For years, Jonah Hex has been one of DC's most consistently great titles. Frequent collaborators Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray proved a perfect fit for the title, and together, they churned out issue after excellent issue. Unfortunately, the quality of Jonah Hex never seemed to translate into sales. The people who did read Jonah Hex loved it, and purchased it loyally, but the book struggled to attract an audience beyond its small, devoted fanbase. It seemed as though western comics were a niche with limited appeal, and with early reports stating that All-Star Western was the most under-ordered of all the new 52 titles, it looked like the relaunch wouldn't be enough to change that.
Somehow, someway, Palmiotti and Gray must've stumbled on some magic, because with All-Star Western #1, they've turned out a comic that could be enjoyed by almost anyone. The new Gotham based setting may displease western purists, but the book's new direction- Jonah Hex meets Sherlock Holmes meets CSI. For a period story like this to interest a wide audience, it needs a hook, and the psychological profiling and focus on detective work that Dr. Amadeus Arkham brings to the title is a great one. His slightly antagonistic, but mutually beneficial relationship with Hex is buddy comedy gold, and the two characters play off each other beautifully. Arkham also does a great job of introducing Hex to new readers, narrating his often entertaining opinions of the character in the same manner that Watson was known to describe Holmes.
In many ways, Hex is a fish out of water in Gotham, and I love the way that the comic addresses that. Finding a reason for Hex to stay in Gotham won't be an easy task, but I'm confident that Palmiotti and Gray will come up with a convincing explanation. The book's setting will also allow them to the city's rich history, and I can't wait to see elements of what we saw in Gates of Gotham expanded on. The book's final page is downright chilling, and shows just how easily Gotham can get under your skin. Hex and Arkham are the perfect focal characters for period Gotham based tale. One will bring a little of the frontier back to Gotham, fighting tooth and nail against anything the city throws at him, while the other will want to stare deeper into the darkest parts of the city, and confront its madness head-on.
This week has been full of incredible art, and Moritat keeps that trend going. His opening splash page is absolutely stunning, and the level of detail he puts into even the most minor background characters is impressive. From the gorgeous backdrops of industrial Gotham to lively facial expressions and high energy bar room brawls, he goes above and beyond to deliver everything the writers ask of him. Gabriel Bautista's colors add so much atmosphere in every page. He uses a fairly drab, muted color scheme, and it'd be easy for that to look dull, but he adds just enough brightness to make every page look striking.
While I'm very much looking forward to the back-up tales that we'll see in the issues to come, I really appreciated the extra pages this story had. It was so wonderful paced, and I felt it offered readers a proper story even though the book ends on a bit of a cliff-hanger. There are some nice, subtle winks at longtime DC readers, but the story remains incredibly accessible and feels like a true #1 issue. Palmiotti and Gray are always good, but this comic shows why, providing readers with a murder mystery with hints of From Hell, a character study of Jonah Hex, and some foreshadowing that I think will really pay off in issues to come. It's a great comic, and I hope that it gets the attention it deserves.
All-Star Western offers a full, satisfying reading experience that more than justifies its $3.99 price tag. Obviously, I recommend it to Jonah Hex fans, but I'd also like to ask readers who've never gotten into Hex or Westerns to give it a try. Hex still feels exactly like himself, but the new set-up for the comic has something to offer just about anyone, providing they're able to handle the book's more violent scenes. Whether you like mysteries, like Gotham, or just like a damn good story, All-Star Western is a comic worth reading.