Category Archives: Jonah Hex

Loosing the Legend of Jonah Hex: How Palmiotti and Gray Lost the Plot

Decoding DCPart 18JH 1 cover

Extremites, after the fall of the Vertigo line, and it’s reabsorption into DC proper, the darkness that permeated those wonderful anti-DC line pages began to disappear. Character traits that readers had come to expect from those titles became whitewashed. I don’t how or why it came about but mainstream DC decided to revive Jonah Hex. Instead of following the dark anarchic world constructed by Joe R. Lansdale, and drawn by Tim Truman, the character was revived by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray as a throwback to the Jonah Hex of 80s. The main difference being that all the supernatural aspects that have come to define the character have been excised. Jonah is now a scarred bounty hunter who resembles the Man with No Name. The legend of Jonah Hex is lost within the pages of Palmiotti/Gray’s reinterpretation. Everything has become so insignificant. Read the rest of this entry

Why Jonah Hex is a Champion of a Forgotten World

Decoding DC – Part 13

Jonah_Hex_Shadows_West_3Extremites, I have finished Shadows West.

As soon as I began it, I finished it.

I am pretty disappointed.

After being fascinated by the other Jonah Hex arcs, this one left me cold. This coldness doesn’t come from a difference of direction or a lack of development. I think Joe R. Lansdale and Tim Truman do an ok job of creating an adequate story. My emotional frigidity comes from how simple this story is.

Shadows West ended up being nothing more than a chase story peppered with a few supernatural elements.

Both Riders of the Worm and Such and Two Gun Mojo concern a forgotten force exacting revenge on the people who forgot it. Jonah Hex acts as an auger between these two worlds. Hex has one foot in death and one foot in life.

Remember that Squaw and her half-bear son? Well, it appears that she too was half bear spirit and her mate is not only a half-bear spirit but also a native hunting god. Jonah Hex, like the biblical Joseph Carpenter, whisks this chosen child back to mythical forests while being beset by countless, jaded, carny folk. The mythological allegory of the story is not lost on me because Lansdale seems to hit me over the head with it in every panel. It is this bluntness that hurts the story.

Lansdale and Truman’s bluntness is the result of events that were affecting all comics in the late 90s. Since editorial schisms at the big two companies, in the early 90s, had alienated a wide group of up and coming writers  independent comics companies like Darkhorse and Image cut into the sales of DC. Writers at DC and Marvel changed their focus from creating literate tomes to simple stories that were action packed and could draw in casual readers.  To maintain sales, Vertigo had to abandon the dense and complex yarns that had made them a prestige line for a simpler pulpier style.

I submit, and this is entirely conjecture, that Shadows West is an allegory of this problem.

Jonah Hex is trying to restore the weird western to its rightful place. Lansdale and Truman, through Hex, are trying to bring the prostituted campy plots back to their Modern DC renaissance roots. They are trying to bring the nutty plot back into vogue.

Ragtag campy characters, like Long Tom, represent the new derivative titles. Long Tom is inept but through his ineptness he, and his compadres, nearly kill Jonah. Jonah does defeat them and so will the older guard of the DC Modern Age. Comics will be good again.

I may be extrapolating far too much.

This comic may just be a chase story, but you know me Extremites, I like to find parallels with what is going on in the world at the time the stories are written.

As a crash course in the weird western renaissance of Vertigo, I gotta say, this has been a startling couple of articles for me. I am not able to put my finger on what makes these stories tick. They mostly hit and miss.

I am left confused having read these three arcs. I just don’t get what Joe and Tim were doing with Jonah Hex. You can tell by how confused and unclear these articles have been.

Is Jonah Hex a champion of a forgotten world or an allegory?

Joe R. Lansdale, am I being pretentious again?

Probably.

Until next time, Extremites, I remain: Julian Munds.

Story I Read:Part Three: Final Shadows” (Jonah Hex: Shadows West #3 Apr. 1999)

Rating: 2 out of 5

Pros: Satisfying if mind boggling ending, the violence is beautiful, the horse falling over the cliff is a frightening image.

Cons: The ending is too simple. The whole thing seems rushed. I am annoyed by the spoon-feeding.

Previous Review:  Part Two: Gathering Shadows” (Jonah Hex: Shadows West #2 Mar. 1999)

Upcoming Review: Part 1” (El Diablo #1, Mar. 2001)

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Is Jonah Hex Chivalrous?

Decoding DC – Part 12

Jonah_Hex_Shadows_West_2Extremites, what makes a hero?

Is it a character’s actions or morals that define heroism?

Is it a collection of both?

These questions underly both our Journey Into Marvel and Decoding DC series.

In the first issue of Shadows West, Jonah Hex guns down a horse to stop an outlaw that was trying to escape his onslaught. This act is not heroic. A heroic character would not have played dirty. Jonah Hex is far more concerned with survival than heroism.

