This review may contain light spoilers. Skip To The Verdict? »
The gruesome bounty hunter has had a solid contemporary run so far, with this volume collecting issues 19-24. While the writing team has been constant, we’ve seen a fair amount of artists. In this volume, we get work by Phil Noto, Jordi Bernet, and David Michael Beck. I am a little sad that my favorite artists in this volume (Tony DeZuniga and Val Semeiks) don’t show up here and I hope they’ll be back.
The first story is spread over two-parter, Texas Money and Unfinished Business, spread over two issues. There are two main plots, a kidnapping in Texas and a murderess on the run. They’re related only by proximity in Hex’s busy schedule.
I felt like the scripting got a tiny bit jumbled, mainly for the story that started in Texas, and I enjoyed it more on the second read through.
The small sequences work better than the main plot, with some very memorable moments: Hex dealing with a bad morning (Hungover, oh, then upside-down in a tree, then vultures, then wild dogs, then gunshot, then..); A meeting with an unexpected old “friend”; the final confrontation with his bounty from the second story.
I’ve enjoyed Phil Noto‘s work in the past, but the art for these two issues felt inconsistent. For one thing, while I know Hex has a bit of a facial condition, it really seemed like he always had the exact same expression in these two issues. I’m not sure if this has always been a problem for Noto (I remember some variation in the Ballad of Tallulah Black, last book.)
Also, while he’s capable of rendering scenes with lovely use of light and great detail (see the header images for this review) there were panels here that looked as if the underdrawing or sketch was sent to press – plus a bit of overuse on photoshop blur tools (see left example.)
There are backgrounds that seem very rushed. Wood coffins outlined with no interior detail, even though they’re the focus of the shot.
Closeups of faces that seem like they were cropped in digitally without regard for the blurring of the linework created by the resize. Reused art, awkwardly posed figures and/or inaccurate anatomy.
Considering what Noto is capable of, it’s not his best work.
The story is told, but I just didn’t enjoy it as much as past Hex stories- on the second reading I decided the art was a major factor.
The second story, Devil’s Paw, starts with a gang rape, and then jumps straight to an unrelated bounty chase. I kept wondering how the intro would tie back in, but it never really did – after dealing with the bank robbers, Hex simply stumbles across the grisly scene from the first part and kills everyone.
It’s two pages of gratuitous violence simply to… set tone, I guess?
I know, this comic is consistently over the top in this regard, but I felt like it didn’t help the story here – maybe I’ve been reading too much of this book in succession. The middle bit was enjoyable, if not particularly surprising.
Jordi Bernet, the artist for this issue, is growing on me. He seems quite apt at rending night scenes (dark but not dull), which is something I appreciate. The real bad folk have fitting lecherous mugs and the pinkertons are spot on – squinted eyes over proud mustaches, posture of proud men.
Bernet’s Hex speaks mostly with his body, battle stance, boredom, disgust. It’s a good portrayal for a man of action and few words.
The next story, The Current War, sees Hex involved in a dispute between battling inventors. It may sound exciting, but the majority of issue is spent in sparsely lit interiors while Hex sits listening to people ranting about patent theft and the future.
There are a few enjoyable bits for those familiar with Hex’s time traveling during the mid-eighties (which takes place after this series, by his mannerisms). One of the interesting things about this book is that many major events in Hex’s life (such as his death, which I won’t spoil for you here) have already been depicted in previous comics.
Gray and Palmiotti approach this by taking a relaxed attitude towards sequential storytelling, leaving it up to the reader to place most of these adventures.
I enjoyed the contrast of Hex’s table manners to the cultured sorts, and felt that the oddness of the story tied into the DCU nicely, but I shared Hex’s reaction at hearing an explosion during dinner – “finally.”
Noto is back again for The Current War, and his works suffers from the same consistency, art re-use, and facial stagnancy problems encountered previously.
This is compounded by dim, dull night scenes. Perhaps there is a printing issue here, but the art just looked muddy. I feel myself starting to develop a bias against primarily digitally produced work.
He was part of an expedition seeking to document Native Americans and the last of the untamed west (including rough types such as Hex.)
They succeed in hiring Hex as their guide and are thoroughly intimidated by the silent and dangerous nature of the man.
As events unfold, the peaceful visit to one tribe turns into a battle with another, before US soldiers also become involved.
This story, illustrated by Bernet, is a satisfying return to form, possibly the best one of this book.
The city raised teacher’s storytelling makes for an interesting angle on Hex’s actions, giving Gray and Palmiotti a chance to mix up the narrative style a little. There’s plenty of action in this issue, but also some heady ideas raised by Hex’s educated employer.
It’s a fun read, fitting well with Bernet’s stylized characters and detailed battle scenes.
Titled simply All Hallows Eve, it’s a bit more silly than the last story, but as a Halloween issue it hits all the points I like – ridiculous paranormal activity coupled with some welcome cameos.
Starting out betting on a boxing match where, of course, Hex ends up in the action before too long, the three heroes are soon thrust into the middle of a B movie plot featuring a nasty prairie witch and a host of undead.
It’s straight up fun.
He doesn’t seem quite as confident with Hex’s face as with some of the other characters, but he fits the scarred gunfighter with some sly expressions that had me forgiving the artist for all the time’s Hex’s back was turned to the camera.
The action here is over the top spectacular, with at least one full page illustration of bullets and zombies, and plenty of dynamically paneled madness.
It was a great way to end the book, with these last two stories bringing me out of the slump of the first half.
While this was the most mixed Jonah Hex collection so far, I still came out of it looking forward to the next one.
3 out of 5 stars. The first half wasn’t so strong, with a real clunker of a story right in the middle, but the last two issues were quite fun, with the final one playing right to my DC fan desires (sucker for appearances by those other western characters!)
Not bad, and still worth the low 12.99 price point, but not as strong as the other Jonah Hex collections.
Not as much as the last volume, but I’m sure the next book will build on it a bit (and it’s worth picking this one up if you like Bat Lash or El Diablo.)
Recommended supplementary reading: Showcase Presents: Bat Lash