Jonah Hex, Bad Mofo, Achieves Issue 50

When I was a kid growing up in the 70s, Western comics were among my favorites. I was a huge fan of characters like Two-Gun Kid, Kid Colt, and The Rawhide Kid. In a lot of ways, these heroes were Lone Ranger knockoffs; masked do-gooders who were usually misunderstood as outlaws. They were basically good guys who always had the pretty girls flocking around them whether they were in “costume” or hanging out in their secret identities (you know, as doctors, lawyers, whatever). My friends and I used to tear-ass around playing cowboys and Indians, shooting the hell out of each other and then getting back up for more. I even had a little cowboy vest I wore until it fell apart; I tore through my share of western snap-shirts too.

The first time I saw the character Jonah Hex, he scared the hell out of me. A friend of mine’s old brother collected the Weird Western Tales comic, and had continued with the character when Jonah got his own ongoing series. These were western stories with a supernatural theme to them, and to me they were just . . . bizarre. And then there was the man himself. Hex was no do-gooder. He was ugly, with a horrific scar on the side of his face that I still get kind of grossed out about. He fought for “the bad guys” in the Civil War. He just wasn’t the kind of guy that a naive little punk like me really related to at the time, but I always remembered him. By the mid-80s his book was canceled, though he popped up in the 90s when I wasn’t reading comics.

Fast forward to 2005, when DC Comics took a chance on a new ongoing Jonah Hex series, written by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray, with art by Luke Ross. Over the years different artists have contributed to the book, but this week DC’s committment to the hard work of Palmiotti and Gray pays off with the release of the special, double-sized issue #50. For fans of the series, and for people who know the comics business (i.e. make money now or get dropped!), this is a certifiable Big Deal. Four years is a helluva run for any book that doesn’t include a lead character that has been around for 30, 40, 50 or 60 years! And a western? Please.

This is a series I hold pretty close to my heart, because it’s one I jumped on board with right from the get-go, which has never happened before, at least not in any sustainable fashion (if only I’d held on to Peter Parker the Spectacular Spiderman issues 1-20 or so!). As comics go, at least a comic from one of the Big Two (DC and Marvel), Jonah Hex is anything but typical. Hex isn’t really a “good guy.” He is a former Confederate soldier turned infamous bounty hunter. He doesn’t speak much. He doesn’t seem to care for anyone, but one expects a dark history, especially when it comes to the horrible scar. We do see glimpses of his inner humanity, but they are fleeting. When Hex is broke, he’s on the trail of a face on a poster. When he’s flush, he wallows in booze and hookers until he’s broke again, piling up more bodies than a Stallone character.

Hex has a moral code, of course — I see him as something of a cross between Clint Eastwood’s western archetype and Omar from The Wire. He is a guy who won’t mess with you if you don’t cross him, but if you do it’s game over. He knows right from wrong and will stand up for it, regardless if that puts him in line with the letter of the law. For those who know his name, he is almost a mythical character.

What I enjoy about the series is it reads like a collection of flash fiction. Each issue of Jonah Hex — with only a couple exceptions (including a recent 6-issue run titled “The Six Gun War”) — has been a standalone story. That isn’t something you see in mainstream comics these days, where it seems every book is part of some sweeping drama that crosses over into every running series. It’s nice to get these tight little stories, and that in itself is a reflection on Palmiotti and Gray’s writing, because 22 pages ain’t much to tell a story that begins and ends all in one shot. I’ve probably re-read more Hex stories than any other, just for that reason. There’s never any question about what has been happening for 10 issues prior to a given book — what you see is what you get. I like that.

I remember reading an article — I think it was during the promotional lead up to Kevin Costner’s Open Range film — where the Western as a film genre was discussed. The films used to be ubiquitous, but you don’t see them much anymore. The premise of the piece I read is that they have been replaced by the cop/crime show, which makes sense to me. I think fans of crime stories would enjoy much of what Palmiotti and Gray are doing with this book. The things I’m enjoying about crime fiction, a genre I’ve only recently immersed myself in, are the very elements I enjoy with this series. Dark themes, multi-dimensional characters, moral quandaries . . . and a lot of fast-paced action and gunplay. Unpredictable women. The stranger riding into town. Crooked law enforcement. Vengeful villains. I mean, it is all here!

Another bonus with #50 is that the art has been provided by Darwyn Cooke, with colors by Dave Stewart. Cooke is arguably my favorite artist in this medium. His interpretation of Richard Stark’s The Hunter via graphic novel was my gateway into crime fiction, and I haven’t looked back. Darwyn has a blog of his own about Jonah Hex #50 that is well worth checking out, where he discusses how it came to happen and where his artistic inspirations for the work came from.

