All-Star Western #2

All-Star Western #2

A-

One of my favorite books of the New 52′s still going strong in its second issue. All-Star Western transplants DC’s classic frontier hero Jonah Hex to the urban environment of Gotham City, where he’s pared up with psychiatrist Amadeus Arkham to investigate a string of brutal murders. Hex and Arkham quickly find, though, that corruption in Gotham runs deeper than either suspected. Our heroes are thrust into a world of ancient religions and massive conspiracies designed to turn Gotham into, as one character puts it, a dark and twisted Vatican City.

All-Star Western here continues its fascinating exploration of Gotham City’s past, and that’s a journey that fans of books like The Return of Bruce Wayne and Gates of Gotham shouldn’t miss. I love the way writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray manage to construct a familiar Gotham even in an unfamiliar time. In All-Star‘s twin lead characters of Hex and Arkham we have a kind of prototypical Batman and Robin, except that all the brains have gone to one character, all the brawn to another. Perhaps comparing the two to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde would make for a better analogy, but hey, let’s keep everything in the DC family.

For a Grant Morrison fanatic like me, this series is full of fascinating could-be ties to stories I’ve studied obsessively. Am I the only one, for instance, who thought that when a bunch of Religion of Crime-employed fiends dressed as ghouls stormed Arkham’s estate, the issue was recalling a similar scene some 100+ years in the future from Batman & Robin? I’m positively giddy about the possibility that we could see a younger version of Dr. Thomas Hurt here. Though I believe Morrison’s story established Hurt as spending quite a bit of time in Europe in the late nineteenth/early twentieth centuries, maybe he’ll make a trip back to Gotham to see how his fellow followers of Cain are doing. How awesome would it be to see Jonah Hex take on Bruce Wayne’s ultimate enemy?

On the art front, I feel that All-Star Western #2 drops off a bit from the first outing. Perhaps Moritat’s feeling the strain of a deadline here, but his work seems a bit less detailed than last time around. However, it’s still quite good, and there are a few sequences in here that definitely make up for any shortcomings. Of particular note is the impressive three-page shootout (bookended by two equally impressive full-page panels) that, for a brief time, brings the Old West into this most urban of environments. There’s also a short, wide panel featuring an extreme close-up of Hex’s face that’s totally creepy and awesome; the effect there’s bolstered by Gabriel Bautista’s striking colors.

Starting this issue, All-Star Western also features a back-up tale spotlighting another character from DC’s wild west stable. This time out, it’s El Diablo, in a story written by Palmiotti and Gray with art from Jordi Bernet. This story, which features a zombie plague striking a frontier town, is fine and fun, but I do wish we had oversized Hex/Arkham segments every issue instead. Bernet’s got an expressive pencil, and it’s not too dissimilar from Moritat’s, so thankfully there’s not really a jarring shift between the two stories. I think maybe the zombie thing’s been a bit overdone in comics, but tying it to “Indian magic,” while perhaps bordering on offensive (hey, it was a different time!) at least freshens the genre tropes a bit. If nothing else, this segment accomplishes two important things: A) it gives readers who may have been missing the “western” part of the book’s title something to look forward to, and B) it totally justifies spending $3.99 on this comic.

In a sea of many excellent titles, All-Star Western remains, in my opinion, one of the most successful books of DC’s relaunch. Its Gotham City setting gives wary western readers (like myself) an easy reason to buy, and its strong character work should satisfy everyone who picks it up. Even if all my Grant Morrison fanboy dreams don’t come true, I’ll still be happy to buy and support this book wholeheartedly.

tags: all-star western, jimmy palmiotti, jordi bernet, justin gray, moritat

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