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Wednesday, 16 February 2011

AMERICAN GOTHIC - Hex certificate

Let's talk Jonah Hex - ignoring that largely disappointing movie, of course.

The character's first real appearance was in issue 10 of volume 2 of All Star Western and right from the start Jonah Hex was a new kind of western hero.

Jonah has battled alcoholism, and as an adult faced his mother's turn to prostitution. Though he travelled extensively throughout the American West, he also ended up in South America and China. At one point he quit bounty hunting, married and had a son, and took up farming, though it did not last.
Hex's facial injuries can be traced back to being sold into slavery by his father to some Apache for safe passage. Jonah eventually saved the chief from being killed by a mountain lion and was made an honorary member of the tribe. He was soon betrayed by the envious son of the chief while on a raid. He returned years later to challenge him in a sacred tomahawk battle, but the chief's son sabotaged Jonah's tomahawk. Jonah used his knife in self-defence when the tomahawk broke. The tribe saw this as breaking the rules of the sacred battle and sentenced Jonah to wear the mark of the demon by pressing a searing hot tomahawk to his face. They said his honorary relationship to the chief was the only thing that saved him from death.

At one point Hex was bizarrely transported to 2050 for the Hex series in which he bacame something of a Mad Max style warrior. The exact date when this occurred has been in debate. Several sources point to 1875, however a running timeline of events in Jonah's life places this closer to 1878. It is unknown how long Jonah stayed in the future or what date he returned.

In 1904, Jonah was shot during a card game. His corpse was stolen, stuffed, mounted, and dressed in a ridiculous singing cowboy costume, then put on display in a traveling circus. The circus owner was eventually murdered and Jonah's body was stolen yet again. It would pass through various hands before finally being acquired by the restaurant Planet Krypton, owned by Booster Gold. In 2010 Jonah was found by a Black Lantern ring and was revived as a member of the Black Lantern Corps.

But it's not all that SCI-FI and Superhero stuff that brings out the best in Jonah. Jonah Hex is at his best in the only setting  where he truly belongs - the Old West. And not just any Old West but a slightly surreal Old West, an Old West that could have been borne from some bizarre mating between David Lynch and David Chronenberg. It's American Gothic filmed through a splatterpunk lens.

In 2005 Jonah Hex started what many, myself included, consider his best ever run. With a new creative team taking over for Jonah Hex Issue 1, Volume 2 , the book started a run of incredibly well written stories and amazing artwork that continues to this day. The main artistic difference this time is that the series is published without the external restraints of the Comics Code Authority which allows for harder edged stories without having to keep with the Vertigo imprint's dark fantasy themes
The origins storyline has been collected in a graphic novel and it really works well in the medium, its cinematic feel benefitting from the luxurious printing . Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti's script is excellent and the art by Jordi Bernet conjures up the feel of the West of Sergio Leone. Fitting since Jonah is drawn as a twisted version of Josey Wales ere Clint Eastwood.

Jonah Hex is quite unique among other western heroes and storylines often contain supernatural elements that work perfectly well within the Hexiverse. Other times the series works just as well with straightforward western tales.

Jonah Hex is well worth discovering - many of the best stories are available in graphic novel format and second hand comics can be picked up reasonably priced on eBay.

Ok we said we wouldn't mention that movie but it is worth pointing out that an all new graphic novel, No Way Back was written to coincide with the film. Of the graphic novel writer Jimmy Palmiotti said -

"This is the first all original Jonah Hex graphic novel and a dream project for us. Jonah is one of the coolest and most unique characters we have ever had the pleasure to work on. He’s an icon for all ages and his untamed manner appeals, on a visceral gut level, to just about everyone who reads it. In this, Hex’s first original graphic novel, we unleash the beast like you have never seen before."

I leave you with some incredible and truly beautiful artwork from the series.

1 comment:

John Sinclair said...

.. and don't forget the couple of beautiful Joe Lansdale / Tim Truman Jonah mini-series that really stretched the limits of the American Gothic genre; check out 'Riders Of the Worm and Such' for some delightful caricatures of Johnny and Edgar Winters that actually ended in legal proceedings....!

BTW: Joe and tim again collaborated on a stunning pair of mini-series that rehashed and revitalised the Lone Ranger a few years later. Easily my favourite version of the character.