There's a Jonah Hex movie on the way. What better way to celebrate than with his first ever original graphic novel? So is it any good?
Credits & Solicit Info:
Jonah Hex: Now Way Back
Written by Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti
Pencils by Tony DeZuniga
Inks by Tony Dezuniga and John Stanisci
Colors by Rob Schwager
Letters by Rob Leigh
Published by DC Comics
Discover how Jonah Hex's rough family life transformed him into the justice-thirsty vigilante he became. Legendary Hex artist Tony DeZuniga returns to illustrate a new, archetypal epic written by the acclaimed HEX team of Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray. This heartbreaking, brutal original graphic novel is set against the unforgiving landscape of the Wild West and delves into Hex's painful past, revealing for the first time how his difficult upbringing made him that era's most feared bounty hunter. Along the way, Hex must come to terms with the death of a loved one, long thought lost, battle El Papagayo and his gang of bandits, and attempt to make peace with his own past.
Clint Eastwood became a star in 1964 with A Fistful of Dollars. 9 years later, High Plains Drifter would be the last in an almost continuous stream of Westerns featuring anti-heroes that redefined the genre and gave it its last great period in American Cinema. Over the last few years, there have been many attempts at revitalizing the genre, but even when Eastwood returned to mark another landmark in Western Lore with Unforgiven, it has failed to take the firm hold it once had on the Hollywood zeitgeist.
Jonah Hex debuted a year previous to High Plains Drifter. All Star Western #10 followed a print ad that ran for several weeks before the character made his first full length story appearance; but the bounty hunter, who has often been drawn to resemble Eastwood, has been a fixture in comics for most of that time period. Now, Hollywood has a version of the character coming to the big screen.
DC marks the occasion with this, the first original graphic novel to star the character. Of course, Gray and Palmiotti who have been critical darlings with their run on the character should pen the epic, but who should handle the art duties? The new volume of Jonah Hex has seen J.H. Williams, Darwyn Cooke and Jordi Bernet pencil the story of the man with a strict code and a penchant for whores and alcohol. Obviously, finding an artist to really celebrate this auspicious event would be a little daunting.
So it is pretty cool that they go back to the source and bring on Tony DeZuniga, the guy who first drew the character some 39 years ago. And he makes a powerful return to the character showing an ability to illustrate the gritty world Hex inhabits. It is the perfect kind of art for the book. Sure, there will be detractors, as there always are for highly stylized art in comics, but DeZuniga manages to capture that skillful camera work of Dallamano.
Which is fitting because the script provided here owes much to the work of Sergio Leone. The book is steeped in what would be cliché, but it is a fitting homage to the Spaghetti Western and the work of Eastwood in particular. The book is full of flashbacks and its hero is a hard drinker who really has a heart of gold. Palmiotti and Gray even go so far as to have Joshua Dazzleby explain what the reader has already observed in Hex’s actions late in the novel when he says of the mercenary, “I believe somewhere deep in his heart is compassion for others.” Of course, this coupled with Jonah leaving town is foreshadowing the final battle that had to come in this book.
Despite wearing its influences on its sleeves, the deft writing of the creative team elevate this above mere aping with dazzling feats of writing prowess. Most noticeable is the dialogue. They are careful to voice each character with a hint of authenticity creating people from what should be stereotypes. They handle the mad ramblings of Hex’s abusive father or his foe with the language that fits, as they create the gruff persona of Hex through his speech, as they expound on their narrative to show that Dazzleby and his family are well educated through their words. Under a lesser set of writers, this would be a contrite story, no less predictable or derivative, but much less entertaining.
Much of the graphic novel is involved with the motivations of Hex. We get glimpses at his upbringing and realize why he is the no-nonsense man we have come to love. This is handled through flashbacks that give us insight into not only the scars of Hex’s face but the reason Papagayo has hounded the man since 1977. Yes, that villain returns for what must be the last time in a showdown to end showdowns.
In the revelations of the book, we find that Hex has moved beyond his past. It is what it is and our protagonist would have it “stay where it is.” There is sound reasoning for this, especially given the amount he allows himself to be vulnerable in this book that deals not only with the family he knew he had, but the family which he never knew he had. In the end, his path is one he alone can travel. Those close to him can only die or fail him and as a result he will remain on his own and calloused to the affections that a relationship might otherwise bring him.
The art shows that DeZuniga has not lost his touch. It is well crafted in its execution, but there are some awkward moments. Scenes that are not clear until the page is turned or ill advised panel techniques. One such example is a giant clock drawn into a sequence late in the book. It does its job of conveying the motion of time in the book, but it is so out of place with what comes before it that it draws the reader out for a moment. But even in that flaw, there is a recalling of what Leone would do with a long desert shot that would mark delineation in the tone of a movie. This is as self indulgent and jarring, but gets the job done and, as such, is a forgivable sin of the piece.
Like those Eastwood pictures it emulates, No Way Back is far from a perfect comic. But then, Jonah Hex is far from the perfect hero. Warts and all, it is a compelling and thoughtful examination of the genre’s archetype in popular culture.
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