The Last Roundup…For Now

If I told you my favorite comic book run, you’d be a little surprised. Given that I have a whole bookshelf section for him, you might assume it’s a Superman run. Or given that I own every issue of both series, you might guess it’s Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye or Saga. But it’s none of these.

No, my favorite comic book run of all time is Jonah Hex #50-70, illustrated by many different artists (most frequently Jordi Bernet) and written by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray.  A comic with a character that you might only recall from a terrible Josh Brolin movie.

Why only twenty issues? Well, #50 is where I started reading the series, based on a very positive review from Comic Book Resources and the fact that the great Darwyn Cooke had drawn it.

I plunked down my $3.99 and was floored. In the issue, titled “The Great Silence”, Jonah and his fellow bounty hunter/paramour Tallulah Black have a one-night stand, after which Tallulah skips town. Pregnant and tired of gunslinging, she heads to the town of Silver Springs, where she builds a house with the local sheriff’s help. Jonah, meanwhile, takes on 50 bounties at once, a task which leads him to Silver Springs and to Tallulah, who suffers a great loss (I don’t want to say anymore because the issue is one you should seek for yourself).

I hadn’t watched much Westerns at that point, but I knew the cliches. Hex was something else, though. There was more to him. He was stubborn, rugged and ruthless. He claimed just to kill men for the money, but he had principles about him. On top of that, Palmiotti and Gray hinted at a well of anger and rage beneath the surface.

In “The Great Silence,” when Hex finally confronts the story’s main villain, he tries to shoot at her and misses. She crows excitedly, “I told you the Lord watches over me, demon!”  As she begins to pray, Hex moves closer and growls, “The Lord ain’t here. Just the devil.” It’s a powerful moment, made even more so by Cooke’s gorgeous, intense artwork.

That power, the sheer anger and the swift commitment to some kind of justice enthralled me. I happily made Jonah Hex part of my pull list and bought it right up until the end. Every issue was full of solid, impeccably crafted scripting that not only wrapped up neatly in 22 pages while showcasing whatever artist was on hand—they ranged from the late Dick Giordano (with his last story credit) to Jeff Lemire to Ryan Sook—but also offered moments that stuck with you long after you put the issue down. I love short stories and that’s what Palmiotti and Gray were doing: great short stories.

As a result, Hex quickly became a favorite character of mine, and on Free Comic Book Day in 2011, I bought the first Showcase Presents volume containing his early stories for 30% off. It wound up being the first thing I ever reviewed on the Internet. So in a way, I owe Palmiotti, Gray and their cohorts thanks for helping me embark on my meager freelance career.

When the New 52 was announced—just before I headed off to college—I was ecstatic because Palmiotti, Gray, and Jonah would still be around in the book All-Star Western. Taking its name from the anthology comic that first introduced Jonah, this book was a bit different.

Rather than done-in-one tales and rotating artists, the book had a regular artist, Moritat, and a stable location in 1880s Gotham City. Coming to town during a string of brutal murders, Hex unwillingly found himself teamed up with psychiatrist and police consultant Amadeus Arkham. This technically tied Jonah into the Batman Family and allowed Palmiotti and Gray to do their own takes on events such as Night of The Owls or Death Of The Family. However, the sales didn’t really improve and the series was canceled with #34, which just shipped this week.

I’ll admit that, even as a diehard fan, I didn’t continuously buy All-Star Western from month to month. Due to a to-this-day unstable income, I became a trade paperback reader only, but I still spread word of the book whenever I could.

I also wound up a fierce Palmiotti/Gray loyalist, buying everything they put their hands to, from miniseries about The Ray, The Human Bomb and a great Superman/Supergirl story to Harley Quinn (co-written by Palmiotti with his wife Amanda Conner). Their energetic style and sheer talent always keeps me glued to the page, no matter what the story.

One of the most remarkable things about Jonah Hex was that while it didn’t require familiarity with the old ’70s-’80s comics, it held itself to that timeline of Hex’s life, even doing an issue involving Jonah’s one-time wife, Mei Ling. All-Star Western had echoes of this and the somewhat infamous Hex series from the ’80s, where Jonah was transported to a post-apocalyptic future.

In All-Star Western #19, Booster Gold shows up in Old Gotham and because of him, Hex winds up transported to the present-day DCU, where he runs into Superman, Batman, and all the rest. This is the portion of the run I haven’t read, but Hex crossing paths with Batman is something I must see.

I should note that All-Star Western wasn’t just about Jonah; there were a slew of backup stories with other DC western stars like El Diablo and Bat Lash. Palmiotti and Gray obviously have a soft spot for the stranger, under-appreciated corners of the DCU—for God’s sake, their latest DC book revives G.I. Zombieand it’s great they got two series, over 100 issues, and an original graphic novel (No Way Back, with art by Jonah’s co-creator, Tony DeZuniga) to breathe life into a seemingly bygone genre.

At Comic-Con this year, I attended Palmiotti and Conner’s spotlight panel where they received Inkpot Awards. I also got to meet Palmiotti himself at their booth in Artists’ Alley where he signed and drew on my copy of that first Hex issue of mine. On stage and in person, Palmiotti was incredibly kind and personable.

I’ll miss having a monthly Hex comic, but Jonah’s not gone. The second Showcase Presents volume of his ’70s stories is finally out and a trilogy of Vertigo ’90s miniseries he was in has recently been collected. I’ll buy those and continue to support Palmiotti, Gray, Bernet, Cooke and all the rest in whatever they do.

After all, it’s the least I can do for introducing me to the man “who had no friends…But he had two companions. One was death itself. The other, the acrid smell of gunsmoke.”

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Thomas Speelman is a senior at Calvin College, double majoring in Literature and Writing. He has presented at the 2012 Grand Rapids Student Honors Research Conference, the 2013 William B. Fry Making Literature Conference at Taylor University, and now the 2014 Comics Arts Conference in San Diego. He's also a staff writer for the nerd culture website Another Castle. He blogs about comics, Star Trek, TV, and other such things 2-3 times a week at his personal blog tomtificate. He aspires to be a freelance writer, specifically about pop culture and comics in particular.

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Also by Tom Speelman:

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1 Comment

  1. Shane Koch says:

    I envy you for the rest of your journey into the world of Jonah Hex! It’s all great stuff. They don’t make them like that much any more:(

    Good job spreading the word on this awesome character!

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