Chivalry is a concept that has been wrapped up in heroes since medieval legend. Birthed out of a German code of military conduct, Chivalry was the prevailing etiquette of late Dark Age Europe. It, at first, dictated the way warriors should conduct themselves in the field, but later, became a model for conduct at court. Starting with Thomas Malory’s Mort D’Arthur and going through all the later romanticizations of the knights of King Arthur’s court, chivalry became synonymous with relationships with women.

I would never suggest that Jonah Hex is chivalrous.Sometimes Jonah Hex is downright unpleasant to women. Look to Joe R. Lansdale and Tim Truman’s Two Gun Mojo arc to see what I mean. After reading this issue of Shadows West I notice, in a twisted way, Jonah embodies a kind of Vertigo specific chivalry.

The Shadows West arc is about a squaw who has a half human/ half bear baby. When Jonah witnesses how this woman is forced into prostitution to care for the child, he breaks the two free, with the aid of his friend Spotted Balls. The plan is to reconnect the mother and son with the father.

The reaction Jonah has to forced prostitution is hypocritical. Jonah has no problem with prostitution if the woman is complicit in their subjugation as shown in the first issue. Upon seeing the squaw, he has an immediate aversion to her predicament and breaks her free.

Chivalry preached courteousness in male and female interaction. In depictions of the courting of Guinevere by Lancelot, a kind of flowery respect defines the relationship.

I have noticed this same relationship between men and women, when it comes to other publications in Vertigo. John Constantine of Hellblazer has always had a respect for besotted women and acts rash when a woman is forced to do something against her will. Swamp Thing — another Vertigo imprint, although not birthed there — often concerns itself with these same themes. Truman and Lansdale continue with this theme.

Beyond this novel addition to the definition of Jonah Hex this issue is unremarkable. Like all the issues of the Lansdale and Truman Jonah Hex period, the stories are always run of the mill. Take away the supernatural angle this issue just a chase story.
Sure, there’s some good banter, some neat penciling, the fall of the shot horse for example, but it all feels flat. I already feel like I know the ending of this arc.

So is Jonah Hex chivalrous?

I’d say he is.

I’ve said before, women in Jonah’s wild west are either whores or monsters. It makes sense that a homicidal deformed bounty hunter would be a knight in shining armour.

Until next time, Extremites, I remain: Julian Munds

Story I Read: “Part Two: Gathering Shadows” (Jonah Hex: Shadow’s West #2 Mar. 1999)”

Rating: 2 1/2 out of 5.

Pros: Great art, Jonah Hex is understated and compelling, the relationship between Jonah and Spotted Balls is well thought out.

Cons: There’s a simple plot but despite the simplicity of the plot the characters are left two-dimensional and archetypical. The squaw is quiet… this bothers me.

Upcoming Review:Part Three: Final Shadows” (Jonah Hex: Shadows West #3, Apr. 1999)

Previous Review:Part One: Long Tom” (Jonah Hex: Shadows West #1, Feb. 1999)

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The Brighter Side of Jonah Hex: Plunging into Shadows West 

Decoding DC – Part 11

????Extremites, Decoding DC is now in February 1999 with Shadows West: the final publication that combines Hex, Joe R. Lansdale and Tim Truman.

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 brighter Jonah Hex.

The brighter Jonah Hex.

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)

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Joe R. Lansdale and Tim Truman’s Steampunk Riders Finale: From Jules Verne to Jonah Hex

Decoding DC – Part 10

36740-5511-41075-1-jonah-hex-riders-ofExtremites, what do you know about Steampunk? If you read Jules Verne as a kid you are well versed in the subject.

In recent years, Steampunk has become a buzzword that is thrown around like a football in Tommy Wiseau’s hand.

Steampunk is a sub-genre of science fiction that imagines a world in which steam-power has remained the dominant form of technology. For example the steam engine time machine from Back to the Future III would be considered Steampunk. A normal steam engine that does not time travel would not be considered a Steampunk machine. Likewise, a 1982 Delorean would not be considered Steampunk. Change out the plutonium powered core with coal fired steam power gyration and it would be Steampunk. It’s all about fan semantics.

Joe R. Lansdale, Sam Glanzman and Tim Truman must be steampunk aficionados judging by Riders of the Worm of Such. I can see the influence of Steampunk throughout the arc. They also must have been fans of the French sci-fi titan Jules Verne because everything about this issue screams Verne.

When I was a teen, coming into my literate tastes, I obsessed over the works of Jules Verne and H. G. Wells.

I cannot tell you why.

