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    Review: All-Star Western #1

    By | September 29th, 2011
    Posted in Reviews | % Comments

    Written by Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti
    Illustrated by Moritat

    Even when Gotham City was just a one-horse town, crime was rampant — and things only get worse when bounty hunter Jonah Hex comes to town. Can Amadeus Arkham, a pioneer in criminal psychology, enlist Hex’s special brand of justice to help the Gotham Police Department track down a vicious serial killer? Find out in this new series from HEX writers Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti, with lush artwork by Moritat (THE SPIRIT)!

    I have a confession to make: I never read any of Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti’s Jonah Hex series. Even though it was hugely acclaimed, I just never saw a jumping on point for me, so I never made the leap. Then, with the reboot coming and the book starting again as All-Star Western, I saw it as a good point for me to leap in besides one thing: the $3.99 price point.

    Then Jeff Lemire told me, matter-of-factly, that their Jonah Hex was one of the best comics around. Period. So the decision was made, I’m in.

    How was my first experience with their take on the character? Find out after the jump.

    I’m going to start with two quotes.

    “A major damn badass.”

    “Actions speak louder than words.”

    The former quote is something about the lead from Kyle Higgins’ Deathstroke #1 from this relaunch, and the latter is…well, it’s just something people say. In Higgins’ Deathstroke, it starts by talking about how tough the character is and then proceeds to show that he is definitely a real tough guy. But in Gray and Palmiotti’s All-Star Western, they don’t tell us anything of the sort about Jonah Hex. Through this story, they show new readers like me that Hex is the toughest hombre this side of…well, he’s the toughest guy in all of comics.

    Gray and Palmiotti do a phenomenal job of both setting up the lead character and his supporting cast in this first issue, all the while giving us a central mystery that is engaging and assures that I will be back for the second issue and beyond.

    One of the best things that they do in this issue is telling the story from the perspective of Doctor Amadeus Arkham (sound familiar?). Through his commentary and his view of the world they are in, we get a view of Jonah Hex as a man of almost superhuman stature and will, while being all too human in his core. The way it’s told, Jonah Hex is like an urban legend come to life as he storms through the seedy Bandit’s Roost neighborhood, literally beating down every single other tough guy in an entire bar at one point as Arkham looks on in shock from underneath a table.

    I love that this narration Arkham delivers provides insight into who he is while he analyzes Hex, establishing him as a man who “knows (Gotham) as well as (his) own face” while showing in his actions that he really doesn’t know anything about it at all.

    Speaking of Gotham, this book does a stellar job of turning the city itself into a living, breathing character. Like in Scott Snyder’s Batman books, the city is evil to its core, and even Hex comments shortly after he arrives about the city:

    “If it were up ta me, ah’d burn it to the ground an’ add some salt ta be sure nothing came back.”

    Does Gotham makes its criminals, or do its criminals make Gotham? In at least Hex’s eyes, it’s the former, and it will be a very interesting thread to read through the remainder of the series.

    Another thing I love that Gray and Palmiotti do with Gotham is use long-term DC readers familiarity with characters to make the story all the more easy to appreciate. Throwing in names like “Wayne,” “Cobblepot,” and “Arkham” provides insight into the lineage of this part of the world, and that familiarity makes it all the more engaging for readers like me. That said, without that familiarity, the story still works, and works well.

    Artist Moritat is not someone I’m familiar with in terms of interiors but I do know his work from the internet. What I have seen I’ve liked, and his work does something I can’t recall seeing previously – inking characters with heavy, thick lines that makes them almost feel superimposed on their backgrounds at times. At first it was off putting, but on re-reads, I started to appreciate what he was trying to do with these heavier lines. It gave the characters in the foreground a more weighted feel, and was excellent at drawing the eye to the places that he wanted you to look at.

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    Overall, this book was sharply drawn and beautiful as it scoured the depths of Gotham’s underberlly. Moritat may not have been someone I was really familiar with before, but he’s now someone I will look out for going forward.

    One thing I loved that bridged the gap between the written and illustrated narratives were the transitional panels that the team used at times. While most comics would use a simple caption box to say “No rest for the wicked” as this book did, team ASW’s decision to make it a more expansive and artistic panel on its own gives the book its own distinct feel, making it stand out not just from the rest of the DCnU but other comics in general.

    If I haven’t properly conveyed it yet, here it all is on the table: I really loved this comic. Gray and Palmiotti have hooked me with their stellar character work and a central mystery that is both horrific and engaging, while Moritat provides a visual component that gives the book a look all its own. All-Star Western is one of the shining lights of the new DC universe, even when it’s taking readers through the dredges of old Gotham.

    Final Verdict: 9.0 – Buy

    David Harper

    David Harper mainly focuses on original content, interviews, co-hosting our 4 Color News and Brews video podcast, and being half of the Mignolaversity and Valiant (Re)visions team. He runs Multiversity's Twitter and Facebook pages, and personally tweets (rarely) @slicedfriedgold. By day, he works in an ad agency in Anchorage, Alaska, and he loves his wife, traveling and biscuits & gravy (ordered most to least, which is still a lot).