As for Dave Stewart, he’s just the best there is at what he does. Considering the work he’s done on Dark Horse‘s Conan series (simply one of the Greatest Things Ever), you know the man has my eternal worship. Cooke’s thoughts on Stewart’s work on this issue make me all the more excited for this issue to arrive in my eager hands come Thursday.

Buy the Damn Thing Already

So besides the opportunity for me to gush about something I think is cool as hell, what is the point of this particular blog post? I am of the opinion that all things awesome, especially creatively, should be rewarded. People love their entertainment — art, movies, books, TV, video games, et al — but unless you are someone who has a runaway blockbuster hit, the money sucks. So getting the word out about significant benchmarks is important to me.

This series is an example of an artistic endeavor succeeding in the face of steep odds. It’s like seeing an underground band I love getting a great opening spot on some huge band’s tour and then blowing the headliner off the stage night after freakin’ night. I love Batman, but there are about 10 Batman books and only a couple of them are worth a shit. Non-superhero books don’t live long these days, and this story ain’t no superhero book. It succeeded on the merits of everyone involved sticking to their guns (pun mostly intended), and I commend that and feel it deserves notice to people outside of the comics community.

Looks like the effort is going to pay off in other ways too, because the Jonah Hex movie starring Josh Brolin, John Malkovich and Megan Fox is scheduled to open on July 12th, 2010, and it looks awesome. Seeing Josh in No Country for Old Men and picturing him as Hex pretty much makes this film my most anticipated watch of the summer. So suck that, Iron Man 2!

     

Do yourself a favor and get on board, so that when the movie comes out and is a hit you can be all smug and act like you’ve been a Hex fan for years. Go out to your local comic shop and buy a goddamn comic book this week. While you’re there, pick up a couple more. Take a look at these preview images from #50, for crissakes; you know you want this thing!

Not the World’s Most Important Glass Ceiling, but the Mofo is Still Broken

Saw this article Friday afternoon over at Bleeding Cool (which is essentially a news gathering site for the comics industry): Amanda Conner First Woman To Make Wizard’s Top Ten Hot Artists List. I’ve probably been talking about comics too much lately, but this is still a big enough deal that I feel it’s worth mentioning here, given how much of a boys’ club this industry has historically been. From Rich Johnston’s article:

Wizard Magazine, the Entertainment Weekly of comics has been running its Top Ten Hot Artists and Top Ten Hot Writers List since the magazine started, reflecting the whims of the market, the readers, the retailers and the publishers over who is and is not in demand. It’s a cruel, harsh unforgiving column but its hard to deny to reflects a certain majority taste in comics. And while some women have broken into the Top Ten Hot Writers list, no female comics artist has been deemed “hot” enough to warrant inclusion in the Top Ten Hot Artists, despite many finding success, especially in the manga market. But, apparently, manga doesn’t count. And so the Wizard Top Ten Hot Artists List has remained an all-male preserve.This week, that all changes, as Amanda Conner joins the list in this Wednesday’s edition of Wizard Magazine. Her work on Power Girl, while just as excellent as her other recent work, has nevertheless found new eyeballs, and that’s what matters to The List.

I’ve become a big fan of Amanda’s work — I love the broad, cartoony style she delivers. That may sound silly, but she has a way of making the stories fun even when serious events are going down. In particular I love the emotions and expressions she captures on the faces of her characters, whether they are human or animals (as in this scan from the current issue):

Amanda first caught my attention with her work on the Supergirl strip that ran in Wednesday Comics, which just wrapped up last week. That strip was lighthearted and a lot of fun, and is what inspired me to start picking up Power Girl.

Power Girl is written by the team of Jimmy Palmiotti (Amanda’s husband) and Justin Gray (the Supergirl strip was also written by Palmiotti), and it is a team that, combined with Amanda’s art, really delivers on the fun side of what superhero comics can be. Not only that, but they have taken a character that many have considered something of a joke, for a couple quite large, obvious reasons, and given her some real personality and depth. Frankly, with a couple exceptions, the superhero genre hasn’t been doing a whole lot for me lately, probably because the companies with the market cornered continue to do these sweeping, world-changing crossovers that drive me up a wall. Power Girl isn’t in the middle of all that, and I’m enjoying the hell out of it. Congrats, Amanda!

I don’t know what kind of a living these creators make, but I’m glad they’re out there making it. They’re worth more to me than some jock who can catch a football, that’s for damn sure.

Joshua Dysart — The Unknown Soldier (Vertigo)

I’ve been thinking a bit about doing some reviews of some of the things I read, if only to make this blog a little less . . . dumb. I’ve been reading a lot of fantastic writing lately, as I’ve tried to branch into reading stuff all over the literary map. It’s been heaps o’ fun, especially since I haven’t touched much fiction over the last few years. Tonight, after sitting down and reading a graphic novel that just came out a week ago, I decided this would be the one to kick it off because it is really, really good. I posted a version of this review initially on my GoodReads page, then left it over at the comic site I frequent, and still didn’t feel like I was doing my part enough to spread the word. So dig this. . . .

