Dynamic duos — Starsky and Hutch, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Batman and Robin, just to name a few. Every medium has its favorites and in the field of comic book writing, one such prime example is the scripting team of Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray, who continue their dual authorship on the two ongoing DC Comics titles “Jonah Hex” and “Freedom Fighters.”
The pistol first fired for “Hex” in 2005, when Palmiotti and Gray launched the series focusing on the genre-spanning adventures of titular bounty hunter. The title gained prominence for its mostly single-issue style storytelling and rotating roster of artists. Palmiotti and Gray have since guided Hex as he blazed a trail across the Old West and the comic book landscape for over five years, 60 issues and one original graphic novel, taking on anything and everything along the way, from simple bandits to swamp-dwelling cannibals to sexy rodeo show performers turned amateur bounty hunters.
Although the team’s current ongoing series just recently began, when it comes to “Freedom Fighters,” as with “Hex,” Palmiotti and Gray hold years of experience with the characters under their metaphorical belts. The two writers previously developed the characters in two eight-issue miniseries, “Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters.” The new ongoing title began late last year and saw the defenders of freedom attempting to save the world from a Confederate weapon of mass destruction left over from the American Civil War. The writers threw a curveball in the series when in the third issue, the Spirit of America fell and the Freedom Fighters lost Uncle Sam.
With “Jonah Hex” about to embark on his latest assignment and the first big arc of “Freedom Fighters” about to wrap, CBR News spoke with Palmiotti and Gray about the two series, their plans for their wildly different casts and why they never plan on leaving any of these characters any time soon.
CBR News: You guys have been on “Jonah Hex” now for going on 66 issues. What’s it been like working on this character for so long? How do you keep things fresh for yourselves?
Jimmy Palmiotti: Justin and I view each issue as being the first issue someone may pick up, and because of that, we always have to be producing the best book we can and never do a “throw-away” issue. As well, because of the revolving door nature of the artists on the book, we only have one shot, at times, to impress the artist, and we really want to make an impression on them so they come back for more. Finally, we have to keep the fans that have been there from the beginning satisfied, so to do that, we have to get very creative and not fall into the same “Hex hunts criminal” type story. As far as remaining fresh, that’s an easy one. We both study American history and in doing so, this opens up the doors for hundreds of ideas.
Justin Gray: One of the great luxuries of “Jonah Hex” is the relative lack of a deadline on any given issue. This allows us to walk away from the character and genre for periods of time to return with a fresh set of eyes. Even more importantly, it allows us to, and this is going to sound like corny writer bullshit, but the stories are more organic when we have no real pressure to deliver a story. The single issue formatting is liberating because you don’t have to chart out a six to twelve month plan toward a resolution. When a Hex idea pops into our heads, it comes from an enthusiastic desire to get it down on paper in a complete package. Like Jimmy said, we like to explore ways to bend the genre and add different elements to a western.
Not that fans want you to, but do you ever see yourself leaving this title by choice? Do you honestly ever see yourself getting tired of the character?
Palmiotti: We would never leave this title unless we were forced to. We also never see ourselves getting tired of the character because he simply isn’t a cut and dry character. Honestly, this book has been such a blessing and has opened up many doors for us, so we would never leave it willingly. Ever.
Gray: I love this book; the way it is formatted, the number of amazingly talented and diverse people we’re blessed to be working with, the central character has so much potential, I think we’ve only scratched the surface in sixty-plus issues. I love the fact that DC has graciously allowed us to take our own path and have so much to say about how this book is put together. A testament to the power of Jonah Hex as a character is the fact that in over five years worth of stories, we haven’t given Hex an internal monologue. The reader isn’t plugged into Hex’s thoughts; they have to witness his deeds and pass a moral judgment on their own. Hex allows us the opportunity to work with abstract concepts, subtle character traits and, even though the majority of our stories have been single issues, you can sense how these stories fit together.
As you both mentioned, one of the coolest things about “Jonah Hex” is the plethora of artists you get to work on the project. Do you personally seek our your collaborators, and what’s the reaction generally like when you ask?
Palmiotti: There are three ways we get guest artists. The first way is through our relationships with artists — the people we know and the professionals we meet. The second way is through the editor Wil Moss. Wil will seek someone out and go after them, like we would. Last, the artists come to us, or DC, or will ask to maybe try their hands at an issue. Because of this, we have been able to get some artists that you would never see on a book like this, and we like to think on some level we are doing our jobs as writers, making this a gig they would embrace.
Gray: The art is 90 percent of what makes this book so much fun. Jimmy described the process, but there have been instances where we’ve written scripts well in advance with specific artists in mind, even before we knew if they were interested. Kind of asking ourselves, “If we could work with this person, what kind of story would we like to see them draw?” The most important creative decisions are ones where the collaboration is right. The right artist with the right story makes a huge difference.
