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Continuing our travels through DC’s westerns, we come to our next take on Mr. Jonah Hex.
We’ve previously looked at Jonah Hex’s early adventures in black and white and color, courtesy of the Showcase Presents and Welcome to Paradise volumes. Now we’ve come to trade collecting Joe R. Lansdale and Tim Truman‘s 1993 Vertigo miniseries.
Lansdale is a writer with a fair amount of experience with Westerns, and Truman is well known for grim and disturbing art.
They would seem to be a good match for Hex, and I was fairly excited about this moderately hard to find book, spurred on by the three five-star reviews on Amazon.
In his introduction, Lansdale talks about how his childhood memories always suggested a supernatural element to the Jonah Hex stories, which upon reinvestigation, he discovered was not explicitly there.
I’ve actually mentioned this previously, so it’s a fair reading – the Hex stories are just strange enough to suggest something weird, but most of it is really just Hex himself, and perhaps some suggestion of his name.
What Lansdale hoped to do was bring these elements to the forefront, writing Hex into a real spooky tale, dark like he remembered (explicitly this time) for grown fans of the older westerns.
For this he’s recruited Truman, excellent at rendering gore, whose character styling is firmly at home in a weird world of post-R-Crumb edgy comics art.
Together, they’ve put together an ultra violent story of their version of Jonah Hex designed to bring the scarred cowboy to Vertigo’s audience.
Here’s the twist: I didn’t like it.
I had two major problems with the book. First, it just didn’t feel like Jonah Hex to me, not the guy I’d been cheering on since the first short story in his Bronze Age collection. Second, I found the book boring. I couldn’t wait for it to end.
It’s possible that the book just wasn’t written for the person who appreciates my Jonah Hex.
Again in his introduction, Lansdale espouses his love for Texas and even though “Hex was not a Texan. But hey, Texas is as much a State of Mind … I felt the origin story didn’t suit Hex. In Fleisher’s story he was the son of a plantation owner, somewhat privileged and educated. I never got that impression from the Albano stories, and I related better to those. I concluded – based on what Albano had done – due to Hex’s attitudes and the way he talked, that he was from what today would be called blue-collar roots. Those are my roots and that’s the route I pursued.”
His greatest moments were, when looking out of that pit, he still saw light and truth and honor, his roots were always there lending him strength.
Perhaps my last 6 years living in Savannah, GA are biasing me (I’m a damn Yankee born myself), but I saw that this suthun boy still struggled to live by his upbringing. He had class under all that dirt. Somewhere.
Lansdale didn’t remember the same thing, apparently, because he leaves all that behind (plus, for someone basing this characterization on dialogue, he seems to completely change everything about Hex’s vocal mannerisms.) What we’re left with is a story about a man with almost no morality, killing practically indiscriminately. He seems to make some friends (with anyone who saves his butt) but almost too quickly – making his attachment to them feel quite arbitrary.
In short, he loses some of what makes him unique. One of the more threads is the ongoing joke about the origin of Hex’s scar being something relatively benign, but besides that and people recognizing/fearing him because of it, there isn’t much else to separate Hex from any other badass roughneck cowboy. He’s a good shot and kind of a jerk, but cares about his pals. There are hints of his honor between bloodshed here and there, but like I said, something is off. There is one attempt to give him another side, but it’s totally overblown
[Spoiler: There was one panel of Hex crying in an older comic (a single tear for an old friend, as he rode off, townspeople behind him calling him cold as stone). It was well placed and moving. Here, he's streaming for at least a page for someone he just met a couple pages earlier - who wasn't much of a nice guy either.]
Sure, Hex was plenty violent in the original stories, but something just seems off about it here. The direction they decided to go with for the character design just compounds this – there are way too many earrings on these cowboys. Look at that picture up there – champion rendering, but seriously what era is this? I’m not sure where this came from. Maybe this is factually researched? Kinda doubt it, everyone looks like a pirate.
Hex with long hair I might be able to understand, based on his predicament, but this just doesn’t feel like him.
Of course, plenty of people went through some bad fashion days in the 90s.
Truman’s rendering of the gunslinger also suffers from some continuity problems, obvious most at the end where Hex’s face shape seems quite different then it did at the start of this book. While the artist has a definite style, which could work in a lot of situations, I just found it hard to get into based on my frustrations with the story.
Besides the rickety portrayal of the lead character, the rest of the plot just didn’t catch me. A flimflam man with some possible magic power is raising the dead, or just mind controlling near dead people. He learned this power in Haiti of course. This villain spends more than his fair share of pages telling us of how he got his power, what ingredients he uses, how he recruited his deadliest subjects, and so on. I just did not care. The way the magic (or supposed magic) is dealt with here is a cookie cutter affair.
Not that Hex was any better. Much of the book is burdened by a surprisingly mundane internal monologue. I don’t think I’d ever read a Hex story with his thoughts bared like this, which I’m glad of if they were always this boring. I think that all of it could have been completely taken out without leaving any holes in the story.
My last major complaint is that many times I felt forcefully confronted with a lack of creativity concerning the dressings of a Western story. If a battle in the Civil War is needed, we’re going to hear a mention of Gettysburg. Would Hex have even been there? Indians? Apache. Famous cowboy? Wild Bill. Like I said, boring. Felt lazy.
I reckon that’s enough tearing this book apart. There were moments when it was satisfying to see someone get shot. There was one character (Slow Go) that was enjoyable, if forced upon us. There are many times where I felt Truman could really rock out some art, if only I could really appreciate it.
Guess this Hex just wasn’t for me.
2 out of 5. There’s something here that people like, which I can see a hint of, but it’s not the Jonah Hex I enjoy, and I felt the rest of it was boring as well. A lot of action, but none of it particularly satisfying.
Aside from some of the character designs, there were times when I felt like I could really dig the art, though, so 2 stars for that.
Nope. Might actually get in the way. In fact, most people seem to consider this story, along with the other Vertigo minis that are uncollected, to be in a separate continuity. You can chose for yourself if you want to take it or leave it.
For Jonah Hex, the next collected stop is Jonah Hex Vol. 1: Face Full of Violence. I haven’t read it yet, but I’m personally hoping the creators are fans of Hex’s original subtleties as a character. Based on Brian‘s review, I’m pretty excited.