Jonah Hex: No Way Back
Written by Justin Gray & Jimmy Palmiotti
Illustrated by Tony DeZuniga with John Stanisci
Colored by Rob Schwager
Lettered by Rob Leigh
Published by DC
To capitalize on the Jonah Hex film, DC didn’t push out the raw volume of material that Marvel glutted the market with during Iron Man II’s release. Perhaps it was in DC’s best interest – the movie’s getting panned pretty harshly (enough so that I’m planning to skip its theatrical run; though to be fair to Jonah, I kind of wished I’d passed on Iron Man II).
In addition to the (by my count) nine trade paperbacks of the current monthly Jonah Hex series, DC has one archival trade, one Showcase collection, and this book – a brand-new hardcover, original graphic novel, written by the writing team of the current Hex monthly and illustrated by Tony DeZuniga, the man who drew Hex’s first comic adventure back in 1972, is the one major highlight of DC’s campaign to find a few readers on the make for more scarred western gunslingers after Mr. Brolin’s escapades.
No Way Back, the graphic novel in question, deals with Jonah going to see his dying mother and discovering the existence of a half-brother. Jonah sets out to meet this sibling, while his enemy El Papagayo pursues Hex. Obviously, the three extraordinarily disparate men intersect before the book’s grand finale.
Similar to the monthly Hex series, No Way Back is solid genre entertainment, but doesn’t lodge itself into your brain in any memorable way. Hex’s brother, a preacher and sheriff named Joshua Dazzleby, stands out as one of Gray and Palmiotti’s best characters, a complicated man of faith and tolerance, pride and rules. And the complex tension between Jonah and Joshua is played out with the requisite awkwardness and wavering compassion.
Of course, the effective emotional plot – Hex dealing with having been abandoned by his mother – is offset by a pedestrian action plot. Hex’s plan to deal with El Papagayo’s mercenaries lacks imagination and their big final fight tends toward laughable rather than brutal. Or perhaps it’s just comically brutal. The writers also opt for a terribly hamfisted segue to El Papagayo’s back story. It’s a shame that the plot comes up so lacking, because No Way Back’s journey into Hex’s history works quite well.
Original Jonah Hex artist Tony DeZuniga returns to illustrate No Way Back, and he acquits himself adequately. Some pages offer wonky anatomy, or stiffly posed figures, and many feature unfinished, sketchy artwork, but DeZuniga also captures a rustic, worn-down quality. Abetted by a flat, muddy color palette that suggests the unlit frontier dusk, the book captures the mood of the script, even if the line work might’ve benefited from being tightened up.
Jonah Hex: No Way Back offers a passably entertaining shoot-’em-up. Gray and Palmiotti’s script offers another side of Jonah Hex and his connection to humanity, which offsets the humdrum action. And it’s a treat to see Hex’s co-creator DeZuniga handle the artwork on the character’s first original graphic novel.