DC Comics’ old west is full of outlaws, gun slinging bounty hunters and, this May, it’s also full of owls. As part of the publisher’s “Night of the Owls” crossover event running through its Batman-family of titles, writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray explore the influence of the mysterious Court of Owls during the 1880s in “All-Star Western,” where Jonah Hex and Amadeus Arkham encounter the Court in Gotham’s old west. So far, Hex and Arkham have been kicking ass and taking names in the burgeoning Gotham City, but they’ll soon head out to New Orleans in “All-Star Western” #7, where they’ll encounter a new gang of steampunk villains, The August 7 — but the owls are coming home to roost in #9, where Palmiotti and Gray plan to explore the influence of the Court of Owls all the way back to the old west.
THE OWL SIGNAL’s coverage of “Night of the Owls” continues as Gray and Palmiotti discuss their crossover issue, how it organically fits into Hex and Arkham’s ongoing adventure, connecting the book to the greater DCU, the odd relationship between Jonah Hex and Amadeus Arkham and plans for the book moving forward.
CBR News: Jimmy & Justin, “All-Star Western” has done an admirable job introducing Jonah Hex to the New 52 and connecting him to the greater DC Universe. How will Jonah be interacting with the Court of Owls in Issue #9?
Justin Gray: The mythology that Scott [Snyder] is developing so admirably in “Batman” lends itself directly to “All-Star Western” because it encompasses the history of Gotham long before the caped crusader existed. To that end, using both The Court of Owls and the Talon fit seamlessly into our existing plans for the book. In fact, we’re already seeding ideas and images in “All-Star” that come into play not only with #9, but also all the way through the end of our first year.
Jimmy Palmiotti: The fun of working on this series and with other offices is all the planning and executing of interesting ideas and storylines — stories that actually mean something to all the books involved and the interaction with the other titles. Issues #9-12 build on many of Scott’s fantastic ideas and build up our own vision of early Gotham and Jonah’s place in the world.
This is the first opportunity readers will have to really get into the history of the Court of Owls circa 1880. How did you work on fleshing out the ideas Scott Snyder’s bringing to light in “Batman?”
Gray: It took roughly a few minutes on the phone before the ideas were flying in all directions. Jimmy and I understood what Scott’s goals were and we all agreed that it is important not to sacrifice the core of what we’ve established in “All-Star” or “Batman.” Everything has to be organic. None of us wanted to shoehorn in ideas that wouldn’t seem like they belonged. Fortunately, it worked out beautifully as an expansion of our overall storyline and even gave rise to different ideas and new ways of looking at The Court of Owls in the 1880s. The goal of “All-Star” has always been to tell a rich and layered story that, on the surface at least, looked like a pulpy romp through old Gotham with Jonah Hex fighting prehistoric bats and lost Indian tribes. The truth is the first 12 issues are all part of a larger story and the Owls play an important part in it.
Will readers see a tangible link or cause-and-effect relationship between what’s happening during the modern day in the rest of the Bat-books and the Court’s activities in the 1880s?
Gray: The great thing is we’re working over a century earlier so it doesn’t have to directly impact what Scott is doing in “Batman” unless he feels it is integral to his story. That’s also the beauty of this kind of cross-platform storytelling as opposed to a traditional crossover. It is a win-win for fans of both titles and for anyone looking to pick up both. These books stand-alone and yet they share many common elements that can further a reader’s enjoyment of the story. Personally, I think this is a great model of storytelling that involves multiple books, because it allows each creative group to follow their own path.
Palmiotti: Unlike the “Jonah Hex” series we worked on for years, “All-Star Western” is now part of the DCU and we are excited to take full advantage of the situation. The idea of the cause and effect is always present now in just about everything we do with the book and as you can imagine, we will be taking full advantage of it in Gotham and other places as well.
One of the most intriguing relationships in the DCU is between Jonah Hex and Amadeus Arkham. Looking to the future, how will you continue to develop and expand that relationship?