Jules Verne

Jules Verne

Perhaps, it was his spirit of adventure that so enthralled my adolescent mind. The arresting stories of a nutty Englishmen racing around the world, or depressive French undersea captains, filled my brain with images that would obsess an inventor. Something about those yarns spoke to me on an instinctual level. They so enthralled that I missed the significance of the work. I didn’t understand that Verne was one of the writers that pretty much created Science Fiction. His blending of fantastical, yet science based technology, predicted machines that we now take for granted all the time. Verne’s ideas envisioned submarines, tanks, even the laptop. The interesting thing about his tech is that it is reliant on steam power. Imagine a laptop computer whose hard drives whistled with the sound of steam. Crazy idea.

One of Verne’s most popular works is Journey To The Centre of The Earth. In this story a Scandinavian geologist leads a ragtag group on an expedition through a dormant volcano into a hidden subterranean world populated by gigantic lizard monsters and forgotten stone people.

Sound familiar?

Add some H.P. Lovecraft Cthuloid Worms and you have the finale of Riders of the Worm and Such.

I love this surprising turn for the Jonah Hex mythos. Just when you think you are dealing with a standard albeit supernatural Western Jonah Hex goes on an off the wall adventure into the worm caves of old.

Peppered throughout the caves are the remnants of defeated past enemies; from Spartan looking helmets to spears. This is where Steampunk comes in. In the annals of these caves lies not only an elevator but a machine that looks like an automobile. A machine that evokes memories of the demonic Lincoln from 1977’s road horror film The Car. Judging by the mechanisms at work in the vehicle, it is steam powered and when Jonah uses this machine to charge into battle with the great worm, the scene becomes a Steampunker’s wet dream.

The Autumn Brothers, my favourite characters to come out of this story, have some wonderful moments and I even felt something when one of them takes a bullet. As the one brother begins to loose his breath he is consoled that he will be with the pig he loves. This harkens back to the bestiality I talked about in my article on sex in Jonah Hex. It’s a great moment. I cringed and sympathized with him.

Sitting on the end Riders of the Worm and Such, I must say, it is not anywhere near as bad I thought it was going to be at the beginning. It became very literate and fascinating as the story progressed. It is very worth a read. However, the dialogue still remains a problem throughout; often playing to the most juvenile reader. This didn’t serve the lofty ideas present in the story and cheapened the villains. The first two chapters are terrible, but when Jonah became a member to the ragtag cultural elite that is Grave’s Wilde West Ranch this story took off.

It’s an odd creation this, and a good example of the creativity that helped shape Vertigo into an original print. One that surpasses its parent company. I feel that the oddness of the Jonah Hex titles at Vertigo reflects some of the other weirdness going on in the other titles at the time.
Onward, to the next title.

Until next time, Extremites, I remain: Julian Munds.

Story I Read:Chapter Five: Cataclysm in Worm Town” (Jonah Hex: Riders of the Worm and Such #5, Jul. 1995)

Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5.

Pros: The literacy. The artwork. The off the wall Steampunk. The Autumn Brother’s death scene.

Cons: The empty ending. No reference to relationship with Brunhilde. It all kind of felt unimportant for such a titanic event. The dialogue.

Previous Review: “Chapter 4: Autumns of Our Discontent” (Jonah Hex: Riders of the Worm and Such #4 Jun. 1995)

Upcoming Review:Part One: Long Tom” (Shadows West #1 Feb. 1999)

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The Dirty Sex of Jonah Hex

 

This dirty sexy beast.

This dirty sexy beast. With Autumn Brothers beneath.

Decoding DC – Part 9

Extremites, sex is a fun thing.

It is also a tough topic to talk about. There’s all sorts of reasons for this. From its political and religious importance— and sometimes derision — to its dark side: rape and exploitation. From a literary perspective, sex is a massive subject to cover.

Up until this issue, in Jonah Hex, sex has been mentioned only through derogatory comments and aspersions. It’s always present but never depicted.

According to American rating systems, sex is more offensive than extreme violence. Despite the possible ratings implications however; Joe R. Lansdale, Sam Glanzman and Tim Truman have seen fit to have Jonah Hex involved in a sexual encounter. This encounter is a wonderful and detailed scene.

In one of my past reviews, I mentioned a women named Brunnhilde that is a member of the Graves culture tribe. I mentioned her poor creation. I stick by that, but I want you to note that my opinion has eased somewhat. It’s clear that she is very important.

In the misogynistic and brutal world of Jonah Hex, women are out of place. In Joe R. Lansdale’s comment that he left on Decoding DC Part 7 he mentioned how he, and the other creatives, were parodying the brutality of the world. That is clear. We can agree on that.

In this brutal world it is important that the transgressors are male. The few female characters are either angry murderous grotesque monsters, that evoke memories of debased freaks in Victorian gothic, or they are the few, what I’ll call, ‘untouched’ women who serve as beacons of a better and brighter world.

Hildy is short, stocky, and looks like Monica Lewinsky. In some other comic she might be relegated to the sidelines, but here she figures as Jonah’s main love interest.

