feels more realistic, less stylized, and Hex looks demonic, his scar burning a deep red, with gnarly stubble lining his face. John Higgins makes the violence close and personal, with almost every panel as close to a character’s face as possible.
Either the editorial team has had an amazing amount of luck when it comes to choosing artists or, more likely, Palmiotti and Gray are real pros when it comes to playing to the strengths when picking a script for an illustrator.
Nope! There’s more. This book is packed with story for such a deceivingly thin volume.
Return To Devil’s Paw brings us back to the scene of Hex’s nighttime manhunt collected in Only The Good Die Young. The previous story wasn’t really my favorite and the plot here isn’t the stand out of this volume, but much of that is probably because of the startling strength of the other tales.
In this book, it might play the role of the “daily life” tale – while it might be a crazy adventure in any other cowboy’s life, this is almost a regular day for Jonah Hex.
It’s relatively predictable, but satisfying, a bit of military/indian conflict and some expected, if unsaid, “I told you so.” I mean, Return? Since when was that a good idea? Leave it to the bureaucrats.
The art is a huge part of this tale’s strength, bringing it from the ‘meh’ point of the book back up to the level of the other stories. It’s phenomenal, full of intense detail, rippling action, and masterfully rendered scenery. It’s a good thing there is a rotating team on these books, because I’m not sure anyone could churn out the quality of Rafael Garres‘ work here on a monthly basis – of course, if he HAS been doing this on a monthly basis somewhere, will someone please tell me?
Finally, Jordi Benet is back for Luck Runs Out, which lends its title to this trade. It starts with this sadly hilarious title illustration and includes a two page spread showing the life and times of Mr. J. Hex – just how he got to this point.
While the plot here is about some would be train robbers that run into our binge drinking anti-hero, this story ties right back into the first. It ends the volume on a perfect note.
While the other stories in the book have dealt with what Hex has lost, what he’s made of, how low he can go, the reasons he drags himself up, the fate he has waiting for him – this story states what he’s got and why we can’t stop watching.
I enjoyed every one of these issues individually and it was amazing how well they all tied in together. Especially considering their serial nature, rotating artist staff, and jumping about in time.
As it is, this is a collection defined thematically. It may not tell the whole story, but it does a masterful job of setting the mood.
Old time fans may chose to believe that a similar book could be created showing a more upbeat side of the man (and there are amusing and morally understandable moments in this trade), and I feel that may be true – I hope that the writers tackle that challenge at some point.
But even for a normal human, there are dark depths in life, and this book explores the cavernous expanses of Jonah Hex.
5 out of 5. This kind of book may not be for everyone (and at first I wasn’t even sure it was for me) but it’s an extremely well crafted collection. Even though each story is self contained, they all work together to paint a tragic picture of a tormented man.
It’s amazing the amount of story they manage to jam into each issue and still maintain a modern feel – for 12.99 cover, it’s quite a deal.
As a bit of a lightweight gore-avoider, I struggled briefly with this volume. For the most part, I honestly think a lot of stories would be better without violence. But this is what it is and I admit I enjoyed it immensely.
Just know what you’re getting into.
This book is absolutely essential for understanding the contemporary Jonah Hex.
I’ve heard that some people think the one early part is a bit of a let down based on past stories, but I personally think that the mundane aspects of it are perfect – not all tragedy is born of bloodshed, some is carried only by silence and regret.
While this may be a quintessential Hex book, I’m not sure if it’s as enjoyable out of context. I’ve read all of this stuff and really dug it (obviously) but I think you may be able to jump right in on this one.