Jonah Hex: No Way Back (Hardback Edition)
Publisher: DC Comics
Release Date: June 3, 2010
Written By: Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti
Penciller: Tony DeZuniga
Inkers: Tony DeZuniga and John Stanisci
Colorist: Rob Schwager
Letterer: Rob Leigh
MSRP: $19.99 (US) Amazon
This book could have easily been called Jonah Hex Begins. It is a perfect entry point (gateway drug) into the world of Jonah Hex and graphic novels. No Way Back explores the troubled past that formed our main character, Jonah Hex. Drinkin’, whorin’, killin’ – got ‘em all.
In the interest of full disclosure, this book is loosely tied to the release of the Jonah Hex film released on June 18, 2010 which has been received with poor reviews. I have intentionally avoided seeing the film so as not to influence my experience with the book.
For those like me who have not had the pleasure of reading Jonah Hex previously, Jonah Hex is the ultimate bad-ass western anti-hero. This story is set in Western North America of 1880 in Colorado and the territory that would eventually become Arizona, at a time when many men in this territory knew nothing but war and conflict for generations. The Texas Revolution (1836), Mexican-American War (1846-1848) and the territorial expansion of the United States to the Pacific Coast (Texas – 1845, California – 1850, Colorado – 1876, Arizona – 1912) and the many Indian conflicts made for a surplus of men with few other skills aside from killing. Law enforcement, Scalp Hunting or Bounty Hunting were among the options for such men outside of the military. Jonah Hex is such a man.
Many contracted to clear out “hostile” Indians, returning their scalps as proof of their kill. Others became bounty hunters as John Hex did. Hex was molded by his past into a justice-hungry cold-blooded killer whose face, marked and burned, tells the tale of a rough past, and an ability to survive nearly anything.
No Way Back gives us insight into what makes Hex who he is. Via flashbacks, we meet his parents and learn of the circumstances surrounding the break-up of the family. Jonah’s father, Woodson Hex, is a cruel drunk who exacts his rage on his family. Jonah’s mother, Virginia, wants nothing more than to escape her husband’s abuse. As the child of two such horribly damaged people, Jonah ends up being the victim of his parents destructive relationship.
As an adult, Jonah’s family history keeps catching up with him. His mother turns up on a wanted poster, a previously unknown brother surfaces, and danger closely follows Hex in the form of an old enemy of Woodson who has vowed to kill the entire Hex family and anyone who gives them shelter. Jonah must eventually decide whether to let the town of Heaven’s Gate be destroyed or to aid them in defending themselves. The action is quick and brutal, delivered with a coldness that shows the disturbingly low value of human life in this era of the Old West.
The sketchy style of the artwork adds to the rough-and-tumble feel of the story. Leaving many of the finer details to the reader’s imagination, the characters seem to take on attributes of the reader’s fears, demons and experiences. Like good writing, this allows each reader to experience the story in their own way, seeing Jonah’s world through their own eyes. For me, it was nearly impossible to look at Jonah without hearing his dialog in my head in the voice of Clint Eastwood through gritted teeth.
The hardback edition of this graphic novel looks aged and edge worn as if it has just been pulled from a saddlebag. With a rich brown cover having the look of aged leather and cloth binding, embossed lettering and a lacquered inset picture of Jonah on the cover, this is no comic. Make no mistake. This is a book and would make a fine bookshelf addition for anyone who is a fan of westerns.
This book was an absolute pleasure for me. My recent gaming obsession with Red Dead Redemption certainly put me in the mindset for a story and a character just like Hex. I have never really been into comics due to having little tolerance for getting just a bit of the story each week. (I also like to watch TV shows a season at a time after they have aired all the episodes.) This book is complete. There is no assumption that you know Jonah’s back story or motivations. No loose ends or cliff-hangers. It is brilliantly written and vividly illustrated in such a way that pulls you right into the Old West – not that you’re going to want to live there – but it’s a fantastic place to visit.