DC Comics‘ “Jonah Hex” #1, written by Jimmy Palmiotti & Justin Gray and illustrated by Luke Ross, shipped to comic book stores in November 2005. You can look at that in a variety of ways — George W. Bush was president, “The West Wing” was still on TV, MySpace was the social network of choice — but no matter what, it was a significant chunk of time ago.
Nearly nine years later, Palmiotti and Gray brought their time with Jonah Hex — the famously scarred Old West bounty hunter first introduced by John Albano and Tony DeZuniga in 1972 — to a close with “All-Star Western” #34, the final issue of the series that started in 2011 at the dawn of the New 52. Palmiotti and Gray were joined by the, ahem, all-star art team of Darwyn Cooke and Dave Stewart for a story that riffed on the character’s pre-“Crisis on Infinite Earths” in-continuity death, 1978’s “The Last Bounty Hunter.”
The issue has been unanimously praised — including a five-star review on CBR — and CBR News talked with Palmiotti about the story, the satisfaction he feels with his run on the western antihero, collaborating with Cooke & Stewart, the upcoming smell-infused annual for his other DC series — the top-selling “Harley Quinn” — and his latest Kickstarter success, “Sex and Violence Vol. 2.”
CBR News: Jimmy, obviously you and Justin have had a very long run together with Jonah Hex. How emotional was it for the two of you to put together the “All-Star Western” finale?
Jimmy Palmiotti: Well, it was the story we were planning for a while when we got the word from DC that the end was near. And finally finishing it was one thing, but holding it our hands made the finality of it very real and for me, it was just fine. I think we had a good run on the character and the only thing that still bothers me is that the trade books are out of print for the original 70-issue Jonah Hex series we did, and they are not planning any hardcovers or trades anytime soon. I think this bothers me the most since they keep so much stuff in stock. I think a “best of” hardcover should be something they should work on, but it’s not my company.
Other than that, we ended it like we wanted and it’s time to move on. As far as emotional… I think giving the book and character a happy sendoff made it easier.
It’s notable that the series ends on a positive, optimistic note — which given the nature of the genre and the characters was definitely not a guarantee. Considering the amount of time you’ve been working on Jonah Hex, did you always have an ending in mind? And what inspired giving Jonah and Tallulah a happy ending?
We were looking at the old “Jonah Hex” special about the death of Jonah Hex and we thought there might be a way of dealing with this issue and change what I thought was something they maybe should never have done in a way. I don’t want to know his end, or what happens to Jonah, I just want to think of him out there somewhere doing his thing. We had the ending in mind since we brought him into the present day and waited to do this story you see here in the last issue. It makes sense. So does a happy ending. Why would we want to end the book on a down note? The idea of a million possibilities is wonderful.
As noted, the issue is something of a nod to “The Last Bounty Hunter,” at one time the in-canon “death of Jonah Hex” story. As a comics appreciator and someone very close to the character of Jonah Hex, what’s your take on that 1978 story?
I thought it was fun and wild and never believed for a second that he got killed that way, that’s why our book took it head on and messed with it and had some respectful fun in the process. People can choose what they want to believe is his real future… or wait a few years ’til the next team tackles the character, which will inevitably happen.
“All-Star Western” and “Jonah Hex” have both featured an impressive roster of artists throughout, and the series goes out in style with Darwyn Cooke and Dave Stewart. How meaningful was it to you to have artists of that caliber illustrate the final issue of the series?
I was hanging out with Darwyn and told him what we had in mind for the last issue and he demanded to draw it, which we had absolutely no problem accommodating. It was super important to get the best storyteller we could find on that issue because of the type of story we were telling and Darwyn and Dave were it. It’s the best looking book DC has put out this year, in my opinion.
While “Jonah Hex” and “All-Star Western” may not have ever been top-sellers, it’s been nearly a nine-year run in total, which is a very long time for a western comic being published by a superhero company in this market. How gratifying is it to have this long of a run on something that was far from a sure thing? Do you think there’s more potential yet to be explored for the western comic in 2014?
I think there is, but not at DC Comics at the moment. Justin and I are writing a graphic novel about a town in the old west and will be launching it at New York Comic Con this fall, so we shall see if there is an audience for it. Until then, Justin is writing a “Lone Ranger” series that is pretty darn great, coming soon. The audience always tells you by sales if they want something or not.
On that same note — do you think that you and Justin have more Jonah Hex stories left to tell at some point down the road if the opportunity is presented, or are you feeling satisfied with moving on from the character at the point?
I cannot speak for Justin, but I think its time to move on and do other things. Things we create and own.
At DC, you’re also co-writing “Harley Quinn” with Amanda Conner, which has been a major success. One thing I haven’t heard you talk about much is the upcoming annual, scheduled out in October — which sounds like it has a scratch-and-sniff-esque element to it? What can you share about that issue?
I can say that it is one bizarre comic book that will linger with you for a while. It also features a Wonder Woman Villain, and Poison Ivy is back with Harley doing their thing. Last, it will smell and feature a group of odd smells that are supposed to enhance the experience. In addition, it is drawn by a group of super-talented people and is a total blast. It’s the most fun book in a while that I worked on.
Last week, the Kickstarter for “Sex and Violence Vol. 2” surpassed its goal by more than a thousand dollars. You’ve probably had the highest success rate of any comics creator on Kickstarter, and have been a big proponent of others using the platform — how invaluable has Kickstarter been to your creator-owned comics work these past few years? What kind of opportunities to explore have been opened that weren’t there before?
We are able to put out creator-owned books that do not need a distribution system to make our money back and it’s wonderful. The catch is it is about 10 times the work of publishing, but nothing connects us to the audience better than this grassroots system. We deliver the goods and people come back for more. What more could we want? We get to do some crazy stuff, that’s for sure, but the audience loves it and we love doing it. It is win-win.
“All-Star Western” #34 is on sale now.