This is my first “Jonah Hex” comic. It certainly won’t be my last if they’re anything like this surprisingly strong stand alone tale of Hex and a snowstorm and an all too friendly small town.
This month, Hex is traveling through a blizzard with some prisoners in tow — wanted dead, though still alive. He comes upon a small town and is welcomed, perhaps too fervently. Before he’s had time to undress for the whores, the whole town is trying to kill him, and has already killed his prisoners and his horse. He’s definitely more upset about the horse. The town, apparently starving to death thanks to losing all their livestock early in the season, have turned into cannibals and are eating both strangers and, perhaps more alarmingly, each other in order to survive the winter.
Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti use some nice horror tropes in this issue, and in fact, use one of my favorites — the “small town, everyone is in on it” conceit — which I find terrifying. You know a good reason to live in New York City? Short of some “Body Snatchers” shenanigans there’s NO WAY everyone is “in on it.” Anyway, it’s a well-used device here by Gray and Palmiotti, and they roll out the tension nicely. Readers don’t really doubt that Hex will make it out alive, but the commentary on humanity and survival is solid and it’s an enjoyable read in a nicely disturbing way. Hex at one point in the series easily kills a deer, and sees many more, which leads a reader to wonder if the townsfolk even bothered to try to kill some wildlife before turning on one another. Man is, after all, “the most dangerous game,” so it seems silly to assume it’s easier to kill travelers and loved ones than a few stray deer. However, this doesn’t feel as much like a plot hole as it does a deliberate device to show how easily these people fell into such unreasonable actions. It’s an aspect of the story that had me thinking quite some time after I finished reading, which is, of course, always the mark of a good comic book.
Doing most of the heavy lifting here is the always excellent Fiona Staples who breathes real emotion into the book, from her rail thin whores and sunken eyed children to her bare architecture and lonely winter landscapes. Staples finds a lovely pared down balance here that feels both sketchy yet fully realized, a perfect tonal match for the themes in this book. Staples evokes the isolation and desperation of these people effortlessly and I found myself lingering over certain panels that, though they were stripped down to only the essentials, felt packed with emotion.
I said this won’t be my last issue of “Jonah Hex,” but I’m afraid this issue has set the bar rather high. I look forward to next month and hope that Gray and Palmiotti can deliver another equally chilling tale.