On a recent whim I bought six of the Jonah Hex books off Book Depository. I think there were tweets flying around about it going out of print soon. In any case, I now have:
- Face Full of Violence
- Guns of Vengeance
- Only the Good Die Young
- Luck Runs Out
- Counting Corpses
It looks like I’m not going to be able to get hold of Lead Poisoning easily which is pretty annoying for me, but gives you an indication of how positive the review under the cut is going to be. For the record, I’m holding off till after the Christmas mayhem to get the rest of the trades.
I’ve written before about enjoying the creator combination of Conner, Palmiotti and Gray’s work, so buying these meant an opportunity for me to see for myself if the writer combination of just Gray and Palmiotti was worth the fuss I’d been hearing.
Four of the six trades I ordered arrived on Sunday, which for the record all arrived without bookmarks. As a sidenote, what the hell is with that, Book Dep? Why you hate GN readers all of a sudden? Anyway, after a couple of days (I’ve been busy) I finally got a chance to start reading the first, and the next thing I knew it was four books later and I was still hungry for more. Of course, that meant Aussie customs decided to be silly buggers and I had to wait two more weeks for something that shipped two days after the first lot. Arg.
Before I go on, I need to be clear here. Jonah Hex is basically the Western comic equivalent of junk food. Instead of sweetness, though, you’re just going to get a lot of gore and violence. Lots of gore and violence. It’s not a nice story about a hardened bounty-killer with a secret heart of gold, Hollywoodised earnestness. It is about a nasty old man, in a period of incredible hardships, doing nasty and dirty work, which frequently includes doing horrible things to not very nice people, usually only because they are slightly more lawless than himself. This isn’t about wholesome or moralistic tales. If you’re the kind of person who judges a book by the Bechdel test, this isn’t for you, because that isn’t the point of this kind of story.
It works though, surprisingly well, as it’s easily a concept that could go horribly, horribly wrong. Possibly because Gray and Palmiotti work hard to show they’re fully aware of the kinds of monstrosities they are writing about. Certainly they don’t skimp on treating the horrific as horrific rather than, say, gross out like Ennis. They strongly suggest that even in the Wild West, the need for such brutality is dying. What they don’t do is make Hex a moral character, nor a mercenary nor lawful stereotype. He works because he clearly makes his own decisions, partly over money, partly over what he considers justice and partly about whether he likes you and how you treat him. He may save you. Or he may not. The only thing that’s certain is if you fuck him over, he’ll go after vengeance. I like this. If I wanted a diamond in the rough type character, I’d go rewatch Aladdin, you know?
This lack of traditional guidance to the stories is why I had the warning earlier. I mean, everyone in this book is basically terrible in some way or will have terrible things done to them. The world is messy, there’s rarely a clear moral solution, the everyone-is-guilty-of-something approach. It does mean a surface analysis could lead to the conclusion that minorities are treated terribly: women, homosexuals, chinese, native americans… however, this is a book where noone, including the white male lead, is spared and it creates a Western in which with limited erasure and less stereotypes, more character. The traditional dichotomy of victims and evil people aren’t easily (or repeatedly) used either, or at least not without exploration. People do horrible things, sure, otherwise they wouldn’t be hunted by or hiring Hex, but they have reasons and stories of their own. So it works.
Onto the stories themselves, all seem to be told within a single issue or two, and not in any sort of linear order. This disjointed nature is emphasised by the constant rotating of artists and works incredibly well. You are left with a feeling of sitting in a pub (saloon?) listening to a group of drunkards telling stories about a man, exaggerating him into a legend. Quite a pleasant feeling, as it turns out, and it works with the messy depiction of colonisation incredibly well. I have to add here that I also love the language in this book, even if I had to visit urban dictionary for some of the swearing, and repeat some words out loud in a terrible American drawl to figure out what the fuck was being said.
This is an excellent series. I highly recommend it if you’re after an excellent example of old-fashioned entertaining story telling. It’s not a sophisticated series, but it is more than clever and enjoyable enough for me. Also more-ish. Like woah. You will wonder where your day went.
Now the only question is if I go on to read All Star Western or onto Painkiller Jane, which I’ve also heard mentioned around.