Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Interview with Susan Hillwig #2

The first part of the interview is here:

Matching Dragoons: I'd like to hear your overall impressions regarding:
The John Albano Hex
Susan: He and Tony DeZuniga started the ball rolling, so it's hard to find any fault there.  They laid the basic groundwork for Hex's personality, and just about every writer since has stuck by it.  The plots may change, the environments may change, but Jonah's reactions to those things have remained remarkably consistent over forty years.  There's been no "evolution of the character" like there's been with Batman, who has very distinct eras that don't mesh very well with each other -- you can't drop a 1950s Batman into a 1980s story or vice-versa -- and I credit that to Albano putting forward such a strong-yet-simple idea of what Jonah's about.  The fact that he did it in only 10 issues makes it more there's a fill-in issue in the midst of it that lots of fans probably don't notice unless they look at the credits box!  The character's only about two years old by that point, and already so much of his personality was immutable that a writer stepping in for just one issue gets it.  The only shortcomings are that Albano chose to leave nearly all of Jonah's past a mystery, and this teasing he did in the narration boxes, claiming that Jonah may be supernatural to some degree but never offering proof.  It helped to set the mood, but it would come around to bite us in the ass two decades later.

MD:  How about the Michael Fleisher Hex?

Susan: He is to Jonah Hex what Peter David is to the Hulk: neither created the character they're best known for, but they each put in a dozen years of work crafting landmark tales that the majority of fans know and love.  Nearly everything we know about Hex -- from childhood to death and beyond -- comes from Fleisher.  This is where the lion's-share of Jonah's humanity comes from, all this backstory Fleisher laid down, and I don't think the character would be half as interesting without it.  He gave us Turnbull and the Fort Charlotte Brigade, he married Hex off and gave him a kid, and the women...Lordy, this endless parade of women!  It got rather silly near the end of Fleisher's run, what with jumping from Mei Ling to the Cassie Wainwright flashbacks to Emmylou Hartley, then doing a "Betty or Veronica"deal with Emmy and Mei Ling, then Jonah shacks up with Adrienne Sterling in New Orleans...he was bagging gals as often as he was shooting outlaws.  Looking back, you can see Fleisher running out of steam in those last 20 issues because nearly all of them revolved in some way around Jonah having woman trouble.
Of course, Fleisher also gave us "Future Hex", which could have been rather good if he'd thought things through a bit more.  The series was non-stop action with nary a character moment in sight, which is just a dang shame.  One of the best things about any Jonah Hex story are the character moments, and you'd think dropping him in such a drasitically different environment like that would be the perfect opportunity, but we get woefully few.  Fleisher also should have taken advantage of the fact that there was no Comics Code on it.  I think he got away with more in over 100 Code-approved Jonah Hex stories then he did in those 18 without it, and again, that's a shame.  You can do a lot of "what could have been" speculation with the "Future Hex" stuff, but that won't change what we actually got.

MD: Joe Lansdale Hex?

I have to admit to a certain soft-spot for the Vertigo minis, not because they're bettter, but because they were the first "new" stories I read.  I only had a handful of Fleisher issues -- including the Spectacular -- by the time Two-Gun Mojo came out, so this was my regular diet of Hex for a few years.  I wasn't keen on all the profanity and overt sexual references, but I could still see the same ol' Jonah Hex lurking beneath that, so I tried to focus on the man himself.  I enjoyed his self-depreciative humor (making up excuses for how he got his scar), and a lot of his dialogue rings true to his character, like in Riders of the Worm when he tells a black man why he fought for the South...I've quoted that speech specifically when talking about Jonah's feelings on slavery because it sums him up so well.  Lansdale may have really fouled up when it came to what constitues a "normal" Hex story, but he nailed Jonah's personality.  Plus we have to give him credit for keeping the character alive in a decade that was very heavy on superheroes -- if it wasn't for Vertigo, there would have been no place for a character like Hex to even exist in the 1990s.  So like it or lump it, at least we had something.

MD: Justin and Jimmy Hex?

