All-Star Western 8

Today, Peter and Drew are discussing the All-Star Western 8, originally released April 25th, 2012.

Peter: Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti have obviously become pretty close to mastering the character of Jonah Hex. They’ve held his reigns for so long that they know exactly how to write him. This new issue of of All-Star Western pushes Jonah dangerously close to the line between hero/anti-hero and villain. Hell, I’m not always sure which side of the line he normally falls on anyway.
Jonah’s search has got him hired as a gladiator, fighting against the current champion – a woman named Z.C. Branke. Despite the woman’s superior fighting skills, Hex can hold his own. As they fight, Branke comments that she likes him, and she ends the fight with a kiss. Branke’s financier, a Mr. Hiram Coy gives her a whistle, and delivers a clandestine message via a playing card showing the 7 of Diamonds. Later, Branke gives Hex a bath and comments on his sexy scars. She reveals that  her employers – the August 7 – have taken a liking to Jonah and they want to offer him a job. As a test of his trustworthiness, they want him to find and sink the Sea Queen, a boat filled with immigrants waiting in the harbor to dock and unload. She suggests that if he refuses, he will die. Sinking the ship would be merely the start of a movement; the first step in solidifying a hold over other port cities in the country.

While Nighthawk and Cinnamon rough up local gangs in search of those responsible for supplying the August 7 with explosives, Arkam waits for his hosts in an opium den. But there’s a raid on the opium den and despite his claims that he’s just doing “criminal research” (good one, Arkham), he’s promptly thrown in jail. But that’s no big deal for him he just spends his time in jail doing what he does best: psycho-analyzing criminals. The local cops realize who they have behind bars and attempt to use Arkham to get information on Hex.

After returning to Nighthawk and Cinnamon’s home, Jonah wonders grumpily where Doctor Arkham has gone. Hex explains to his friends that the August 7 instructed him to murder the immigrant passengers of the Sea Queen. He intends to go through with the plan: even though it means killing a bunch of people, it’s the only way to get close to the August 7. Naturally, this does not sit well with Nighthawk or Cinnamon. They even try to stop him. But Hex warns that they shouldn’t have enlisted his help if they weren’t going to trust his judgement.

That night, Hex rendezvous with the explosives-guy. But rather than explosives, the man has Amadeus Arkham hog-tied in a crate. The entirety of the August 7 materialize, and their leader – David S. Winter – reveals that Arkham was quite talkative about Hex’s plans to infiltrate the August 7. Davis points to the ship in the harbour and announces that Hex will drown with the other ‘rats’ on the ship, and Arkham shall go with him.

I really liked this issue overall. It did a good job of moving the story along at a brisk pace. Palmiotti and Gray continue their western opus, and they leave me chomping at the bit for the next installment of the story.

What does it for me in this issue particularly is the advancement of Jonah’s  character. He is already a multidimensional character, but this really takes it to the next level. I always knew Jonah was willing to go to any length to get his mark, but I really didn’t get much sense before this that he would be willing to blow up an entire boat-full of innocent people. But, would he really have done it? I’m not entirely convinced. His words say one thing, but his eyes betray him.
I’m getting two feelings from this image. One: he is making peace with himself about what he is about to do. He is mentally preparing – never mind whether or not it is right: this is what he has to do in order to get to the August 7. Two: the other option, he’s is lying. Maybe he did it just to get into a confrontation so he could steal the Hawk amulet, or maybe he just wanted them to come after him, so he could have some help beating the August 7 later. We’ll know eventually. Also, Moritat’s art on Jonah’s close up is outstanding.

I’m glad we finally meet the rest of the August 7, and by meet, I mean we see them all for the first time.
Their design is really intriguing in a League-of-Extraordinary-Gentleman way, and I’m sure it will only get better when we are get a little more information about the rest of them (and see what, if any, cool abilities they have).

Despite all the gloom and doom, I did find myself chuckling at a few moments, especially this:

ZC waving goodbye. It’s a little lighthearted moment in the middle of the storm.

Drew, I really liked this backup. It sets up for a well crafted three/four issue saga of Nighthawk and Cinnamon. Last time we got Nighthawk’s origin, and now we get Cinnamon’s, which is a little Oliver Twist/Cinderella story. Cute. We also see them finding their previous bodies, which we don’t technically know yet, and obtaining their magical elements. I have a soft spot for a good origin story, so this back up is right up my alley. Since you and I have read more backups than most lately, what did you think of this one? It’s a little less Kill Bill than the Barbury Ghost, and a little less Mask of Zorro than El Diablo, but I like it just the same, especially since it connects with the greater DCnU (Hawkman and Hawkgirl) a little more than the others. How about you?

