"Giving the Devil His Due"
Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti, story - Luke Ross, art - Frank Quitely, cover
It was November in 2005 when this hit the stands. I had heard it was coming out. I didn't even DARE hope that it would be even half good. I slammed down my $2.99, walked next door to Subway, ordered a 6-inch Tuna (toasted, extra pickles and jalapenos), sat down and started reading. I didn't start eating until I had read through it twice.
DC Comics had developed the policy that they would no longer use caption boxes (Meanwhile; Back at the JLA Cave; Elsewhere) and started having their books narrated by the characters themselves, each caption color coded (making some impossible to read) or having an insignia so you could tell Black Canary from Batman. This book has captions, but WHO is speaking? It's not the dull, dry omniscient narrator, this is more akin to writings of the period. It's almost like listening to Ken Burn's The Civil War. Behold:
Twilight faded to starlight when the desert finally fell silent. Jonah Hex, whose violent hands shed the blood of the nefarious and whose ears still rang with the horrid yells and dying groans, cautiously eyed the last man standing.
In full light of the moon, James Ronnie's face showed all the contortions of a coward who has lost the resolve to continue masking his fear. And yet, he still clung to hope... like a drowning man with a fistful of straw. The irony stood marked by the fact that it was James Ronnie's guns that aligned with Hex on the side of justice earlier that night.
But as any man, woman, or child knows, he had no friends, this Jonah Hex...but he did have two companions...one was death itself...the other, the acrid smell of gunsmoke.
Dear Lord in heaven! Now that is actual writing. That tells an entire story in one page and wants you know even more. Folks, THAT is a page-turner! So, let us gather up our bundles, hunker down together, and I shall relate the tale as best I know how.
Amidst the above prose, (and interrupted by a title card "A Cemetery Without Crosses") we see a man standing in the darkness, currency falls from the sky all about him and the camera pulls up and we see him facing off against Jonah Hex. Surrounding them both, dead men and horses (nearly two dozen of the former, half a dozen of the latter) and four large flour totes of bills, buffeted about by the climbing winds.
Ronnie shouts to Hex that they don't have to do this thing, nobody will ever know. Hex (dear Lord, is that CLINT EASTWOOD!?!?!), snarls back that HE will know. Ronnie tries to reason, saying that at least he didn't kill the Apache squaw. Hex replies that death would have been a mercy. Ronnie, still grasping for some hope, stammers that they have been riding together for three weeks, they just took out the Tompkins gang, all of that should count for something. Hex tells him that it entitles him to a fair fight, more than Ronnie would get from the Apache.
Ronnie lunges forward for a pistol on the ground, Hex, his holster empty, reaches behind his back for a tomahawk which gets planted squarely between the eyes of the late James Ronnie (T-Chunk).
Two weeks later, we find Jonah riding onto a plantation and is 'greeted' by three women with firearms. Hex explains that he is there to see Joshua Foster about a missing boy. The women take Jonah in to see their father who is crippled and confined to a wheelchair. Foster explains that several weeks ago his ten year old son Jacob was kidnapped but there has been no ransom note and the local sheriff and the Pinkerton's have been unable to turn up anything at all. Foster offers three thousand dollars for the return of the boy. Hex takes the offer.
An unknown time later we are witness to a small carnival that is showcasing young boys armed with knife-gloves fighting enraged pitbulls. We learn the carnival is the property of Victor Romanoff and that tomorrow night is their final appearance in town. In the audience is our very own Jonah Hex. The show ends and the townsfolk head home.
Back in a tent, Romanoff berates the young fighter we just witnessed. He tells the kid that the fight should have gone longer. The youngster, a Hispanic, suggests that Romanoff fight them himself. Romanoff slaps the boy to the ground and is drawing back to strike him again when Jonah Hex steps into the tent and punches Romanoff to the ground. A man in the corner of the tent starts to draw a pistol when the carnival doctor intervenes, explaining who Hex is.
Romanoff immediately apologizes for his conduct and Jonah explains his business. None of the boys speak up when Jonah quizzes them and Jonah asks the doctor what is wrong with on a cot. The doc states that he has a fever. Hex, with no answers to his questions, leaves, but not without the gunhand suggesting to Romanoff that Hex run into some trouble of the fatal variety.
