Month: September 2014

Death and the acrid smell of gun smoke – Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray’s Jonah Hex

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DC Comics might be best known for its superheroes like Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman but removed from the tights and flights action that makes up so much of DC’s output there’s another character, one who’s been around for quite a while completely removed from superhero antics – Jonah Hex.

Bounty Hunter Jonah Hex may have first appeared way back in 1971 created by Tony DeZuniga and John Albano but it’s in more recent years that theJonah-Hex-Volume-1-Face-Full-of-Violence character has really come to the fore. Back in 2006 critically acclaimed writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray started to write a new series featuring the scarred anti-hero. The pair would go on to write Hex’s adventures for 70 issues before the series ended and then the duo followed it up with 34 issues of the recently ended All Star Western featuring Jonah Hex. This was Hex’s new home when DC rebooted their whole comic line with the DC 52 launch. The pair also wrote the original graphic novel No Way Back in 2010.

What made their run on Jonah Hex so good was the deceptive simplicity. A comic set in the Wild West is pretty anachronistic in the modern age of comics, especially one coming from one of the “Big Two” publishers in comics. That’s part of Hex’s charm though in a landscape awash with do gooder superheroes flying around and saving people Hex was a surly, cynical, hard drinking, scarred anti-hero with a brutal past. Hex’s past included being sold to the Apache by his alcoholic father, being marked as traitor after being set up by a bitter love rival and being blamed for a massacre in the civil war which he found himself disillusioned with. Despite his belligerent nature though Hex had his own code that he lived by and would often help out those in trouble, even if he later regretted it.

Another reason that Jonah Hex stood out was due to the fact that the vast majority of its 70 issues were stand alone stories, which are a rare thing from DC or Marvel. Seldom is the case where you can just pick up an issue of a hex-explanation2comic and just read it and enjoy it without having to know lots of backstory and mythology. The test of a writer is whether they can tell an engaging fully formed story in a single issue rather than constructing a massive epic which runs for years.

The first issue set the tone as Hex is hired to find a missing boy, only to discover that the boy has been kidnapped by a circus forcing young boys to fight dogs to the cheers of a baying audience. The story was gritty and surprisingly brutal but not in a contrived manner.

The title featured some recurring characters too the most important of which being Tallulah Bell a woman who was raped, mutilated and left for dead by a group of nefarious bandits. Hex helps Tallulah gain vengeance on her tormentors, she is by no means a damsel in distress though and becomes a bounty hunter with a reputation to match that of Hex himself  with the pair eventually becoming on and off lovers as she drifts in and out of his life.

All Star Western transplanted Hex from the Wild West into the early days of the new DC universe’s Gotham City. Hex meets Doctor Amadeus Arkham who narrates the story and meets various figures from Gotham City’s past including Bruce Wayne’s great great grandfather Alan Wayne and Theodore Cobblepot great great grandfather of Oswald2014-09-28_1449 Cobblepot better known as The Penguin.

 Despite changing into an on-going story rather than a series of self-contained stories All Star Western still featured everything that made Hex great in his previous carnation. Hex was a fish out of water with a distaste for what he views as “civilised city folk” who  he finds are just as corrupt and vice ridden as those in the Wild West.

A host of artists worked on Jonah Hex and All Star Western including Hex’s co-creator Tony DeZuniga, Moritat, Andy Kubert, Staz Johnson, Darwyn Cooke and many more.

2010’s “Jonah Hex” film based on the character is one of the best examples of a missed opportunity in recent memory. The film does the character of Hex a massive disservice being an overwrought hamfisted mess instead of the gritty western it should’ve been and utterly wastes Josh Brolin as Hex.

IN THE DARK- A Horror Anthology

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IN THE DARK is a horror anthology funded via a Kickstarter campaign and is a testament to what can be achieved and produced by the crowd funding platform.

Inspired by the classic pulp horror comics of old Editor, Designer and in several cases Letterer Rachel Deering has produced a mammoth compendiumRain-3-26ebf that really should be on the book shelf of any discerning sequential art fan with a liking for horror.

Anthologies by definition for the most part are a pretty mixed bag, a hit and miss affair due to their nature,a roll of the dice, especially given that many feature upcoming unknown writers looking for a chance to make an impression. IN THE DARK contrasts starkly with the idea that anthologies are a risky business, featuring numerous names that should be recognisable to any horror fan, Steve Niles, Brian Keene, Cullen Bunn,Tim Seeley and Scott Snyder are just a handful of the writers that contributed to this anthology.

The intro by Scott Snyder details his love for the genre growing from watching numerous horror films in his youth and goes on to describe the appeal that Horror has and why so many people are enthralled by the shadows, the things that go bump in the night and fear itself in its myriad forms.

There’s nothing that tests the skill of a writer more than crafting a memorable but effective tale in the space of several pages, without the safety of 20 + pages or even numerous issues to play with there’s no space for literary indulgence. In The Dark is an education in the economy of plotting a story into a sharp finely honed edge and sticking with that metaphor In The Dark houses an entire armoury of blades with 24 razor sharp tales.

MurderFarm-4-35307The stories on offer avoid being about just one aspect of the genre, ‘When the rain comes’ by Steve Niles is potent with atmospheric dread, ‘The Unseen’ by Justin Jordan is a Lovecraftian tale of the best kind, ‘Murder Farm’ by Cullen Bunn is an ode to how things can always be worse than you think they are, ‘Guilloteens’ by Michael Morecci and Steve Seeley is a riff on classic cult horror The Monster Squad and these are just a handful of the tales on offer.

 Horror is often associated with zombies or vampires but there are many facets offered here, the writing is just half the story though with numerous artists contributing with a plethora of different styles and panel compositions featured.

Along with the stories there’s also an impressive pin up art gallery and an extensive essay on the history of classic horror comics by Mike Howlett featuring numerous images of horror comics of old like E.C’s ‘Tales From The Crypt’ and ‘The Vault Of Horror’.

In The Dark is not only an excellent anthology but it’s also an example of excellent design from oversized format to the cover art from Christian Wildgoose and Jordan Boyd to the interior cover art by Tradd Moore to the vintage style ads throughout for ‘Monstervision specs’ and the like, it makes for highly impressive and polished look.

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