#3 of Something! I am approaching Consistency!

September 6, 2008 at 3:45 pm (Comic Books)

And this time it’s a NEW comic, but, rest assured, were it published five years ago everyone would have forgotten about it and you could scrounge through a back issue bin (in a dirty comic store, likely on the floor), and find such untarnished beauty amid all the rubble. The comic up for discussion TODAY is

Jonah Hex #35

And DON’T let it rot unrecognized!

There have been a couple completely awesome Hex issues lately. Cooke visually produced the issue two before (#33 for redundancy!), and now J.H. Williams joins the delightful company of Tony DeZuniga and Jordi Bernet in illustrating a comic no one will read except for the REALLY cool kids.

And, like the people reading it, it IS cool (but not hip). Unlike Cooke’s issue that dragged with excessive narration and an attempt at humanizing Jonah Hex, here we see the bastard in the proper light: one dinged from overuse and too much exposure to the sun and the evil it illuminates.

It starts out with a gunfight, the normal type one would expect from a Western. The good guys employing Hex are ambushed by a sniper, and after a couple abortive attempts at escape, hex rides his buddies to victory right after more money is promised. But with the visual production of Williams III, so much more happens besides that! Unlike most comics, the action clearly takes place in Autumn. The sepia toned comics pages match the bright red falling leaves beautifully, and sound effects rattle throughout the pages, in a gaudy red matching the falling leaves. Both are ambiance here!

And Williams, on every book he did after Chase, ditches his normal character work for almost the entire book (the one where almost everyone is ugly with big, puffy cheeks, and piercing eyes? Only the true villains of the piece get that artistic accoutrement). It looks like Kubert to me (and Williams has been very particular with exactly who he’s aping in the past) but that may be because I haven’t read that much DeZuniga (who produced art for the comic during the majority of its initial 70’s run). Faces are much rounder and shadows are thick instead of the thin line Williams often uses. And then, out of nowhere, at the bottom of the fourth page we see a mouse in watercolor (?). It’s a wet and expressive panel jutting into a very dry and tense narrative.

Obviously, this becomes an artistic motif worth mentioning.

And then, on the next page, Williams ditches his DeZuniga or Kubert expression for a Mike MIgnola when a character who’s good dies. When the blood matters for our heart instead of pumped fist, drab colors surround our characters as any gray tones fade away: there is only what is, and nothing can cloud the issue of death.

We get a closer glance at the mouse as it prances about, and then Jonah’s hand comforts the crying brother.

The next page is one of the comic’s best in 22 pages that should be read by any aspiring visual artist. The enraged and crying brother stands up for his final stand against the evil murderers, the outline of his body becoming a panel. He shrinks in size as our eyes descend the page, a smaller version of him getting a gunshot, the third completely red as he falls to the floor, dead.

A snake appears out of nowhere among the same reeds in which our mouse has been prancing.

After Hex’s astounding gunfight (too many words are in that picture for me to explain it properly), we finally get to the narrative of the story. Hex is invited to dinner because he can’t be paid for his services until the next day. The bank’s closed.

And we finally meet Williams’ signature style, but he does not abandon DeZuniga’s impression of Hex. The anachronism and contemporary coexist for the rest of the comic, and then, after appropriately foreboding dialogue, we find the true reason Hex has been forced to stay: the husband wishes for his child to have sterner blood within him, and has drugged Hex and plans to rape him. The astute reader will note that most of the dialogue between only Hex and the husband involve his wife’s prettiness, another feint of the architect revealed!

Genre comics don’t get much better than this.

It is here I must describe another awesome comic book effect. They’ve drugged Hex, you see, and a page descends into wobbly panel borders and psychedelic colors (another satisfying artistic effect: smoke has tinges of rainbow, as does the skyline, but only after Hex realizes he’s been drugged does the world descend into phantasmagoria), the final image a shadowed grasp for EVIL!

The snake jaunts from on top his brim onto Hex, now using his arms to meekly defend himself with butt on floor.

At first, I was disappointed a little. They wasted the effect of the page turn! How astounding would a sudden, bright moment of drugged clarity be if it was hidden except in dialogue. As I read the top dialogue, I could not stop my eyes from traversing to the bottom and having the surprise ruined for me. Enough so that I had to reread dialogue to discern exactly the diabolical scheme.

But this is a better comic than that. Page turn: the wife reappears (in glorious color, of course), but Hex still has life within his legs; he kicks the people trying to commit harm to him. The panels are suitably wobbly. One of the most frightening images possible for Hex lies in the middle panel, cancerously large and interrupting all the others around it: The woman hitches up her dress, and squats down on Hex. This female rape may be even more disastrous to masculinity than male rape ever could: a male has beaten another male in a contest of strength, and victory comes with spoils. Here something even more sacred than his sense of strength is being taken: his self is thieved from his drugged body, and that is intolerable.

Hex musters the strength to punch the lady in the jaw and kick the man across his porch, and demands his money the next day.

And, sure enough he gets it, but instead of the bright colors of the comic’s introduction, ugly, sick colors pervade the scene. Lots of grays are introduced to the color’s palette, and a shadowed figure in an alley even stands ready with a gun, and the husband (a sheriff, wouldn’t ya know! He has a badge on his jacket now) raises his gun in accusation as red leaves fall to the ground. Hex threatens him by actually telling him to try and kill him, and our hero rides off into the sunset as leaves fall from the top of the page over panel borders until we read: The End.

Unfortunately, the mouse and snake never appear again. A little disappointing that they do not play a larger role.

This is one of my absolutely favorite pamphlets in the world, and EVEN MORE than the other two, you HAVE to go out and buy this comic! If you’ve never seen any Williams III before, this is a perfect place to start where the scripter’s ambitions fall flat before the visual production of the work, even more than the equally astounding 3 part epic Morrison and he produced for Batman a little while ago (and its CERTAINLY better than the detective Comics issue he did with Dini scripting). It might even be better than the best issues of Desolation Jones (you know, not the porn industry lecture one (#3) or the depressing nihilistic finale)

I know I’ve said it before, but please get this! To let you know how exciting it is, I had planned to announce a short hiatus with my next post, and then I got this comic.

Next time: I shall take off my vender’s cap and put on my scholars: Omega the Unknown deserves an essay, and I shall be its demiurge!

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