All-Star Western 11

Today, Peter and Patrick are discussing the All-Star Western 11, originally released July 25th, 2012.

Peter: All-Star Western has really embraced its role as a historic book. Writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Grey have taken it upon themselves to not only tell incredible western tales, but to weave them into the greater DC Universe, even if they take place centuries before Bruce Wayne put on the cowl, or Superman strapped on the cape. Two of Gotham’s most notorious criminal organizations are gearing up to collide — of course Jonah Hex finds himself in the middle of it all.

Amadeus Arkham ponders at home the Court of Owls. Like so many others, he learned the nursery rhyme as a child, but finds their existence hard to believe.

Meanwhile, Jonah and Tellulah continue their hunt for Lucius Bennett. Upon catching up with him, they are again stopped by the masked man, Baroque. As the chaotic firefight ensues, the Talon shows up, stabbing Tellulah in the leg, and killing Bennett. Later, the followers of the Crime Bible meet to discuss these events. They decide that it is time for Arkham, Hex and Tellulah to die, via a joint effort from all of them. Gotham’s finest burst into the Arkham house, and arrest Amadeus, Jonah and Tellulah. They are carted off to the Slaughter Swamp where they are drugged and strapped into a Steam-Powered Death Machine. Tellulah uses her acrobatic skills and experience being tied up to escape. The Crime Lords arrive, but not before Tellulah escapes into the house, leaving Jonah and Arkham hanging.

There is a lot going on in this issue in terms of background and story. I love that Gotham is in the constant state of turmoil from waring factions of evil. While we know a lot about the Court of Owls from the recent Night of the Owls storyline, we have been left with little about the 1800s Crime Bible Followers, until now. I love that there are different sects of the Bible, each with their own specialty of crime-ness.

Since the Religion of Crime’s introduction, there have been these different ‘houses’. Looks like these are the 1800s versions. Some of the names sound familiar to me, but one obviously sticks out, Lorna Kyle. Could this be Selina Kyle’s ancestor? It would make a lot of sense, especially since she is the Lord of Thieves. Plus, she even has a cat on her lap! The other lords seem rather unassuming, which also makes sense, since members of the Religion hide in plain sight.

There is plenty of name-dropping in this series as well. As previously introduced, we get references to Mayor Cobblepot, as well as Alan Wayne. Now the mention in this issue is not a person, but a place; Slaughter Swamp. In the old DCverse, this is where, in 1895, millionaire Cyrus Gold, who was carrying on an affair with a prostitute was killed and buried. He would them later rise from the swamp, reborn as Solomon Grundy. I doubt this will come into play in All-Star, since that is still a few years off, but I like the connections.

Tellulah really gets more time to shine here. She is the narrator for most of this issue, and her humor and cynicism are quite enjoyable. The voice that Palmiotti and Gray have crafted for her is perfect. She is basically the female version of Jonah Hex.

She is an incredibly strong female character, which is a nice change of pace, since this book has been primarily dominated by men, with the exception of ZC and Cinnamon.

I also really liked the new back up story presented in this issue. Dr. Thirteen is a very interesting character. He seems to be an investigator of some kind, and doesn’t believe in magic. He’s almost like a DC version of Sherlock Holmes. I did some digging and discovered that there was a character by the name of Dr. Thirteen in older comics, but he wasn’t in the old west, but more modern times. I don’t know if this is a retcon, or perhaps that Terrance Thirteen’s ancestor. Either way, he’s pretty cool.

The backups that are in these books continue to be stellar. They give us more and more characters to think about. My only real gripe is that we don’t really see a lot of them after that, with the exception of Nighthawk and Cinnamon. I hope that in the future, characters like the Barbury Ghost, Bat Lash, and Dr. Thirteen make their way into the main storyline. Their intereactions with Jonah would be hilarious, and make for great stories.

This book is still one of my favorites of the New 52. I dig the historic elements, and the connection to modern stories. Also, I can’t get enough of the fact that Palmiotti and Gray have taken the Court of Owls beyond the crossover and continued to exploit them, let alone pitting them against their criminal rivals: the Religion of Crime. The Night of the Owls may be over, but the group is still a bit of enigma, so hopefully we learn even more about them here. I am still a little wary that Hex is spending so much time in Gotham though. For a book called ‘All-Star Western’ the east coast and the deep south are pretty cozy here. Gotham and New Orleans make for a great backdrop though, so I’m not really complaining.