Gray: Arkham is deceptively complex in the way we portray him. Yes, they’re a funny odd couple, but it also speaks to the perspective of Jonah Hex who is watching the world he knows, the untamed west, slowly dying and the evolution of the neurotic urban male archetype is something he cannot relate to. Hex offers Arkham life experience and perspective on mental illness that he could never get by analyzing someone in a hospital. He’s also a little crazy in his own right, with secrets and addictions that lay the foundation for the tragedy that later befalls him. Arkham is also excellent at playing stupid and useless, as you’ll start to see during the next arc.
Palmiotti: The time they spend together builds up each of the characters in new and exciting ways. Each of them has a particular way of looking at the world around them and they both will start to grow a bit more because of the unusual relationship presented. It’s the individual perspective each has that defines their actions and reactions and as we get deeper into the series, I think both characters will be more and more interesting to the reader.
Speaking of Arkham, how does view the Court of the Owls?
Gray: Naturally he’s both fascinated and a little terrified by their possible existence. Authority and natural order are things he understands. He likes to think there is a logical structure to everything, including the human mind, so the idea that the world he thinks he knows can be a lie is very unsettling.
Beyond the Court of the Owls, Jonah has some major problems to deal with in “All-Star Western” #9 including a battle with The August 7. What’s in store for Hex during that fight?
Gray: Jimmy and I based The August 7 on the xenophobia of the time and the fear of unionization as the industrial revolution began. Historically, there were anarchist groups fighting for human rights so we took those elements and twisted them to suit our story. Racism in the 1880s wasn’t just directed at a single group. People were opposed to the Irish and Italians coming over in much the same way we see certain parts of the country reacting to immigrants from Mexico and South America. That said, “All-Star Western” is escapist entertainment so we had to have things like crazy pit fighting blondes and steampunk villains.
This may be getting too close to spoilers, but are there future plans for The August 7 following #9?
Gray: As much as we’re trying to be clever with the superhero trappings, we also like the idea that not every villain has to come back for revenge at a later date. For right now there are no immediate plans to use them beyond this story, but never say never.
Palmiotti: We put a lot of our ideas out there and let the audience’s reaction define if a character comes back or not. If the reaction to the August 7 is a positive one, then yeah — you will be seeing more of them. Time will tell.
Nighthawk and Cinnamon are two characters introduced in “All-Star Western” #7 who seem to play a major role in Hex and Arkham’s trip to New Orleans — is there anything you can reveal about their role in the future or their backup story in #9?
Gray: Because “All-Star Western” is part of the New 52, we’ve been given creative license to play with these characters in ways that haven’t been seen before. We’ve taken their core elements and expanded them in new directions, particularly with Nighthawk. He didn’t have a proper origin story and Jimmy and I wanted to do something very different with that. He’s perceived as a “western” hero, but we gave him unconventional roots based on the idea that he originally came from the east. Likewise, Cinnamon developed certain skills that were never addressed in the comics in the same way we’re addressing them — such as how she learned to use a sheriff’s badge as a throwing star. The main goal is to get readers that don’t think this is a book they’d enjoy and prove them wrong. To do that we’re mixing many different genres and using a lot of the same techniques you’d see in a traditional superhero book without compromising the characters.
“All-Star Western” is a title that really explores the history of Gotham and the DCU. Moving forward, how do you plan to further expand DC’s old west? Are there particular characters you’d like to work into the book?
Gray: The plan is for the second year to explore other familiar locations in the DCU and, as we’ve done with Arkham, we’re hoping to shake the family tree of some other well-known DCU characters. We’re currently negotiating an idea that we’re incredibly excited about that would continue to make “All-Star Western” one of the most unconventional and surprising comics to come out of the New 52. Of course, we can’t do that without readers so if you’re a fan of “All-Star Western” please spread the word!
Jonah Hex and Amadeus Arkham encounter the Court of Owls in the pages of “All-Star Western” #9 this May.