Hildy breaks the mould of traditional female secondary characters. She is smart, of the world, and adept at gunplay. She, however, does become the mould when she, without much provocation, falls into the arms of Hex.

Sex is not an act of love in Jonah’s world. It is an act of release. This viewpoint is solidified in the words of Jonah’s friend: The Kid, as the couple goes off into the moonlight together: “Well, reckon, I’ll go and choke my weasel and make it spit.” Even the Kid needs release.

This simplification of sex is further reiterated, in a far more foul form, by the Autumn Brothers. The brothers are the product of unholy union between the Cthluloid worms (my name for them, not Lansdale’s) and a poor farmer’s wife, making them part worm and part human. The Brothers speak in a monosyllabic and stunted way. They look like a steampunk nightmare and smell of a hillbilly fantasy. When the Brothers venture into the worm underworld, at the behest of the Great Worm: the leader of the race, their stomachs open up and green tentacles rise out to become a mass of slimy awful.

The Autumn Brothers are introduced peeping on Jonah and Hildy having sex in the graveyard.

While marvelling and cracking terrible jokes— which are very right for these two to be cracking — they reminisce about a favourite pig of theirs. This pig is no longer alive because they both had sex with the poor beast and the thing had to be put out of its misery.

While Jonah is having moonlight sex with Hildy, the Autumn Brothers are having a simultaneous discussion of beastiality.

I love this juxtaposition. It is just so twisted.

I must applaud Lansdale and Tim Truman for their fearlessness in treating sex in such a base and human way. It is refreshing and authentic.

What can be said about the sex of Jonah Hex?

It is depraved, without pleasure, without love.

It is just plain dirty.

Just plain dirty like the world it exists in.

Until next time, Extremites, I remain: Julian Munds.

Story I Read: “Chapter 4: Autumns of Our Discontent” (Jonah Hex: Riders of the Worm and Such #4, June 1995)

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Pros: Twisted writing, gripping tension filled ending, neat detail in Truman and Glanzman’s rendering of the worm underworld.

Cons: Slightly sexist writing. (But could be just in the interest of the genre.)

Previous Issue: “Chapter 3: Big Worm” (Jonah Hex: Riders of the Worm and Such #3, May 1995)

Upcoming Issue: “Chapter 5: Cataclysm in Worm Town” (Jonah Hex: Riders of the Worm and Such #4, June 1995)

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Jonah Hex, Oscar Wilde and H.P. Lovecraft: Riding On The Worm of a Literate Comic

6-riders-of-the-worm_288x288Decoding DC – Part VIII

Extremites, I want to take a moment and say ‘Hey! and Howdy’ to the esteemed Joe R. Lansdale: the fearless writer behind both Two Gun-Mojo and Riders of the Worm and Such.  He sought this blog out to call the articles on his work misguided and pretentious.

To Joe: Yes, my last article on your work, may have been a tad pretentious.  Like I do with Steven Moffat, I try to give you the benefit of the doubt.

I tried to decipher an artistic reason behind the shoddy and stilted dialogue present in that issue.

I used too much conjecture to inform the reason. I should have just said ‘this was crap dialogue’ and left it at that. For this, I am sorry, and will take my hat firmly in my hand and crush it.

Joe, this issue, the topic of today’s article, is miles ahead better than the last one.

It has so much going for it. It has H.P. Lovecraft and Oscar Wilde.

Lovecraft1934H.P. Lovecraft is one of the most important authors of all time.

Hear me out here. I know he was a racist. Let’s look at the influence of his body of work and not the man.

I just finished reading Stephen King’s memoir: On Writing. In it, Steve extols Lovecraft’s style; from his prose to his mythos. King says that without Lovecraft there would be no Stephen King.

Further to this anecdote, I have come across his name time and time again in my research of comics. It seems everyone from Mignola to Lee draws upon his work for inspiration.

Lovecraft’s influence is obvious in Riders of The Worm And Such, for the worms are Cthuloid in both look and culture. Their crawling, muling, tentacles scream ‘old God.’

For non-Lovecraftians, an ‘Old God’ is a being, created by Lovecraft starting with his story The Call of Cthulhu, who existed in an ancient world that time and humanity has forgotten. Since humans have stopped praying to them, they have gone away; but this does not mean they no longer exist. On the contrary, Cthulhu (the destroyer god) could still return to consume the world if given the chance.

Read Lovecraft’s The Call of Cthulhu. It will change your life and give you a better appreciation of the brilliance of the film Cabin in the Woods and countless other Horror, Sci-Fi, comics, and books.

You can see H.P. Lovecraft in every image of drawn by Sam Glanzman and Tim Truman.

Lovecraft ‘Old God’ mythos drips from the panels.

