Review by C.J. Bunce
I like western movies. I like the sounds of the Old West, the cattle, the clinking of spurs as the two guys slowly meet up in the center of the old western town. I like epic western soundtracks and I like slow guitar soundtracks, and theme songs that sometimes tell a familiar story. I also have read a little Louis L’Amour and love his writing and descriptions. I’ve never thought of picking up a comic book about the Old West, mainly because they don’t make ’em anymore.
I almost didn’t pick up All-Star Western #1, one of DC Comics’s New 52 line. Mostly because it had the crazy looking Jonah Hex on the cover. All I knew of Hex was watching a bit of the Jonah Hex movie, which for whatever reason I didn’t finish on video. But somehow (fate?) it ended up in my pull list. I have read a super western-ish book recently called El Diablo: The Haunted Horseman, by Jai Nitz, Ande Parks, and Phil Hester, that was just awesome (to be reviewed here later on). Intrigued by the idea of a current western comic in the midst of the Justice League superheroes, I read it first from the stack.
From a literary standpoint there is almost an unending supply of reasons to check this one out.
One would think a western comic took place in the Old West. This takes place in Gotham city in the 1880s, which in my mind is more Old East. The drawings have a nice old-time feel to them. The colors offer more than just sepia tones. There’s a little Mike Mignola and P. Craig Russell’s Gotham by Gaslight feel here for sure. A good thing, as I wished that book had turned into its own series.
The narrator is none other than the founder of Gotham’s own Arkham Asylum, Doctor Arkham himself. Arkham is our narrator, and he’s a bit odd. His character, his mannerisms, and his creepiness might remind you of Clifton Webb as Waldo Lydecker in Otto Preminger’s Laura. A further creepy scene may also make you think he’s a bit of Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho.
Familiar But Reliable Plot
To get us into this world quickly, the plot seems to be a mix of Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven and a Jack the Ripper tale. Pacing is reminscent of Alan Moore’s From Hell. There’s also a bit of the outcast element of Danny Glover’s Mal in Silverado. There’s a medical aspect of the 19th century as well, the sleuthing of an early Detective Comics of sorts, but again, familiar because of the similar treatment in From Hell. The art here, however, is a lot more stylish and evocative. The only downside will be if this continues to be just another Jack the Ripper story. Too many stories end up there.
The Archetype Western Anti-Hero
Not only does the half-mangled faced Jonah Hex play the anti-hero, he talks a bit like Clint Eastwood mixed with Sam Elliott. Hex’s confederate uniform really brings you back to Sam Elliot’s performance as Dal Traven in Louis L’Amour’s The Shadow Riders, but there is also a little of Elliott’s Ghost Rider’s Caretaker mixed with The Golden Compass’s Lee Scoresby. To get me to conjure any incarnation of Sam Elliott in your character is a win in my book. But then again there’s a spin on Eastwood’s Stranger from High Plains Drifter, as you can see the whole town of Gotham closing in on Dr. Arkham and Hex after only the 24th page. Who would have thought Jonah Hex could be so cool?
If you want something truly different, pick up this book.