Review by Karl Verhoven
The previous graphic novel in this series Only the Good Die Young reverted to the formula of six individual stories of deadly scar-faced bounty hunter Jonah Hex, and the writing team of Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti provide the same here. It’s the best selection to date, every tale well written and drawn, and encompassing a variety of moods. There’s the almost modern day serial killing horror, a teaming with the Pinkertons and Jonah becoming briefly sentimental. As with all Jonah Hex material, he’s unpleasant, surly, and a single minded killing machine, but on the scale of humanity he’s several notches above the folk he deals with.
From the start of the series the writers have dotted about Jonah’s long career, and open with a tale set in 1899, just five years before his established death, and drawn by veteran Russ Heath in an uncharacteristic but entirely suitable dark and gritty fashion. It begins in one place, then moves to another entirely, throwing in a big surprise amid a lifetime’s resentment.
The least effective art is by Rafa Garres, yet he’s still good, imbuing a greater sense of motion and confusion as Gray and Palmiotti follow up on a tale from the previous collection. The less pleasing aspects are the crowded and confusing panels in an already restrictive setting.
Represented by the sample page, Jordi Bernet is the most frequent artistic collaborator during this Jonah Hex series, and he brings his European sensibilities to two chapters, one dealing with a killer of corrupt lawmen and the title story. It might be assumed that this refers to Jonah, but that’s not the case. A bunch of outlaws drive a stolen train into a small town intending to rob it blind and move on. What makes this a great story is the sense of anticipation. Gray and Palmiotti set the outlaws up as real hard cases, but what the bunch don’t know is the identity of the drunk sleeping off a prodigious whiskey and mescal binge, so their real purpose is as comedy victims. “I killed ten men not counting Mexicans and Chinese! I can certainly handle some lowly drunkard”, spouts Lucky Dave even after hearing Jonah’s name. It’s a series highlight.
John Higgins makes his series debut illustrating an occasion when Jonah turns down a request for help and then transforms into a spirit of vengeance. Higgins’ evocative art takes its cue from Western films, and it’s puzzling that he wasn’t asked back to draw more Hex. Giuseppe Camuncoli provides layouts for Stefano Landini to finish on the most disturbing contribution, and one which echoes the video nasty, relatively new territory for Jonah Hex. His personality is certainly well suited to the genre, and the artists are suited to the character, if on occasion their work is a little stiff. Despite a sideways step the story works, and the surprises play their part.
The quality continues in Bullets Don’t Lie.