Take a look at the backstory:

The worms, according to the rancher Graves, lived in prehistoric times as sentient creatures that required sacrifice by the ancient people. One day, Ancient Man rose up and forced the creatures under ground. No longer figures of reverence. They were now foodstuff of myths. That was until they returned, craving for the old days, to wrest the land back by raping a horrible Wild West farmer’s wife.

I don’t like how Tim Truman, Glanzman and Lansdale portray women as monsters. This is a far to often trope in their work. I love, however, the idea of revenge through crossbreeding. It would have been a more powerful image if she was beautiful and corrupted by evil. Something is lost if she is already a monster.

See the Lovecraft all over this.

See the Lovecraft all over this.

The byproduct of this unholy union is a pair of men that look like the Cabinet of Doctor Cagliari mixed with roustabouts from the Django films. The Autumn Brothers, the surviving byproduct, are the most sinister pair since Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum.

Lovecraft is not the only literary force felt in this issue. Another classic author makes a cameo.  Oscar Wilde, wit of Victorian England — a man who represents the elocution and genius that is that age— not only makes a cameo but even throws a couple punches.

If you’ve followed my assessment of Riders you are no doubt aware of Graves. Graves is an important presence in this story because of his intent to bring culture to the brutal West that has led him to conflict with the worms. He’s not unlike a British version of Calvin Candy, from Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained, except without the genocidal tendencies. Graves is an allusion to a very real and hilarious historical event. His presence alludes to Oscar Wilde’s whimsical tour to the American West.

The United States had a fascination for the closeted and puritan people of foggy Victorian London. The US represented a cultural freedom. A freedom not hampered by tight lipped moralism which flooded 19th century British culture. Oscar Wilde was critical of this moral tyranny and thought it a a grand idea to venture out to the American bastion of liberty.

Cartoon of Oscar Wilde's American Tour

Cartoon of Oscar Wilde’s American Tour

In 1882, Wilde set off for New York. However, it was not his intention to stick to the high society experience of the Eastern cities. He wanted to see  ‘Aesthetic America.’’ He traveled the annals of the US for a year. During that year, Oscar saw the dusty states of the Wild West at its most authentic.

Wilde, aside from being a satirist, was an accomplished philosopher. His fascination lay in aesthetics which is the study of sensory experience and how humans interpret these experiences. Oscar focused on a branch of aesthetics that tries to define the motive and method behind the creation of art. Wilde defined this motive as causation for its own sake. ‘Art’ exists for its own sake.

Some historians have later claimed that this tour was influenced more by a search for notoriety then a search for philosophical meaning. Joe R. Lansdale uses this issue to add his two cents on this idea.

I gotta say Joe, if you are reading, I love you for it.

The reason why I love you is you take both views, that it was a journey of self discovery and that it was a journey to solidify his fame, and married them together.

When we meet Oscar, in Graves’ story, Oscar is delivering a lecture on the merits of Art for Art’s sake. Confusing the word ‘art’ with the name ‘Art,’ some philistine Americans storm the stage and start a fight with the author. Oscar, who in real life was said to be a bit of bruiser despite his rather effete charm, right hooks a marauding audience member. Graves jumps into defend the “great man,” and so the bright light of culture is both crushed and revelled in.

Wilde’s mantra ‘Art for art’s sake’ gives both credence and amplification for the existence of comics in the first place.

Joe you were right when you said that my former article is pretentious. I now see that you are a Wildean and create works for their own sake. I see that your work, and the others who worked with you on this project, exists just to exist. You accept that and I applaud you for it.

One quibble, though.

The sense of humour in this issue is still juvenile. Every time the word ‘art’ is mentioned throughout the story, another character asks the question: “who’s Art?” This is funny the first time, but the next three or so times that it happens, it is just repetitive and uninventive.

This issue is an improvement on the last and sets up what will be a wonderful showdown. I look forward to it.

I applaud you Joe, Mr.Glanzman, and Mr. Truman for creating such a literate comic.

And with that, Extremites, I remain: Julian Munds. 

Story I Read: Chapter 3: Big Worm” (Jonah Hex: Riders of the Worm and Such #3 May 1995)

Rating: 3 1/2 out 5

Pros: The Literate Allusions, The worms’ plot, Oscar Wilde’s Cameo, and the philosophical importance of the whole story.

Cons: Juvenile dialogue, reductivism of women, overuse of one joke, the general exposition of the whole issue.

Previous Review: Chapter 2: Wilde’s West” (Jonah Hex: Riders of the Worm and Such #2 Apr. 1995)

Upcoming Review:Chapter 4: Autumns of Our Discontent” (Jonah Hex: Riders of the Worm and Such #4 June. 1995)

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Giving Into Exploitation: Why Joe R. Lansdale’s Jonah Hex Doesn’t Work

Decoding DC Part VII

splash-jonahhexworm-1I love Spaghetti Westerns

The long shots of the scenery, the gritty gratuitous close ups and the anticipation of violence puts me tantalizingly on edge.

