Jonah Hex: No Way Back

Gray and Palmiotti have a good thing going with Jonah Hex. The writing duo has delivered over fifty issue of “Jonah Hex” to monthly readers, working with some dazzling artists along the way. It was only a matter of time before the duo would find a story to work on with Tony DeZuniga, the artist who co-created (with writer John Albano) Hex nearly four decades ago. This story delves deep into the backstory of Jonah, and sets Jonah upon a path to confront many of the demons of his past. Past meets present in more ways than one.

Beyond the metaphor between this book’s creators and this story, Gray and Palmiotti give Hex another run at El Papagayo, much to the regret of those Hex crosses paths with before the final confrontation. El Papagayo has a mad-on for Hex, and we learn why in this issue, as Papagayo shares his secret origin with one of his victims in classic villain-monologue style.

DeZuniga’s art is rough, scratchy, and dirty, which is absolutely perfect for Hex and his trails. Hex under DeZuniga’s pencil is just about one of the ugliest cusses ever to appear upon the printed page. DeZuniga offers up some non-traditional layouts and panel arrangements, but by and large his work here is traditional in its presentation.

As Gray and Palmiotti do from time to time with the monthly “Jonah Hex” book, there are scenes and settings written specifically to DeZuniga’s strengths and abilities. This book is as much a celebration of DeZuniga as it is a story of Jonah Hex.

That’s not to say that Gray and Palmiotti present a limp story here. This book is a strong standalone story, measuring up to roughly six issues of the monthly in length, scope, and purpose. In doing so, Gray, Palmiotti, and DeZuniga expand Hex’s world with characters and climates that could not normally be presented in the monthly issues that Gray and Palmiotti masterfully craft as standalone stories almost every month.

The format of this book allows for more action and excitement to be jammed in as well. In his travels, Hex winds up lining himself up as the defender of Heaven’s Gate, Colorado. The fight here is set up as a last stand of sorts, and it gives Hex a chance to shine. Hex concocts a plan for the townsfolk to help defend themselves then stands alongside them as only Hex can. Of course, western stories demand a double-cross and that double-cross gives Hex a chance to let loose against a foe every bit his equal. Gray and Palmiotti seize this opportunity for Hex to shine as only Jonah Hex would be badass enough to kill a man with the knife that same man stabbed through — and left in — Hex’s arm while it was still in Hex’s arm! At one point during the fight, however, the knife disappears from Hex’s arm only to reappear in the next panel, but that is a visual mistake that I’m willing to forget about given the end result of the tussle.

This is a healthy book, thick enough to tell a longer story with greater detail than single monthly issues afford. I started in on it almost immediately after getting home from the shop and was able to chip away at it, little by little over the course of a couple days. It would have been a dense read to try to tackle in one sitting, but it could certainly have been done.

The sticker price on the book might give some folk reason for pause, but considering this is an original tale, in hardcover, it is money well spent. Additionally, Robbin Brosterman and Louis Prandi did a bang-up job designing the book. The cover has a relic appearance, looking as though it is a leather-bound book from Hex’s era. The cover appears to have worn through in some spots, giving it a classic appearance. For whatever reason, though, DC saw fit to throw a quote from Geoff Johns on the cover, which puts a kink in the vibe this book was going for — and for the most part achieving quite strongly.

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