Whatever else you say about the relaunch, you can’t say it didn’t give us some fascinating books. All-Star Western #1 was compared in some circles (including here) to a Western take on Sherlock Holmes. Narrated by a doctor – Doctor Amadeus Arkham, who would later go on to build Gotham’s Arkham Asylum – it features an unlikely pair faced with a mystery/conspiracy reaching into high society. This issue continues that plot, but at a much brisker clip. Stronger in almost every single way than the first issue, this would be an unquestionable winner if not for a lackluster back-up introducing readers to El Diablo.
Last issue ended with the reveal that our heroes were in even more danger than they assumed, that it was not just one lone serial killer, but a cabal of powerful, influential men working together to terrorize Gotham. All-Star Western #2 delves even deeper into the mysterious organization, giving it roots in DC continuity and letting us get comfortable with who they are and how t hey operate before pitting them head on with our heroes. I like the sense of history here, the idea that we’re seeing the corrupt roots of the modern day Gotham we all know and love, and it’s a thread I hope the creators will stick with.
Moritat’s art fits the tone of the story well, and he gives old Gotham a great Western feel, but his character work is largely indistinguishable – I had to read one sequence of panels two or three times just to figure out who was talking to whom. Similarly, though the layout for the suitably epic showdown between the cabal’s rented thugs and Jonah Hex gave the gunfight a quick, elegant pace, it’s also a confusing layout that is difficult to follow as a linear narrative. And his bad habit of completely ignoring backgrounds has carried over and, in some cases, actually gotten worse in this issue.
Still, Moritat works well with Palmiotti and Gray. I can’t say the same for Jordi Bernet, whose stylized, cartoonish art doesn’t quite fit the grim, pulpy feel of the story Palmiotti and Gray are telling in the El Diablo back-up. Still, Bernet does a good job designing his characters, making them all distinctive. To really judge how well he works here, Palmiotti and Gray will have to give him a little more to do than they did here. The back-up feature is fairly bland, a boilerplate zombie story with a Western mystic twist, and the limited page count makes every panel count, and most of them are wasted here setting up the rote premise. It has some potential, but I think it’s too ambitious for a back-up. A story like this needs room to breathe and grow, and a zombie tale is nothing without memorable characters.
Don’t let the back-up prevent you from trying more of All-Star Western, though. The story Palmiotti and Gray are crafting for Hex and Arkham has a great deal of potential and is a blast to read, and Moritat’s art is ambitious, if flawed. The back-up is the biggest issue, but the nature of the back-up is fleeting; in a few months, it’ll be something completely different, allowing Palmiotti and Gray to experiment with a variety of tones and ideas to find out what works best for their setting.
– Cal C.