I also love the archetypical characters, flooding the fulsome background, whose mythic restraint and explosive humorous emotion never cease send me into an orgy of thought.

Some believe, me included, that the Spaghetti Western, which is a sub-genre of the much larger ‘Exploitation’ movement of the 60s and 70s, is one of the purest forms of film and drama.

Exploitation is a major part of the modern evolution of story telling and its influence can still be felt in the work of many film directors today. Evidently, many comic writers as well.

One thing that defines truly good Exploitation art is its ‘lack of pretension.’ The work should not be trying to be something.

This is the problem with Lansdale’s version of Jonah Hex.

His publication, made patently clear by this issue of Riders of the Worm and Such, is attempting to be smarter then it is. Because of this intellectual chip on the writer’s shoulder, Joe R. Lansdale’s Jonah Hex has a wonderful environment, and even thrilling moments, but as a whole feels empty.

Lansdale gives into exploitation and this kills his story.

WHAT IS EXPLOITATION

Ilsa_she_wolf_of_ss_poster_02

Nazisploitation. The oddities of Exploitation films.

Perhaps it is vague of me to accuse Joe R. Lansdale’s writing as being pretentious in wanting to be Exploitation without defining what I mean by the word.

Exploitation is a very complex artistic style and one that encompasses a truly massive world of film, comics and plays.

My definition allies with Eric Schaeffer’s, which he espoused in his book, that Exploitation is of “low moral or artistic merit, and therefore attempting to gain financial success by ‘exploiting’ a current trend or niche genre or base desire for a lurid subject matter.” It is often a word used in conjunction with ‘pulp’ in that it has a lurid focus that is used to gain financial return.

What is fascinating about the style is that it often meshed genre’s into hybrids.

In the case of Blaxploitation, the civil rights movement was superimposed into a film-noire setting, resulting in funky iconic Seventies films like Foxy Brown or Shaft.

In the comics world, Blaxploitation influenced Marvel’s Black Panther and Luke Cage. Both are characters of colour that embrace their culture and make it a world to be desired by the whitecentric mainstream. The effects of this movement has had large influence on film and art, most recently seen,  inn the illustrious career of Quentin Tarantino.

WHAT IS THE SPAGHETTI WESTERN? 

Leone's Once Upon A Time In America

Leone’s Once Upon A Time In The West

The Spaghetti Western, a genre heavily also influencing Tarantino’s work recently, is not entirely a member of Exploitation.

In the early 60s, Sergio Leone was experimenting with motifs from Kurosawa samurai films in effort to inform his Westerns. What came out of this experimentation was a series of films called The Dollar’s Trilogy, which depicted a west that was highly allegorical, gritty and devoid of sentiment. In these movies, violence no longer was a heroic function, but a byproduct of two ideologies clashing. The role of violence resembled its dramatic function in the dramas of Shakespeare and his contemporaries. Violence in and of itself is not interesting to the Spaghetti Western. What is interesting  is the build up to its occurrence.

Italian westerns spent the next ten years, from 1965-75, emulating Sergio’s work.

This time is properly referred to as the ‘Spaghetti Western Exploitation Period.’ Out of this film movement came the many Django films and other uber violent Westerns. Lansdale seems to draw on this time for his incarnation of Jonah Hex.

If you’ve followed these postings on the regular, and there really is only a few of you; as I have noticed triple the hits on Journey Into Marvel, you will know that I have mentioned Spaghetti Western in relation to Two Gun Mojo.

Riders of the Worm and Such has followed that model.

WHY LANSDALE’S DIALOGUE SEEMS INAUTHENTIC

One of the major traits of the Spaghetti Western is its stylistic language.

Some of the reason for this is because these Westerns are often translations of Italian scripts, making the dialogue stilted and hokey. Sometimes an unexpected wit comes out of the interactions. Not to mention an alienation when attempted “American slang’ pops in out of nowhere.” Lansdale draws upon that aspect for his dialogue.

For example, after Jonah and his young friend assess the carnage from the preceding night’s attack by the underground worms, Jonah says “Nothing tried to bite our punkins off and suck our noodles out.”

This reads extraordinarily inauthentic.

Not because the slang is incorrect. All the words are right.

The words seem wrong for the character. This moment of dialogue is present for affect, not honest development. There are many more examples of this throughout.

Jonah has always possessed an earthy manner of speech. One that is often peppered with assorted swears and salty words. However,  ‘noodle’ and ‘punkin’ seem pretty juvenile language for a man that has murdered many and is a veteran of the American Civil War.

GLANZMAN AND TRUMAN’S ARTWORK PROBLEM

Dialogue is not the only part of this story that feels desperate and pretentious. The artwork is also troublesome.

