Maybe it was the Frank Quitely cover of issue #1 or my recent (at the time) marathon sessions of "Deadwood," but I was drawn to this "Jonah Hex" series from the beginning. But every year or so, I think, "why am I still reading this comic?" The focus on single-issue stories has been an interesting experiment (broken on only a few occasions over the past four years), but with barely any link from one issue to the next, there's not much of a compelling reason to keep me reading this comic in its serialized format. Gray and Palmiotti haven't just crafted stories that work as single issues. They've mostly crafted stories that have worked as single, isolated, completely out-of-context issues. Hardly anything in the way of characters crossing over from one story to the next, barely any recognition that Hex has had anything but vague adventures in his past.
In that sense, this series has almost been an existential look at the DC western gunslinger. Not much of a past, not much hope for a future, Hex plods on, shooting thugs and rapists (a lot of rapists, actually) at every turn.
What has kept me coming back isn't the writing. It's fine, and occasionally moving, but this isn't a comic that hinges on the quality of its script. It's an art-driven book, and every time I think about dropping it from my pull list, a J. H. Williams III issue comes along, or Darwyn Cooke draws a story, or Jordi Bernet, or Rafa Garres. So I, like Hex, plod on, even though I don't hold out much hope for the future of this comic.
But last issue kicked off something different. A six-part tale, "Sixgun War," which is the "Jonah Hex" version of Crisis on Infinite DC Westerns. Okay, there's no red skies, or parallel worlds, or Darkseid shooting Batman in the head with his eyes. But after forty-something issues of practically stand-alone stories about Jonah Hex bringing justice into town, we get a multi-parter in which characters from previous issues reappear and a gaggle of DC Western heroes rise up to join them. Bat Lash? You bet. El Diablo? Yup. One of those guys who is like a native American version of Batman? Yeah, of the Blue Eagle variety. Okay, maybe three isn't technically a gaggle, but I suspect that we'll see more DC western characters pop into this mini-event before it reaches its inevitably blood-drenched conclusion.
I mentioned that this is an art-driven book, and I haven't discussed Cristiano Cucina's art yet. That's because this isn't an art-driven six-parter. Cucina's art is good, but nothing as inventive as the artists I listed above. The art does its job -- it's gritty and dark and appropriate -- but it's the thrill of actually seeing characters from previous issues reappear that makes "Jonah Hex" #45 a lot of fun. And the reader who has never picked up an issue of this series can start with these past two issues and get almost completely brought up to speed. El Papagayo is bad. Tallulah Black is badass. And so on.
It's nice to see this series evolve into something with its own internal continuity -- it makes the stories matter more in the larger scheme of things. And it looks like Gray and Palmiotti have a massive adventure planned for this six-parter. Things can't possibly go well when two of your heroes face a firing squad at the end of the second chapter. But for all its existentialism, "Jonah Hex" has been a series about the hope that comes from never giving up, and now that "Sixgun War" is underway, I certainly won't be giving up on this comic any time soon.