Today, Drew and Peter are discussing the All-Star Western 10, originally released June 27th, 2012.
Drew: The Night of the Owls is an interesting case study in ways a title can approach a crossover event. Some books treated their involvement as a one-off, allowing maximum flexibility for their own stories before and after the event. Others focused a bit more on set-up, getting their heroes to Gotham or establishing the stakes for their characters, but pretty much treated the event as the conclusion of their involvement with the Owls. Sure, Batman still has some investigating to do, but pretty much all of the other titles are on to new conflicts, new villains, and new stories. All-Star Western, on the other hand, has upped the ante, featuring more owls than its ostensible NotO issue. The result is a portrait of 1880’s Gotham as a battleground between the Owls, the Religion of Crime, and the wealthy altruists just trying to do the right thing.
If that sounds familiar, it’s because the same could pretty much be said of modern Gotham, but rather than feeling redundant or derivative, the similarities establish just how long these factors have been battling over the soul of the city. That sense of Gotham history is becoming an increasingly integral part of this series, even if Jonah Hex can’t wait to get out of town. Of course, there always seems to be something keeping him around.
This time, it’s the arrival of Tallulah Black, his old fuck buddy and (for all intents and purposes) female counterpart. At the end of the previous issue, we saw her thrown out of the second floor of Wayne Casino, landing right at Hex and Arkham’s feet. Alan Wayne confronts Lucius Bennet, the man whose body-guard defenestrated Tallulah, but Bennet responds with smugness and vague threats. Meanwhile, Hex and Arkham bring an unconscious Tallulah back to Arkham’s, where he tends to her wounds. Hex reveals that Bennet was the man who scarred Tallulah, and that she must be in town seeking revenge. Hex returns to the Wayne Casino to ask Wayne some questions.
Elsewhere, the court of Owls is seeking to upend the Religion of Crime, but fear the organization is too large for a single Talon to handle. They agree that Hex’s loyalty to Tallulah may serve them well, as Bennet is on their hit list. Back at Arkham’s, Tallulah has woken up surly, and proceeds to hilariously run the easily flustered Arkham ragged. Hex returns, and takes Tallulah upstairs for some scarred-up lovin’. Hex decides to get out of the house for a bit, and heads over to the police station for a psychological consult. The prisoner is convinced “the owls” are after him, which Arkham writes-off as dementia. Of course, he leaves the room for just a moment, and returns to find the prisoner and a police officer dead with no sign of who did it…except for a single feather.
Not a lot happens this issue — it has some heavy lifting to do as far as establishing a whole mess of characters and motives — but it’s still a blast. Writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray quickly establish Tallulah’s hilarious voice. In fact, I think Arkham makes an even odder couple with Tallulah than he does with Hex. She’s just as gruff and quick-to-violence as Jonah, but the fact that she’s a woman just offers Arkham even more opportunities to stick his foot in his mouth.
She also brings out a lighter side in Jonah, which Arkham rightly notes is more unnerving than when he’s angry. We don’t see much of Hex and Tallulah together, and she doesn’t do much in this issue besides make Arkham uncomfortable, but that’s more than enough to justify here presence here.
Otherwise, it’s kind of hard to comment on the story. Perhaps the most important conversation — the one between Hex and Alan Wayne — takes place almost entirely off-camera, so it’s not clear what, if any, conclusions they came to. The big conversation amongst the Court of Owls also doesn’t yield much, as they more-or-less resolve to do nothing. It’s definitely interesting (and probably important) to understand their motives, but as far as climactic, evil votes go, sitting back and watching barely registers.
Of course, the art continues to be gorgeous. Moritat’s distinct pencilling and Gabriel Bautista’s muted colors create a dramatic sense of time and place. This cover page tells you pretty much everything you need to know about the who, what, where, why, and when of this story.
The skyline with the blackening smog combined with the outfits of the background characters establishes Gotham as a bustling victorian industrial city. By contrast, Hex and Tallulah’s outfits reveal them to be out-of-place. That fish-out-of-water sense is playing an increasing role in this title, but one that really seems to fit. Maybe it’s because I like all this Gotham stuff, or maybe it’s because I’ve never read a Jonah Hex story actually set in the west, but I almost can’t imagine what Hex would be like in his natural habitat.
We do get some western action in this month’s backup, an introduction to Bat Lash: a professional gambler who uses his ability to read people to his own ends both at and away from the poker table. It’s breezy fun, even if it’s entirely insubstantial. There’s not a ton to say about it, as it looks like we’re on to a new character next month.
The issue is full of fun details, from Arkahm sipping absinthe while Hex pounds “Hangman” whiskey, to the continued presence of Arkham’s unseen mother. It’s this attention to detail that makes the story’s sense of history feel so rewarding, even when the actual events feel relatively small. Sure, I’m excited to see where this is all going, but in the meantime, I’m happy just to be along for the ride.
Peter: I have to say, I think this is the most fun I have had reading this series in quite sometime. The writing is absolutely exceptional in this issue, leaps and bounds above what it has been the last couple issues. The dialogue is great, and funny, and still moves the story enough that I don’t feel undercut. The inclusion of the Court of Owls and their eventual face off with the Religion of Crime is an incredibly promising plot, and could be amazing. If anyone can pull it off, it is Palmiotti and Grey. They have proven time and again that they can take Jonah Hex and in 1800s to the next level.
Moritat and Bautista’s art, as you said Drew, is quite phenomenal. The pencils and muted colors really give this book the perfect setting for this book. But with a lot of subdued colours, and greys, when there is vibrant colors, they really stick out. Case in point, the meeting of the Court of Owls.
Each of them is wearing a vibrant color that really sets them apart. The reds, greens and gold medallions pop against the browns and greys in the backgrounds. Bautista brings a great deal of life to these characters out of a dark world, even though they are super fucking evil. Also, I like how much fire stands out whenever it appears in this book.
Tallulah is a great character to add to the mix. She is obviously a lot like Hex, but different enough that it’s still good. She is vulgar and dirty, and hates flowers, but still has her girly moments. Her past is truly fucked up, and her quest for vengeance is kinda cliche, but it works here. Plus Bennet is a bad dude, and probably deserves it, but this weird hate-triangle between Tallulah, the Religion, and the Court is shaping up for lots of crazy later on.
The Bat Lash back up is one that I have been waiting for for a long time. He is probably my favorite old west comic book character after Jonah. His smug, Indiana Jones-meets-James Bond demeanor is great. Plus, that big dumb charming smile that he has on all the time really sets the tone for his character. Even when he is getting into a huge fight, he is just smiling his dumb smile.
This story serves as the perfect introduction to his character. It outlines his upbringing and the kind of trouble he can get into. This backup is different than they others we have encountered, since it is a one shot. Next month we are getting a new one, starring Dr. Terrence Thirteen. Hopefully Bat will make an appearance elsewhere soon, since I really like his character.
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?