Wednesday, May 26, 2010

REVIEW: 'Jonah Hex: No Way Back'


It may be Jonah Hex’s summer.

Sure, there are more famous (and better looking) comic book heroes hitting the multiplex screen, and there are better selling comics on the stands, but for a character who is little known beyond a niche population of comic readers, summer 2010 is a milestone.

Warner Bros. Pictures will release the first movie adaptation of “Jonah Hex” on June 18, starring Josh Brolin, Megan Fox and John Malkovich. And while the character has shown up as a guest star in various DC Comics-based cartoons over the years, he will feature in his own short animated film included in the upcoming DVD movie release “Batman: Under the Red Hood” in July.

Meanwhile, DC releases “Jonah Hex: No Way Back” this week — the first original graphic novel based on the 40-year-old character. “No Way Back” was produced by the longtime Hex team of writers Justin Gray and Jimmy Palimiotti, with artist Tony DeZuniga (who co-created the character with writer John Albano in 1971).

“Jonah is one of the coolest and most unique characters we have ever had the pleasure to work on,” Palmiotti said in promotional materials for the book. “He’s an icon and his untamed manner appeals, on a visceral gut level, to just about everyone who reads it.”

Guided by a strong moral code, but about as ornery as a hornet’s nest, Hex is a former Confederate army soldier who makes his living as a bounty hunter. His face was scarred and melted by angry Kiowa tribesmen to punish him for an affront of which he was innocent.

Whereas the trailer for the upcoming movie hints that Hex has the power to talk to the dead, “No Way Back” sticks to the character’s hell-raising Wild West roots, allowing readers to discover how Hex’s early years helped make him into a “justice-thirsty vigilante.” He’s got mom and dad issues, both of which catch up to him in terrible ways in this story.

“We unleash the beast like you have never seen before,” Palmiotti said.

Indeed, the graphic novel is a raw thing — brutally violent, alternately heartbreaking and stomach-churning. The plot would translate easily into a Clint Eastwood-style spaghetti western: Hex tracks down his dying mother, who left him at age 10 to be raised by an abusive father; he learns he has a half-brother, whose pacifistic town needs protection from murderous and rapacious bandits who have nipped at Hex’s spurs for years.

“Bold, brazen, violent and surprisingly tender, this is the consummate tale of the Wild West’s greatest bounty hunter,” Gray said.

The tale is well told, but for once the art is disappointing. DeZuniga has always tended toward a rough style for Hex — sometimes producing detailed panels reminiscent of woodblock prints. But here, the drawings are crude, almost sketchy or rushed. It’s difficult to distinguish between some characters, and action sequences are awkward. Perspective is missing, with vistas coming off flat and foreground/background characters the same size.

That being said, the package is worth the ticket price. The revelations and tribulations Hex confronts make for a compelling stand-alone story, and it comes in a book with the look and feel of distressed leather, printed in full color on high quality paper.

‘Jonah Hex: No Way Back’
  • What: Original graphic novel
  • Details: $19.99, 136 pages, hardcover
  • Info: DCcomics.com

Note: This column was written for The News Herald's Entertainer section.
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