By Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti, Jordi Bernet, Russ Heath, Giuseppe Camuncoli John Higgins, Rafa Garres & others (DC Comics)
The Western is a genre that can be sub-divided into two discrete halves: the sparkly, rhinestoned clean-and-shiny version that dominated kids’ books, comics and television for decades, as best typified by heroes such as the Lone Ranger, Roy Rogers and Gene Autry – and the other stuff.
In the US that alternative grimy, gritty, excessively brutal and dark sort of cowboy tale was solely the territory of select R-rated movies but was for years the successful and popular province of European strips such as Jean-Michel Charlier’s Blueberry or Bonelli and Galleppini’s Tex Willer. Eventually the aesthetic seeped into US culture via the films of Sam Peckinpah and Sergio Leone.
Jonah Hex is the latter breed.
Arguably the most memorable American comicbook western character ever created, Hex is certainly the bleakest and most grippingly realised, as is the brutal and uncompromising world he inhabits. Remorseless and unstoppable with gun or knife, he hunts men for the price on their heads in the years following the War Between the States and the scars inside him are more shocking even than the ghastly ruin of his face.
Impressive, unique and controversial from his inception and early days in All-Star Western/Weird Western (see Showcase Presents Jonah Hex for those groundbreaking tales) the disreputable anti-hero’s various creative teams have always been confident enough to apply apparently incongruous fantasy concepts to this grittiest of protagonists.
Under the inspired guidance of current writers Justin Grey & Jimmy Palmiotti and the staggeringly talented assemblage of artists taking turns on the current incarnation of Jonah Hex the darkly ironic wit, sanguine view of morality and justice, breathtaking action and sheer Grand Guignol mayhem regularly generate some of the most accessible and enjoyable comics fiction available today.
In this collection, reprinting issues #25-30 of the latest comicbook series, six more stand alone tales display again how the ravaged, dissolute bounty hunter takes every idiocy and horror the world conceals and deals with it in his inimitable, surly and generally lethal manner.
Not confined to the usual chronological continuity this collection opens with ‘My Name is Nobody’ illustrated by that grandmaster of gritty realism, Russ Heath; jumping to the dying days of Hex’s life to recount an uncomfortable encounter with a capable young man also calling himself Hex before skipping back to the immediate post-Civil War era for the Giuseppe Camuncoli & Stefano Landini illustrated ‘Four Little Pigs: A Grindhouse Western’.
This brutal and disturbing tale of rural farming and serial killing is followed by the enchantingly mordant yet uplifting saga of ‘Starman’ by the magnificent Jordi Bernet, who depicts the uplifting account of how Hex saved a young immigrant boy who grew to be just as wily, deadly and infamous in his own unique profession: assassinating corrupt lawmen…
‘Townkiller’, illustrated by John Higgins with S. J. Hurst, sees the hired gun turn down a job too unspeakable even for him – and reveals the fate of the man who didn’t, before Rafa Garres moodily captures the horror of ‘Return to Devils Paw’ as Hex is forced by Pinkerton Agents to take them to stolen gold left behind after a clash between US Cavalry and nigh-supernatural Indian Braves (and don’t miss Jonah Hex: Only the Good Die Young for the original mini-masterpiece). Of course it all ends bloody…
Bernet returns to close this volume with the eponymous and blackly hilarious ‘Luck Runs Out’ as the West’s worst but most ruthless bandits foul up the perfect train-robbery. The unlucky part consists of waking up Hex after a week-long drunken binge…
Jonah Hex has always been billed as a “Western for people who don’t like Westerns” and, cliché aside, this has never been more true. One of the best strips currently coming out of America, this selection of compelling vignettes perfectly display the threads of black humour, tragic humanity and nihilistic cosmic indifference that runs through the extended epic history of DC’s Wild West.
Action-packed, gory, chilling, wickedly funny and cathartically satisfying, this really is a rare treat for those who despise the form: a perfect modern reinterpretation of a great storytelling tradition. No matter what your reading preference, this is an experience you can’t afford to miss.
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