“All-Star Western” is a classic example of the contradictory nature of the comics industry. One of the (many) common complaints you hear about the largest two North American comic companies is the general lack of diversity, that they’re mostly superheroes. It’s a fair complaint, and while both Marvel and DC have made some small inroads on that nature, it doesn’t change the fact that they’re still mostly superhero publishers.
So when DC rolls out a new western-themed comic that isn’t a superhero title? Well, I’m willing to wager money that when the sales chart for September 2011 is released, “All-Star Western” will end up being one of the bottom five comics for DC in their “New 52” line of titles. People can complain about the lack of diversity all they want, but it doesn’t change the fact that they just don’t sell that well.
Reading “All-Star Western” #1, it’s all the more a pity because this is a strong first issue. Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray have been writing “Jonah Hex” for years leading up to this month’s reboot, so it’s not a surprise that “All-Star Western” #1 is featuring Hex, or that the two write him well. He comes across as a dangerous person that’s almost a force of nature, causing outbreaks of violence wherever he goes. They give him a level of craftiness here, though, making him more than just a thug. Drawn into a serial killer case in 1880s Gotham City, he’s able to help advance the investigation through his own techniques, and he makes a good half of a crime-solving team in spite of himself.
I said before that “All-Star Western” features Hex, because the star in my mind is actually a new character, Doctor Amadeus Arkham. Not trusted by most of the city, he’s as much of an outsider as Hex, but he brings a sharp intellect and the ability to (somewhat) move through higher society that Hex lacks. They’re a good duo, Hex and Arkham, and it’s fun to read about them.
Interestingly, some of the story has faint echoes to the just-completed “Batman: Gates of Gotham” mini-series. Like the other, it involves a secret society among the high families of Gotham. I doubt it’s anything too deliberate to connect the pair, but it does fit in well with the general idea of Gotham City, and a reminder that the city itself is a corruptive force. I could probably have done without some of the mentions of the families including the Waynes and the Cobblepots — it feels a little too on-the-nose with a wink to the reader — but at least it’s an idea that’s well established.
The big star of “All-Star Western” #1, though, is Moritat’s art. His art was great on “The Spirit” but it feels like he’s upped it another notch for this new comic. The opening splash page of the Gotham skyline and train station is breathtaking, between the smoke and red sky above the city, to the dozens upon dozens of buildings rising up and the tracks framing the view. His characters look almost engraved on the page, beautifully illustrated people that have everything from wrinkles in their coats to sneers on their faces. He’s great with action, too; that three-page bar fight scene in the middle of the issue looks fantastic and energetic, and Hex standing in the middle of the room full of bodies and debris at the end is worthy of framing.
“All-Star Western” #1 is an excellent book, although with the slightly higher price tag (due to being a 40-page issue rather than 32) and being a western, I fear that it won’t be around too long. Still, “Jonah Hex” survived an awfully long time. Maybe “All-Star Western” can too? “All-Star Western” is an all star comic. Here’s hoping, against all odds, for some all star sales.