Reviews of trade paperbacks of comic books (mostly Marvel), along with a few other semi-relevant comments / reviews.

17 September 2010

Jonah Hex: No Way Back

Collects: OGN

Released: June 2010 (DC)

Format: 136 pages / color / $19.99 / ISBN: 9781401225506

What is this?: Bounty hunter Jonah Hex deals with the family he never knew he had while being pursued for his father’s sins.

The culprits: Writers Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti and artist Tony DeZuniga

Released to coincide with the Jonah Hex movie, Jonah Hex: No Way Back is probably better than big-screen version.

I’m just guessing, though. I haven’t seen the movie. I was really excited to see it, but then most of the reviews confirmed the dire news the trailers were showing: it was less Jonah Hex and more Wild Wild West 2,48 and no amount of Megan Fox in a corset was going to get me to see that. Once was twice too many already.

Jonah Hex: No Way Back coverDespite lacking corseted whores with hearts of gold, No Way Back is a solid little Western tale. It has an excellent pedigree; artist Tony DeZuniga is one of Hex’s co-creators, and writers Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti are co-writers on the regular Hex series. Those three know what makes Jonah Hex work — bad men, a clear moral sense from Hex, lots of gunplay, and a high body count — and it’s all present here.

Gray, Palmiotti, and DeZuniga tell an important story about Hex’s wanderings, involving Hex’s rarely seen family, family he didn’t know he had, and one of his most frequent enemies, El Papagayo. Most of the character bits in No Way Back have been told before, but they’re not exactly well-known parts of his story: his mother running away with a traveling salesman, his father giving him to the Apache, the source of his mutilation. The idea of Hex having a previously unknown brother apparently came from idea bruited by DeZuniga and Hex’s original writer, John Albano.

It’s a lot to fit into 136 pages, especially since not only does El Papagayo reveal a connection between himself and Hex’s father but also because the stakes in Hex’s fight with him are larger than comics readers are used to between a hero and one of his recurring villains. It is ambitious; it feels cramped. However, I think what I term as ambition is really an attempt to tell a story a movie audience would be more interested in. (Or maybe it’s just DC loosening the creator’s reins to let them tell a big Hex story.) Let’s face it: despite tons of popular comic book movies over the past decade, the popularity of comic books has not increased measurably. It would make sense DC wanted something different than the normal serialized stories to offer to moviegoers when Hex came out; a big, self-contained story that told a good deal of Jonah Hex’s backstory might be just the trick.

For me, No Way Back doesn’t have to be a big story, but for the purpose it was commissioned for, it did. I can be satisfied with any story from Hex’s life, as long as it fits the character and is exciting, but there would be no reason to do an original graphic novel for that. Gray and Palmiotti get to do that in the Jonah Hex series; they’ve told almost five years of those stories. I can’t blame them for wanting to raise the stakes or DC for allowing them. However, the major revelation of the existence of Hex’s brother combined with the use of Hex’s most recognizable foe not in the movie makes me feel as if the importance of the plot is being shouted at me.

Perhaps I’m being too picky. But that feeling of 200 pages of plot being crammed into 136 pages of OGN isn’t completely in my head. The fight scenes are abbreviated, with only one good twist and one extended fight in the whole book. Unfortunately, there are times in that fight when DeZuniga’s art isn’t at its best, either lacking clarity or fluidity.

DeZuniga’s art is actually my only other niggling complaint. DeZuniga is almost 70 years old, and for a 70 year old, his work is excellent. But his line isn’t as straight or sharp as it once was, with some scenes lacking detail, and as I mentioned, his action scenes were occasionally lacking. I have to admit, however, he can still draw Jonah Hex’s scarred face, Western scenes, and pretty ladies well.

I have, in the past few years, wondered when the Big 2 companies would end their reliance on the monthly comic book and go straight to publishing original graphic novels. Now that the future of comics looks to be electronic, that day will probably never come. But No Way Back shows me why I was probably wasting my time waiting. Comic book readers are programmed to expect every story to further the character’s narrative or fill in his backstory. But No Way Back feels … unconnected. It fits in a place in Hex’s story — 1880, according to Wikipedia, but I didn’t see anything confirming that in the book — but it doesn’t feel like it connects to anything before or after. That might be because I don’t regularly read comics with Jonah Hex, but I don’t think so.

Still, No Way Back is a fun and violent read, despite my niggling concerns.

Rating: DC logo DC logo DC logo Half DC symbol (3.5 of 5)

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