I picked up my books this week and oddly enough, a few books complemented each other. Odd because it was Ambush Bug that made me realize why I enjoy the current Jonah Hex series by Gray & Palmiotti. Ambush Bug has a riff going about Omniscient Narration that appeared in comics years ago and has recently been replaced with Character Narrative Color Coded Thought Text. The CNCCTT appears quite frequently in books like Justice League so the reader can identify who is thinking about the current situation. Ambush Bug made me notice the difference between most modern books and Jonah Hex.
That literary device does not appear in Jonah Hex. Why? I believe it is for a few reasons.
1) Jonah Hex deals with the past. Jonah is dead and gone. His time and story, for all intents and purposes, are both over. Each issue is like discovering another piece of the past buried somewhere deep within an old book or diary and the narration reflects not only that perspective, but that flavor and rhythm of writing. In the current series we have had stories spun by children and adults that have encountered Jonah Hex, as well as a nameless storyteller that serves as a teacher of life lessons and a biographer. Quite often it reminds me of writings from that period making it all the more appropriate for the subject and the time.
2) We don't know the thoughts of Jonah Hex. During the Fleisher years, the thought balloons for Jonah would consist of what he was about to do, or what he hoped would not happen (and then of course the tragedy would instantly befall him). Gray & Palmiotti have shut the door on that part of Jonah Hex, returning to us part of the mystery that Hex originally had under the hands of John Albano. By not having the thoughts of the character in the text boxes, we have to rely upon the words and deeds to determine intent. That is much more dramatic than any small box of text with a catchy symbol denoting the speaker. I am constantly reminded of the scene in Jonah Hex #7 Vol 2 where Hex reads the suicide note from the bride and merely comments 'heh'. Or the building anger demonstrated in #34 vol 2 by Jonah's constant chopping of wood resulting in bloodied hands.
Now let's further delve into Jonah Hex #34. (I'll put up scans and a play by play review much later when we encounter this book in the normal flow of this blog.) First off, I would like to acknowledge the tributes that Gray & Palmiotti have been paying. During recent stories, Hex has been lying about his identity for one reason or another. He has tried to pass himself off as Mr. Albano and Mr. Fleisher and this issue he assumes the name of Mr. Hillwig. I'm impressed that Susan's name appeared prior to that of Landsdale (and I also spied an Eisner barber in the artwork). Sometimes these tributes are jarring, pulling one out of a story, but to me they work since the Jonah Hex community is smaller than most and these are slight nods in passing to the work done to further the history of our scar-faced bounty hunter.
#34, Outrunning Shadows, takes place in 1871 in Oregon and finds Jonah trying to run from his past and start a new identity, literally burying his past and walking away from it. Through a series of horrible events, Jonah ends up facing that he is what he is. He is a man doomed to walk this earth, dealing out death and destruction, quite often too late to prevent tragedy and barely in time to be able to exact vengeance.
Jonah had faced off against God before (#53 Vol 1, which actually takes place AFTER this story) but this time he quietly sits in front of his fire holding a Bible:
"Ya press me to action against muh will. Set a bush ta burnin', why don't ya? Through manner a' guilt and persistence, ta flauntin' the horrors a' simple folk jest tryin' ta live peaceful in the company a' cowards and killers.
"This is yer word scribed by men teachin' eye fer an eye and the like. Love thy neighbor and thou shall not kill stand at odds with each other n ya prefer ah take up the work of yer angels who ain't but assassins with wings.
"And when judgement day comes, ya'll put these deeds in shadow an condemn me nonetheless as a killer and a sinner."
Later, Jonah Hex learns of the tragedy he could have prevented, he digs up his hat, coat and pistols, speaking to the dead woman he could have saved:
"Ya couldn't leave it be, could ya? Comin' ta me with pie an sins a' the flesh. Comin' ta me with the promise of comfort when ah already buried more lovers than ah care ta reflect on.
"Mark that as muh mistake as not ta recognize the trap yer God lay before me. Ya know ah tried, an repentant as ah may be, He still felt moved ta take ya by violence.
"Gentle an' reasonable, they call the Lord. That's jest because they don't know Him like ah do."
And how does Jonah know God? He reveals this when he confronts the men that brought death into town:
"Muh name ain't Hillwig. It's Jonah Woodson Hex, the man what dangles from strings that reach ta the heavens grasped in hands as cruel as any can imagine."
When we need to know what Jonah is thinking, he will speak it. And we learn of the tragedy and horror that the life of Jonah Hex has become. A life without redemption nor forgiveness from the past and without hope for the future. His life is predestined, following a path like a river through a canyon, a path he cannot waver from, a path that empties out into the destiny he must suffer.