The Brighter Side of Jonah Hex: Plunging into Shadows West
Decoding DC – Part 11
Shadows West spans 3 issues unlike the last two arcs.
Shadows hits the ground running.
Jonah Hex is defending himself in front of a court for shooting down some roustabouts who attacked him for soliciting a whore. After he is found innocent, Jonah is beset by the gun toting relatives of the whore. After a gunfight, he is saved by a diminutive fellow with a huge hat called Long Tom. Long Tom brings Jonah over to an Old West Show headed up by a Buffalo Bill knockoff called Buffalo Will. Jonah joins the show where he meets up with an old Cree friend called Spotted Balls. After some characteristic Hexian repartee, including an allusion to Two Gun Mojo, Jonah finds himself embroiled in another supernatural plot with a squaw who has a half bear/half human child.
This Jonah Hex feels different from the ones who have come before. In Two Gun Mojo, Tim Truman and Joe R. Lansdale’s take on the character was brooding and dark. In Riders of the Worm and Such Jonah became a wise cracking swashbuckler. He was without the burden of Civil War experience that coloured his world view in Two Gun Mojo.
In Shadows, Jonah’s personality has been pulled back and he is almost witty. For the first time Jonah Hex feels three dimensional.
Tim Truman is no longer concerned with the brooding world view that peppered Two Gun and Riders. The dark backgrounds are replaced by whitewashed frames. The character creation is different as well. The faces are rosy and pink. Turman even embraces facial aspects like freckles and dimples instead of scars and scowls
What has changed in Jonah Hex from 1995 to 1999? Why is Jonah’s world brighter?
The tail end of the 90s was a very tough time for comics. The rise of independent companies like Image and Darkhorse were cutting into the popularity of the mainstream lines. Even these startups posted losses when Shadows West premiered. As a result, the mainstream lines focused on simplicity and gimmickry to attract readers. Some critics in this period referred to this new direction as ‘Disneyfication.’ Tim and Joe must have decided to modify their perspective to better resemble the Disneyfication of comics. The brutality of the earlier Vertigo titles is still present but is clearer and crisper.
I have qualms with the new aesthetic. Jonah’s scar and mangled eye are as iconic as Batman’s mask or Superman’s cape. The way Truman has downplayed the scar in this issue just doesn’t seem right. On top of all this, Sam Parson’s colouring of the eye with a vibrant red makes it look bionic. In the night panels, Jonah looks more like a cowboy version of Marvel’s Deathlok than19th century grizzled bounty hunter. These are minor qualms and could be the result of new publishing demands.
Shadows West brings us a brighter, happier, clearer Jonah Hex. This could be the result of tighter publication limits or of a change in the direction for Vertigo. Later articles will investigate this closer.
Until next time, Extremites, I remain: Julian Munds.
Story I Read: “Part One: Long Tom” (Jonah Hex: Shadows West #1 Feb. 1999)
Rating: 3 out of 5
Pros: Finally, a three dimensional Jonah Hex. Some great lines. Crisper story telling. Less meandering. The overall simplicity.
Cons: The art feels more a cartoonish and often I have to remind myself that this is not a DC mainstream comic.
Previous Review: “Chapter Five: Cataclysm in Worm Town” (Jonah Hex: Riders of the Worm and Such #5, Jul. 1995)
Upcoming Review: “Part Two: Gathering Shadows” (Jonah Hex: Shadows West #2 Mar. 1999)