Next Wednesday, DC Comics’ rough and tumble Western character Jonah Hex hightails it into a new town as the star of “All-Star Western,” and longtime co-writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray are along for the ride.
After 70 issues of “Jonah Hex,” the writing team behind his adventures has moved on to co-writing the new “All-Star Western.” Palmiotti will tackle the main story and the back up features that appear in every issue. Joined by “The Spirit” artist Moritat on interior art, the comic series sees Hex in a whole new set of adventures on the wild frontier of 1800s Gotham City. Showcasing a cast of characters from both Batman history and from DC’s backlog of western characters, the first issue marks more than just the continuation of Palmiotti and Gray on the character they helped re-popularize — it also marks the return of Hex to “All-Star Western” after a thirty-four year absence.
Jonah Hex originally appeared in the pages of “All-Star” in 1972, created by writer John Albano and artist Tony DeZuniga. Until that point the series had been rotating through DC’s western characters, but the scarred bounty hunter proved so popular that he became the star of the book scant issues later when it switched its format and title to become “Weird Western Tales.” Though the title was eventually cancelled in 1977, Palmiotti and Gray revived Hex in 2005 and placed him at the head his own series, bringing the character back into the spotlight.
Now Palmiotti and Gray are set to work their magic in a whole new format, reviving not only “All-Star Western” but also many of DC’s long-forgotten western characters, from Bat Lash to El Diablo and Pow-Wow Smith. Speaking with CBR News about the series, the duo talked about the characters, their plans for the back up features, and the reasons behind switching from the done-in-one nature of “Jonah Hex” to the more serialized “All-Star Western.”
CBR News: First off, thanks for talking to us Jimmy and Justin! Now that we’re so close to the release of issue #1, I wanted to start with a question that’s been on my mind since the series was first announced: why set “All-Star Western” in Gotham specifically? What about Old West Gotham lends itself to Jonah Hex and the characters in “All-Star Western” better than one of the other cities in the DCU?
Justin Gray: Aside from the interesting premise of taking a man like Jonah Hex and placing him an in urban environment, you have the rich history of Gotham City as not only a backdrop, but also as a character. Gotham represents the encroaching future and civilization that Hex would much rather avoid.
Jimmy Palmiotti: The possibilities of Jonah Hex in Gotham are endless from a writer’s perspective and we plan on taking advantage of them all. The idea of having Jonah in a place where millions of people inhabit such a small area is really interesting and having him try to assimilate to city life makes for some fun moments as well.
Along those same lines, in this first story arc we have the Religion of Crime and references to later parts of the Gotham and Batman mythos. To a certain extent, is “All-Star Western” a chance to for you guys to world build and really establish the definitive history of Gotham?
Gray: The fun aspect is taking what we know about present day Gotham and rewinding back to a time when much of that foundation was laid. We don’t just mean architecture and familiar locations or characters; we’re also looking at why Gotham has always been the most dangerous city in the DCU. Crime and criminals are different in Gotham. It isn’t just the deep roots of organized crime that were planted during the industrial age, we’re suggesting a more powerful force intended to make Gotham the Vatican City of crime in America and eventually the world.
Palmiotti: A lot has been established about Gotham way before we got here, but we are going to dig in and have some fun with our surroundings. Believe me, history will be made — and Jonah will be a big part of it.
Character-wise, along with Jonah, Amadeus Arkham is taking center stage in your first arc. Now that we’re days away from issue #1, what can you tell us about Amadeus? Is he the same man from “Arkham Asylum: A Serious House On Serious Earth” or did you guys have fun tweaking and changing his character to better contrast him against his uneasy partner Jonah Hex?
Gray: The idea was to present Arkham as somewhat younger, disheveled, wildly intelligent and yet completely lacking in street smarts and social skills. This is a time when psychology wasn’t as widely recognized or respected as it is today so a lot of people look at Arkham as either an oddball or a nuisance. Taking that dynamic and mixing it with Jonah Hex’s sociopathic behavior and skewed morality has made “All-Star Western” something unique to the DCU. Obviously we don’t have the same kind of superhero elements that the other books do, so what we lack in spandex we make up for with opening up Gotham in new and hopefully exciting ways.
Will the partnership between Hex and Arkham you guys are exploring in this first arc really set the stage and establish a tone for the rest of the series? Will we see more of the psychologist/sociopath pairing down the road?
Palmiotti: It not only sets the tone, but also opens up the possibilities of other stories taking place that usually wouldn’t be something covered before. The relationship between them is so outright mismatched at times; it has its own kind of beat that we think readers will fall in love with. They are so much fun to write together — the contrasts that set them apart also make them more interesting.
