I’ll be honest. I wasn’t really all that excited about this book. I didn’t read Jonah Hex before, why would I start reading it now? Fortunately, Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray have been doing the Western thing for a while now and now they’ve taken the DC relaunch as an opportunity to reign in new readers with a tale steeped in DC history.
Jonah Hex is the Clint Eastwood of the DCU. That’s easy to say because he’s a cowboy. But he’s also got the attitude and the attitude is everything. Using him to star in the first issue of this book is a no-brainer especially considering Palmiotti and Gray’s familiarity with him.
Hex moseys into a Gotham City that most of us have never seen before. That’s because it’s Gotham City in the 1880s. Despite the city feeling slightly unfamiliar, all the names are there (Wayne, Cobblepot, Arkham etc.). And it’s Amadeus Arkham who makes the book really interesting.
Palmiotti and Gray team Hex up with Arkham pretty early on as a serial killer brings the wandering cowboy to the city. Arkham plays off Hex rather well. While Hex is busy getting into fights, causing a general ruckus and using his own seedy methods to break open the investigation, Arkham is crafting his own ideas and using his intellect to assist and sometimes lead. Also, despite being rather reviled amongst the upper crust of Gotham high society, he does have some access that Hex does not. The whole thing comes off as a strange “Odd Couple meets buddy cop” detective story that is really quite good. There’s enough familiarity there that it can get readers’ attention but enough new material to really make someone invest in the story.
Now while a lot of the spandex-clad, muscle bound super people are lining the shelves around this books, All-Star Western stands out completely. Moritat understand that his Gotham is just as much a new creation as it is what it will become and he strikes that balance with a precision that makes the city another haunting character in this rather dark, detective tale. There is no such thing as too much detail on these pages and the sheer amount of craft packed into each panel reminds me of a slightly less intense Geoff Darrow, particularly when establishing locations. Normally this kind of attention to detail would not play well in action scenes. But Moritat dials is back a bit to lets Jonah Hex brawl like the free spirited wildcard he is. It’s really impressive. It’s books like this one that make some of the rush jobs we’ve seen as part of the New 52 absolutely unacceptable.
All-Star Western is good comics. Palmiotti and Gray are taking what we know and putting a Western detective drama twist on it and it’s refreshing. Some might compare it to Batman: Gates of Gotham. While the setting is there, the compelling new additions to DCU lore only exist in All-Star Western. Hopefully, this book doesn’t get lost in the shuffle.
WRITING: 4 / ART: 5 / OVERALL: 4.5