Wednesday, October 5, 2011

All-Star Western #1 - A Review

Oddly enough, despite being a fan of Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti in general, I never picked up any of their run on Jonah Hex. Nothing against that grizzled-old bounty hunter - I've just never been much for Westerns, despite being a native Texan all my life. But having finished All-Star Western #1, I see what I've missed and what a fool I've been for not following two of my favorite writers out of my element.

Ironically, Jonah Hex is as out of his element in this book as I am reading a Western. Summoned east to Gotham City to aid the police in the search for a killer dubbed The Gotham Butcher, Hex sticks out like a sore thumb even without his famous scarred face - something the current Police Commissioner objects to even more than the hiring of a bounty hunter in the first place. Tagging along with Hex, despite his objections, is a local doctor named Amadeus Arkham, who has some nonsensical theories (according to the Police Commissioner, anyway) about analyzing crime scenes to learn about how the killer thinks. Hex's investigation will lead from the lowest alleyways to the heights of high society, where it seems a secret society holds the answers he seeks.

Gray and Palmiotti spin an enjoyable story, though we can see their influences clearly. The Gotham Butcher is a clear analog for Jack The Ripper and the society taking over Gotham's power elite is clearly meant to mimic the Skull and Bones/Freemasons. Hex and Arkham also make a rather amusing parody of the standard Holmes/Watson detective team, with Hex playing the detective who gets amazing results through brute force, not deduction and Arkham, who also serves as our narrator, more devoted to psychoanalyzing the people around him than telling the story plainly as Watson did.

The art by Moritat deserves special praise. The penciling and inking itself is good but it is the coloring that truly sets this book apart. While many of the New 52 titles possess a gray, washed-out look for one reason or another, the palette used here - combined with Mortiat's style - creates the illusion that we are looking not at a comics page but at a sepia-toned photograph from the wild west era. The coloring changes toward the end, with a high-society party offering sightly better color quality (perhaps a more expensive camera was used?) in order to showcase the fancy clothes of the power elite of Gotham. This effect is used to great subtly in the earlier scenes, in which the red clothes of a prostitute Hex questions cause her to stand out from the rest of the room.

Even if you're not much for Westerns, I'd recommend this book without hesitation. The story is easy enough to get into and subtly hilarious if you're a fan of genre fiction - westerns or mysteries. The artwork is top-notch, with the coloring creating the illusion that we are looking at photographs of the past. All in all, a fine read.

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