Tag Archive: Gabriel Bautista


Review by C.J. Bunce

I had mentioned early in the New 52 reviews that All Star Western #1 was the coolest, most unexpected surprise of DC Comics’ first round of 52 issues.  But to the extent All Star Western #1 was a standout series opener, writer Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti and artist Moritat along with colorist Gabriel Bautista set the bar even higher with issues #2 and #3.  After six months of story development and world building, All Star Western remains both the most creative and my favorite of all the New 52 series.

Much like modern police departments attempt to keep quiet about tapping the resources of psychics in working kidnapping cases, the police of old Gotham City are adamant to not reveal they are using the resources of one Doctor Amadeus Arkham, a criminal psychologist before the term was coined and the field was in its infancy in the 18th century.  Gray and Palmiotti create a world in transition from the Old West to the Industrial Revolution.  The gun-toting days of cowboys and outlaws in frontier towns would seem to visibly contrast with the early days of street gangs and mob bosses, but Moritat and Bautista combine imagery of Gothic Noir and post-Civil War era culture, creeds, and weaponry to spin readers into an eminently believable and interesting time and place.

You can’t understate how unique Moritat’s panels and pages are compared to anyone else drawing comics  today.  For one thing Moritat does not use standard comic sized paper to render his pages.  He uses 8.5 X 11 inch art paper.  So his images are drawn much smaller compared to other artists’ panels.  This means what he draws need to be crisp and clean and get the point across.  And the result is beautiful imagery of dark and dusty places.  From page one of issue one his fabulously detailed cityscapes look like they must have taken weeks to draw.  His buildings are regal and elegant.  His characters range from creepy lecherous street drifters pawing at bar room dancers to the timid Dr. Arkham himself, who manages to stand out as an oddity in room equally with the shredded face of Jonah Hex.

Moritat also uses panels to their maximum effect as quantity is concerned.  Instead of spending an entire issue on a fight scene, much like you’ll find has occurred with other New 52 superhero titles, Moritat (and presumably an equal hand at from tight scripting by Gray and Palmiotti), gives you all out action–as much as you’d expect and as much as the story requires–but it will be packed into 24 panels in two pages.  When drawn on two 8.5X11 pages this just seems to require incredible precision and pacing.

I appreciate the fact that Moritat drew the first three covers and the interiors to all six issues so far.  It’s pretty rare today for any comic book publisher to have the interior artist draw his/her own covers.  The result is a cohesive whole from cover to cover in each issue.  Moritat’s covers are single works of art themselves.

Gray and Palmiotti’s dialogue is the best around.  By the end of issue one we had a full grasp of Dr. Arkham’s persnickety nature, and Jonah Hex’s dialogue is written like Mark Twain wrote the dialogue for Huck and Tom–“Ah” is how Jonah’s says “I,” for example.  Where Arkham is long-winded, Hex’s words are few and far between and he speaks his own language, literally.

Spoilers follow…

Recapping the first six months of All Star Western, issue one introduced how Arkham got hooked up with the violent Jonah Hex as they teamed up against skull-ringed members of Gotham’s society and a mission to find the one killer known as the Gotham Butcher.

In issue two Hex and Arkham hole up at Arkham’s house to defend themselves from an attack by those protecting this early brotherhood–a criminal religion of sorts.  We get to see why a son of the confederacy as scarred and damaged as Hex is was able to survive for so long, as he uses his rifle to level pretty much everyone in his path.  This leads Arkham and Hex to follow the carriage of the culprit who has kidnapped and tortured a local magistrate.  The murderous thugs are too much for Hex as Hex tells Arkham to run.  DC Comics couples the same writing team with artist Jordi Bernet on a two-part quick and dirty story featuring the masked hero El Diablo, concluding in issue three.

The reason Hex stumbled into Gotham City, the hunt to collect the bounty on three members of the Trapp gang, cause Hex to head out of town in issue three.  A successful conclusion to their first mission, and Arkham coming out of his shell a bit, results in Hex being asked to join the police force (he refuses).  Arkham is allowed to build a hospital to study the mind.  But that all comes apart before it begins.  Hex survives another attack, rescues, Arkham, and returns to his original pursuit.

