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Jonah Hex: No Way Back is a milestone for the gruff bounty hunter headlining DC Comics’ only ongoing Western. With his own series now past 60 issues, this is the character’s first Original Graphic Novel.
While obviously benefiting from the publicity surrounding the film (and probably intended as a bit of an introduction to the character) the book ties heavily into Hex’s history and previous storylines. It’s best enjoyed near the release date in our reading order – coming right after Jonah Hex: Counting Corpses, which collects issues up to June 2010.
The book references specific events in at least three of the preceding collections and broadly builds on most of the others. That being said, Hex’s adventures aren’t related in chronological order and readers may not mind piecing his life together on their own.
No Way Back is certainly an important volume, though, because it ties up more than one important plotline and introduces some previously unknown elements into the dusty tapestry regaling the legend of Jonah Hex.
It’s not possible to really discuss this book without some spoilers, so if you are trying to avoid them, you might want to skip to the verdict now.
The story, obviously longer than your average done-in-one single issue, concerns Hex’s reunion with his long gone mother. This book finally explains their initial parting and brings that chapters of Hex’s life to a firm close. In doing so, though, it opens up another can of worms – Hex has a brother. Well, a half-brother anyway.
The meat of the book concerns this particular discovery and the new character’s interactions with our gruff protagonist.
The tale is told with the writers’ usual quality, though perhaps with a tad less brevity. 136 pages allows for gentler pacing, after all. The dialogue is extremely enjoyable, with an air of authenticity and sharpness of wit. In no time did I feel this was more dumbed down modern Western – the word usage and timely colloquialisms sometimes took a slower read to fully appreciate, but it was well worth it.
At least one interaction sparked a round of full out laughter, something very rare when I’m reading on my own.
However, while I could find no fault with the execution, the actual plot points didn’t always live up to my expectations. I find myself tiring somewhat of the predictable way saloon girls throw themselves at Jonah. And the motivation for the main villain felt overly contrived – Spoiler [ Apparently El Papagayo hates Jonah Hex because Jonah’s father killed his family? Wait, what? This is a family revenge thing all of a sudden? Couldn’t it have been enough that the man is just a bastard with a grudge? There didn’t seem to be any seeds planted for this and I think it was totally unjustified. ]
Also, while there is a moment of brilliance where a town being warned of attack doesn’t act like a bunch of ignorant idiots, laughing off the danger and spurning their would be helper (a cliche badly overused and thankfully avoided) they do then turn on their protector and offer him to the villain promising safety for them. One trope avoided only to fall prey to the next. Unfortunate.
There’s a few other moments that just feel awkward, and altogether the plot didn’t feel like it taught me more about Hex than many of the much shorter stories. These issues keep the book from its full potential as a true classic.
Likewise, the art has moments of greatness but didn’t live up to my (admittedly quite high) expectations. Tony DeZuniga is still my all time favorite Jonah Hex artist, but his work felt inconsistent here.
It’s not that his style has changed so much – scratchy and dirty, suggestive with sometimes melty faces and very generalized hatch lines. I like that. I’m impressed by his evolution from the almost house-style DC work he was doing in the Bronze Age, as impressive as it was.
It’s great that he’s comfortable taking more risks and his stylistic choices here fit the title perfectly.
The problems are more simple technical issues. There was enough awkward anatomy to take me out of the action. Also instances like a single panel repeated 5 times, confusingly, over two pages (a guitar, perhaps supposed to be playing, but without hand movement.)
And his forms feel a lot stiffer than they have in previous works, including his other art for the modern run in Face Full of Violence and Guns of Vengeance. Those two stories include some really amazing work, though, so perhaps it’s a lot to expect that quality consistently over 136 pages instead of 20.
Also, to be fair, some of the problem might be the coloring, which also isn’t quite as good as it has been during the ongoing. It’s still Rob Schwager, who I’ve praised profusely in the past (and deserves it), but perhaps the team was up against more problematic deadlines with this book, which was completed on top of their usual monthly schedule.
The palette is familiar, but the finishing just lacks much of the suggestive texture I’ve come to expect in this title. You may want to compare to the last teaming of Schwager and DeZuniga, which was really something.
In any case, lest I’ve started to dissuade you, I need to stress that a medium-level showing from this team still makes for a book worth buying. While it has some small problems, Jonah Hex: No Way Back is still essential for any fan of the character.
As a bit of a bonus, it’s beautifully packaged. The hardcover edition is shipped without a slipcase (thank god, they always get scuffed and damaged, totally useless) and is an embossed faux-aged affair with tight binding and pleasingly textured endpapers. The paper is glossy, and while not particularly heavy weight, solid feeling. If I have any complaint about it, it’s that the art tends to slip into the gutter a bit, making me wish the book was sized wider with a black margin in the middle.
I’m glad I jumped on this purchase and got such a beautiful looking hardcover. Usually I wait until the softcover release, but I really would have been missing out here.
However, the dialogue and pacing is still great, with moments of absolute brilliance and events that are sure to have Hex fans arguing across various forums. There’s no way anyone interested in the character should avoid this one, but it’s not my top pick or the ideal introduction for a new reader.
Yes, this book is essential for Jonah Hex.
Like the all of his books, while it takes place in the DC Universe, it’s not essential reading for any event or other title.
The contemporary series has been collected in Jonah Hex: Face Full of Violence, Jonah Hex: Guns of Vengeance, Jonah Hex: Origins, Jonah Hex: Only The Good Die Young, Jonah Hex: Luck Runs Out, Jonah Hex: Bullets Don’t Lie, Jonah Hex: Lead Poisoning, Jonah Hex: The Six Gun War aaaaaaaaaand Jonah Hex: Counting Corpses.
Some of those other trades have additional recommended reading.
We’ll be sure to check it out once it’s on the shelves!
That means that this concludes (for now) our journey through the DC Westerns. I’ll do a wrap up post soon! If you can’t get enough of westerns in general, there’s always the Marvel Westerns or titles like Blueberry, which I’d like to get into at some point.