Gray: Without going into too much detail, the first arc is Arkham and Hex paired up. Our overall hope is to continue delving into other cities and mythologies of the 19th century DCU. We’re not going to rush anything because the book is very organic thanks to our very healthy lead-time of having half a year already scripted. The hope is to find a balance because we’ve got to make certain landscape changes in an effort to show people what we’ve been saying for six years — Jonah Hex isn’t just a Western.
One of the most notable things about your run on “Jonah Hex” was that it was one of the few comics that actually told complete stories in one or two issues and was much more episodic than DC’s other books. When given the chance to write “All-Star,” what made you decide to switch from the episodic, done-in-one story format to serialized multi-issue arcs in “All-Star Western?”
Gray: You have to change and adapt to every situation. We’d proven we could tell fifty something single-issue stories and while it made the book very accessible it also limited some of the elements that are inherent to serialized comics. I think everyone top to bottom felt, regardless of quality, that “Jonah Hex” had reached a ceiling in terms of its audience. We worked with some of the most brilliant artists in the industry, delivered the book on time every month and had a very loyal following. The changes we’ve made are designed to build on our previous work and attempt to expand the readership.
Palmiotti: So true — as much as we did the “done-in-one” type of storytelling, a lot of people wanted to see what we could do given another format and room to explore and expand on the stories. Change is a good thing and needs to be embraced.
Will the backup features you two are writing for the book tie into the main Hex storyline? Or are they a chance for you to explore the old West past of the DCU a little more?
Gray: That’s been a topic of discussion and in fact we worked out an extensive storyline that intertwines the front and back stories, but we have to see where things go after the first few arcs. There’s no shortage of ideas and reinventions we’d love to unleash on the DCU western heroes; the only question is if it will receive enough fan support to justify a long run. I hope it does because we have a number of really fun ideas we want to work on and obviously we have a love for both Jonah Hex and the Western genre.
Palmiotti: This title is all about exploration for us and the opportunity to not only revisit some of the fantastic characters the DCU offers, but to go in and create some new scenarios that work in the world as well. There [are] going to be a lot of wild things happening in the back ups and it’s going to be interesting to see what turns out to be peoples favorites. The great thing as well is we still get to have the revolving door of artists we established in the last series — it’s one of the things we got the most feedback for. People love to see all kinds of talent taking on this genre.
Speaking about that, many fans have been really excited by the news that “The Spirit” artist Moritat is drawing “All-Star Western,” but in the solicits for the first three issues we also have Jordi Bernet listed on art. Will Moritat stick to the main story while Jordi and other artists tackle the back up features, similar to the way you rotated artists on “Jonah Hex?”
Gray: Moritat is the main series artist and we’re looking at a rotation on the back up features.
Palmiotti: It’s one of the great things about the title, the idea that you never know who is going to show up in the other stories. We have an amazing group of talented artists coming on.
Talking about Moritat specifically, what was it about the artist’s style that made you decide he was a perfect fit to draw “All-Star Western?” What does Moritat bring to the table in terms of Jonah Hex and the Western setting of the book?
Gray: First of all he’s brilliant and is extremely detail-oriented in combination with the ability to convey emotion. His style suits the book because it can be both gritty and pretty. We’re trying to take readers on a journey into a different yet familiar world and Moritat excels at illustrating it.
Palmiotti: His world is alive — the people are distinct, the city has personality and his storytelling is wonderful and easy to follow. Joe Kubert once said if you can’t follow the story without the dialogue, you aren’t doing a good job. Moritat nails it and we think our awesome marriage of art and words is something that only happens once in a while in comics. As you can tell, we are extremely happy with his work.
While “All-Star” is obviously giving you the chance to play with many of DC’s established Western characters, have you had the opportunity to invent new western heroes and villains in either the main storyline or the back up features?
Gray: The goal of the back up features is to invent and reinvent/modernize a number of characters. Not radical changes, just applying the same love we have for making Hex resonate with the twenty-first century.
Palmiotti: So — the answer is yes!
While DC has a large roster of western characters, over the years none have helmed a title quite as long as that scarred madman, Jonah Hex. For you two, as both Hex writers and Hex fans, what is it about Jonah that is so enduringly appealing?
Gray: He’s the side of ourselves where we draw a line and take action against injustice. He lives by his own rules and seems simplistic on the exterior but is a deep and complex character. Plus his violence is like a western opera.
Palmiotti: I sleep better knowing he is out there somewhere, that this type of person exists on some level to take on the people that have done wrong. He also makes me laugh — his reaction to things can be genuinely funny in its sincerity.
“All-Star Western” #1 hits shelves September 28.