[Note: This post contains spoilers for Desolation Jones #6.]
YOU SEE, YOU AND YOUR LITTLE FRIENDS STOLE SOMETHING FROM SOMEONE I KNOW. NOW, HE WANTS IT RETURNED QUIETLY AND NEVER WANTS TO HEAR FROM YOU AGAIN. SO HIS LAWYER HIRED ME. BUT, SEE, THAT WAS A TERRIBLE MISTAKE. I JUST KILL PEOPLE FRANK. I KILL THEM AND FUCK THEIR HEADS AND LEAVE THEIR BODIES IN THE STREET AS A WARNING.
Desolation Jones holds a special place for me. One of the first pieces I wrote here was a discussion of the second issue, and it's still one of the posts here I'm most proud of. It's easy to forget this book, shuffled off into a steady bimonthly rhythm in a the odd Wildstorm Signature line. It's easy to forget that this little noir book by Warren Ellis and JH Williams III is really one of the best comics on the stands, and stands as an example of exactly how good Ellis can be when he's really on his game. Rereading the series, the open emotion of the second issue still stands out but there are flashes of complexity scattered throughout the series that subvert Ellis' now-stereotypical Hard Man tropes. Michael Jones is a complex figure who is as deeply flawed as his spiritual ancestors: Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe. In the fifth issue, however, Jones makes it clear that he is neither of those men:
I'M NOT A SMART BLOKE, TAPPER. I'M NOT A GREAT DETECTIVE. I DON'T HAVE AMAZING DEDUCTIVE SKILLS. NONE OF THAT. I ENDED UP DOING WHAT I'M DOING BECAUSE I HAVE A TINY BIT OF CONSCIENCE THAT SNEAKS UP ON ME IN THE NIGHT. I'D LOVE TO BE ABLE TO SIT AT HOME AND LIGHT UP A PIPE AND PUZZLE IT OUT. I REALLY WOULD. BUT THAT'S NOT ME, IS IT?
SO WHAT I'M GOING TO DO, TAPPER, IS WHAT I WAS TAUGHT TO DO BY THE GOOD OLD BRITISH SECRET SERVICE. I'M GOING TO TORTURE AND KILL SOME MOTHERFUCKER UNTIL THEY TELL ME WHAT I WANT TO KNOW.
Which all goes to say that the ultraviolence of the sixth issue came as no surprise. Jones wasn't going to talk them to death, explicating their crimes and waiting for the cops to show. Jones is operating outside the law, as a conscience-driven scourge of a community the traditional authorities can't even see, much less handle. If he ever knew anything beyond violence and death, he lost it in the Desolation test. He's our hero, but he's a horribly disfigured soul who has been crippled by doing work that needs to be done. His cold blooded killings of the main characters in the mystery is a shock, but seems inevitable in retrospect.
Then there's the other death: Robina. Jones' aide-de-camp, drug procurer, demolitionist, and sometime chauffeur gets a bullet in the brainpan in an almost random coda to the story. We've been introduced to her throughout the series as another member of the ex-intelligence community imprisoned in Los Angeles, but she's always been shown as someone softer, more human than Jones. Ellis' intentions are clear here: Jones' violence has repercussions. It's this idea of repercussions that makes Michael Jones different from, say Wolverine or some other "pervert suit". Violence is not easy, and it's never one-way. I understand the point Ellis is making ... I just think it's poorly made here with a "shock" death that actually belittles the message.
There's a wonderful exchange before Robina's death where she's horrified by what she's seen Jones do. She realizes he's a operating on a whole different emotional level than she can accept, and wants nothing more to do with it:
I'M TAKING YOU HOME AND THEN DON'T CALL ME AGAIN FOR A WHILE. IF EVER. CLEAR?
It's cold, raw, and emotionally honest. This is the price Jones pays: the fact that he'll drive away even those close to him by his sheer inhumanity. He's a bastard, and simply being "our" bastard won't be enough. There's no cold beer and a cigar after this, bub.
Robina's abandonment of Jones is a far more chilling "death" than her killing at the hands of a minor character from a few issues back. Looking back at the second issue, we see in Emily Crowe a character who inspires revulsion in everyone but Jones. In this issue, we learn that Jones himself can inspire the same revulsion. That sniper's bullet that ends Robina's life is a cheap shock trick that lets Jones off the hook: it's no longer his fault that Robina's left him.