Spaghetti Westerns rely on stylized and choppy closeups that are meant to accentuate the tense nature of impending violence.

Paneling functions similarly to camera technique in comics. How a panel’s perspective captures action, changes how the reader perceives the event.

Sometimes the panel’s stylization can get in the way of the action.

Sam Glanzman’s and Timothy Truman’s perspective is all over the place; wildly veering from landscape silhouettes to close ups. This might be done to mirror the roving eye of the camera that would be present if this story were a film. These panels don’t achieve what is intended. Rather, I am left confused  as what is going on.

All this artistry further confused the narrative and padded scenes that in some comics would occupy, maybe, two panels. It created meandering visual onslaughts of well drawn art that are assaultive to the mind and the attention span.

It takes the cowpokes four pages to invite Jonah Hex to their campfire.

What should have been covered in one panel, is dragged out into pages of multiple different perspectives on the same conversation peppered with mindless vapid dialogue.

JOE’S TRUE NARRATIVE PROBLEM…

All this narrative waffling stems from a larger problem with Lansdale’s direction of the story. Joe uses this title as a pulpit to espouse his opinions about Westerns.

Vertigo’s mandate was to embrace the supernatural and redefine how the horror comic worked. When Vertigo took on the Jonah Hex title, the creatives were forced to come up with an edge on why a supernatural western should be a featured title. Out of this, Lansdale must have decided to use Jonah Hex to change the face of the comic western by pitting him against former comic stereotypes.

Comic westerns had historically been pretty cheesy, especially the Westerns of DC.

At one point Jonah comments on the banality a singing cowboy: a common archetype that often flooded the pages of Silver Age DC Westerns. This is one of many moments that seem to be more parodic then story driven. Indeed a whole page is wasted on the moment which neither furthers the plot, nor develops Jonah.

Editorial bent is all well and good but it means that story is sacrificed for essays on the difference between Jonah: the Anti-hero and the whitewashed Western heroes of yore.

THE IRRELEVANCE OF WILDE’S WEST

Looking at this issue in and of itself it is irrelevant in full scale of the Riders of the Worm and Such arc.

Jonah and his young friend find themselves in another locale where they suffer another attack from subterranean creatures.

Didn’t this happen last issue?

It did and almost exactly the same way.

This issue does nothing to develop the arc.

It must have really annoyed those who spent the cash on it in 1995.

I felt ripped off just reading it.

Though I love examinations into how comics work and how genre rules function in the creation of a story, as you can see from this article, it frustrates me when artistry overtakes a story.

Perhaps, Lansdale allows his fascination with exploitation to govern how this issue works. By doing this he destroys any possible enjoyment of the comic.

Giving into a style is never a good idea for a medium; whether it be a film, a comic or any other visual art. – Enjoy Decoding, Julian Munds

Story I Read:Chapter Two: Wilde’s West” (Jonah Hex: Rider’s of the Worm and Such #2 Apr. 1995)

Rating: 1 out of 5

Pros: Pretty art. There’s a female character, though she is poorly drawn and looks very out of place.

Cons: Terrible juvenile dialogue. Lack of character development. No story. Absurd pathos. Too much pretty art.

Upcoming Review:Chapter Three: Big Worm” (Jonah Hex: Riders of the Worm and Such #3 May 1995)

Previous Review: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)

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Joe R. Lansdale’s Two-Dimensional Jonah Hex

Decoding DC – Part VI

By: Julian Munds

jonahhex2.1

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

Do you see the similarity? I do.

Do you see the similarity? I do.

Wales.

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?

Greenness?

Lack of understanding of how comics work?

Lack of direction?

Something else?

Drugs?

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

Pros: Timothy Truman, Sam Glanzman and Sam Parson’s art is deep and gritty.

Cons: Absolutely no stakes. A story so poorly written that not even a nod to H.P. Lovecraft can save it.

Preceding Review: Chapter 5: Showdown” (Jonah Hex: Two Gun Mojo #5 Dec 1993)

Upcoming Review:Chapter 2: Wilde’s West” (Jonah Hex: Riders of the Worm and Such #2 Apr. 1995)

Jonah Hex: The Great American Apologist

Decoding DC – Part V

By: Julian Munds500px-Jonah_Hex_0072

I don’t think anyone would refute the claim that American History is extraordinarily bloody. The shear amount of past blood weighs heavily upon their national consciousness. The United States is haunted by the lives it has taken through genocide and civil war. It must be terribly hard for that country to move into the future. This sorrow continues to poison that culture today. It is seen in the countless school shootings, gun deaths and general insanity that floods international media everywhere. Naturally, their literature would share this anxiety. Jonah Hex, in the final chapter of Two Gun Mojo, attempts to make amends for those very mistakes of the past. He, in a sense, is  apologizing for all the blood of the Wild West.

