Introduced in the All-Star Western comic book series back in 1972, the facially scarred bounty hunter Jonah Hex has become one of the toughest characters in comics. This guy shrugs off threats, dares villains to place him in death traps and delivers justice with a heart colder than ice, no matter how much they beg. The classic Hex stories hold up so well and have such a strong following by readers and creators, that the character returned in 2005 in a series that would see Jonah Hex once more become a household name for gritty violent adventure stories.
Despite the feature film that reportedly caused long-standing fans of the monthly comic to drop the series like a bad habit, Jonah Hex is an enticing character and Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti have a long-standing reputation for crafting disturbing yet entertaining stories for him in print. The Jonah Hex series has been collected in trade paperback format (un-numbered for some reason) and I recommend all of them to anyone looking for a well written adventure comic, it’s just not for the squemish.
All-Star Western, part of the new 52 of DC’s relaunch, is what they call a ‘soft reboot’ in that not much has changed other than the issue numbering. Since Hex was essentially an anthology series made up of short stories, there’s not much in the way of continuity for the series to contradict. What there is an opportunity for is to fold the character into the DCU.
The new All-Star Western is set in Gotham City of the old west, a brilliant move that, like Demon Knights, brings luster and depth to the history of the DC Universe. A killer is on the loose on Gotham and the police are stymied. Arriving in crime-ridden Gotham, Jonah Hex discovers that he is not the only expert who was called in to help catch the killer. Joining the manhunt is Dr. Amadeus Arkham, a nervous frail man with horn-rimmed glasses and a deep desire to stay out of trouble. Unfortunately, the only thing Hex is interested in is staring directly into the face of danger, making the pair an odd couple of comics.
Shortly after their awkward collaboration, it becomes clear that the mystery surrounding the murders is not by accident but by design. The killer was wearing a signet ring bearing a specific design. When Hex and Arkham attempt to inform the police of this at a society event, they realize that almost everyone in attendance is wearing the same ring. The Religion of Crime (seen in the pages of 52, Batwoman, and Detective Comics) is alive in well in Gotham City, and it’s up to Hex and Arkham to set things straight.
After picking up so many of the new 52 series (the only duds so far for me have been Mister Terrific and Bat-Girl), I was reluctant to try yet another but this one is good… damned good. The writing is dark, violent and hilarious, and the artwork is incredible. To fans of the previous Jonah Hex series, the launch of All-Star Western as an ongoing series set in DCU continuity rather than an anthology style a risk, but the result is stunningly successful.
The first two issues have sold out but are available in reprint form and from ComiXology. The third issue hits the stands today.