All-Star Western #4

All-Star Western #4

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For me, All-Star Western may have been the biggest surprise to come out of the New 52. I always expected it to be good, but I never imagined I’d like it as much as I do. At the end of the year, I think it sits only behind Batwoman as my favorite monthly comic, and that’s really saying something. There’s no other book like this from DC, and what a wonderful thing that is. Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti and Moritat are giving us something really special here.

Before I go any further with story content, I have to talk about the cover of this issue, beautifully crafted by artist Ladronn. Its washed-out colors and horrific images of rabid-looking children jump off the page like no other book on the shelf this week. With its mix of pulp and horror imagery it recalls adventure magazine covers of the ’60s and ’70s, and hopefully it will convince a few old-school readers who aren’t necessarily sold on DC’s reboot to pick this comic up and give it a try.

The art inside the issue’s just as good as its cover. I’ve enjoyed Moritat’s pencils throughout this series, but I think this is the best work he’s done yet. Many scenes in this issue take place in dark, rainy environments, which seems to bring out the best in the art. It’s very moody, with a strong sense of character and again a little touch of horror. I really like how that genre kind of creeps in to this book (already a Western/noir/action mash-up); it paints nineteenth-century Gotham as a more fully-realized environment that can support many different types of stories. Again I want to point out that the stuff writers Gray and Palmiotti are doing in this book in many ways mirrors what Scott Snyder’s got going on in the excellent Batman, both in content and quality.

As for the story itself, well, it’s great. Jonah Hex is hired by a wealthy Gothamite to track down his missing son; despite Hex’s objection to staying in Gotham City any longer, a $50,000 reward changes his mind. Early in his investigation, Hex runs into Amadeus Arkham, and the two set off into Gotham’s underworld to expose a child kidnapping ring that’s been active for years. I’ve mentioned before that Hex and Arkham make for a kind of proto-Batman and Robin, but with important differences. And even though this issue brings to light some of Hex’s more Bruce Wayne-like qualities (he’s an excellent and surprisingly cerebral detective, though he doesn’t acknowledge it), it also has him doing things Batman would never consider. The opening sequence in which Hex hunts down a rapist, for example, has a… there’s no other word for it… totally bad-ass scene of our hero torturing his prey by shooting off his fingers one-by-one while the rapist counts up from ten. It feels weird to cheer someone doing something so seemingly reprehensible, but this book can get away with it — it may be the only mainstream “superhero” title that can. That says to me that while this Gotham City’s familiar enough to lure in long-time DC readers, you can never tell exactly what’s going to happen in this book, especially because of its colorful lead character.

This issue also starts a new back-up feature, this one introducing the Chinese crusader Barbary Ghost, whose father falls victim to a protection racket in 1870s San Francisco. I really liked this story, both in terms of its interesting lead character and the art (provided by classic penciller Phil Winslade). Though these back-up features aren’t what keep me buying All-Star Western, they’re very good, and they provide a nice bonus that heartily justifies the $3.99 price tag.

The teaser for next issue of All-Star Western promises that the book will take a trip into the Batcave. That’s a pretty great tease… it’s almost irresistible, in fact… but the truth is I’d be just as excited for ASW #5 if it wasn’t there. I’ll say it again… this title is really something, and I hope it sticks around for a long time.

tags: all-star western, jimmy palmiotti, justin gray, moritat, phil winslade

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