All-Star Western has been one of the most unique releases from DC Comics in the New 52. All-Star Western mainly follows the adventures of bounty Hunter Jonah Hex in the 1880’s. Hex’s adventures take him many places, including to Gotham City. The book also features a colorful cast of supporting characters and villains. Unfortunately, sales have not been stellar for the book despite the great writing of Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti. Personally, I would chalk it up to the stigma that automatically turns people off a western comic coupled with a character that may be too mature for some readers. However, don’t let the word western in the title dissuade you from reading this.
All-Star Western is an interesting book because of how different it is. Jonah Hex doesn’t have the DC superhero sense of morality as he shoots and kills people. The book is only made better with the addition of Amadeus Arkham, better known to some readers from the Arkham video games or as the future creator of Arkham Asylum. The two men occasionally team up (much to Hex’s chargin) to solve crimes that will let Hex get more money and Amadeus more research. It’s hilarious to watch Gray and Palmiotti turn what can quickly turn into a tired trope (reluctant partners) into something wonderful.
The first arc finds Hex and Amadeus attempting to solve the case of the Gotham Butcher (not unlike Jack the Ripper) but end up finding a great deal more than they bargain for. The second issue of the book settles any sort of wouldbe belief that Hex is some sort of hero who’s not afraid to kill in a wonderful two page spread. Hex is also a man who is not afraid to use his fists, Arkham on the other hand might be a man afraid of his own shadow. This is also a good time to mention that the art by Moritat is nothing short of fantastic. Gray and Palmiotti do a great job of also showing that Hex isn’t completely heartless, but instead is just guided by a moral code that one would be wise not to cross. The second arc finds Hex and Amadeus in New Orleans, important to note since the book doesn’t just remain only in Gotham. At one point, Hex also tangles with the nefarious Court of Owls for a few issues, albeit somewhat indirectly.
The fact that the book takes place in the 1880’s allows it the unique opportunity of looking at Gotham City with a cast of characters that readers are unfamiliar but know will play a pivotal role in the future. It also allows for villains such as Doctor Jekyll, who is featured in an arc. One of the other wonderful things about All-Star Western is how (mostly) self-contained it is. Hex (due to time and space limitations) is able to avoid interacting with the usual cast of superheroes and instead can team up with more original characters. The book isn’t all blood and murder either. Gray and Palmiotti do a wonderful job of making the book often quite hilarious as well.
One of the best things about All-Star Western is that there is a backup featuring different characters of the western variety also written by Gray and Palmiotti. The backup features stories with characters such as El Diablo, The Barbary Ghost, Nighthawk & Cinnamon, Bat Lash, Terrence 13, Tomahawk, and Storm Watch. The backups all feature different original stories that take tones, but you can bet that they’re going to include a great deal of packed action. They certainly make the extra dollar per issue worth it.
The current arc (starting in issue 19) finds Hex finally having the ability to leave Gotham City. Although for the moment not with Amadeus Arkham (having thrown him out of a train when leaving Gotham) but instead meeting the one and only time traveling Booster Gold. Hex and Booster Gold teaming up is comedy gold, especially due to the general incompetence of Booster. Due to circumstances however, Jonah Hex finds himself in the future in issue 21. One can imagine that Hex (who doesn’t like change) isn’t exactly adapting well to the new change in scenery. Things don’t go exactly take a change for the better when Hex finds himself in a fight with Batwing (another character written by Gray and Palmiotti) and ultimately finds himself in a nice padded cell within Arkham at the end of the issue.
Issue 22 of All-Star Western is being released this week. The biggest reason why I recommend this book is because of how different it is, as previously mentioned. This isn’t a book that you would find elsewhere on your local comicbook shelves, and that’s a good thing. All-Star Western offers more diversity in storytelling for comics, especially for the New 52 after the cancellation of Demon Knights. Overall, All-Star Western is a funny book with a great deal of action but at the same time some excellent storytelling.
Cover of All-Star Western #22 (out this week):