Come For The Hex; Stay For The Ghost – Review Of All Star Western #4

When Rob reviewed All Star Western #1 back in October, his summation that the book was neither “all star” nor “western”, beyond the fact that it includes the character of Jonah Hex, was pretty accurate, even despite the entire fifth of Jack Daniels I personally watched him put down his head shortly before he wrote that review. The man is a fucking machine, I tell you. However, what Rob may have overlooked is that All Star Western is not just about the saga of Jonah Hex as some kind of ass kicking fish out of water in an 1800’s Gotham City. The books also have been including an 8 page mini-story in each issue that fleshes out some of the other Western characters in the historical DCU. Issues #1-3 followed a neat little arc centering around El Diablo. Issue #4 begins the story of a newly created character called The Barbary Ghost. More on her later. Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti seem to be using these issues to tell not only Jonah Hex’s story, but to develop a detailed past history for the DCnU. Maybe All Star History Lesson was a less compelling title than All Star Western? Either way, in an interview with Newsarama, both Gray and Palmiotti express their desire to use All Star Western as a platform to explore the past and plant seeds that will have a bearing on DCU’s future – particularly in the Batman titles:

Jimmy Palmiotti: We are always researching and talking to the editors and other writers of the Batman books to see what’s going on and how we can interact and plant seeds in the past to make the whole picture make more sense. Currently, you’ll be seeing things in All-Star that have everything to do with what’s happening in the Batman titles right now.

Justin Gray: The good thing about it is that we’re working with the idea that Gotham existed long before Batman and it has a rich history to be developed and explored. Like Jimmy said, we’ve been working with Mike Marts and Scott on making sure there are elements from the past that tie directly into Batman’s time.

So, now that we’re four issues in, has this direction positively or negatively affected their stories?

Answers, with spoilers, after the jump!

Well, if you were a fan of the Jonah Hex/Amadeus Arkham odd couple pairing in the previous issues and were worried it was coming to an end – have no fear. The two team up again on a search for missing children who have been been abducted by a masked man in the poor quarters of Gotham City. Arkham helps to open some doors that Hex might have had some difficulty getting through otherwise; in return, Hex lets Arkham tag along in case any children Hex may find require medical assistance. Arkham is our proxy in the story. We view Hex through his eyes, marveling in turns at both Hex’s powers of deduction, as well as his brutal savagery. This is what it must be like, we think, to be the sidekick with no powers. You’re excited to be there, fascinated by the man’s skill set, and, still, terrified for your own well being. It’s solid writing. The pencils by Moritat continue to vividly express the grotesque nature of Gotham, even in its relative youth – ragged children, dank sewers and bestial criminals. It all works. Oh, and let’s not forget the horror that is Hex’s own face, made even more chilling by penciling it in the same frame as a young nun who is a care taker to orphans:

You know what'll fix that kid? Have him stay at a Holiday Inn Express. That'll give him super powers!

As stated earlier, the back matter to this issue is the origins of a new character, conceived of by Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti and artist Phil Winslade, The Barbary Ghost. Her story takes place in the San Francisco of the same time period as Hex’s Gotham. Her family, we learn, has been destroyed by a local crime lord and she is out for pay back. She’s pretty bad ass:

I'd tell her. But, then, I like having my head attached to my body.

In the Newsarama interview, Gray and Palmiotti did say that the choice to create a character like The Barbary Ghost was inspired by “diversity”. Who cares? Frankly, I think you should buy this book just to watch this girl kick ass and take names. But, it is also great to read a story that takes place in the actual Wild West. San Francisco was not the urban culture mecca is is today back then. Says Palmiotti:

We wanted to do something different, set a story in a place that isn’t covered much in comics and introduce a new character at the same time. I have family and friends that live in the San Francisco area and the history of the city and it’s surroundings is so interesting and exciting that not telling a story set at this time would be a crime. We looked at the history of the area and the news headlines of the time and worked them into the story where it made sense. Along the way, we learned all about the gang wars, about how untamed the city was and also how difficult it was for ethnic groups trying to start a new life in the States.

Phil Winslade’s art in this back matter is spare, yet meticulous in its detail. He really helps bring the character to life, from her anger in facing attackers to the exhausted, but dogged determination she expresses her grandfather, the one remaining member of her family left alive. This character is a welcome addition to the DC universe.

So, let me repeat myself. Hex is good; buy this book for The Barbary Ghost.