Patrick: I have voiced that “for a title called “All Star Western” we’ve never been west of the Mississippi” complaint a couple of times, but I feel increasingly silly for making it. It’s clear to me now that the “Western” tag that this series gets is tied to an enormous stable of characters in a very specific time-period. That stable is anchored by the  amazing Jonah Hex. 1890s American DC Universe is an interesting place and it’d be a shame to limit the the only series exploring this era to just Hex. So the title is a vestige of an earlier time, like how we’ll look on the latest Bourne movie in 20 years and say “hey, Jason Bourne hasn’t been in these movies for two decades.”

The back-ups in All Star Western do some phenomenal world-building, don’t they? It’s refreshing that they don’t serve any discernible purpose, and merely exist to tell the stories that they’re telling. I’m going to clarify that, because it’s alarming how rare that is. These stories don’t appear to be foretelling any future plot points, and they’re not hype material. DC editors always seem to have one eye on the long-game, and I’ve read a number of back-ups that start some tops spinning so they can be picked up elsewhere. Even when ASW gave some background info on Nighthawk and Cinnamon, the substance of the story was their relationship, comic-y mythology be damned.

I gotta say, Peter, you out-researched me on this one. I’m usually at least half-in-the-dark about the 1890s characters, but I totally let both Slaughter Swamp and the Kyle family name slip by me unnoticed. That latter oversight is particularly stupid because Moritat makes a very specific point to show her cat in a couple panels. Also, instead of wearing a Crime Bible Ring, she wears a much more Catwomany choker.

The issue of women in this series is a strange one. Tallulah Black is a fantastic character, but my goodness, ZC Brahnke casts a long shadow. Remember how her legs with like eight miles long and her mission was to seduce Hex? Not the best female character I’ve ever read. But I absolutely adore the sequence you posted above, where Tallulah escapes from her bondage because she’s been tied up so many times in the past. Her narration explicitly addresses this, but no matter how many times her enemies try to cast her as the damsel in distress, she’s a fucking hero, capable of saving herself.

The amount of Hex-Arkham interaction in an issue is usually a pretty good indicator of the quality of the issue. This volume was pretty light on its Arkham content over all, but what we do get is gold. Check out the way Arkham’s mini-obsession/doubt about the Owls matches Bruce’s.

It’s a neat parallel to Batman and something I too commonly forget – Gotham has many heroes. For every secret organization trying to rip the city apart (Owls, Religion of Crime, Medusa, Leviathan, The Republic of Tomorrow), there are also forces trying to make things right in the city. For this series, Arkham is that character. It can’t be Hex, because he really doesn’t give a shit about Gotham, but the good doctor has roots in the community. Plus, we know the kind of legacy he will have on the city. I don’t know, there’s just something so fulfilling about seeing one more component of Gotham City’s history dramatized. And, come on – the setting of the Owl nursery rhyme is beautiful and sterile and creepy: Moritat nailed that.

The Dr. Thirteen story is fun. I mean, it looks to be setting up a Scooby-Doo conclusion, but it’s always nice to have a skeptic hero. I hope to high-heaven that there isn’t a moment where he suspects that they really are fighting some kind of demon – that’d be lame. I also love that Thirteen is a big enough nerdlinger to a) hang out with Amadeus Arkham and b) wear his scientific jewelers glasses while out riding his horse.

Hahaha. What a dweeb: I love it.
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?

6 comments on “All-Star Western 11

  1. Does the Lord Stephan Kaoss look a lot like Hugo Strange to anyone else? Round glasses, short beard, white coat. I couldn’t find anything connecting them in any way. I think Kaoss is a new character, but I could easily see him connecting to Strange somewhere down the line.

    • I’ve always thought that strange looks like a character out of the early 20th century, so maybe that’s what’s you’re picking up on. I actually know very little about Hugo Strange, so I can’t speak to his lineage at all. But, he’s not normally one of those Names that they throw around when talking about the greats of Gotham’s history (though, then again, neither is Kyle).

    • It’s a testament to art direction. They are highly influential, but devious and overall rather evil. What better way to depict that legacy?

      • Admittedly, I don’t know that much about how the Penguin has been treated in the comics books. But in the Batman Animated series, the Oswald was frequently depicted as an impotent man trying to pretend he was a classier individual than he really was. So, they’ve always kind of been gangster types? But they’ve also been mayors… Has the Cobblepot name always had a negative connotation or is Penguin sullying a good name with his super villainy?

        • From what I understand, they have always been a bit corrupt. Rich, but corrupt. When Oswald comes along and is all disfigured, he pretty much takes the visage of good intentions out of the picture in favor of just bad.

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