Andrew A. Smith
Scripps Howard News Service
DC Entertainment may have saved the best for last in its ambitious revamping of its entire line of superhero comics – and it’s a book that doesn’t have a single superhero.
All-Star Western #1 arrived Sept. 28, taking the place of Jonah Hex on the schedule but still starring the lethal Wild West bounty hunter. The first story varies immediately from its predecessor by being set in the Wild East of the 19th century, Gotham City, a place that will host a certain other manhunter in the 21st century.
And if you think Batman has his hands full in the present, wait until you see his filthy, gritty, crime-ridden home town in the 1880s! And adding to Gotham’s Dickensian misery is a serial killer, dubbed the Gotham Ripper for his grisly work, who’s eviscerating prostitutes. A police force at the end of its rope asks psychiatrist Amadeus Arkham (whose descendant will build the famous asylum) to help, and he promptly hires Hex. That’s really all the set-up you need – that, and the first page showing Gotham in all its seedy glory, as flawlessly rendered by new artist Moritat (The Spirit).
One thing that hasn’t changed is the writers. Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti wrote 70 issues of Jonah Hex (plus one graphic novel), all as done-in-one morality tales. In All-Star Western, however, they’re expanding to to multi-issue stories. The new freedom shows in issue #1, which takes its sweet time familiarizing new readers with Hex and Gotham, while amusing those who already know the score.
For one thing, this ain’t no clichéd fish-out-of-water story. Hex is still a shark among minnows, and he doesn’t waste any time showing the teeming vermin of Gotham’s alleys, bars and whorehouses who’s boss.
“It is a slightly different animal in that we’re structuring episodes on a larger scale,” Gray said in an interview, “but to be honest it is fun to have so much more room in a story using a character we’re intimately familiar with.”
Palmiotti agreed. “Telling a story in 22 pages can be difficult at times and there were many circumstances in the past that we wish we had extra pages to build up scenes and characters a bit more. With All-Star Western, we get to do just that … and in a spectacular way.”
Of course, a series with that title will have more than one star. Other Western characters will get the spotlight in back-up stories, starting with El Diablo in issue #2. That will be drawn by Hex alumnus Jordi Bernet (The Torpedo).
“It is my dream to always work with Jordi till the end of time,” Palmiotti said. “He is one of my personal favorites right now and we have definite plans aside from the El Diablo story.”
While characters like Bat Lash and Nighthawk have been mentioned, no details have been confirmed. Gray said they want to “keep a measure of secrecy to help bolster surprises down the road.” Of the other back-up characters, Gray allows “so far they only have the 19th century in common.”
Palmiotti, too, resists giving anything away – even location. “We will be experimenting with not only the characters in the DCU,” he said, “but we will be looking at other places and cities to have some fun with established and new characters.”
Which they have already begun with All-Star Western #1; the Gotham setting makes the story as much crime noir as Western.
“We’re adding some pulp elements that make sense with who and what Jonah is,” Gray said. Palmiotti added, “The surroundings and locals have changed, and now with Jonah in the big city of Gotham, he has to deal with the fact that being a loner is next to impossible. There are tons of opportunities here because of that to introduce not only cool stories but a boat load of new characters and situations.”
Some of which are the aforementioned back-up characters, some of whom may find themselves in the front of the book with Hex. “We have plans to eventually intertwine some of the stories and there will be guest stars in much the same way we used them during the Hex series,” Gray said.
“Honestly, each and every issue is going to have something different and special going on, so expect the unexpected,” Palmiotti added. “The format allows us to get a bit crazy from time to time.”
And as All-Star Western shows, Eastern crazy is just as good for Hex as the Western kind.
1. Both Jonah Hex and El Diablo continue in November's All-Star Western #3. Courtesy DC Entertainment Inc.
2. The first issue of the new All-Star Western begins a story of Jonah Hex in 1880s Gotham City. Courtesy DC Entertainment Inc.
3. Jonah Hex is still the lead in All-Star Western #2 but is joined by a back-up starring El Diablo Courtesy DC Entertainment Inc.
Contact Andrew A. Smith of the Memphis Commercial Appeal at firstname.lastname@example.org.