Jonah Hex gets his very own original graphic novel.
by Joey Esposito
Whenever a new comic book film comes out, it's essentially guaranteed that the respective publisher will be ramping up the output of that character. Marvel did it last month with Iron Man, and with the release of No Way Back, an original graphic novel featuring the Old West bounty hunter Jonah Hex, DC has jumped on a similar boat.
Unlike the trailer for the Jonah Hex film, No Way Back stays true to the character and is a superb addition to his long history in the DCU. It's not so much an origin tale; instead it's a nice layer of depth to Jonah's past that ultimately makes the reader more sympathetic to the character. I wouldn't go so far as to say that this added element was absolutely necessary, but it's certainly not unwelcome. Too often with antiheroes like Jonah Hex, writers focus too much on badass one-liners and brutal kills without ever exploring the character's inner workings fully. Thankfully, that's exactly what regular Hex writers Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti do in No Way Back.
The story follows Jonah as he goes on a hunt to find the mother than abandoned him has a child, which may or may not somehow tie into a plot to kill Jonah that was set in motion by longtime foe El Papagayo. It's a surprisingly melodramatic tale for a Jonah Hex comic, but Gary and Palmiotti teeter nicely between the soap operatic and the macho-grit badassery that one would expect from the character. So while we may seem him on a hunt to rectify his destructive family situation, he's still slapping the asses of saloon girls and blowing off goon's arms. To their credit, the writing duo is able to develop Hex's character without ever having him come off as a sissy. Instead, they use the reactions and dialog of the supporting cast to contribute to Jonah's development. So while we receive this new dimension of Jonah's family life, his character remains guarded and impenetrable.
I was surprised to find how quickly I blew through this book. It's an extremely fast read, but that's not necessarily detrimental. The pacing never feels rushed, just brisk - and that's a positive. It would've been easy to pump this OGN full off extra dialog scenes or unnecessary action sequences, but that's just not Jonah's style. He's a man of few words and the best shot in the West, so keeping the writing economic simply makes sense.
Legendary Filipino comic book artist and co-creator of Jonah Hex, Tony DeZuniga, handles all of the art duties in No Way Back and provides his patented gritty style to the book. Shadows and inks are heavy, pencils are wirey but not sloppy, and the entire book has an overall grimy feel to it. DeZuniga never shies away from the violence as it's written, depicting rather vile executions in a graphic style not typically portrayed in the mainstream DCU.
In the end, No Way Back gives Jonah Hex new legs to stand on other than being a wicked cool gunslinger. Depending on how you look at it, it's either a negative or a positive that it took a feature film for DC to be able to publish an original graphic novel based on a "lower-tier" character, especially when he's already got an ongoing monthly comic to market, but at least the result is a substantial addition to the Jonah Hex mythos.