Like its titular main character, DC Comics "Jonah Hex" ongoing series has a lot of fight in it, and so does the book's writing team of Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray.
That's why it should come to no surprise that the critically acclaimed book shipped its 50th issue this week, despite sales figures that may have seen the title canceled if it was "just another superhero book."
Consisting primarily of single issue stories, the Western anti-hero's epic tale unravels each month in a series that is as bloody as it poetic and as violently merciless as it is profound.
To best honor the book's big 5-0, Palmiotti and Gray tagged their pal, superstar artist Darwyn Cooke ("Parker: The Hunter") to illustrate the issue, his first credit on the book since he drew "Jonah Hex" #33 in 2008.
CBR News caught up with the fan favorite writing team to discuss the semicentennial issue of "Jonah Hex" and the way Palmiotti and Gray chose to celebrate the milestone – with the death of 50 men at the hands of the man blessed with the mark of a demon.
CBR News: "Jonah Hex" #50. Has a nice ring to it, doesn't it?
Jimmy Palmiotti: You better believe it. An almost surreal ring to it since this is the first book Justin and I ever got this high in number . We are sure hoping to be around for another 50.
Justin Gray: Like the sound of the bullet of justice hitting the chest of evil.
Well congratulations to both of you. When you signed on for "Jonah Hex," did you think you would be writing it for 50 issues?
Palmiotti: There were a couple of times we were worried, because we were tracking the monthly numbers. So we tried our best to get bigger name artists on the book and we have had great luck with that. Sure, we have had our ups and downs, but overall [Executive Editor] Dan DiDio and the wonderful crew at DC have been so incredibly supportive with the book that they did most of the worrying and let us breathe easy and keep trying our best to make each and every issue as good as the last. This really is a word of mouth book on so many levels, and we are blessed with having a great group of retailers and fans supporting us.
Gray: Not a chance, nope, no way. Twelve and done was my thinking. I have to echo Jimmy's response about DC sticking with us, keeping the faith and allowing us the freedom to tell the kinds of stories we feel so strongly about.
The last time we spoke about "Jonah Hex", you both said that there was a conscious decision to produce predominantly done-in-one stories throughout the series. You're coming off your first major, multi-issue arc, and now #50 is back to the done-in-one approach. Are there any plans for more multi-issue stories?
Palmiotti: Not for a while. We loved doing the six-parter, but it didn't make much of a difference sales wise, so we are going to stick to the done in ones for the time being. By doing this, we are able to set up some truly exciting guest artists in the coming months, like Billy Tucci, Dick Giordano, Brian Stelfreeze and many more.
Gray: I think what we learned from the six issue arc was that, although some readers felt that was important to have longer story arcs, they've changed their opinions back to the freedom and accessibility of the single issue format. There are so many books to choose from, but few of them offer readers the opportunity to experience a beginning, middle and ending of a story in one reading.
Because I have to ask, any chance we'll ever see Jonah Hex go all Mad Max again and return to the year 2052 while you're both on the book?
Palmiotti: We would do that in a heartbeat, but as a separate series and not within the actual series. It just makes more sense to keep it separate, especially since I always viewed those books as a sort of "What If…" concept.
Gray: Speaking honestly, I'm opposed to revisiting what was essentially an attempt to maintain a title by following an eighties' apocalypse fad. Wouldn't it be more fun to see post-apocalyptic Aquaman?
Yes, it would be. Do the events of "Six Gun War" roll into #50, or is this the proverbial great "jumping-on point" for new readers?
Palmiotti: This is totally a done-in-one story that anyone can pick up and get into. At the same time, it has elements in it that long time readers will just love, especially with dealing with Tallulah and the idea that Jonah has hit #50, so he goes about and kills 50 men within the story. It's a great show of faith from DC Comics that they have let Darwyn Cooke do two different covers on this special issue.
Gray: That has been the main focus of the single-issue format from the beginning, to get people who haven't tried "Hex" to take a chance with the smallest investment of their time and money. Now that we're back to that style, #50 is a great point for people to try "Jonah Hex."
What can you tell us about the story in #50, beyond the very impressive count of 50 kills?
Palmiotti: It's a story that is part heartbreaking and part balls to the wall action. We knew we had Darwyn Cooke lined up to tell this story, and DC agreed to make the 50th issue a special one by giving us the extra pages to tell it. The story takes place over a year's time and involves a lot of soul searching, for both Jonah and Tallulah. It also involves Jonah hunting a huge gang of terrible people… and it gets crazy from there. The less said here, the better the reader will find the book.
