ALL-STAR WESTERN #1 by Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti, and Moritat
When I first learned that DC Comics was planning on bringing post-Civil War bounty hunter Jonah Hex to Gotham, I thought maybe I hadn’t read the article right. But it was true. And he was going to be affiliated with Arkham Sanitarium, which later became the repository of Gotham City’s most twisted villains and Batman’s deadliest and least sane foes.
I’d enjoyed the run Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti had on the latest series, but it seems weird for the decision to be made to take Hex out of the Old West when an interest in Western stories seems to be on the rise. Hell On Wheels just debuted on AMC and there are a half-dozen other projects coming, including a new take on The Rifleman, the TV series that made Chuck Connors a household name.
So I tucked into the issue with some trepidation, but I was quickly caught up in the story and the events. Gray and Palmiotti do some different things with this book, and one of the most interesting is the decision to have the story narrated by Amadeus Arkham, a psychologist in charge of the sanitarium.
Arkham has been brought in by the Gotham City police department to help them catch a serial killer who’s being called the Gotham Butcher. Police Chief Cromwell has also hired Hex to bring the killer to justice – or put a bullet between his eyes.
I thought this “Easterner” would be slow moving, but the plot and the pacing moves along at a quick clip. The bar fight Hex gets into was well done and I enjoyed it a lot. Classic Hex action explodes across the pages.
The chase begins in earnest when a prostitute Hex has met before ends up murdered and crucified to a building. There’s also a warning to Hex, telling him to leave town. That just amped up my interest in the book because I know Hex isn’t going to leave any stone unturned from this point on.
Amadeus Arkham’s narrative takes on a more personal note as Hex swings into more violent action. The two men aren’t simply paired: they’re getting the measure of each other, and the reader is in for a treat as action and psychology set up what I think is going to be a brilliant chess game from these two writers.
The art is good, but it took me a while to get used to it. Moritat is relatively new to me, and his version of Hex isn’t quite the one I’m used to, but I’m learning to really enjoy it. What I love the most, though, is his rendition of Gotham City of the late 19th century. He has panels that are chockfull of detail, of buildings and alleys and train stations, then switches to simplistic panels devoted entirely to action or emotion. And it’s all done in a kind of gray way that I find fascinating.
I don’t know if the usual fans of Jonah Hex will cotton to this version of DC Comics’ longest lived Western anti-hero, but I’d encourage everyone to pick up an issue to see if it works for you. I was pleasantly surprised and am now anxiously awaiting the next installment in the story.