By: Justin Gray & Jimmy Palmiotti (writers), Moritat (artist), Gabriel Bautista (colorist), Phil Winslade (feature artist), Dominic Regan (feature colorist)

The Story: Gee, it’s good to be together again.  I just can’t imagine that you’ve ever been gone!

The Review: The beauty of Jonah Hex and Dr. Arkham’s partnership is not only how well they work off each other, but also the uneasy tension that remains, and will perhaps always remain, a part of their dynamic.  At any rate, the dynamic between the duo has easily been the best part of this title, so it was a bit dismaying to see them part ways so suddenly last issue.  It’s actually hard to imagine one without the other now, like Sherlock and Watson, or Starsky and Hutch.

For that reason, you’ll be glad to see them back together again, when Hex’s latest commission brings him face-to-half-face with Arkham once more.  While you can’t describe their reunion as anything like happy, you can see how their relationship has evolved over the course of three issues.  Arkham’s no longer surprised by Hex’s lack of social graces (for example, calling a nun “Sister Hardcase”), and even demonstrates a measure of influence on the bounty hunter.

For his part, Hex keeps a pretty cold shoulder towards the doctor, but whether consciously or no, he has also come to take advantage, if not rely upon, Arkham’s presence in his life.  When the two of them discover a cavern of mining slave-children in the depths of the Gotham sewers, Hex not only clues Arkham into what he’s planning (an unthinkable move for Hex in the past), he gives Arkham a role to play in his plan: “Start movin’ the kids out when it looks safe.”

That last line is evidence that for the mercenary attitude Hex projects (he ostensibly accepts this quest for missing children only after being offered an obscene amount of money), he has a soft spot somewhere in his body.  Even he can’t be totally untouched by the pitiful sight of a boy, left malnourished, ghoulish, and mindless after years of slaving.  And who knows?  Maybe we’ll see more of his sensitive side the longer he sticks with Arkham, but don’t bet on it.

Moritat has been good for a while, and he gets even better here.  Besides producing some of the most distinctive faces in comics (I respect a man who can produce that much variety in noses), he’s grown more and more accomplished at giving them great dramatic expression.  Hex’s furrowed brow and curled lip upon seeing the emaciated slave-child conveys not only thoughtfulness, but disgust and something like disbelief as well, giving you the complicated man that is Jonah Hex in one panel.

This issue includes yet another backup, this time featuring the Barbary Ghost, a Chinese woman holding herself out as a spirit of vengeance as she hunts for the man who apparently destroyed her family (except herself and her grandfather).  In comparison to the mostly dull El Diablo, the tale of the Barbary Ghost feels less generic, more specific, and thus more convincing as a drama.  The story is even more interesting given its exclusive focus on the Chinese immigrants of San Francisco, and how they prey on and interact with each other, sans interference from Yankees.

What also helps this backup sell better than the last is Winslade’s far more competent and appropriate art.  He delivers a sketchy, gritty linework that works exceptionally well with the Western mafia story going on here.  The overall aesthetic looks like it could fit in with soapy comic strips of the sixties, but it also has an edginess that calls to mind Vertigo or IDW art.

Conclusion: With a better-resourced backup, and a still solid A-feature, this title continues to offer stuff no other book on the stands does, though it has a ways to go before it deserves a cult-favorite status.

Grade: B

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – I’m the first to admit I’m no continuity buff.  Anyone recognize the “man in a cloak of black and red with a mask and guns” that’s kidnapping all those kids?  New character, or old news?