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Monday, September 18, 2006

Jonah Hex: Face Full of Violence -- This collection of tightly-written standalone stories is a welcome revival for DC's oddball outlaw western hero. I don't think I've read a single Jonah Hex story since Michael Fleischer had him stuffed and mounted way back when, but here he is again, alive and well. And if he's being sarcastic at one point when he tells a man he's "The spirit of vengeance, come to collect your soul," that doesn't mean he's far wrong.

Writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray give Hex plenty to avenge in these stories, as each finds Hex falling into treachery and double-dealing. Probably the best sees him getting involved in the dire consequences of a young woman's rape, and if the twists and turns of the narrative aren't altogether unexpected, Palmiotti and Gray still make the journey sharply entertaining.

I suppose writing an authentic western story at this late date almost precludes an ability to inject the unexpected, short of bringing in supernatural or science fiction elements (which Gray and Palmiotti thankfully do not), but for me what was unexpected was just how well-done the stories in Face Full of Violence are.

Artist Luke Ross illustrates five of the six stories, and brings both realism and a welcome western romanticism to his stories. Hex co-creator Tony Dezuniga takes the art reins for one story, showing an undiminished gift for visceral, violent storytelling. A number of popular creators try their hand on cover art, and those pieces are nicely reproduced without logos or other distractions, and at full size. Among those are Frank Quitely, Howard Chaykin and Brian Bolland, all demonstrating an affection for the character in excellent cover designs.

I think the format of these stories best suits Hex as a character -- he's fascinating to observe, and Face Full of Violence shows him as an excellent vehicle for solid storytelling in a genre that, as this volume proves, is still quite vital when tackled by creators excited about telling good stories.



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