After a couple of middling tales in ‘Superman’ and ‘Batman: The Dark Knight’, I was beginning to think that DC Comics’ stable of writers and artists had burned out their collective fires on the first few weeks of the New 52 universe and that we were in for an entire batch of mediocre comics this week. Luckily, writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray, with artist Moritat providing visuals, proved me wrong with ‘All-Star Western’ #1.
The story in this issue revolves around Jonah Hex (the title that Palmiotti and Gray were working on in the post-relaunch DC Universe) and they continue into the New 52 without missing a beat. Hex is the same gristly badass that we’ve come to know and love but the venue has changed from the old west to Gotham City in the late 19th century. For new readers coming into Hex’s tale, the writers introduce you to the character through the eyes of Amadeus Arkham, the founder of the infamous Arkham Asylum, home to Gotham’s most insane criminals. However, in 1880, Arkham has yet to found his mental institution. Instead, he is a psychiatrist who is begrudgingly tolerated as he assists the Gotham police force in criminal investigations.
As the issue opens, we’re introduced to Jonah Hex who immediately shows us why his old west tactics might not quite fit in with the civilized world of Gotham City. Then the mystery is afoot as Police Chief Cromwell and Detective Lofton are investigating yet another murder in what they expect is a serial killer. The victim is the fifth in a line of dead prostitutes that have turned up all over Gotham. Each girl was found dead with the word “fear” written in blood above her body, each time in a different language.
Dr. Arkham arrives on the scene, after having been called by Detective Lofton. The narrative voice of the story is Arkham as he analyzes the crimes. When Jonah Hex arrives, also summoned by Lofton, Arkham is immediately entranced by the bounty hunter’s cold demeanor and cavalier attitude towards violence. It’s interesting to watch as Arkham tries to pin down the motivations of Hex and it gives some brief insight into Hex’s origins for new readers (and old if his origins have been changed in the New 52). Since the police are at a loss, Hex and Arkham are teamed up to investigate the crimes off the record. As they begin to pull strings to unravel the mystery, the duo quickly realizes that this might be more than a mere psychopath slaughtering hookers.
Whether you’re a fan of western stories or not, this book is simply amazing! From the cover, with its sheriff’s badge, faded logo, and eerie image of Jonah Hex riding into Gotham City, to the plot twist on the final page, ‘All-Star Western’ is a ride very much worth the price of admission (even if it is a dollar more than most of the New 52 titles).
If you’re not a fan of Jonah Hex, stick around for Amadeus Arkham. He’s sure to be an interesting character since we’ve never really been given his whole story in Batman’s comics. As an added bonus for bat-fans, there’s lots of nods to the ancestors of some of modern day Gotham’s most prominent citizens. And next month, ‘All-Star Western’ will begin adding backup tales featuring some of DC’s other “weird west” heroes and villains like El Diablo and the Barbary Ghost. Be back here next month to find out more when I review ‘All-Star Western’ #2!
ALL-STAR WESTERN #1
Written by JUSTIN GRAY and JIMMY PALMIOTTI
Art and Cover by MORITAT