Author: Joe R. Lansdale
Originally Published: 1993, 1995, 1999
Mood: If you like dick and fart jokes and want to waste your time wading through a massive pile of paper that’s more dick and fart jokes than plot.
The only reason I’m taking the time to review Jonah Hex: Shadows West is because I can’t stand the idea of someone picking it up and thinking THIS is Jonah Hex.
When I finally reached the last page, I wanted to be f*cking done with it. I wanted to stuff it on a shelf and never look at it again. But at the same time I was a bit excited, because you know I love a good scathing review. And we’re about to get downright hellfiery up in here.
Sadly, this collection of… let’s call it ‘interpretive art’… was intended as a treat to myself last year. I can’t remember why. It could have been any number of times I was online-shopping my feelings because of 2020.
I kept bypassing Jonah Hex: Shadows West when choosing my next read. For starters, it’s a behemoth at 392 pages. You can’t comfortably read it in bed or on the treadmill. And something about the cover art just kept putting me off.
It’s not the Jonah Hex I know and love. Like it is him, but it’s NOT him.
This is a collection of Hex stories written by Joe R. Lansdale, a prolific author who has penned comic stories for solid Western and horror fare from IDW and Dark Horse, two of my favourite publishers.
He shares the same tastes as me. I feel like we’d have a great time talking about Westerns and horror and horror Westerns over beers. It’s too bad I can’t f*cking stand his version of Hex.
I don’t mind that in the works of Shadows West, Lansdale took a few creative liberties with Hex and his universe. That’s what you’re supposed to do, bring your own take to the character.
What I didn’t like was LITERALLY EVERYTHING his take involved.
This Jonah Hex is a chatterbox. Part of Hex’s charm for me has always been his emotional detachment, and how the few words he does use are extra colourful. When he’s talking nonstop, the language gets stale awfully fast.
And then there are the stories.
I don’t know what Lansdale was going for with his dialogue and “plots”, but I started out wrinkling my nose and ended up skimming several pages in Riders of the Worm and Such because it got so disgusting that I didn’t want to read any more.
And that’s me – I grew up hanging out with boys and watching Beavis & Butt-head. I don’t gross out easily.
The first few comics in this collection, you get a lot of fart jokes. Okay, fine, a couple of dudes living off baked beans on the trail, that’s authentic. But in Riders of the Worm, which makes up the majority of the collection, there’s constant talk about farts, dicks, and I kid you not, three whole pages devoted to two nasty AF characters discussing what they like about bestiality and how they do it.
Coupled with Timothy Truman’s rough and dirty oldschool art, and it’s neither storytelling nor fun. It’s repugnant.
- Not-So-Fun Fact: In 1996, a pair of reputable blues-rock musicians named Johnny and Edgar Winter sued DC and Lansdale’s team because those two sick characters look just like them. The suit claimed this comic cast them as “vile, depraved, stupid, cowardly, subhuman individuals who engage in wanton acts of violence, murder and bestiality for pleasure and who should be killed”, which is exactly how this comic reads. Lansdale didn’t even deny it, using parody as a defence. Even though Shadows of the Worm was deemed “not to be ‘transformative’ raising possible future problems for parody”, DC won. Twice.
I don’t dislike Truman’s style, but certain characters were just TOO GROSS. I don’t know how to explain it; I think a different treatment would have given me a deliciously horrible shiver instead of making my stomach turn. Again, it’s the gratuitously rude dialogue combined with the art that pushes it over the edge.
Anyway, Truman’s style works for the Old West, and I did enjoy how he illustrates gore and guts. I loved his gorgeous drawings of sepia photos at the start of some stories. I just strongly prefer Jimmy Palmiotti’s styling of Hex himself in the DC All Star Western series. And I don’t get why he gave Hex a glowing red eye.
Jonah Hex: Shadows West does have a handful of good points.
The character of Slow Go Smith in the first story is hilarious and unexpectedly endearing, and I thoroughly enjoyed Jonah carrying his corpse mounted behind him on horseback to avenge his murder.
The last work has a fun Native American story that tiptoes neatly between spirituality and paranormal fantasy. But you have to suffer multiple unnecessary references to Buffalo Will’s tiny member, and the Pidgin English written for the main Native character, Spotted Dick. Yes, that’s his name, and yes, they devote panels to why.
Hex also has a fresh, cheeky retort (pun intended) for each time someone asks about his face.
In the introduction, Lansdale says that he had always thought Jonah Hex’s stories were supernatural, and after realizing that they only hinted at such things he wanted to write his own take that captured what he always felt was there. “I decided to keep it subtle, however, so that the reader could, to some extent, read it either way – as real supernatural business, or as real-life weird business.”
I don’t know what the f*ck he thinks is subtle about a voodoo doctor who has a potion that can reanimate Wild Bill Hickok, or a giant worm from a formerly powerful race that’s now living underground and spawning inbred half-human worm babies.
It didn’t need claims of subtlety, either. Hex has always been as subtle as a boot to the face. With spurs. Don’t pretend you’ve written some literary masterpiece here.
If you’re going to humble-brag about subtlety, and draw comparisons between Batman and Jonah Hex as what drew you to the character – you need to write stories that live up to that!
Sure, at his core this Hex is a dark knight with his own code. But he’s completely wasted in a messy, foul-smelling stew of unengaging stories and toilet humour.
If you want GOOD Jonah Hex, read the classics like Showcase Presents, Welcome to Paradise, and Weird Western Tales, or any of the new graphic novels with Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti at the helm.