Jonah Hex is a western comic written by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Grey with art by Luke Ross and several other artists. This first volume starts with a bang when a desperate and wealthy man hires bounty hunter Jonah Hex to find his recently kidnapped ten year old son. He’s tried the local sheriff and even the Pinkerton Agency and they’ve both failed him. The father has not received any ransom note, however, leading him to think that hiring Hex may be his last chance to find his son alive.
Jonah Hex is a character that has been around since the 1970s, but as ever, this gateway comic follows the golden rule. You may be familiar with the name Jonah Hex after the 2010 movie starring Josh Brolin, but if not, the only things you need to know are that Jonah Hex is a bounty hunter and that he’s got a very ugly scarred face.
Each issue in this first trade paperback is a self contained story and this style of storytelling continues throughout the series. Jonah Hex is an uncompromising man and the stories fit into the same mold. They’re set in the wild west and adult-themed and there’s plenty of violence, sinning, drinking and exploitation.
In some ways Jonah Hex reminds me of the Sergio Leone spaghetti westerns and at times the character has a passing resemblance to a young Clint Eastwood. Like the nameless man who rides into town and comes face to face with a pack of trouble in those films, Hex often finds himself in deep water. What he thought was a simple job often turns out to be a lot more complicated. At which point his survival instincts kick in and that often leads to lethal consequences for those opposing him.
Hex has a reputation for violence, but he’s also known as someone who will do the right thing because he lives by a personal code of honor. He’s hellish to look at but he’s reliable, dangerous and very good at his job. Over the years of tracking down killers and righting wrongs he’s helped many people, but he’s also made a lot of enemies. Every once in a while one of them crawls out of the woodwork looking to get even and a lot of violence ensues.
Hex is also someone who doesn’t have anything to lose, which makes it impossible for him to be blackmailed, but he’s also human and fallible. In some of the stories you’ll see him being misled and even led astray by people pretending to be righteous or god-fearing folk, when in fact they’re murdering scum. At that point it’s advisable to stand well back as the criminals learn the hard way how Hex earned his reputation.
If you like the sound of Jonah Hex and western comics in general then there are a few other titles I can recommend. Western comics are not as popular as they once were, but there are some comics that continue the adventure of timeless icons, plus some titles featuring new twists on the genre.
Dynamite Entertainment has been publishing a number of western comics, including The Lone Ranger and the continuing adventures of The Man With No Name, after the character from the Clint Eastwood movies.
As mentioned in a previous column, if you like the idea of mixing horror with western and supernatural elements, I would recommend The Sixth Gun from Oni Press. Vertigo is currently publishing an ongoing series called American Vampire which includes contributions from Stephen King. This title also sits in the weird western sub-genre. For a slightly more otherworldly type of western comic, I would recommend The Dark Tower which are prequel comics based on the Stephen King series of the same name. Caliber from Radical Publishing is a mini-series that combines a western with Arthurian legends, offering a different twist again on the genre.
In 2008, Garth Ennis wrote an uncompromising western mini series called Just a Pilgrim which has a lot in common with Jonah Hex that is definitely worth checking out if you want something standalone. Also Brian Azzarello wrote Loveless, another fairly brutal western comic series from Vertigo that lasted for 24 issues. For a more modern take on the western genre, set on Native American reservations, I would highly recommend Scalped by Jason Aaron from Vertigo.