When DC Comics re-launched its classic series "Jonah Hex" in 2005, the long-term plan for the title was to tell single-issues stories, realizing from the outset that Western-themed comics were a niche market and maintaining a regular audience could prove difficult.
But damn it if writers Jimmy Palmiotti & Justin Gray and a rotating cast of superstar artists haven't put together a string of some of the best reviewed 41 issues DC has published over the past three years, and that ever-growing fanbase is hankering for something more.
Buoyed no doubt by the buzz surrounding the upcoming Jonah Hex movie starring Josh Brolin and directed by Jimmy Hayward, Palmiotti announced at MegaCon that June's "Jonah Hex" #44 would begin the title's first major, multi-issue arc with a story featuring Hex's arch nemesis Quentin Turnbull (to be played by John Malkovich in the film). In "Weird Western Tales," the first series to showcase Hex back in the 1970s, it was revealed Turnbull's son Jeb - who was also Hex's best friend - was killed during the Civil War. While it wasn't Hex's fault, Turnbull blames him and vows eternal vengeance on the outlaw antihero.
With Palmiotti also announcing at MegaCon that fan favorite Darwyn Cooke, who illustrated "Jonah Hex" #33, was returning to draw a double-sized issue to celebrate issue #50, CBR News caught up with the co-writers to see if we couldn't wrangle a few more scoops out of them.
CBR: When you signed on for "Jonah Hex" did you think you would still be writing it coming on 50 issues?
Justin Gray: Absolutely not. A western surviving this long in this kind of market is a testament to the character and his appeal. I feel very fortunate that we've been able to tell the kinds of stories we want and to work with so many talented people in the process. It is great that there is room for mainstream comics that don't follow the superhero mold and give readers other genres to enjoy.
Jimmy Palmiotti: Honestly, we have had some 12-issue runs of books that never got to #13, so getting to #25 was a milestone for us. Getting to #50 is just insane to even think about. That said, what better way to celebrate a 50th issue than to have a double-issue by one of our favorite artists, Darwyn Cooke?
I've got to honestly thank DC Comics for sticking with us this long and the fans for supporting not only the monthlies but the trade books, as well. We may not have that many readers, but the ones we do have are some of the best fans in this industry.
From 1977 to 1985, the first volume of "Jonah Hex" ran for 92 issues. Do you have five years' worth of stories left to bring this series to #100?
JG: I'd like to think so. Ideally, you'd like to plan that far in advance, but our focus is always on making the next issue the best it can be. As long as fans support "Jonah Hex," we will deliver stories. Ideally, I'd love to see us reach #100. And to have the majority of those issues self-contained would be a rare achievement in today's market.
JP: It would be a miracle to get to #100, but miracles happen all the time, so I got my fingers crossed. This is one of my favorite books to work on and I hope it continues to entertain everyone each and every month. We both have a lot of stories to tell and look forward to the opportunity. Unlike the last series, we will not kill Jonah and stuff him.
What you do love about Jonah Hex?
JG: Just about everything appeals to me, particularly in contrast to modern justice and the interpretation of a strong male protagonist with an extremely skewed view of humanity. For a guy that doesn't say a lot, Hex is multilayered and complex in ways that make it a joy to write his stories. He's both a saint and a sinner, a psychotic killer with a moral code that is constantly evolving.
JP: He is interesting on so many levels and when writing Jonah, you've got to think like he would, and at times, I still find myself shocked with his decisions. He is a wonderful colorful character that will be around long after I am gone. He is the guy in all of us that wants to cut the bull and get down to business.
Was it a conscious decision to produce predominantly done-in-ones throughout the series, or did "Jonah Hex" just become that type of book?
JG: If I remember correctly, [DCU Executive Editor] Dan DiDio was adamant about the single-issue format from the beginning. I'm glad for that every time we approach a new story. In fact the transition into doing a six-part tale was difficult at first because we wanted to keep that tight and minimalist narrative going without giving our readers a "filler" issue.
JP: I think the idea works because we do not alienate a new audience. It's such a pleasure to take any book and hand it to a person that never read it before and know they will get a full experience from it.
Why is it time to give fans a big, multi-issue arc?
