If you were a western fan the way I am – by which I mean you think “western” means “starring Clint Eastwood and directed by Sergio Leone” – then Jonah Hex was about the perfect comic. The stories were solid shoot-’em-ups, set in the wilderness and the boomtowns of the still-unsettled west, filled with saloons, crooked lawmen, morally-questionable entrepreneurs, and filthy, gunslinging outlaws. They were stories where then Men were Men and the Women were Whores with Hearts of Gold and Groins of Chlamydia.
And at the center of it all was Jonah Hex: a bounty hunter with a face like Clint if Clint never bothered to get that thing on his lip looked at. Fast with a gun, implacable, unstoppable. A man of few words and fewer baths.
You know: a fucking western.
Alas, to my disappointment, Jonah Hex was canceled last month to make way for DC’s New 52 and replaced with All-Star Western. All-Star Western stars Jonah Hex. However, All-Star Western is no Jonah Hex.
Let’s start with the good stuff about the book – and make no mistake, there is plenty to like here. First of all, Palmiotti and Gray moved directly from Jonah Hex into writing All-Star Western, and after 70 issues of that book, they have Hex’s character just flat-out down. If you want a spaghetti western archetype as your protagonist, you can do worse than a man who introduces himself to this book’s narrator by saying, “Quit lookin’ at me like a sideshow attraction, doc. That way yer gonna keep all your teeth.” In fact, I’m gonna start introducing myself that way. Once I start carrying two Colt revolvers. Until then, I’ll stick with “Not the face!” But I digress.
The pencils by Moritat, whose work I last saw on Elephantmen: War Toys, is perfect for a western. Simple, non-cartoony lines with realistic, but not photorealistsic, figures are just the kind of look that I want for a book like this. And for once I’m going to give praise to a colorist: Gabriel Bautista colors the book with a limited palette, mostly beiges and tans, which gave Moritat’s art an old-school daguerreotype look. What more could you want from the look of a comic named “All-Star Western”?
Okay, there’s the good shit. Now for the biggest problem with the book:
All-Star Western #1 is Crocodile Dundee with dead hookers.
For some reason, Palmiotti and Gray have decided to take Hex out of the wild west, a decision that, considering the Goddamned title of the book contains the word western, must have been immediately followed by “And we’ll get some more cocaine!” They drop him into 1890’s Gotham City. Which normally I would accept, albeit grudgingly, as an opportunity to give the Hex character new types of conflict via a change in setting except as I’ve said before, I’ve read Hex and a change of setting sure as hell didn’t work then.
But even if I was inclined to accept it, the execution has problems. The book opens with Hex riding into Gotham and being introduced to the Big City in this sequence, which appears on the first two pages of the book…
…which would be fine if it didn’t remind me of this sequence…
Look, I’m just a drunk with a comics Web site, but let me chuck out some free advice: if you’re going to do a serious fish-out-of-water story with a frontiersman in the big city? Don’t open by riffing on a goofy comedy about the SAME. FUCKING. THING. I’m going to spend the next few issues waiting to see if Jonah gets confused by all the newfangledness and takes a shit in a police box.
And that’s the second problem: the next few issues. One of the strengths of the Jonah Hex book was that almost every story was a one-and-done, or maybe a two-parter. Which is an anomaly in these days of writing for the trade, and is something I didn’t realize how much I appreciated until I got to the end of this book and it wasn’t over. It’s no deal breaker on it’s own, but if you like your books self-contained, Jonah Hex is no longer a welcome refuge.
So in the final analysis, there are some problems in All-Star Western #1. I can’t wholeheartedly recommend it, but if you liked Palmiotti and Gray’s Jonah Hex and can get over the tired parts of the fish-out-of-water storyline, you could do worse than checking it out for a while and seeing how it goes.
Speaking of “checking it out,” if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got this thing on my lip I need to drink myself into forgetting about.