Who's it by?
All-Star Western #1 is written by Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti with illustrations by Moritat.
What's the history?
All-Star Western was originally an anthology title first published by DC in 1951 as a successor to its All-Star Comics omnibus. The comic is best known for introducing readers to the disfigured bounty hunter Jonah Hex in issue #10 of its second volume in 1972.
All-Star Western concluded its run later that year but Hex's popularity endured. The surly anti-hero was given his own series in 1977, helmed predominantly by writer Michael Fleisher and artist Tony DeZuniga. It ran for 92 issues.
Hex appeared in several DC crossover events and limited series in the ensuing years. His ongoing title was finally revived in 2005 with Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti sharing writing duties with a host of rotating artists providing illustrations.
This is the first time DC has released an All-Star Western comic in almost forty years. Jonah Hex makes a return, as do writers Gray and Palmiotti, but the comic takes place against an unexpected backdrop.
The story takes the bounty hunter to Gotham City during the 1800s. Arkham Asylum founder Amadeus Arkham is as much a focal point Hex, serving as the book's narrator by delivering a psychological profile of the protagonist.
All-Star Western doesn't fly in the face of previous continuity, nor does it cling to it. The change of scene enables Gray and Palmiotti to draw a line under their previous work and start afresh here, helping newcomers acclimatise quickly.
Hex arrives in Gotham from the West and gives its street thugs a taste of frontier justice. Right off the bat there's a sense of him being a fish-out-of-water as it becomes apparent that the bounty hunter's methods won't be tolerated by the local authorities.
Meanwhile, ripper-style killings are taking place across the city. The bodies of slaughtered prostitutes keep cropping up with the word 'fear' carved in various different languages at the murder scenes.
Investigating officers Police Chief Cromwell and Detective Lofton are baffled by the crimes, so they begrudgingly enlist the services of Hex and Arkham. After some initial investigating that involves a good old-fashioned saloon brawl, Hex learns that there may be more to the killings than first appeared.
What's the verdict?
All-Star Western #1 isn't just one of the stand-out titles of DC's 'New 52' initiative, it's also one of the best launch issues we've read in a long time. Gray and Palmiotti's experience with Hex shines through as they provide readers with a comprehensive introduction to the badass cowboy.
The unlikely alliance between Hex and Arkham is what makes the book stand out. The psychiatrist is our narrator, providing a fascinating insight on what makes Hex tick. Arkham perceives the bounty hunter as sociopathic at first (an easy mistake to make), but he soon discovers that he has more layers than an onion.
It gives new readers an overview of our protagonist in an organic way. Long time fans will also appreciate the context, having been starved of narrative during Gray and Palmiotti's run on the ongoing Jonah Hex series.
The dialogue exchanges between Hex and Arkham are equally compelling. The two characters couldn't be more different, and the drama this gives rise to is what drives the story and gives it its energy. Murder mystery elements also help hook the reader and ensure that there's intrigue leading into the second issue.
Moritat does a good job bringing Gotham of the 1800s to life. He certainly looks comfortable depicting its seedy underbelly. The artist uses bold, stark lines to make the characters stand out against the backgrounds and the result gives All-Star Western a distinctive look.
Gray and Palmiotti have done a stellar job on All-Star Western. The comic will appeal to a broad audience, but Bat fans will love the references to the ancestors of modern day Gotham players, and Western fanatics will find much to love here (obviously).
On top of that, it's ideal for newcomers as it will bring them up to speed with Jonah Hex in a way that doesn't intrude on the overarching story. Hex-cellent stuff!
> Buy the digital version of All-Star Western #1
> Read our review of Grifter #1
Watch The New 52 introduction video from DC Comics below: