Friday, June 10, 2011

Jonah Hex: Tall Tales

            Come this September, DC is making major changes to their comics line, paring the number of comics down to 52 and resetting every series to #1.  While I won’t get into the many controversies of this move, the reason I bring it up is because Jonah Hex seems like one of those comics that shouldn’t make it in to a line of 52.  I mean, he’s a Western hero in an age where the Western is only occasionally revived, and his biggest note in the public consciousness was the (apparently terrible) movie that bombed as it went up against Toy Story 3.  And yet it is (albeit under the name All-Star Western), and with the same writing team when many books are changing their line-up.  And there’s a reason for that: It’s actually pretty good, and Tall Tales is a good reason why.
            Considering how heavy on continuity most comic books are today, it’s nice to say with all sincerity that you can start anywhere with Hex.  Each paperback is comprised of 6 standalone stories (although this one has 7), and each story is by a different artist.  While this could be confusing for some books, the fact that the only major character is Hex, who’s instantly recognizable with his scared face, makes it an interesting move.  You have Jordi Bernet, who makes the book almost cartoony and sketchy, while Phil Winslade does a realistic style.  It helps tell you what kind of story you’re in for.  In this case, with Bernet, you’re getting lighter, action-packed fare, while Winslade is giving you a dialogue-heavy story.  They’re not the writers, but it shows the strength of the writers to choose the right man for the job.
            The set of stories you get here is generally pretty good.  The writers, Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti, have Hex as an archetypal Western anti-hero, drifting from bounty to bounty while showing his morals along the way.  My favorite was Every Bullet Tells A Story, a vengeance begets vengeance story that had an interesting cast of dark characters for Hex to get tangled up with.  We also get a little bit more of Hex’s backstory in First True Love, which deals with the girl he fell in love with when he was stuck with the Apache.  It’s a short story, less than 10 pages, but it gives you a good bit of depth into his character.  There are some weaker ones in here, though, and sadly both of them are the Bernet-drawn ones.  The titular Tall Tales is good enough, but its initial concept of a collection of ridiculous tales about Hex is tossed away after just one story.  There’s been some really great Batman stories that are just kids telling what they think Batman is like, and this would’ve been the perfect opportunity to do it.  Riders on the Storm is just aimless.  Its concept of a former Confederate soldier trying to track down and kill Hex is thrown away after an introduction of it, and then we get a standard Hex tale where the soldier just comes back in the last minute.  One or the other would’ve been fine, but both together just makes a mess.
            Jonah Hex is pretty much the surprise of DC’s lineup.  A character that most people either don’t know or could care less about, turned into a collection of perfect homages to the dark, morally gray characters of Westerns.  Don’t just take this as a review of Tall Tales.  Any Hex book is a good collection of stories that make you think just enough, while not holding back on gory action when it needs it.   

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