Jonah Hex v2 (Jimmy Palmiotti / Justin Gray)
“He was a hero to some, a villain to others… and wherever he rode people spoke his name in whispers. He had no friends, this Jonah Hex, but he did have two companions: one was death itself… the other, the acrid smell of gunsmoke.”
Such are the whispers told of Jonah Hex, the greatest and most ruthless bounty hunter that ever lived. A very paragon of the wild west. But Hex is no kind-hearted individual, though he is not without the occasional bout of empathy. Hex is merely indifferent to others, having been raised by an Apache tribe after his alcoholic and abusive father sold Jonah as a slave to the tribe where his face was burned with a hot-iron axe after a questionable duel with the chief’s son. He had seen the worst that humanity had to offer and accepted it as life. Hex drinks heavily, smokes often and sleeps with all manner of women though only a scant few would be able to lay claim to a portion of his heart. Talullah Black stands out as a female character done right: Tallulah went from having her family killed in front of her by a group of men hired to steal her family land and then later mutilated across her body by the same leader after she had turned to prostitution. She turns to Hex for help, who reluctantly teaches her gunfighting and other skills which enables her to track down the man who had wronged her so often and terribly and exact her revenge on him. She continued to live as a bounty hunter much like Hex and gained much notoriety of her own.
The thing in particular that I enjoy most about Palmiotti and Gray’s run is that each story is self-contained. While Hex does have an overarching narrative due to his being a regular human and therefore ages, you don’t need to know anything about Hex in order to enjoy his stories. All that you need to know is he is a bounty hunter and a damn good one. Every story is a tale unto itself and could easily stand as a movie by its own right, and while there may be the occasional recurring character here and there, the strength of the stories lie in tales about the human spirit, both the good and the bad. There are cannibals and thieves, roving bands of outlaws and bloody Apaches as well as innocent and simple folk, people who want nothing more than an honest job and food for their family. Sometimes one morphs into the other. The artists do their best to convey the stories contained within and the artwork tends to be clean and expressive. Even the title is worded with craft and it’s not uncommon for the title to not appear until the final page.
A movie was released in 2010 and it is an abomination that has little to no respect for the source material. Unlike his comic origins, this version of Hex lived an idyllic life on a homestead with his wife and kids before his faced was burned and his family slaughtered by Turnbull. Also Hex gains the power to talk to the dead for no reason whatsoever. Tallulah goes from being a mutilated half-blind bounty hunter dressed in a black trench coat to some random chick that wears a corset at the best of times.
While Jonah Hex officially ended his title with issue 70 (and a special issue 71 being released for the Blackest Night DC event), the series was revived as All-Star Western when DC launched its reboot. Thus far, even with Palmiotti and Gray still at the helm, it is not nearly so entertaining as it has traded its stand-alone arcs with a longer over-arching narrative typical of long-running comics. Having the weak and helpless Amadeus Arkham tagging along throughout every issue feels more like a hindrance and an annoyance than anything else. Still, the clever writing shines through at times and well worth reading regardless.