Joe R. Lansdale’s Two-Dimensional Jonah Hex
Decoding DC – Part VI
By: Julian Munds
Coming off of the Two Gun Mojo arc, I have got to say my respect for Lansdale’s interpretation of Jonah Hex is mixed.
On one hand, I love all his allusions to Spaghetti Westerns and the way he weaves American politics into stories makes this created environment compelling.
On the other hand, his characterizations are empty and stereotypical. Story often takes a back seat to a cool environment.
His Jonah Hex always feels extraordinarily simple. It’s not a character that can fill a full issue.
I know it is verbolten to read about the issues you are gonna review before you read them, but I just had to; I was not entirely sure where to go next after Two Gun Mojo.
My conclusion was to investigate the next Lansdale helmed arc; 1995‘s Riders of the Worm and Such.
In my research I came across lots of very negative opinions of this arc. Apparently many believe Joe R. Lansdale’s tenure at Vertigo, writing Hex, is the worst period in this scarred hero’s history.
Having read some of the earlier comics of the 70s, I can see why they say this.
Jonah Hex has a wonderfully complex past that mirrors the lost rebel storyline that so permeated mid-period westerns of the 60s and 70s, ala The Outlaw Josey
Having lost his family to outlaws and, during that event, receiving the scar that disfigures his face Jonah has suffered countless episodes of horror. This has given him an unapproachable, almost distant, coolness. Not unlike the aloofness that Flash creates through his sense of humour.
One of the problems with this ‘aloofness without development’ is Jonah Hex now seems callous. There is no connection to the main character created.
Don’t get me wrong, aloofness should be Jonah’s middle name but not callousness.
Callousness wasn’t an immense problem inTwo Gun Mojo because there was more meat to the story, but here in the premiere issue of a far lesser arc, it really becomes off-putting.
Story requires suspense. It’s what makes us continue to flip over pages.
If the hero feels no fear from the threat of the antagonist then there is no reason to get involved with a story. There is no reason to flip those pages.
For example: we find Jonah, at the top, blasting away a bounty hunter clad in armour, who clearly has an edge on him physically and defensively.
Yet, Jonah doesn’t even bat an eye. Even when he gets shot.
He just cracks jokes.
Now, I am not asking for a mental break down, but too much levity conveys that Jonah feels no threat. Without a shred of stakes of any sort; the comic degenerates into a well drawn guignol show.
Some of the one liners are hilarious but if Jonah speaks nothing but them, and he does for at least the first half of the issue, there is no character.
After this episode with the Tin bounty hunter, Jonah passes out from his wounds and is picked up by a rag tag group of marauding cowpokes.
The next pages are full of more terrible tacky riffing between Hex and these roustabouts.
I am now twenty pages in and I am still not sure why I am reading this story. Nothing has happened.
Out of nowhere tentacles reach up from the dusty ground and the cowpokes must battle this menace.
Once again the art is fantastic and the battle is enjoyable, but after Jonah is so clearly defeated, he just cracks a joke and that is the end of issue.
The ending is a half assed attempt at a cliffhanger which suffers from a lack of sufficient tension buildup. This is a narrative problem.
I understand that because of Jonah’s history, and also the tropes that define this genre, fear is not something that is embraced. But that doesn’t explain the gross cliche aloofness. Everything exists without reason.
There is no reason for the existence of these characters.
There is a story in motion but not really one I care about.
I sincerely doubt that Lansdale is wry enough to be making a comment about the role of fear in Jonah Hex.
I rather think the writers were not able to create any stakes worth reading because maybe…. I don’t know: ineptitude?
Lack of understanding of how comics work?
Lack of direction?
I do hope this title gets better.
Story I Read: “Chapter One: No Rest For The Wicked And The Good Don’t Need Any” (Jonah Hex: Riders of the Worm and Such #1 Mar 1995)
Rating: 0 out of 5
Cons: Absolutely no stakes. A story so poorly written that not even a nod to H.P. Lovecraft can save it.
Upcoming Review: “Chapter 2: Wilde’s West” (Jonah Hex: Riders of the Worm and Such #2 Apr. 1995)
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- Hippies! Hippies All Around Us in ‘All-Star Western’ #25 (mancave.cbslocal.com)
- Diving Into The “To-Read” Pile! All Star Western – Featuring: JONAH HEX! (whatchareading.com)
- THE BAT SIGNAL: Palmiotti Talks “Harley Quinn,” Gothopia & Jonah Hex in the Modern DCU (comicbookresources.com)