What about the future? Are there any other artists you can talk about, new or returning?
Palmiotti: I can only talk about the artists for the next three issues: Jordi Bernet, Nelson DeCastro and Fiona. After that, we have an artist that I grew up loving and later became friends with coming on board for a two-part story. Another artist, a friend of mine from California that is a great guy and a brilliant artist, is returning. We hope to have Raffa Garres and a few other guest stars. The problem with telling you who they are, it spoils any chance of making an announcement that can feature their art with it. What I will promise you is that everyone we have lined up for the rest of the year is just amazing. As it stands now, we have up to issue #73 being worked on.
Looking back at the series, although Jonah Hex is known for its one-and-done style stories, there have been a few multiple parters. Are there any plans for more of those in the future?
Palmiotti: We have a two parter where we thought the story deserved a bit more pages and we have one of the most popular artists we know working on it. No, we can’t say who it is, but when announced, you will get it. We did the bigger story arc already, and a lot of people didn’t like it. In a perfect world, we would love to do a couple of hardcovers featuring 128-page stories a year and keep with the done-in-one book, but it’s not in our hands. We are open to anything DC feels is the right thing to do. It’s all about sales and gaining new readers.Â
Before we move onto “Freedom Fighters,” can you tell us anything about the future stories your have planned for Hex? And do you have a final tale set in the back of your mind for the day you and Jonah Hex finally part?
Palmiotti: We will introduce a new female character, take Jonah on a one-way love affair, plop him in the snow-covered mountains for a few weeks and have him deal with a band of killers. All that and more, really. As far as a final tale, we are hoping that we will not have to ever tell that story. Honestly, even if the book ended, we would try to keep telling Jonah Hex stories in different formats.
Gray: We’re exploring adding some noir and classical mystery elements to a few upcoming stories, a hopefully clever and logical take on steampunk elements and the introduction of a new woman in Hex’s life who is unlike any of the others.
Moving over to your other regular DC Comics series, “Freedom Fighters,” you’re a little over halfway through the first major arc at this point. What can you say about what’s still to come?
Palmiotti: We reflect the times in a way that works with the actual fate of the title. We see the characters in an odd place in their lives, and they are wondering about their future — like everyone else these days.
What do you think it is that makes the idea of Freedom Fighters such an appealing concept? Many people might see these characters as low-level, but they’re actually pretty classic characters.
Palmiotti: I think they are colorful, driven by what is right in the world and a lot of fun. The idea of a low-level character is something we don’t believe in. We think all the Freedom Fighters can be just as important as the big guys in the DCU if they were given the same kind of attention and a better chance to interact with the other characters. As they stand, they have always been treated as a “side” group. We try not to look at it like that. If you haven’t noticed, we have a lot of “B” characters spending time with us these days. We love them.
In regard to Uncle Sam’s recent death, Miss America herself mentions that he’ll be back, that the American Spirit can never truly die. Do you already know when he’ll be returning? Is there a specific time you have in mind or is it something you’re holding off on for now?
Palmiotti: Solicitations spoil that kind of thing and because Sam is really the American Spirit, he can never really die. Besides death, there are other ways a character can “die” that has nothing to do with the bad guys killing him.
What can you say about the next big thing for the heroes and the title after the conclusion of this big arc?
Palmiotti: We have a plan ,and it’s being worked on by the guys in charge, that we hope will be something for the readers and new fans to enjoy. We really can’t say what it is yet, but it’s a pretty cool idea and something we are totally into.Â
You’ve been working on “Jonah Hex” and “Freedom Fighters” for quite some time now, accomplishing so much with both teams/characters. It occurs to me that I don’t think you’ve ever done a crossover between the two. Could that possibly be in the cards, Jonah Hex meeting up with a version of the team or even the team getting transported back to meet up with him?
Palmiotti: That would be something that we would have to be asked to do. Honestly, both books are underdogs, so a crossover would only be aimed at a smaller audience, and these days, books are created to sell. We try our best to keep “Jonah Hex” a book firmly planted in reality, stories that could have happened in the Old West. The idea of putting superheroes in the “Hex” title only works outside the actual title to us. It’s been done and will be done again, but for the regular book, we hope it doesn’t happen unless it’s under our watch so it can be done right.
Gray: Actually, Jonah Hex did make an appearance in the first mini we did, but in our hearts Hex belongs to a specific time. There have been great stories where he interacts with the modern heroes, but you have to be careful not to strip away the elements that make Hex work. The funny thing is, I disliked the idea of Hex in the Mad Max style future universe, but having lived with the character for so long, I know if we did a balls-out apocalyptic storyline we could make it work and not seem silly or disingenuous.
Be sure to check back with CBR on Monday for an exclusive look at “Freedom Fighters” #6 and “Jonah Hex” #64!