Tag Archive: Gotham by Gaslight


    

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.

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.

Unusual Setting

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.

Narration

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.