Despite the unlikely team of Hex and Arkham splitting up in issue three, they are found back together again after Hex is offered $50,000 to locate a missing boy by the boys’ father.  Money talks, and that is all that is needed to get Jonah Hex’s attention.  After four issues the character of Hex is well established as a Han Solo, Dirty Harry of the Old West.  He’s smarter than we read of a lot of real Old West legendary characters, like Jesse James, and smarter than later outlaw types like John Dillinger.  He seems to follow the cowboy code to some extent, despite his chief tool of resolution being a quick draw.  Despite Hex chalking up a body count, we like this anti-hero, and apparently his tough ways are par for the course in old Gotham.  Following the main storyline, Phil Winslade joins the writing team for the beginning of a new monthly serial, this time a new three-part, mini-series called “The Barbury Ghost.”

In issue five the quest for the missing boy takes Arkham and Hex into the dark underbelly of Gotham, literally below Gotham in its caves that would one day house Bruce Wayne’s batcave.  Saving the children is not as easy as they had figured and they get stranded in an underground river where they must fend off the Miagani, a Native American village living in the caves.  And Hex continues ups his body count and must rescue Arkham yet again.

In the final chapter of the first major story arc, Hex and Arkham unravel who is behind the plot to use child labor to build the city’s sewer system, enlisting the help of the Wayne family, who live atop the batcaves.

All Star Western Vol. 1: Guns and Gotham is scheduled for release as a compilation in trade paperback in November, but individual issues are available in first and later printings.  All Star Western is exciting, smart, and visually and interesting read.  If you’re like this reader and have not thought to check out Western comics before now, this is a great place to begin and you won’t regret adding this series to your reading pile.

    

Review by C.J. Bunce

Spoilers!

All Star Western #1 was the coolest, most unexpected surprise of DC Comics’ first round of 52 issues.  But to the extent All Star Western #1 was a standout series opener, writer Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti and artist Moritat along with colorist Gabriel Bautista set the bar even higher with issues #2 and #3.

First off, the design and format of the book is unique among DC Comics’ New 52.  Chapters have an Old West style separation and font, with catchy titles like “Showdown at House Arkham,” “A practitioner of murder,” and “No news is good.”  The aura of Gothic and Old West can be found at every angle.

The foreground of landscape scenes have a nice, almost ghostly style that evokes the 1800s-1920s, using a lot of brown and sepia tones.  But the silhouette of grand manor houses and leafless trees on the landscape of an almost photo-real, painted horizon backdrop will have readers stopping in their tracks.  Two page spreads with 22 individual panels keep the action scenes moving at full force, and the would-be campy “Pow,” “Crunch,” “Crash,” and “Clop Clop Clop” fill in the necessary sound effects for a Jonah Hex-led shoot ‘em up.  We also get some nice splash pages of Hex, looking tough in his own half-faced way.

Unlike several other New 52 titles that unapologetically are going for the biggest shock they can provide to readers, the cartoonish quality of Jonah Hex’s gore serves to tame down the realism of the violence, creating the right venue for a fine good guy vs. bad guy battle to the end, with guns a’blazin’ and bodies fallin.’

The writers have kept up the momentum of the story with the most unlikely of pairings, the fragile Doctor Arkham against the stout Jonah Hex.  These two continue together to confound each other, but, for once, in issue #2, Arkham has revealed that there is a killer about even within his own timid, early-era psychiatrist reality.

By the end of issue #3 we have a better look at the villainy coming in future issues, a “cult of crime” based on the story of Cain and Abel.  Arkham serves to sleuth out the story while Hex is there to destroy those who get in the way and leave a body count. In issue #3 we also see the duo forming their first potential ally, by saving a city leader named Cromwell.  Yet, no one lives long in early Gotham City.

The story has a vibe reminiscent of a short-lived series published a few years ago starting on Free Comics’ Day called The Ballad of Sleeping Beauty (one of the best titles ever), an eight-issue series from Image Comics, by Gabriel Benson and Mike Hawthorne, that hinted at the potential it was ultimately unable to fulfill—a “Gothic Western” that immersed the reader in the Old West.  All Star Western is far better, but it does show there are limitless Gothic Western stories that can be told, not just with Jonah Hex and not just in Gotham City.

    

As an added feature to All Star Western, these issues #2 and #3 have an ongoing mini-series about the character El Diablo. This add-on bonus is full of quick stories in limited panels, but adds to the Saturday serial mystique of a Western series like this.  If you like the character El Diablo, I’d suggest Jai Nitz’s very cool El Diablo: The Haunted Horseman graphic novel, drawn by Phil Hester and Ande Parks.  And as for another book with a similar Gothic vibe, check out Batman: Gotham by Gaslight, by Brian Augustyn, with a powerhouse art match-up of Mike Mignola and P. Craig Russell.