Gray: This is, for me, another one of the reasons I enjoy working on "Hex," because we're able to tell ultra-violent stories that have heart and emotional resonance beyond the formula of a Western. The core of this book always deals with loss, struggle, loneliness and human struggles against immorality. This is a defining moment for Hex and Tallulah as they relate to each other.
As stated, Tallulah once again plays a prominent role in the story. Do you get an extra buzz writing her as she is a character you created for the Hex mythos?
Palmiotti: We certainly do. Tallulah is near and dear to our hearts and when you create and write a character like her, she takes on her own personality and to us, becomes real in a way. Her tale and her relationship with Jonah is such a multi-layered one that I don't think Justin and I will ever get tired writing about her in the series. That said, we would love to, one day, explore the character in her own series. We feel lucky to be around this long so why not press the luck further?
Gray: I have a fondness for Tallulah, not just as our creation, but the kind of character she is. It amuses me that the ‘women portrayed in comics' argument fails to recognize how strong, bold, brash, intelligent and vulnerable Tallulah is.
You mentioned that Darwyn Cooke is illustrating the issue, who is one of my favorites. Why is he such a great fit for "Jonah Hex?"
Palmiotti: Darwyn is a natural born storyteller and can illustrate just about any genre. He is a natural for "Hex" because he actually reads and enjoys the book and isn't looking at this as a gig, but rather a fun time at the desk. As everyone knows by now, Darwyn also works with one of the finest colorist/artists in the business, Dave Stewart. Look at the pages and your eyes and brain will tell you instantly why this works so well. We are blessed to have the both of them involved with this issue.
Gray: Aside from the obvious, it is very rewarding and inspiring to work with Darwyn. He's a writer and artist who can do anything he wants, but for some crazy reason – maybe something in the Canadian water supply – he is willing to jam with us on "Hex" for a story we both feel so strongly about telling.
Is he scheduled to illustrate #67, keeping with his once every 17 issues rotation?
Palmiotti: I have no clue. We would be happy to have him monthly, but I think maybe #75 might be the next time he will stop by. You never know though; the man has a lot going on. I know for sure another adaptation of the "Parker" novels is on the way and we all are looking forward to that after seeing and enjoying "The Hunter."
Gray: We just leave the door open and hope he stops by again… with liquor.
What's ahead for "Jonah Hex" in 2010? Can you tease any storylines for the next 12 issues?
Palmiotti: We have quite a few of the stories already done, and they cover just about every type of story theme. We've got con men, hurricanes, mass murderers, train robberies, beautiful women, exploding buildings and so much more. We are delivering what the readers have come to expert each and every month.
Gray: "Jonah Hex: The Musical!" Kidding, but we do have an awesome artist named Tony DeZuniga drawing an original hardcover story and a number of very talented and possibly surprising artists riding with us.
Since you mentioned it, can you share any other details about the original graphic novel, "Jonah Hex: No Way Back?"
Palmiotti: Tony DeZuniga is well past the halfway point, and it looks like classic Tony.
Gray: It looks amazing.
Palmiotti: The story deals with an idea that Tony had and discussed with John Albano years ago, that Jonah had a brother out there who was living his life completely different than the path Jonah chose. The story also deals with Jonah confronting some things that happened to him in the past and dealing with the results of his past actions. It's 128 pages of "Jonah Hex," all in one book.
2010 is going to be a big year for "Jonah Hex" with the movie coming out. What are you both expecting from Josh Brolin's interpretation of the character?
Palmiotti: I am expecting what we saw while we are on set – a brilliant actor doing a fantastic job. We are so excited about the movie and about what Jimmy Hayward and his crew have in store for us. June 10th can't come soon enough for me. What we saw so far is just plain kinetic energy on screen.
Gray: Josh is so talented, I have no worries about his execution and believability as Jonah Hex.
Do you think the movie will have any kind of ripple effect on the comic series?
Palmiotti: We sure hope so. At the very least, it might make some new people curious and go to bookstores and give the trade books a look. I think on a lot of levels, everything helps given the time and what DC has available to the public when it hits. At the very least, we expect that the foreign sales of the book will pick up a bit. I am very optimistic.
Gray: I agree. I think if the film resonates with people, they'll be willing to seek out the trades.
"Jonah Hex" #50, written by Jimmy Palmiotti & Justin Gray with art and covers by Darwyn Cooke, is in stores now.