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30 Days of Comics, Day 25: All Star Western #1

September 30, 2011

All Star Western #1Admittedly, I thought it a little curious that DC would bring back its classic Western anthology series, All Star Western. Somehow, I don’t think the demand for Western comics has increased much since the series finished its second run back in 1972. Even though it had a good run the only really enduring character the series produced was Jonah Hex and, despite that atrocity of a film adaptation starring Josh Brolin, he’s not exactly a mainstream character. Still, I personally like the Western genre and was interested to see what kind of book this was going to be.

So the main star of our all star western is none other than the tough-as-nails bounty hunter and frontiersman, Jonah Hex. If you don’t know anything about Jonah Hex then don’t expect this book to explain anything to you. Admittedly, a character like Hex doesn’t really need an origin story and I actually think it’s a good move for this book to ignore his origins for now; ignoring them doesn’t really make the book any less accessible for new readers and would just slow things down. All you need to know is that he’s rough, tough and uglier than a horned-toad what met the underside of a wagon train.
Jonah Hex
What’s truly surprising about this book is that our story is actually set in 1880s Gotham City, which technically does not make this a Western. Now granted, Jonah Hex has regularly had storylines in places far away from the frontier like South America and China. So long as they stick to the time period, I don’t see a problem but this is also the first issue of DC’s new Western comic. Shouldn’t the first issue actually take place in a traditional Western setting? I’m not saying that the setting of 19th Century Gotham isn’t effective, but it doesn’t really scream Old West adventure. In fact, the tone of this comic feels more like a Gothic horror story than anything else.

Gothic Western

Because Victorian mansions and thunderstorms just scream Old West excitement!

Our comic is also a “team-up” story of sorts, which makes perfect sense since this is an anthology series. Jonah Hex is called into Gotham to investigate a series of brutal slayings by a man the media has dubbed “The Gotham Butcher.” Hex is joined in his investigation by Dr. Amadeus Arkham: the man who will later found Gotham’s infamous Arkham Asylum. Hex doesn’t really like the idea of working with a partner and seems to tolerate Dr. Arkham’s presence out of necessity; he’s really Hex’s only guide to the city. Their investigation then follows a fairly consistent pattern: Jonah uses bribes and intimidation to collect information while Dr. Arkham kind of sits in the background and offers his thoughts on Jonah’s motivations and psyche.
Hex and Arkham

Sometimes literally

While Hex is clearly the one leading the investigation, Dr. Arkham is still an interesting character in that he seems just as obsessed with Hex as he is with the Gotham Butcher. The stark differences between the two men and their investigative approaches is also interesting to see, particularly since they often arrive at the same conclusions.

Overall I really did enjoy this story, but there are a few things that need to be addressed. First, there’s the fact that this really doesn’t qualify as a Western. For one thing, it’s kind of light on elements like gunfights and horse chases, but to be fair it does throw us a barroom brawl and a lot of hookers.

Jonah Hex and Belle

If you like hooker boobs, you've come to the right place!

Despite this, the dialogue, visuals and motifs just scream Gothic Horror. Even the basic plot is a staple of the genre as we have two detectives trying to track down a prolific serial killer who targets prostitutes. I personally don’t mind this because the end result is a really good detective story, but if you came into this expecting an honest-to-God Western, you might be a little disappointed.Old GothamRegardless of the genre conflicts, this book is really well written; Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti do a fantastic job in creating a compelling 19th Century Gotham and the twist cliffhanger really kept me wanting to know more. Moritat’s artwork is also sublime in its simplicity and stylistic elements; it really invokes the proper mood for this kind of story. I give this one a strong recommendation but it comes with a warning: this book is very wordy and morose, so it might not be for everyone.

The Old West is done and gone so let’s move forward; tomorrow we take a look at Voodoo #1!
Voodoo #1

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