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Continuing our journey through the DC Westerns (and the DC timeline as a whole) we come to the third contemporary Jonah Hex collection, collecting issues 13-18 of the Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti headed series.
Unlike the last trades, the bulk of this book is made by two slightly longer stories – Retribution, a three-parter with art by Jordi Bernet, along with The Ballad of Tallulah Black, over two issues with Phil Noto – and a single issue story, I Walk Alone, drawn by Val Semeiks.
If you’ve been following along, you know that one of our very few complaints with the previous books was that they weren’t tied together by story as much as character.
It seems the creators were getting fatigued with the same formula, so we’ve got some slightly longer arcs.
It’s mostly a good thing.
As the title of the book implies, we’re getting some Origin up in here. Previously, in Showcase Presents: Jonah Hex / Welcome To Paradise, we were treated to part of the bounty hunter’s origin: his roots as a young idealistic confederate soldier, an honorable (if a bit naive man), and his perceived betrayal of his comrades to a union commander (when his only real intention was to surrender himself.)
Retribution, Palmiotti and Gray’s contribution to Hex’s past, seeks to fill in some gaps about his earlier childhood and career as a soldier. It’s hard to say exactly how well it fits with earlier stories – while not directly conflicting, it sets up some potential problems.
There is room left for the events of the Bronze Age comics, but I feel that it’s hard to believe he could be so naive and gentleman-like after having the life he’s had here.
I admit that I always found it appealing, that Hex may have been a genuinely nice guy of relatively cultured upbringing until the Civil War and terrible events in the aftermath tore him down.
In the narrative presented here, though, he’s had the worst of the lot from the start. I suppose it explains why he’s such a darn good killer. The creators make use of the plot points quite visually, giving Hex a fair amount of play with more visceral weapons in this story.
While it didn’t quite jive with the image I’ve had of our anti-hero (keeping in mind that I haven’t read any of the uncollected stories from the “Jonah Hex” or “Hex” titles), the story itself was generally enjoyable.
It suffers a little from Dances With Wolves style plot points, and the “bad dad” character is a little overused in the creation of gruff badasses, but there are a few good twists here – and none of the semi-happy endings normally associated with such stories.
Jordi Bernet does a fine job bringing the action.
His style is a bit more caricatured than realistic (nowhere near as gritty as DeZuniga or some other Hex Artists), with some thick lines and big almost-disney style eyes on girls and children.
Sometimes the faces felt a little awkward or just too cartoony for a Jonah Hex story.
While I couldn’t get into Bernet’s work as much as some of the previous artists, I don’t think he ever failed to tell the story.
There are some masterfully composed fight sequences and skilled depictions of lighting.
The second story is another origin of sorts, but this time for fan-favorite character Tallulah Black. It was my personal introduction to the lady, but based on her popularity and the strength of this story, I can assume she’ll be back. Perhaps I’m reading the birth of a new western hero – wonder if we’ll get a girl with her own series some day?
Of course, for all I know she could die in an upcoming volume!
Phil Noto, again handling his own colors, does a capitol job illustrating a hazy and disturbing tale of wrong done and avenged – while again showing exactly what we’d expect of a Hex story, at least it’s a very good one.
There are aspects of this story that I have mixed feelings about – it’s hard to find a good balance when writing a strong woman into an extremely violent and terrible world – but the terribleness is intentional and reasoned.
My feeling is that Tallulah would have been strong regardless of the darkness in her life, and it shows on page. The other girl in the story, the odd young one, helped make this one of my favorite small arcs since the Bronze Age book.
The last story, a short one again, with a square jaw’d Hex looking mighty fugly courtesy of Val Semeiks, is a welcome addition to the mythos.
I don’t want to spoil the ending for casual readers of this review, but it’s about time. Outline this text for the spoiler.
Spoiler: [ Hex is just straight up wrong here, and while it's understandable, he's killed a lot of innocent people and ruined some lives. And he says sorry when he finds out. Bad day! ]
For some reason, I don’t really like the shape of Hex’s face as much here, but I love the detail of Semeiks’ work.
I have to give him credit for putting down his stake and sticking with his style of drawing Jonah.
He’s becoming one of my favorite artists in these books.
The backgrounds are especially lush, with grass that just feels like grass, and forests that are never lightly implied – they’re packed with full, standing trees in every panel.
It’s impressive that all that detail never detracts from the characters interacting in the foreground (Rob Schwager‘s colors deserve credit here.)
Sadly, no DeZuniga illustrated story in this volume.
Altogether, it was a very enjoyable book. Like the previous Hex volumes, it’s very consistent in quality, never featuring a story that’s a real clunker.
Unfortunately, none of the stories are absolutely startling either.
While this makes for a very good series on average (and quickly becoming one of my favorites to sit down and read at the end of the day) I can’t give the book a perfect rating.
4 out of 5 stars. The Jonah Hex series continues to be a solid set of work, with consistently strong writing bringing together a strong array of artists over some rough and tumble western action.
The book benefits from some longer stories that don’t feel stretched out (that same quick shifting of action we’ve come to expect) but still doesn’t offer any true surprises in terms of plot lines.
I’d say yes – if you’re reading Jonah Hex you shouldn’t skip this volume. I’m sure the next few books will reference and build on it.
It does challenge a long time reader to fit the events in here with existing continuity, but you probably don’t have to think too hard about it.
If you aren’t scared of spoilers, Matching Dragons (an excellent Jonah Hex blog I found after getting into this series) has a Jonah Hex Timeline. It fits in events pretty smoothly, and it seems that some of the ones told in this origin story are straight from the first “Jonah Hex” ongoing. It makes sense, though I wish that series was collected so the transition was a little easier!
Of course, I don’t know if Palmiotti and Gray told the story better – it’s possible the past one was straight up confusing. I guess I won’t know until it is collected. Get on it, DC!
Recommended supplementary reading: Showcase Presents: Bat Lash
Stay tuned for our review of that one in a couple days!