I have largely spent these last articles, dealing with the stories of Two Gun Mojo,  discussing Jonah’s individualism. Whether it is his apparent refusal to adhere to any belief system or any law, Jonah is the consummate individual. This individualism is much more then outlaw reality, it is an anachronistic belief of equality.

Spurred on from the early days of the civil rights movement, the United States started to come to terms with the way they had treated different races. Americans began to see the humanity in all faces, not just the white ones, even though, to what degree can be debated until the cows come home. Because of this introspection American culture began to falter under the strain of the extraordinary guilt wracked up by generations of blood.

Out of this strain came the creation of characters that could fix the mistakes of the past. Look at most “historical” movies, television shows, and books, and you will find idealized American characters that live their life by a modern code of morals. The movie Dances With Wolves comes to mind. Jonah Hex, in this issue, takes on the mantle of one of those characters.

We left Jonah, at the end of the last issue, stuck in a foxhole with Doc Cross’ posse of freaks and a Yankee army surrounded by an Apache onslaught. But this is not where the issue begins. Each chapter prior to this one, began directly after the events of the preceding issue. The narrative, here, begins with a focus on an unnamed Apache warrior going off to war which turns out to be this attack on the desert foxhole.

Why does Joe R. Lansdale break narrative form to show this backstory?

He does this to show the humanity of characters who, in older Westerns, would be faceless villains. By showing the Apache brave, saying saying goodbye to his young son, Lansdale applies a sentimental eye to both sides of the war. It is also interesting  that this is maybe the only sentimental moment, aside from possibly the Squaw in the earlier chapters, that takes place in Two Gun Mojo.

The American Whites are depicted as brutal and barbarian, while the Indigenous Peoples are sympathetic and human. This successfully subverts all traditional Western tropes.

This sympathy for the the Indigenous continues through the very end. After the battle ends, in a terrible defeat, Jonah dukes it out with the reanimated corpse of Wild Bill Hickock in a Sergio Leone style duel to the death. After defeating the legendary zombie, Jonah leaves Doc Cross’ to the mercy of the Apache who have been pursuing them through the desert for days. Jonah says that instead of killing Doc Cross’ for the death of Slow Go Smith, he will leave the wizard for the Apache in hopes that they will exact revenge for the murder of the their people. As I stated before, in the prior review of Chapter 3, Doc Cross’ was a symbol of a misappropriation of other culture’s beliefs. The Indigenous get to punish those who stole their lives. The Cowboy atones to the Indigenous for the sins of his kind.

The Indigenous genocide is not the only moment that is apologized for in this issue. The Civil War, that great stain on American history, is also corrected by the actions of Jonah Hex.

Jonah, through out Two Gun Mojo, has warn the traditional Greys of his Confederate Uniform. Though the story happens some years after that tumultuous war, Jonah still identifies with his defeated brotherhood.

In the foxhole, as I noted before, a group of Yankee troops are attempting to hold off the Apache onslaught. When the battle turns south, and it is clear the soldiers will loose, Jonah Hex comes to the aid of an old battle scarred Yankee soldier. Hex notes that all uniforms are the same in battle. He and the wounded soldier mount a steed and retreat. During the retreat, the two old Civil War enemies come to a simple moment of understanding that there are no divides in humanity. Though that soldier later is killed, like all companions of Jonah Hex, both make simple amends for the war. This is the idealized version of the what Amercans think happened at the end of their Civil War: all fighting stopped and every American was friends again. Surely, historically we know this not to be true and that divide can still be felt to this day.

This issue is as fitting an ending to the meandering Two Gun Mojo arc as can be written. It feels a tad anti-climactic but then, again, the story was never terribly arresting. Perhaps, there was too much symbolism going on for its own sake. Perhaps, all of this dragged down what could have been a great story. Nevertheless, this final chapter was satisfying and indeed haunting as a good Western should be.

Can comics work out the demons of the past? I doubt it. But it never ceases to amaze me how art is the reflection of those who write it.

Who would have thought the modern Jonah Hex would be so politically important?

Story I Read: Chapter 5 “Showdown” (Jonah Hex: Two Gun Mojo, Dec. 1993)

Rating: 3 out of 5

Pros: The Apache backstory. The brutality of the battle. The duel with zombie Wild Bill. The artwork of Tim Truman and Sam Parsons.

Cons: The lack of development for Doc Cross. The weight of the issue which doesn’t balance the rest of the arc.

Previous Review: Chapter 4 “Vendetta Times Two” (Jonah Hex: Two Gun Mojo #4 Nov. 93)

Upcoming Review: Chapter 1 “No Rest for the Wicked and the Good Don’t Need Any” (Jonah Hex: Riders of the Worm and Such, May 1995)

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