Jonah Hex has long been a staple of the DC Universe Western. In fact, when Westerns went out of style – both in comics and in mainstream American culture – Hex was the only Western hero DC still published semi-regularly. And with the Western seemingly coming back in fashion (the very popular True Grit, No Country for Old Men and 3:10 to Yuma films, as well as upcoming TV shows like Hell on Wheels (AMC), Gateway (TNT), Hangtown (ABC), Ralph Lamb (CBS) and others), now seems like a good time to highlight him and hope to hell that the hilariously horrible Jonah Hex film hasn’t hurt his reputation. It shouldn’t have – no one saw it. And it’s a good thing DC took that chance, because All-Star Western is one of the best debuts of DC’s New 52.
Jonah Hex rides alone into one of the great new American cities of the late 1800s – Gotham City. It seems a serial killer is stalking the prostitutes of the fledgling city, and Hex (a notorious bounty hunter) has been hired to bring him in. Partnering up with Hex is fidgety psychiatrist and Gotham native Amadeus Arkham, a doctor of some renown in the city. Together, they act as a rough-and-tumble Western version of Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson, working together to hunt down one of the city’s most brutal murderers… who just might be among Gotham’s elite citizenry.
Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti have the character’s voice down pat, but they stumbled onto a fantastic introductory device: like the Holmes stories, the book is narrated by the Watson to Hex’s Holmes – Dr. Arkham (yes, the one who will found Arkham Asylum later in his life). We get to know Hex as he does, and see Hex through his eyes. There’s never a moment where new readers can get confused about who our leads are or what they do, but there’s no origin story. Just a mystery with high stakes and two independent men determined to solve it.
Moritat’s artwork is almost sepia-toned, giving the entire book a much older feel, but his character work show that he’s the right guy for the title. Though he has a penchant to ignore backgrounds completely in many panels – something he should work on, as it can really take you out of the story – his sense of design for the character and environs is rock solid, and he’s joined by Gabriel Bautista, whose work as a colorist makes the book’s art more distinctive and enjoyable.
It’s a simple concept, but the mash-up of Holmesian mystery blends surprisingly well with the Old West, and Palmiotti and Gray play a large part in making it work. Anyone interested in Gotham City, in Westerns, in mysteries or just in a good read slightly off the beaten path should check out All-Star Western #1.