The Unknown Soldier
Written by Joshua Dysart; Art by Alberto Ponticelli

I first became aware of writer Joshua Dysart a couple years ago because he was working on a miniseries from Dark Horse Comics called Conan and the Midnight God. At the time I was almost exclusively buying Conan stuff, so I was all over it. I enjoyed the series, and actually exchanged a few messages with Joshua via our MySpace accounts. We also talked a little bit about an upcoming project (which I believe is still in process) he would be writing, the graphic novelization of Neil Young’s Greendale album/story. While we didn’t discuss it, I was well aware that many of Dysart’s MySpace “friends” were of a political bent very similar to mine, and I was pleased.

Fast forward a couple years and I find myself returned to actively reading about, following, and even buying comic stuff again. I was pleased to see Dysart was still in action; I started buying B.P.R.D. 1947, a new installment in a series I’ve always been interested in, and figured with his name in the credits it was a perfect time to start. I also knew he’d been writing The Unknown Soldier, so when the first trade came out last week collecting the first 6 issues, I picked it up.

The Unknown Soldier is powerful, powerful graphic storytelling. The Unknown Soldier character goes back to the 40s, originally, then was revived again in the 60s by DC Comics. It was the tale of a GI with his face hidden by bandages, fighting the good fight in WWII. For his story, Dysart has taken this theme, reworked it, and made it one of the most compelling trades I’ve read.

Moses Lwanga is an American doctor who has returned to Uganda, where he was born, to try and work for peace. Situations rapidly deteriorate, as situations tend to do in Africa, and he becomes the modern version of the Unknown Soldier. We also see flashbacks or visions that indicate maybe he isn’t entirely what he thinks he is, ala the Jason Bourne stories/movies, as his ability to fight, and kill, exceeds what one might expect from a man of his supposed background. This is the story of a man fighting against a corrupt government’s military, as well as against the rebels that oppose it. Think child soldiers. Think ghastly rapes and murder, and a whole lot of hopelessness. Meanwhile Lwanga wrestles with himself because he knows violence only begets violence, but he is compelled to eradicate it all single-handedly if he must. Believe me, my words over simplify the story Dysart is telling, but to explain further would reveal too much. It is heavy, heavy stuff.

What I love about this book is how Dysart has taken something he is passionate about — modern Africa — and worked raising awareness of its problems into the story he is telling, and doing it without sounding preachy. There aren’t good guys vs. bad guys — it is just a whole lot of bad, and the people who suffer the most are the ones who least deserve to. This is grim stuff, and probably not for everybody, but it is real. Meanwhile the main character has deep flaws, which only enhances the compelling narrative.

I sometimes squirm over all the violence in these “mature” lines from comics publishers — DC’s Vertigo line, Marvel’s MAX line, and indie publishers like Avatar, for example — because some of it seems like violence simply for the sake of violence (see, these days in comics they can get away with ultra-violence and still have the books on the racks next to “regular” comics, but sex is still pretty heavily regulated, a situation I find really freakin’ stupid). But the horrors Dysart portrays here are real, they are tragedies that happen every day; he knows, because he has traveled extensively in the areas he is writing about, and has documented these trips via his website. It is grim stuff, and Dysart writes about it fearlessly.

The art by Alberto Ponticelli is perfect for this. The scenes of the villages and landscapes are captured beautifully, and the colors are outstanding (normally mainstream comics art is divided up by pencils, inks and colors, but looking at the credits I’m led to believe that Ponticelli did all 3; if that is the case, then I am triply impressed!). The two creators combine for a magnificent one-two punch.

I was blown away by The Unknown Soldier. Kudos to Joshua Dysart for finding a way to blend social commentary — and activism — in a mainstream comics medium. This is what I talk about when I rave about how comics are underrated as an art form. If any of this sounds interesting, I urge you to check out Dysart’s website, then buy the book; preferably at your LCS (Local Comics Shop), or online if you don’t have one.

Rally, Shmally, We Came Here to Rock!

>Friday night LAZERWOLFS played a show at this biker rally thing at Rock Creek, and it was Sid’s debut on the drum throne for us. In case you missed it, Bubba, our regular drummer, has encountered some legal difficulties that make him unable to tour with us, and may have made his services unavailable, period. As it turned out, we found out a couple days prior that he could have played this show, but we went ahead with Sid just to get a warm-up in for tour, which we hit the road for on Tuesday night. Bubba got to be the photographer. Anyway, in a lot of ways this was just an awesome show. It was fun playing with Sid, plus Bubba got onstage and sang Judas Priest’s “Breaking the Law” with us, which was hilarious and a blast. Then, after our set was over, Bubba came up and we debuted two new songs off the new album, which just came out this week. Anyway, here are a couple shots from the show:

I created a Flickr page to start storing all of our live shots for LAZERWOLFS; for a slideshow of all the shots from this particular show, you can check them out here.

