Nineteen sixty-four was the year that we were first introduced to the â€˜Man With No Nameâ€™ and over the course of three movies the wise cracking, fast killing; laconic stranger redefined the basic archetype of the traditional cowboy. The anti-hero was all the rage at the time in mainstream crime noir cinema and Sergio Leone bravely decided to try and transfer that imagery over into the Western genre. He succeed in his task so well that it encouraged his leading actor to try his hand, in nineteen seventy-two, at directing his own version of the character in the movie â€˜High Plains Drifterâ€™. This particular movie persona was so noteworthy that Eastwood would return to it again and again, in differing forms over the subsequent period, cumulating in his Academy Award winning masterpiece of the western celluloid form; â€˜Unforgivenâ€™. It is no coincidence, that also in the year 1972, this new vaquero paradigm reality had become so accepted into the mainstream culture that even the D.C comics company who were traditionally very conservative about new concepts, decided to roll out an adaptation of their own and the world was introduced to Mr Jonah Hex.
Since his conception in â€˜All Star Westernâ€™ this bounty hunter personality has captured the imagination of the comic reading public in a way that few other characters in sequential art have ever done. He is not an admirable man. He is in fact a killer who not only does it for the reward money but also from time to time he forcefully dispatches other human beings just because they have offended his own personal code of honor. He doesnâ€™t believe in the law; for him the higher cause must always be justice and unlike the allegorical Roman Lady Iustitia figure he does everything with his eyes completely wide open at all times. This â€˜Man With No Shameâ€™ makes a determination and swiftly acts upon it and he while doing so, he is as cool and dispassionate as an algebra equation. There are no long lingering internal dialogues about the right thing to do because whatever he chooses to do is ultimately the right thing for him.
You would think that this would make this an easy character to write stories about. All you need to do is set up a situation where Jonah is either pursuing someone or being pursued by one of his various enemies, then throw in some graphic gun violence and there you have it: an instant Hex tale but itâ€™s much harder than that as Messerâ€™s Gray and Palmiotti have found out. Itâ€™s my considered opinion that that although there have been some very credibly written tales during their nearly four year run, including several issues that were near perfect examples of the comic page as movie screen, they have trouble depicting a constant feel for what Hex actually is. I donâ€™t know if these modern creators have read through all the tales that Michael Fleisher penned but you could pick up any one of those and there was a consistent vision of how Jonah was handled that is currently lacking in the comic. Itâ€™s as if the violence, which is of course an integral facet of the Hex demeanour, has become a means unto itself and I believe Jonah deserves much more respect than that.
Take this current issue for example. Jonah Hex has a violent confrontation with El Diablo and the unwelcome outcome is that he is forced to help Lazarus escape jail rather than go and extract his bloody revenge on El Papagayo and Quentin Turnbull. However, on the trail Hex encounters Blue Eagle with his roving band of warrior braves and an agreement is quickly reached to join forces to fight their common enemy. Meanwhile, Tallulah Black and Batlash who are also being held captive, covertly break out of prison and have a bloody confrontation with El Papagayoâ€™s men.
It is of course an unusual tale to begin with because of the large number of guest stars taking part and also because it is the second piece of a six part story but Hex is only in two scenes and in both he says that he wants to kill someone even though itâ€™s not really fully explained as to why he needs to. So unless the reader has an extensive knowledge of the previous bloody history between Jonah, El Diablo, Turnbull, Papagayo and Batlash the there is a good chance that they will be completely lost in the desert of missing motivation. So the sword part of the Jonahâ€™s Justice is represented but we donâ€™t have the balancing scales of his intelligence to even out the representation. I am not one of those who believe that continuity is sacrosanct but I do think that whenever a particular character appears they should be respectful to what has gone before.
However the real problem that I had with this book is the way that Tallulah Black virtually took over the whole publication. I do realise that Gray and Palmiotti created this troubled woman and they are interested in conveying both their love of the character and her complicated life story but she appeared in twelve pages of the book and Mr Hex only managed eight. Perhaps Jonah should have a talk with Charlie Brown about the dangers of letting a secondary character get more attention that the guy whoâ€™s name appears on the comicsâ€™ title. Maybe the balance will be changed back in Hexâ€™s favour in the next issue and maybe we will see twenty pages devoted to Batlash instead.
The art was very good Mr Cucina has a dark, lined style that fits perfectly well with the story and itâ€™s extremely apt that this European illustrator who lives in Rome effortlessly captures the feeling of Leoneâ€™s original Spaghetti Westerns. I thought his depiction of El Diablo was particularly good and when it was beautifully colored by Mr Schwager it had the makings of a fine western novel cover.
I give this book three stars.