By: Justin Gray & Jimmy Palmiotti (story), Moritat (art), Gabriel Bautista (colors)

The Story: Hex discovers that on occasion, violence can be a turn-on.

The Review: The thing about genre fiction, which includes the western, is that the stories are frequently restricted by conventions.  They have certain archetypes fans easily recognize, and their plots tend to follow well-established patterns and formulas.  Breaking out of these ruts can be quite difficult, considering the limited range each genre offers.  With the western, the limits are even greater since it has restrictions on both geography and time.

This title has defied the traditions of its genre by moving the story outside the usual dusty, frontier town and placing it within urban settings.  While we’ve gotten a lot of entertainment out of observing Hex’s unique brand of “country mouse, town mouse” conflict, it’s more important to note that putting him in cities like Gotham and New Orleans means he encounters the kinds of problems we can relate to, making him more accessible to us.  It also means he has to re-discover and re-use parts of his humanity he hasn’t had to deal with in a while.

This was made apparent last issue, when Hex brought out some of that Southern gentleman’s charm to get into Mr. and Mrs. Coy’s good graces.  Here, we see that his interaction with them doesn’t just kindle old manners, but possibly recollections of the man he once was.  Hex isn’t exactly torn in his loyalties; he clearly doesn’t have any genuine beef against immigrants or the like.  But he does have enough of a connection to these strident Southerners to understand where they’re coming from and act as if he comes from the same place.

That, combined with his unadulterated ruggedness, makes him quite appealing to Z.C., who may be a bigoted killer, but one genuinely attracted to Hex.  When he asks if she’ll kill him if he doesn’t go along with her group’s plan, she coos, “Not me.  I like you too much, but there are more than three of us in this outfit.”  Her overt sexuality and seduction of Hex offers a gripping backdrop to her exposition and rhetoric, certainly more than previous scenes of this type.

This issue also gets a lot of entertainment out of seeing how Arkham spends his recreational time, which involves “sampl[ing] some of the local opiates and enjoy[ing] the company of women from the far East.”  If you wonder how Arkham and Hex seem to go together so well, this may explain quite a lot: the upstanding doctor has a fairly gnarly side of him very much in tune with Hex’s own penchant for the wild life.

Gray-Palmiotti’s writing really sharpens this issue.  The dialogue sounds snappier and more to-the-point, resulting in more natural, digestible conversations (Z.C. describes her group as “an underground network.  A movement designed to force people into action.”  Hex replies dryly, “Last cause ah supported didn’t end well.”).  The plotting has also gotten a lot tighter, as Arkham’s night activities ultimately coincide with Hex’s mission, leading to a very neat, convincing, and hilarious cliffhanger (“Thanks, Doc,” Hex says as he and Arkham get hauled off on a boat full of explosives).

Moritat continues to improve his own skills on this title, mastering the art of creating distinct faces.  Though his lines are sketchy by nature, he conveys a ton of fine detail, particularly the closer you zoom in on his figures, where you can see every whisker and furrow on Hex’s face.  He also proves very handy at action choreography in this issue; Hex’s and Z.C.’s duel radiates pain and effort, making you wince with each movement.

As for the back-up, we get a somewhat trite treatment of Cinnamon’s backstory, though it does explain why she and Nighthawk go so well together.  Though Patrick Scherberger’s art conveys the story well (along with Dan Green’s inks and Mike Atiyeh’s colors), we really don’t get anything out of it other than discovering the original dynamic duo had their special abilities almost literally fall into their laps.

Conclusion: By far the strongest issue we’ve had so far on this series, which just goes to show there’s room for an old genre to grow, after all.

Grade: B+

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – Kudos to Moritat for making Z.C. so convincingly sensual.  There’s a pacing and control to her foreplay with Hex that reveals her sexuality without dismissing that she can just as quickly go back to cutting him to death.