My latest book, El Mosaico, Volume 3: Hellfire is now available on Amazon! The ebook is out and you can get a physical copy too. Hellfire’s the third volume in the El Mosaico series, but I wrote it to be completely stand-alone. It’s about Clayton Cane, a patchwork gunslinger constructed from the body parts of dead Civil War soldiers, as he tries to go from being a ruthless bounty hunter to the sheriff of Hellfire, Texas – a small town in the shadow of a magical rock formation called Silver Mesa. You can snag it here: http://www.amazon.com/El-Mosaico-Hellfire-Michael-Panush-ebook/dp/B00JZVNCRS/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1398920529&sr=8-1&keywords=Michael+Panush
To celebrate the release of the El Mosaico, I’m going to be talking about examples of a genre that’s near and dear to my heart – the Western. El Mosaico is a Weird Western, which means a Western with supernatural, horror, or sci-fi elements, but I love an Old Fashioned ‘normal’ Western a lot as well. I’ve written about Westerns several times before on this site, about how much I love their ability to offer a lawless setting, roughly-hewn characters, and provide an insightful look at a dark and violent period of American History.
I will start with one of my favorite comic book characters – DC’s Jonah Hex. Like Clayton Cane, he’s a scarred bounty hunter – though he’s not a Confederate Frankenstein, like Cane. Instead, Hex is Clint Eastwood with a hole in his face, a wandering gunslinger anti-hero who was raised by Apache, and later scarred by them, and then fought for the Confederacy before becoming a bounty hunter. He’s been around for a while since his creation in 1971 by John Albano and Tony De Zuniga, but I don’t really want to talk about those old comics. He’s also appeared in movies and TV several times. I don’t want to talk about that either, but I will save that the movie is terrible and Jonah Hex’s appearance in the amazing Batman: The Brave and The Bold cartoon is amazing. Instead, I’ll talk about the three modern Jonah Hex stories, including the one going on right now. Saddle up, partner, and ride with a legend.
The Joe R. Landsdale and Timothy Truman Stories
I’m a huge Joe R. Landsdale fan, as his country-fried stories serve up horror and humor in equal measure and I sought out the trade paperback of Jonah Hex: Two-Gun Mojo just because it had his name on the cover. I wasn’t disappointed. Two-Gun Mojo’s a low down, mean sort of story about Jonah Hex being rescued by another bounty hunter, who is then killed by Doc ‘Cross’ Williams, a snake oil salesman guarded by a zombie Wild Bill Hickok. It’s extremely violent, darkly humorous, and gross – with Hex going to almost impossible lengths to survive and get his revenge. Two-Gun Mojo works on every level, especially thanks to Timothy Truman’s art. Slightly caricatured and off-kilter, he presents a whacky, dirty, and dusty version of the Old West where Hex isn’t only grotesque running around. The talkative, stuck-up Doc Williams is a great villain and Hex shows just enough care for his allies to be considered sympathetic.
Now, Truman and Landsdale did a few other stories, but then DC ended up getting sued by these albino country singers called the Winter Brothers because they were parodied as the evil Autumn Brothers in the comic. DC won the lawsuit, but I figured that Riders of the Worm and Such would never get collected. Then I wandered into a comic book store a few weeks ago and found a big, fat collection called Jonah Hex: Shadows West, which included Two-Gun Mojo, Riders of the Worm and Such, and a short called Shadows West. I snapped it up immediately. The other stories are good, and Truman’s art remains amazing, but Riders of the Worm and Such and Shadows West lean a little too much on humor. A lot of this winking, tongue-in-cheek humor creates chuckles, but it also ruins the suspension of disbelief. Still, the stories are good. Riders of the Worm and Such has Jonah Hex facing off against Lovecraftian worm-monsters and the Autumn Brothers (who got the Winter Brothers so upset), an inspired pair of inbred, violent freaks in the Wilbur Whately mold. Shadows West has Hex taking on an ersatz Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, but leans a little too heavily on the humor for my taste. Still, the art and Two-Gun Mojo alone mean that the collection is worth picking up.
The Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray Run
The next big Jonah Hex series is this long running series by Palmiotti and Gray. It ran from 2005 to 2011 and featured a novel approach – each issue had a stand-alone tale of Jonah Hex bounty hunting action, drawn by a different artist. That means you get great guests like Darwyn Cooke, Fiona Staples, and J.H. Williams III, along with the amazing Jordi Bernet spinning all manner of Old West tales. Palmiotti and Gray know their genre and you’ll get homage stories to Spaghetti Western classics like Cemetery Without Crosses and The Great Silence, along with well-told Western tales of violence, depravity, and Hex’s never-ending cussedness. They also managed to add in a wide supporting cast. Other DC Western heroes, like roguish gambler Bat Lash and supernatural avenger El Diablo made appearances, along with new creations like Tallulah Black, a one-eyed, scar-faced bounty hunter as ornery as Jonah Hex. They created a slight continuity, and had the occasional arc, but the anthology feel remained strong. You can probably pick up these issues on the cheap now, or snag the trade paperbacks. You get the occasional misfire, but they’ve got a high standard of quality overall.
This was one the launch titles of the New 52 – that big, line-wide reboot DC Comics had a few years ago. Palmiotti and Gray are still writing, but they’re telling a long-form story now, starting with Jonah Hex teaming up with Dr. Amadeus Arkham (of Arkham Asylum) to solve crimes in a Victorian-Age Gotham City, and a consistent artist – Moritat. I’ve only got the first two trades of All-Star Western, and they’re pretty decent. Jonah Hex mixing things up in Gotham is a cool concept and he deals with other DC Universe concepts like the Court of Owls and the Crime Bible, who fit very well as Victorian Cults. There’s also trips under the sewers, mad scientists, Jonah Hex and Dr. Arkham’s buddy cop chemistry, and plenty of fun action.
However, I can only give the series a half-hearted approval for its unfortunate treatment of women, a subject in which the New 52 – and comics as a whole – are generally pretty terrible. Moritat’s art is great for smoky, Industrial Age Gotham City and the gritty Hex, but he draws every woman with a low-cut bodice, impossible features, and too much eye shadow. This may work for Victorian street walkers, but it’s completely inappropriate for society matrons such as Bruce Wayne’s maternal ancestor. Later, you get a scantily-dressed, nubile blonde assassin in a corset leaping around with knives. All-Star Western’s also an anthology series, so there’s back-up stories featuring other DC Comics characters and even original creations. These are generally pretty entertaining, but they’re hampered by the same problems as the main series. One of the new characters is the Barbary Ghost – a Chinese immigrant woman who battles San Francisco Tongs with fireworks. That sounds like an awesome character, until you realize she’s running around fighting crime with a super low-coat shirt that will doubtlessly lead to an unfortunate wardrobe malfunction in the heat of battle. I don’t remember Palmiotti and Gray’s earlier series doing this, so I have no idea why All-Star Western leans too close to cheesecake for comfort.
Well, that’s Jonah Hex for you. Like Clayton Cane (and countless gunslinger anti-heroes), he’s a mean bastard who is quick on the draw, but still has a heart. I’ll be talking about Westerns with similar themes in the coming days, so keep on a-riding down this road. Until then, happy trails.