All Star Western #1
Writers: Jimmy Palmiotti
Artist/Cover artist: Moritat
Colors: Gabriel Bautista
Letters: Rob Leigh
Editor: Joey Cavalieri
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $3.99 US
The script for this first issue suggests one of the underlying conflicts is Jonah Hex’s effort to adjust to a different setting, taking from the open spaces of the Wild West and sticking him in an urban setting that’s practically alien to him. But let’s face facts: the reason DC has plunked Hex in Gotham City is an effort to sell more comics. The publisher’s hoping familiar names such as Arkham and Cobblepot will lure in super-hero genre fans. I don’t know if that’ll achieve its goal, but what should is a fun Victorian crime story and absolutely stunning artwork. The influences that shaped Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray’s story are far from subtle, and the obvious nature of those inspirations actually took me out of the story at times. Nevertheless, there’s enough of what made Palmiotti and Gray’s Jonah Hex fun to please its fans, and the art alone should be more than enough to grab a hold of new readers (and never let go).
In the 1880s in Gotham City, the public and the police department are shocked by a series of grisly murders, leaving a path of prostitutes’ butchered bodies and a message of fear (literally) for authorities to follow. At a loss, the lead investigator brings in two… specialists to help solve the crimes and put an end to the murders. One is Dr. Amadeus Arkham, a physician who’s developed an interest in the burgeoning field of psychiatry. The other is his polar opposite — a bounty hunter from the South who answers problems with his wits, his fists and his six-shooters. Jonah Hex is in Gotham, and the wicked — from the poorest, most crime-ridden corners to the halls of privilege and power — should beware.
If you haven’t had the pleasure of taking in Moritat’s artwork, do yourself a favor and make All Star Western your introduction to his work. His portrayal of Jonah Hex is as intense and colorful as that of Jordi Bernet. The detail be brings to the Gotham cityscape is stunning. That first splash page, focused on the rail station with the expansive, 19th century city in the background, compels the reader to stop and soak in the image. The linework and designs of the buildings are meticulous. Of course, Gabriel Bautista’s colors add a lot to the image, capturing the smoggy, sooty, dark atmosphere of a city in the full throes of industrialization. I love the fiery skull that’s been incorporated into the clouds as well.
Moritat’s figures are bathed in greys and muted tones of blue and brown, further reinforcing the dreary, dirty qualities of the setting and the mood of the story. As for the characters themselves, Moritat does an excellent job of capturing the period clothing, and he instills a lot of personality in each one with some slight exaggerations in their features. I’m reminded of Eduardo (100 Bullets) Risso’s style here, as well as such other artists as Kieron (Lowest Comic Denominator) Dwyer and Carlos (Just a Pilgrim) Ezquerra. He handles Hex’s trademark disfigurement incredibly well.
While I’m interested in the murder mystery, it’s painfully clear what inspirations the writers drew from to arrive at this story. Gotham has its own Jack the Ripper. The Ripper was active in 1888, and the writers are a bit vague as to the specific year in which they’ve set this story, referring only to the 1880s. Given the loose time frame, I wouldn’t be surprised if the story hints the Gotham Butcher goes on to become the Ripper, but then again, it seems unlikely a Hex story would end without the villain being permanently punished. The Freemason conspiracy angle we’ve seen in other Ripper stories such as From Hell turns up in the form of another secret society. While I find the plot to be entertaining, it also feels a bit too familiar; as I read the book, I was always keenly aware of the influences, which kept me from completely immersing myself in the story.
There’s also a hint of a Holmes-ian quality to the odd couple (Hex and Arkham) investigating the crimes. I also note with interest their profile for suspects also reflects the investigators themselves. They believe two people — a person of means and education, and a brute from a less privileged background — are responsible, and when Arkham describes that theory, he’s also describing himself and Hex (or at least how he perceives Hex).
In 1985, in an effort to spark more interest in the title character, DC cancelled the first Jonah Hex series and launched a new one entitled simply Hex, which plucked the character from his usual surroundings and placed him in a new circumstance. Basically, DC took Hex from the 1800s and dropped him in a post-apocalyptic landscape in the 21st century. Now, in the 21st century (appropriately enough), DC has again taken the character from his usual Wild West environs and placed him in a new setting. From a marketing/sales perspective, it makes a certain amount of sense. Jonah Hex wasn’t selling at the level DC wanted for its New 52 line, so they mixed things up for the new series. But from a storytelling perspective, I don’t know if it’s the right move for the character. His role in this story could be filled by just about any tough guy, and the self-contained, one-shot story approach from Jonah Hex is clearly being abandoned. Oh, and as a friend at my local comic shop pointed out, it seems kind of weird for a story published in All Star Western to be set in a city on the eastern seaboard of the U.S. 7/10
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