The show was a great warm-up for tour, which is what we wanted it to be, but I think the rally — at least through Friday night — was a bit of a bust. It wasn’t that bad, but I know they weren’t even close to covering costs yet. Personally, I think they were a bit ambitious for the first year. I would have limited it to one stage for bands, with fewer bands. Not only that, but I suspect the organizer’s financial model included a certain draw based on bands getting people to buy tickets, and I know none of our friends are willing to drop $60 to see us and camp out all weekend. I think a few of the bands could have gotten a decent number of people to come in for one night @ $10 (though I realize single-night passes would be difficult in an environment like that, but logistically with some thought I think it could be pulled off). I really think they needed one or two recognizable headliners, supported by quality local indy bands, to draw people in. I would have had single-day tickets available. I also would have made beer stations available close to the main stage. To get any booze at all while watching the main stage you had to walk a good 100 yards easily, so the great setup (huge stage, great sound and lights) they had there was pretty much a waste. Most people lingered by the small stage that was right next to all the beer stations and the main bar, regardless that sound off that stage was terrible. One thing about the Testicle Festival folks, they make it so that you never walk more than about 20 feet and you can get a beer. But it was fun for us, it served its purpose, and aside from blowing the generators twice during our set it went pretty smooth. Playing with Sid is different from Bubba, obviously, but it is still fun and still a kickass rock show.

It’s a Great Time to Be a Geek

A few weeks ago I saw IRON MAN, and thought it was pretty awesome. In the great Marvel movie tradition, one of the highlights was a scene that is shown after all the credits are over; in the scene, Tony Stark returns home and his security has been breached, and NicK Fury of S.H.I.E.L.D. is waiting for him. Nick is portrayed by Samuel L. Jackson, which means we are talking the Ultimates version of Fury. In the scene, he berates Tony for outing himself as Iron Man, that he doesn’t know what he has gotten himself into. Then he tells Tony that they are thinking of putting a team together . . . I walked out of the theater vibrating with stoked-ness.

Another little clip I saw online didn’t help; in this image from the Iron Man movie, we see what looks like Captain America’s shield in the background. Dig it:

CAPTAIN AMERICA is quite possibly my all-time favorite superhero; it would be either him or BATMAN.

Finally, last night we went and saw the new INCREDIBLE HULK movie, and I loved it. The movie has moments where the principal characters discuss how Bruce Banner became The Hulk. They reference a “supersoldier program” that was undertaken during the 40s, and that it has never been successful since. At the end (spoiler alert!), General Ross is sitting in a bar, getting sloshed, lamenting how his efforts to rein in The Hulk have failed. A figure walks in and starts talking to him. It is none other than Tony Stark, as portrayed by Robert Downey, Jr. In it, they talk about Ross’s “problem” and Tony concludes by saying, “We are putting a team together. . . . ”

So what’s the big deal about this? The team they are talking about is THE AVENGERS, my single favorite superhero group ever. This team has had many lineups, but a key member is Captain America. Captain America was the recipient of the supersoldier serum in the 40s, and fought the Nazis in WWII until he was thought killed in action; in reality he was dropped into the Arctic Ocean while defusing a German missile and frozen in ice, only to be found and thawed out in modern times by, you guessed it, The Avengers.

Now there is talk about casting Captain America, and THOR, who was also an Avenger. Believe me, my geek nerves are on edge. After Lord of the Rings, I didn’t think I could ever get really fired up over a pending movie again, but this one may top it. I was into these characters long before I ever stumbled on Tolkien, and it’s only been recently that Hollywood has been starting to get them right. ’08 election? Pffft. This is the story of the year to follow. . . .

In closing, here is a picture of what Sid gave me for Father’s Day (my dad bringing me Captain America and Batman comics as a kid is what inspired this whole rant, to be honest). The shirt has the same image of my framed poster, autographed by Jim Lee, the artist. And Sandra Hope, the colorist. What a great kid I have.

Jim Lee was in Missoula a couple years ago as part of an event at Muse Comics. When his flight out of San Diego was canceled, he chartered his own to make sure he and his crew made it on time. That, to me, is class. It was a great event. The guy is a legend in funny books; he’s done all the big guns: X-Men, Superman, Batman, etc. Here is Jim making a sketch for Sid (Sandra is seated down the table from Jim). That was a great day.