That night, two men with knives sneak up on a sleeping form near a dying campfire. They plunge knives into a straw dummy. Hex steps from the shadows and demands answers about the missing boy. One of the men pleads ignorance and Hex shoots the man's ear off.
Back at the carnival, the boy on the cot is frothing at the mouth and the doc and Romanoff are at odds. The doc says that he has looked the other way long enough and RomanoffRomanoff. Hex drags the carnival owner by the hair over to the cot and demands to know who it is. Romanoff confesses that it is Jacob and that they dyed his hair to hide his identity. Jonah then proceeds to kick the living tar out of the portly carnival man.
Hex looks at the doc, states that he knows Jacob is rabid and asks how long the boy has. The doc says that he'll live a day at the most. Hex tells the doc to wait outside the tent. Jonah walks over to the cot, a pillow in his hand and, almost under his breath, says, "It seems God wanted ya to suffer through your last hours in this world, Jacob."
He then places the pillow over the boys face until he is dead, and then gently closes the boys eyes, saying that he will tell Jacob's pa that he died like a man.
We next see a naked Romanoff bound at the wrists and in the dog fight pit. Jonah stands above him holding a bucket of blood and guts. He throws it onto the fat naked man and says that the regular law can't do anything about the death of Jacob but this bucket of pig's blood will save Romanoff from being hanged by Hex. Jonah then pulls up two snarling German Shepherds and unleashes them on screaming man.
The doc walks up and states that he has Jacob ready for the trip home. Hex says that the doc better be finding some nice homes for the boys that are left, or else and then explains that when the dog fights come around, the locals will normally beat and starve their own dogs so they have a chance in the ring. Hex says that these dogs would have killed the boys and as he sees it, what he had just done was fair.
We next see Jonah arriving at the Foster house with a coffin in a wagon. Jonah apologizes to Foster and the daughters want to know how their brother died. Jonah states that he died fighting and they should be proud of him. Foster reaches for his wallet, but Hex mounts up and rides off. The story ends:
Until that day, Jonah Hex never questioned his feud with the Lord, but there is a certain crisis of the mind induced by the killing of an innocent child. It is what crystallizes the character. It will betray your hidden weaknesses, cut and polish your virtues, and reveal you in all your glory or your vileness.
It had always seems his talent for killing was in direct opposition to the Lord's work. But now?
Now he wasn't so sure.
Statistics for this issueMen Killed by Hex - 2 (we have no idea how many killed prior to the start of the prologue)
Running Total - 504 (432 past, 55 future, 15 Vertigo, 2 V2)
Jonah's Injuries - none
Timeline - I'm not even going here with this. These are 'done in one' for the most part. I may make a comment from time to time about how it fits within the Hex timeline, but I'm not keeping track on JH V2.
Wow. Just wow. To start with, the artwork of Luke Ross is cinematic, from the smoothness of his lines to his camera angles and even into the details of the characters so that you know who he is copying them from (Clint Eastwood is Jonah Hex) but it is so well done, you don't care. With Luke Ross on the art, I felt I was watching the Jonah Hex film that never got made. Also, through Ross's run on this book, you can pick out the folks that he used as reference (Michael Keaton for the Carnival thug, for example)
Now, the story. Of course the story was a retread from Jonah Hex #1 and at first I was angry that I got a rehash of a story. However, over the years, I have come to appreciate what Jimmy and Justin did here. They gave a us a new #1 for Jonah Hex. They retold that first story in the manner that Jonah would be treated under their pens. This Jonah is bloodier, more conflicted, and more well written than anything that had come before. On a re-read, it's interesting that the fighting tent made it, somewhat, into the Jonah Hex film.
This book BECAME the western genre for me in the 2000's, it was the yardstick by which I measured every other western seen or read. I'll be addressing the inner conflicts of Jonah later on in a separate essay, but needless to say, this was a bang-up job for a reintroduction for Jonah Hex.
Next: A gold cross, a town full of dynamite, and then things go downhill from there.