JG: Again, this was Dan's suggestion as a means of grabbing wider attention for the book and getting a push behind it, marketing-wise. The beauty and sometimes the trap that Hex falls into is that he is separate from the core DCU and there isn't an opportunity for crosspollination like there is with the superhero books. By giving readers a larger story to read we hope that it will draw new readers and still please the existing and very loyal fan base.
JP: Hey, you like "Jonah Hex," you like big adventures, well here you go. The time was right on so many levels to do something like this. Now we have to watch what the sales do for this. It should be interesting.
You're using the arc to re-introduce Jonah Hex's classic arch nemesis Quentin Turnbull.
JG: Turnbull has survived multiple encounters with Hex and that's something that doesn't happen often. So combine that with the story of his son Jeb and he's stuck with readers. On the surface, he's not an outstanding nemesis in the original run. In the film, he'll be much more dynamic as he will be in the 'Six-Gun War' storyline.
What can you tell us about the upcoming arc and specifically, Quentin Turnbull's role in it?
JG: The scope of the story provides us with more action and adventure than some of the one-and-done tales we've written in the past. It is a sprawling pulp Western with some great guest stars, lots of gunfights, chases, crazy villains and assassins. Turnbull is determined to kill Jonah Hex and avenge the death of his son and that means he'll use all of his money, power and influence in attracting a global cast of characters to get the job done.
Who is drawing the arc?
JG: His name is Cristiano Cucina and I'd say he has a similar style to [Jonah Hex co-creator] Tony De Zuniga. He's doing a great job in building on the story with excellent storytelling and page structure.
JP: Cristiano delivers each and every issue and we really did not hold back on the story. I feel for the guy. This is a six-issue epic on a scale we never worked on and he comes through with flying colors. It's all so exciting.
I've got to honestly thank DC Comics for sticking with us this long and the fans for supporting not only the monthlie
Speaking of artists, what can we expect from Darwyn Cooke when the double-sized #50 hits stores?
JG: We love Darwyn so you can expect him to kick ass and take names.
JP: We are working on something special for him and worthy of a 50th issue. All I can tell you at this point is that, wait, I can't say a thing yet except that it will feature one of the nastiest, angriest, talented gun slingers out there. And Jonah Hex, as well.
Has this been in the works since he illustrated #33?
JG: Pretty much, Darwyn said he wanted to do another after he finished #33.
JP: I have so much blackmail material on Darwyn that you can expect a triple-sized 100th issue. This guy may be one of the best illustrators in the business, but after hours, he gives Satan a run for his money. You think I'm kidding? Did you know he has the world record for the most naked arrests on the "COPS?" See, you know nothing.
The sales numbers on "Jonah Hex" are only slightly better than two recently canceled books, "Blue Beetle" and "Manhunter," and yet the series appears to be quite healthy.
JG: I hope so.
JP: Seems we have a second life with the trade books, but really, we need to get those numbers up. We do depend on our fans buying issues and trying to convert their friends. Let's hope the movie helps out, as well.
Is the hope this first foray into a large-scale, multiple-issue arc an attempt will boost the audience?
JG: That and give long time readers a bigger tale to enjoy.
Finally, what are your views on the upcoming movie starring Josh Brolin, John Malkovich and Megan Fox? And more specifically, what do you think the movie means to your comic book series?
JG: They seem to have breathed life into each other. Jonah Hex as a film property was dormant for over a decade and even then they were putting out a script that wasn't true to the character. The DC comic and character created by [John] Albano and De Zuniga was unpublished for even longer. As it stands now, the film is poised to give a wider audience exposure to "Jonah Hex" with the kind of star power and talent the creators deserve.
Naturally, we'd like to see Megan Fox play Tallulah Black but that's because we love the character and have a desire to see her thrive beyond the comic. That being said, we both feel the film is in great hands with people that respect and like the character.
JP: I couldn't be happier with the choice of director, producers and the actors announced so far. We've gotten sneak peaks behind the scenes and I got to tell you, this movie has gotten me worked up. Sure it would be smart for them to put Tallulah into the movie and who knows, maybe the case of whisky I sent to Warner Bros. might have some influence on them.
For the comic, it is business as usual getting the top talent on the book and presenting the fans with the coolest stories we can write. At the very least, the film will help a new audience give the book a shot.
The six-issue Quentin Turnbull arc is expected to begin with "Jonah Hex" #44, on sale in June from DC Comics.