Susan: The total package, really.  You get the sort of tales that wouldn't be out-of-place in an Albano or Fleisher issue, and they also push the boundaries like Lansdale did in Vertigo without being offensive purely for shock value (okay, we need to talk to them about the whole rape thing, but otherwise...).  They respect what came before but aren't afraid to add to the mythos, like putting forth the idea that Jonah's dad was intentionally "toughening him up" as opposed to randomly abusing him.  The best/worst thing about the first 70 issues is the "done in one" concept: it gives you the quick fix like many of the old tales did, but in some cases J and J could have comfortably stretched an idea into a two-parter.  And on that note, I found "Six-Gun War" to be a major was too long.
As for All-Star Western, it's been a very solid read so far.  Aside from one or two forced lines, it seems like J and J still have free reign over what to do with Jonah, which is great.  If it ain't broke, don't fix it.  The only thing I'd change is to give Jonah back his internal monologue, either with old-school thought balloons or caption boxes like Landale used.  I've missed that a lot since J and J brought the character back -- without that monologue, Jonah's stories can sometimes be eerily silent.

MD: Outside of the appearances in his own books, what do you consider the best and worst depictions of Jonah.

Susan: Worst depiction?  It's a tie between Time Masters #3 and Return of Bruce Wayne #4.  He's just acting so out-of-character in both of those (and the art of the latter is atrocious...Jonah looks like a monkey in one panel, I swear).  In Time Masters, he literally falls asleep on the job, and in RoBW, he doesn't really do anything at all, he's just...there.  On a side note, both stories feature Vandal Savage as well, and me and a guy had a brief online discussion as to what sort of hoodoo Vandal's pulling on Jonah that he keeps doing jobs for the guy, yet he's never up to snuff when he does 'em.
Second-worst would probably be the female Hex stuff that popped up during Karl Kesel's run on Superboy.  Jimmy Palmiotti once told me that not every writer can get Jonah's voice right, by which I presume he also means his personality, and with that in mind, I think I can confidently say that gal wasn't a possessed/reincarnated/what-have-you version of Jonah Hex, she was just terribly confused.  Ignore the busty redhead for a moment and just read the word balloons: it doesn't really sound like him.  Matter of fact, this "Hex" sounds too polite, what with calling everybody "suh" (that's "sir" for you Yankees).  The way the gal talked before she got scarred up is more Hex-y than afterward. (God, I just realized that this version counts towards what I was saying earlier about Jonah finding a place to exist in the 1990s...boy, what a choice to make, eh?  Profane occult tales or transsexual superheroics, take your pick!)
Other comics appearances outside of his own are usually decent, like the various JLA guest-shots that Gerry Conway wrote (he rang true character-wise, it's just the plots that were lousy).  John Byrne did a bit with Hex in one of his Generations minis that was good, and there's the issue of Booster Gold where the two guys got blitzed...that's so in-character it's cliche!  Plus Seth Albano did his granddaddy proud with the holiday story he did a couple of years back.  Now, if you want to leave comics behind for a sec, then I have to say that the animated versions of Hex are the best depictions of him outside of his own book.  There's something about watching him walk around and talk (or growl, rather) that just makes me smirk every single time.  I've talked to a lot of folks who've said that's where their first intro to Jonah Hex came from, and aside from odd things like making him look so old in the Batman:TAS episode, or the fancy-dan ray guns he uses in The Brave and the Bold, they're getting pure, unadulterated Hex right from the get-go.  If that don't hook 'em on the character, nothing will.

MD: Do you think that the backup feature in ASW could lead into more western comics? Who would you like to see have their own book?

Susan: Geez, that's tough.  The trouble is getting folks in the door in the first place.  Some people can't get past the word "Western", or they're like myself, they're very particular.  I read Hex books, of course, and I've got all the Bat Lash stuff, plus I buy The Sixth Gun from Oni Press, but I have little interest in most other Western comics.  I'll look, but being a Western desn't guarantee a buy.  If DC decided to try out another Western title, be it anthology or a solo book, they'd have to find a way to hook people right off the bat, show them that there's more to being a Western than sweaty horses and Injun-fightin'.  The whole Gotham ploy seemed to work for All-Star Western -- it got new people in the door, and many stayed -- so I suppose a similar tactic could be used, like maybe a title featuring Brian Savage playing lawman in Opal City (which many have suggested), especially if you got James Robinson on beard.  Can you imagine using all that old Starman heat to boost sales?  Thinking about it now, I'm surprised DC never did that during the original run.  Myself, I'd like a Nighhawk and Cinnamon book.  You could play up the steampunk aspects more because of Hannibal's "fix-it man" background (which would, again, get people in the door) and you can have fun with the romantic angle.  Plus it'd be nice to see Cinnamon finally get a book after being denied one due to the "DC Implosion".

Next Time: Recasting the Jonah Hex movie and life after All-Star Western?

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