Book #272 – Jonah Hex: Face Full of Violence Review

4 Star Ratings

“The engulfing waters threatened me,
    the deep surrounded me;
    seaweed was wrapped around my head.
To the roots of the mountains I sank down;
    the earth beneath barred me in forever.
But you, Lord my God,
    brought my life up from the pit.”  -Book of Jonah 2:6-7

The story of Jonah and the Whale is one of the most famous in the Bible (in fact, it inspires Herman Melville’s Moby Dick).  If you aren’t familiar with the story, why not let this adorable little girl explain it to you.  (Seriously.  She’s the cutest thing ever.  WATCH IT AND WEEP AT HER ADORABLENESS.)

That face!  That bow!  I die.

Anyway, you know how Jonah is a man of God?  And how Jonah holds faith with God throughout his ordeal?  From the very beginning of Justin Gray and Jimmy Palimotti’s Jonah Hex: Face Full of Violence, you know this comic isn’t gonna be that kind of story. I mean, check out this exposition:

IMG_2515

When I read this, it gave me chills.  Chills.  I’d never read any of the old Jonah Hex comics and, thank God, I didn’t see the movie.  This moment might as well have been lifted from a Clint Eastwood movie, and the writing is so very, very good here.  I knew right away that I was going to love this comic.

The first volume of Palmiotti and Gray’s reboot of Jonah Hex follows the bounty hunter’s adventures in the Old West.  This collection holds the first six issues of Jonah Hex, but it’s set up in short story form.  Hex’s story is told in vignettes—short, disconnected moments—and the action spans everything from rescuing children from a dog-fighting ring to burning down a city of corrupt nuns.

I wish I could give you a better summary of the goings-on in Jonah Hex: Face Full of Violence, but…I don’t know.  On some level, the stories defy summary.  They’re even hard to connect to one another, since they are more snippets than they are linear storytelling.  And yet, each issue has a distinct plot, so there’s that.  The format is less like a traditional comic and more like the old Western dime novels of yore, which is no accident.  These are short stories that you’re meant to consume one at a time, not as a full-length narrative like Neil Gaiman’s Sandman.  

I know this might not make a lot of sense, but it’s the best way I can think to explain the format of Jonah Hex: Face Full of Violence.  It’s not like other comics, which is really refreshing.

Anyway, enough of this: on to the review!


The Good

The stories themselves are fantastic.  Jonah Hex: Face Full of Violence doesn’t assume that you’ve read any other Jonah Hex stories before this one, but it also doesn’t forgive your ignorance.  When you start the first story (which is about children fighting rabid dogs, so there’s that), you don’t know who Hex is, what he does, or why he does it.  Well…I guess that’s not entirely true.  You do know that he’s a man for hire, and you quickly learn that he’s a shoot-first-ask-questions-never sort of fella.

Some people might find that disconcerting, and I can understand why.  After all, we live in an age that loves a story that begins at the beginning.  We don’t want any of this en media res crap—real stories don’t start in the middle.  Sorry, Homer!  The Iliad just ain’t gonna cut it anymore.

(Just kidding.  The Iliad is great).

My point is that we like origin stories.  We want to know where the character comes from, why she acts the way she does, and whether she’s someone we can sympathize with.  We want to know if our hero comes from the same places we do.  Are they like us?  If they aren’t, can we still like them?

Palimotti and Grey flip the giant finger to this idea.  Jonah Hex: Face Full of Violence unapologetically starts in the middle of Hex’s story and it never looks back.  Readers don’t know where Hex’s gnarly face scar came from, we don’t know where he was born, where he lives, or even how old he is.  All we know is that he’s a bounty hunter—a vicious one—and he operates on his own moral code.

In that way, Palimotti and Grey create an anti-hero that is more myth than reality.  Throughout the stories, Jonah Hex drifts in and out of the narrative, bringing violence and pain with him.  He is more a part of the West than he is a real person, and he becomes the boogey man that hardened criminals fear.  Palimotti and Grey are clearly playing with the old legends of the West, and they do so pitch perfectly.  Hex’s character could easily get out of hand, but it never does.  He remains the protagonist, but not hero, of the book, and it feels like a breath of fresh air in a genre that can too easily fall to cliché.

I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the art briefly before I moved on.  I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Luke Ross’ work, which gives the book its atmosphere and flair.  His rendition of Hex is appropriately gruesome, and he depicts violence with the exact right mix of horror and anticipation.  The stories in this collection would fall flat without Ross’ talents.

The Bad

And yet, not every story in this anthology is up to snuff.  The first three are amazing and full of twists that even Sherlock Holmes might not see coming.  But as the stories go on, the narratives feel more rushed.  The last two stories definitely fall to this.  It’s harder to pin down Hex’s motivations, and the characters around him are more like cardboard cutouts of bad guys than actual characters.

Also, don’t kill me, but I didn’t dig Tony DeZúñiga’s art.  I know that letting him draw a comic was a recognition of the work he did on the earlier runs of Jonah Hex, but come on.  Compared to Luke Ross’ clean lines, DeZúñiga’s work appears sloppy.  (It isn’t, it’s just stylistically different, but you can’t help thinking that).  I know that comics sometimes have to swap out artists because of time constraints, too, but it’s a shame here.

 

The Ugly

Jonah Hex’s face!  (Ahahaha…ha…ahem.)

Jonah Hex Face

But seriously, look at that mug.  It’s as ugly on the outside as he sometimes is on the inside.

Easily, the strongest criticism I can make for this book ironically also has to do with the art.  There are times, especially in the latter sections, where the sequentiality of the comic begins to fall apart.  In other words, the movement and action of the book becomes difficult to follow, especially during action scenes.  It’s unfortunate, really–the action scenes carry large chunks of the story since Hex is so violent, so when they fall apart, the whole story suffers.


 

On the whole, though, I really enjoyed reading this volume.  I’d actually read it once before, too, and liked it just as much.  If you’re a fan of comics and/or Westerns, the new run of Jonah Hex is not to be missed.

 

Read This If

You enjoy a good, violent Western story

You like comic books that aren’t about superheroes and break the mold

You want to read something that’s smart about genre and story


 

Skip This If

You like graphic novels, not comics

You want an origin story (see Jonah Hex, Volume 4 for that)

You don’t like excessive violence

You want a hero you can root for


 



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *