Knight-Ridder reporter Bill Radford checks in on the latest resuscitation of comic book westerns, focusing on two new titles from DC comics. First, there’s Loveless (left), the story of “a disillusioned Confederate soldier and former prisoner of war” who will create “a trail of death and destruction” as he and his wife make their way across the left side of the continent. That one’s openly compared to HBO’s Deadwood, although author Brian Azzarello cites spaghetti westerns like Django as a more prominent influence.
The other bullet in DC’s shotgun is a revival of Jonah Hex, one of the most vividly remembered comics for readers who grew up in the ’70s and early ’80s…and not just for his jarring features (right). He’s “a disillusioned Confederate soldier and former prisoner of war,” too, as it happens—and if that also sounds like The Outlaw Josey Wales, well, this new Hex even looks like a young Eastwood, on the good side anyway—but has historically been a PG or PG-13 antihero as compared to the more mature treatment of those themes in Loveless. “We’re writing him as faithfully to his roots as possible,” co-scripter Justin Gray tells Newsarama, “while making him accessible to long time fans and people that have never heard of or picked up a Jonah Hex comic.” (For those who don’t know the character’s past, DC is also helpfully reprinting more than 500 pages worth of stories from the ’70s in a black-and-white collection.)
What makes this an interesting experiment on DC’s part is the open-endedness of the two series. Both DC and its chief competitor, Marvel, have done westerns over the last few years, but always as limited series like the big gay spoof of Rawhide Kid. By making even a tentative commitment to a long-running title (though Azzarello has indicated that Loveless will conclude naturally after about four years), DC seems to be actively exploring alternatives to the superhero comic even as it reinvents that mainstream.