Overview

Jonah Hex #16

Review

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Jonah Hex #16

Credits

  • Words: Justin Gray & Jimmy Palmiotti
  • Art: Phil Noto
  • Inks: Phil Noto
  • Colors: Phil Noto
  • Story Title: The Ballad of Tallulah Black ? Part 1
  • Publisher: DC Comics
  • Price: $2.99
  • Release Date: Feb 7, 2007

Palmiotti and Gray present the violent origin story of female gunfighter Tallulah Black in an issue that is a deeply uncomfortable and difficult read.

Jonah Hex #16 is the first part of a story introducing Tallulah Black who, from this opening chapter, seems set to be an ongoing ally/potential future adversary for the scarred gunfighter. Tallulah’s story begins with her family slaughtered by rogue forces claiming her land on behalf of the government. She survives but is left for dead having had an eye shot out.

Fast forward a year and the tragedy of Tallulah’s life has accelerated. When one of her attackers discovers her working as a prostitute in a small town brothel he decides to continue the job he started a year before by taking a knife to an opium-addled Tallulah, leaving the readers in no doubt as to the extremity of the sexual violence he’s about to perpetrate on her.

Somehow she once again survives despite the hideous extent of her injuries. Eventually seeking out Jonah Hex (after a quick stopover as the prisoner of a deluded serial killer on the way) her quest for revenge with Jonah’s aid begins.

I’ve been growing increasingly uneasy over the last year of this title with the way that the violence of this comic was becoming more central to each story than the plot. Nothing could prepare me for this issue though, that makes bodies in refrigerators look tame in comparison. While the true horror of what is inflicted on Tallulah is largely off-panel, the constant references to the extent of her sexual injuries and the brutality of what she’s endured seem there to gratuitously shock, not to advance the plot. It’s not as if the reader is unaware of what Tallulah had suffered after the initial scene and I was left feeling that the writers crossed the line here. I can only hope that the conclusion of this story proves me wrong. Perhaps DC should be thinking about a Mature Readers advisory on this book?

This is Tallulah’s story and Jonah Hex himself is largely peripheral to events through most of #16. In light of my other concerns about this issue it seems almost trivial to mention it but, as a Jonah Hex reader from the first time round in the 70s, I’m finding it very difficult to reconcile this near-parody of characterization with the Jonah I remember.

Jonah was always a character who led a violent life, steeped in death, but he still had his own peculiar morality and was never as cruel or vicious as he’s being portrayed here (just check out the way he stands back enjoying a botched hanging in the opening pages). Turning Jonah into a "Punisher of the Old West" reduces a complex and memorable character into a violent cipher.

On a more positive note Phil Noto’s moody art is a great fit for the Western genre with its muted coloring lending to the atmosphere.

Those who like their Westerns to be uncompromisingly violent and brutal will find much to entertain them in Jonah Hex. Those looking for a nostalgia rush are probably better advised to pick up the collected Showcase edition of Hex tales.

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