The Justin Gray & Jimmy Palmiotti Jonah Hex series remains one of the great series of the 21st century. They landed on a great format for the character, telling largely done-in-one stories that as a reader, you were able to get into and get a really meaty piece of storytelling. And they worked with some great artists on that series, from J.H. Williams III to Jordi Bernet. But for the handful of issues that the Gray/Palmiotti writing duo teamed up with the late Darwyn Cooke, that team produced some magic. Here's a look back at Jonah Hex #50, published by DC Comics at the end of 2009.
Looking at the format of it, it was probably written for my old website, Wednesday's Haul, and has been lightly edited from how it first ran.
The last time Darwyn Cooke drew a Jonah Hex story, Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti wrote a story about fathers and sons and how one boy wished that Jonah Hex was his father. Set in the snowy woods of Canada, Jonah Hex #33 told the story of how Hex filled a void in a boy's life after the boy's father had been killed. During the course of that story, Hex had a brief moment where he could have taken the boy in and raised him as his own son but, instead, he left the boy behind to fend for himself against an ugly and cruel world. There was never a moment of doubt or hesitation as Jonah Hex turned his back on the boy and walked out of his life. He didn't care about this boy who had quickly grown to idolize Hex and who wanted Hex to be his fatherly substitute. The boy's life held no value to Jonah Hex. In Jonah Hex #50, Hex has to face a similar situation again when another child is caught up in the chaos that is Jonah Hex.
Jonah Hex #50 opens up very cinematically. You can hear the triumphant, rollicking music as Jonah Hex and Tallulah Black, Hex's occasional partner and lover, trap and gun down a criminal gang in a ravine. Gray, Palmiotti, and Cooke create a very classical scene to open the book. This is practically the end of another unseen story, as Hex and Black deliver the corpses to the local sheriff, collect their bounty and go off to celebrate their victory. You could fade to black here and have a nice little short story. But it's only the beginning for Gray and Palmiotti. That's where their story begins. Hex wakes up the next morning, alone and naked in a bar to be told that Tallulah rode off on her own in the middle of the night. He laughs it off even as he wanders out into the street to put his clothes on. She goes off to find a new life and he ends up hunting 50 criminals for the bounties on their heads. Hex's bounties crime? Killing the son of a very rich man.
During the course of this story, both Hex and Tallulah have to face the idea of who they are and who they want to be. The ugly truth is that neither of them is a particularly good person and maybe neither deserves to have anything resembling a good or normal life. For half of the issue, Tallulah abandons her traditional black clothes and tries to change herself by wearing a white dress. "I'm just running' till I can't see my past 'round every corner," she tells the local sheriff.
Hex never gets to be as poetic about his struggles as Tallulah does. More a man of action, Gray and Palmiotti let Cooke show Hex's struggle and sorrow. In this issue, Hex experiences everything from the joy of a successful bounty to the sorrow of losing Tallulah as a friend and as a lover. Her actions in this story put Hex in a position where he's never given a choice like he was in issue #33, a decision to be a father or to remain the cold bastard that he is. Hex remains a force of nature in this issue, moving through the west and leaving a body count behind him. Maybe Hex wants to change, maybe he doesn't. But he's never given the opportunity to choose who or what he wants to be. He's a killer, and as fate will have it, that's all he's going to remain.
During most of this issue, Hex is on the hunt for the killers of children; the killers of sons and daughters. It starts out as just business at first, as Hex almost seems to be playing with his prey. There's a great two-page montages where Cooke draws Hex dragging a priest out of his church, shooting his bounties inside a saloon, and even waiting outside of an outhouse for his bounty to finish up his own business. It's funny and it's easy for Hex. By the end of the issue, maybe when Hex understands a bit more about how these men killed someone's son, he's quick, merciless, and brutal. He doesn't hunt them one by one, playing cat and mouse with them. He sits with his gun, waiting to kill them all at once. He kills them with a pain that may be only a father could understand.
Jonah Hex #50
"The Great Silence"
Written by: Justin Gray & Jimmy Palmiotti
Drawn by: Darwyn Cooke
Colored by: Dave Stewart
Lettered by: Rob Leigh