Each weekday, Tim will take a look at what we know about each of the upcoming 52 new comics from the September DC relaunch, one series at a time. Today: ALL-STAR WESTERN!
The Concept and Characters: Jonah Hex has been around for nearly 40 years, and has even found himself as the star of a Josh Brolin feature film. But that’s not his fault. Here, Hex is the lead feature in a new series by the same writers who have been telling his stories for the past 70 issues in his self-titled series. In the Jonah Hex series, which is coming to an end this summer, Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti have mostly stuck to done-in-one stories, and though they’ve had a few characters reappear now and again, it’s a series that has been focused on single bits of narrative, and not one that’s had much interest in serialized storytelling or playing around in DC continuity.
Honestly, though the series has lasted for 70 issues, it’s mostly been of interest for the artwork over the past half a decade, with somewhat-regular top-notch artist Jordi Bernet given breaks by comic book luminaries by Darwyn Cooke or J. H. Williams III and quite-good artists like Phil Noto or Rafa Garres. As an artistic showcase, it’s been a series worth picking up, but it hasn’t been an extraordinarily compelling read, even while it has held its own as the rare Western comic in a retail landscape populated by superheroes.
This new All-Star Western title promises to have the same kind of rugged Jonah Hex we’ve seen before, and presumably all of the previous stories will still “count,” though maybe not the 1980s Hex comic, which was about Jonah Hex in a post-apocalyptic future, fighting with laser guns against mutants. That comic is a sentimental favorite of mine, but I don’t think many readers are clamoring for that continuity to return.
What makes All-Star Western different than the last 70 issues of the Jonah Hex comic is that it will now feature serialized storytelling, explicitly set in the past of the DC Universe, with the first story arc detailing Hex’s adventures in 1885 Gotham City, helping the police department “solve the mystery of a vicious serial killer.” Reportedly, Amadeus Arkham (of the famed Arkham Asylum) will be involved, and in later issues, some old-time DCU western characters, like Bat Lash and El Diablo might be reintroduced.
There’s also speculation that some of the back-up features in the book (after all, it’s not named explicitly after its lead character) will spotlight DCU western characters in their own short stories, written and illustrated by some of the best creators in the business. Darwyn Cooke posted some Vigilante art but hasn’t confirmed his involvement in this series, though it seems likely, if brief.
The Creative Team: The writing due of Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti have yet to produce a masterpiece of graphic narrative, but they’ve been doing solid superhero and genre work for a decade, and you’re likely to get direct, sometimes funny, sometimes tragic little tales from them. As is the case on the soon-to-end Jonah Hex series (and on Power Girl, which was their best comic yet, mostly because of Amanda Conner’s expressive and just-perfect art), the writing won’t be the main attraction for this comic. No, it will be the art, and that’s handled by Moritat, late of The Spirit comic. Moritat is one of the most underrated artists in the business, and his work on The Spirit over the past year and a half has made that one of the comics most worth looking at, even if you’re not reading the stories. Moritat’s ink wash and dynamic physicality looks a bit different, maybe a bit “cartoonier” than the DC house style embodied by the Jim Lee type of rendering, but he’s a much better storyteller than most of the pencillers working in the industry, and he’s expressive and vital and elegant at the same time.
Recommendation: Buy it. The main weakness of the previous Jonah Hex series was the lack of a compelling hook between issues (mostly), and All-Star Western solves that problem with longer-form storytelling about the violent past of the DC Universe. Plus, it has Moritat and maybe some interesting back-up artists on a regular basis. If it turns out that the back-ups aren’t as visually exciting as I suspect they might be, this series could be a “wait for the trade” recommendation, but if it’s the whole package each month, with a great-looking Hex story coupled with something special in the back of the book, this is one you’ll want to pick up regularly.