Drew: Last month, you compared the August Seven to Daniel Day Lewis’ xenophobic gang of “patriots” from Scorsese’s Gangs of New York. Many of the broad strokes are quite similar, but that issue avoided one of my biggest problems with the film: the unclear muddle of social commentary and period accuracy. Issue 7 aimed for the social commentary, and while it may have been a little on-the-nose at times, it was nothing if not clear. Unfortunately, this issue finds the story drifting from that kind of single-mindednes, with mixed results.

My main gripe here is how plot-driven everything is — or more specifically how plot-driven everything feels. Grey and Palmiotti start two gears spinning early in the issue, and they mesh beautifully when the finally come together, but there’s something about how it happens that feels particularly choreographed. I can’t fault a comic book for having exciting twists and crazy coincidences, but when that means dropping the tight focus on the characters that had me so excited about this title in the first place, I start to wonder if it’s any kind of trade-off.

That said, this issue does have a few moments where the characters shine in spite of the whirring plot mechanics going on around them. Peter rightly highlighted Hex’s potentially ambiguous decision to go through with the boat-sinking plan, so I’ll instead focus on Arkham’s impromptu therapy session with his fellow inmate. We pick up the scene mid-session, after Arkham has angered a hulking prisoner by suggesting something about his mother. Of course Arkham’s mouth gets him into the situation, but then again, it also helps get him out. The fact that he started the conversation tells us that he helped the prisoner for the sake of helping him, but check out Arkham’s expression in this panel:

If helping the prisoner was his first priority, saving his neck must have been a damn close second. Ah, Freudian psycho-analysis, the cause of — and solution to — all of life’s problems.

You’re also right to point out the expressiveness of Moritat’s faces. Both Arkham’s expression here, and the image you included of Hex tell their own little stories. He also litters the issue with fun details, like this one, of Hex picking at his teeth through his cheek-hole.

Cinnamon’s totally unfounded faith in Arkham’s ability to take care of himself made me chuckle.

Outside of those moments, this issue felt more like a series of bullet points than a story. I have total faith in Grey and Palmiotti that this is setting up something awesome, but the fact that this issue was mostly putting pieces in place was a little obvious at times. I think you’re right, Peter, both about the importance of Hex having Hawkes’ amulet and the fact that Nighthawk and Cinnamon will show up to prevent the explosion. Some might call that predictable, but if it’s playing into a hand Hex set-up, it makes perfect sense. I’m also excited enough to see how it plays out that having a vague idea of what might come doesn’t bother me at all. I’m definitely pumped for the next issue.

Part two in the Nighthawk and Cinnamon origin story was fun, but I really hope we get to see how they partnered up in the first place. I’m not as much of a DC mythology buff as you, Peter, so I don’t even know if I fully understand what it means that these are earlier incarnations of Hawkman and Hawkgirl. Am I missing something important about those characters if I don’t get that? It feels like I’m still getting to know these characters, but I wonder if I would already know them if I knew more about Hawkman/girl.

At any rate, this title continues to be fun, which is really what I came to it for. I look forward to Arkham and Hex bouncing each other once again in the next issue, as well as seeing how they get out of this particular pickle. I’m also kind of curious how they’ll wrap things up in New Orleans in time to get back to Gotham to tie-in to the Night of the Owls. My money is on a semi-unrelated one-off, but maybe Grey and Palmiotti have something else up their sleeve. Either way, next issue promises to be a pretty good time.

For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page.  Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore.  If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to DC’s website and download issues there.  There’s no need to pirate, right?

5 comments on “All-Star Western 8

  1. Frankly, I’m just happy that Hex and Arkham are back together. Jonah’s an interesting character, but his near infinite-fucking patience with (and dare I say, affect for) Arkham brings out shades the character we just do see otherwise.

    I’d like to see the good doctor himself take a stab at why Jonah seems to love him so much.

  2. Man, Z.C. is leggy. I know Drew mentioned her appearance last week, but this issue plays to the exact kind of complaint I can’t seem to stop making. Z.C. becomes sexier and more deadly.

    And then it’s also weird to see the rest of the August Seven. Surprisingly, there are three whole ladies in the bunch. Not surprisingly, they already look like they’re going to fall into the three categories: sex pot, mother, little girl. All of that could be forgiven if only Arkham points it out.

  3. Pingback: All-Star Western 18 | Retcon Punch

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