Today, Taylor and Drew are discussing All Star Western 15, originally released January 2nd, 2013.
Taylor: What evil lurks in the heart of men? The Shadow, among many others, has asked this question and it is a query which each of us must face every day. Not only do we ourselves struggle to do the right thing constantly but we are more than aware of those who commit acts which most would label evil. Whenever someone does something terrible to someone else, the question always arises of where the impulse to commit that act comes from. While some might believe in the inherent evilness of man it seems much more likely that these impulses come from sort of rationalization process. This process is something we are all capable of and leads us to question how pure our own motives are. If so called “evil” acts can be rationalized doesn’t that mean we are all equally capable of committing terrible acts ourselves only to explain them away in some way? So then, if we are all capable of being “evil,” who would we be or what would we do if we followed our immoral urges? And what would happen if a potion is created that can make a seemingly good man do bad things? The fifteenth issue of All Star Western delves into these questions while at the same time indulging in some serious action.
In issue 15 Dr. Arkham has found Mr. Hyde, unexpectedly, and predictably things do not go well for the good doctor. Mr. Hyde, has just eaten Reginald, and with his hunger satiated he wishes to have his curiosity satisfied as well. He gives a small dose of the Jekyll Juice to Arkham because he wants to see how the prim and proper man will act when his darker desires are put into action. However, just then Jonah bursts in seeking the money Reggie owes him for his previous services. Hyde and Jonah duel for a bit and Jonah is tossed out of a window and severely wounds his leg. Not one to give into pain, Jonah climbs back up and fights with Hyde some more before the latter is forced to retreat as the police are arriving. Meanwhile, Arkham has transformed into his “evil” self and is busy trying to persuade women to have sex with him. Jonah finds the crazed doctor and apprehends him and he is sent off to an asylum for observation. Jonah, finally gets his leg looked at and it appears he will be wheelchair-bound for at least a couple of months.
This installment of All Star Western has all the hallmarks of what makes this series so much fun to read when it’s clicking on all cylinders. You have a rock ‘em sock ‘em fight between Jonah and his adversary, Arkham once again finding himself out of place in the criminal world, and the raising of some interesting questions. These questions revolve around the plot of the series itself as well as larger moral questions in general. It’s interesting to see how writers Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti are tackling the introduction of Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde into their story since at first it was unclear if he would be a unique villain in any way. However, each issue of this installment we learn more about Hyde and his motivations and fun to see where his particular love of “old-fashioned chaos” is taking this story arc. Hyde is a man (if we can call him such a thing) who seems to relish chaos and everything evil but he also recognizes the need to control these urges. As he fights Arkham he urges the newly transformed man to control his evil urges and concentrate them in a specific way, just as he has. What this entails for the future of the plot is interesting to consider as we still have no idea what his grand scheme is, if there even is one but it reeks of something particularly heinous.
But aside from this question, this issue also asks questions about evilness itself. When Arkham drinks the Jekyll Juice he suddenly understands violence in a way he has never been able to in the abstract.
In fact, not only does Arkham now understand the appeal of violence but he wants to commit it himself. This violence isn’t limited to physical violence as it would appear he also desires sexual violence against a particular woman in Gotham. Hyde assumes these feelings have been repressed in Arkham all this time which seems to suggest that Arkham is capable of committing these evil acts at any time. So does the Jekyll Juice make a person evil or does it just free them from the inhibitions that normally prevent them from doing horrible things? This is a commentary on the nature of people in general that transcends comic books and in theory has the reader questioning what exactly evil is and man’s willingness to engage in evil activities.
And yet despite the heavy issues that abound in this title there is still some humor to it that is always a welcome site in All Star Western.
In the past Patrick has mentioned how some of the best moments in this title stem from the interactions between Jonah and Arkham and once again this holds true in this issue. It’s fun to the tables turned on our two heroes and witness Arkham getting himself into trouble while Jonah plays damage control. We are used to seeing the inverse of this relationship and it’s comedic gold to see the two switched around albeit for a short amount of time. Also, who doesn’t like a good dick joke?
This issue is also accompanied once again with the supplementary title, Tomahawk. In a way, Tomahawk deals with some of the same moral questions that are being thrown around in all Star Western what with all the killing of Native Americans which is most certainly evil. However, it is kind of hard to root for either side in this comic as no one is interested in peace and everyone is interested in murder. Whatever happened to a hero you can believe in?
Drew, how are you enjoying learning more about Mr. Hyde? At first I wasn’t a huge fan of him being the gentleman monster but now I’ve come to really enjoy it. Do you? Do you think Arkham will ever be cured or do you think he will be partially evil forever, perhaps setting the foundation for his infamous asylum? Also, what is the over-under on Jonah staying in his wheelchair?
Drew: I’m hoping Hex is laid up for at least one issue — not because I don’t want to see him in action, but because shaking things up sounds like a lot of fun. Without a big case to crack, Arkham hasn’t had much to do in these more recent issues (though, come to think of it, he’s never done much crime solving), so I think he’s due for getting a little more agency. I’m envisioning some kind of Cyrano ass-kicking by way of steampunk walkie-talkies, but that might only make sense to me. Perhaps more realistically, Hyde’s formula might be his own downfall, as he’s hulked-out the one person who was already on the hunt for him.
Taylor, I love your thoughts on the potion’s true nature. It seems that Grey and Palmiotti are suggesting that it simply unchains the inherent evil in people, like when that abused clown takes out his rage on that catholic priest. This gives us a fascinating window into Hex’s psyche, which is actually surprisingly tame — after losing all of his inhibitions, he is finally able to admit that he enjoys “a bit of horseplay with the ladies.” Given what happens to him after [Arkham Asylum: A Serious House On Serious Earth Spoiler] his family is killed, you’d think he’s actively repressing a lot more stuff — especially about his mother.
I can’t help bot wonder if Arkham won’t be permanently changed by these events. So far, he’s been kind of a twitchy recluse — the thought of him ever marrying and having a kid seems pretty remote. Losing some of his inhibitions might be important for his character development. I also kind of suspect that Hex’s nurse — who notably volunteered to take care of Arkham’s mother — might turn out to be Arkham’s wife. She doesn’t seem particularly charmed by Hex, and her medical training and compassion for Arkham’s mother might just give her and Amadeus something to bond over. At any rate, I can’t imagine that she was introduced and setup as a recurring character unless she was going to play some kind of role.
Like you, Taylor, I’m really digging the humor of this series. Belligerent Arkham is a treat, but Grey and Palmiotti are no slouches in the visual gag department, either — they know exactly how to pace a joke.
You know what else I really like about that sequence? Note that the ceiling above Arkham is smashed in — that’s because this is the same bar that Hex smashed through when he was thrown out of a window earlier in the issue. There’s no reason for this scene to take place in the same building other than to make the universe feel a little more immersive. It’s a fun detail that I didn’t notice on the first read-though. I also like the idea that, after a man fell through the ceiling and, bleeding, dragged himself away, the folks in the bar apparently went right back to drinking. This is Gotham, after all.
The Mr. Hyde arc has felt a little off to me, but this issue really felt like a return to form. Indeed, between the odd-couple banter, Hex’s stoic badassery, and Moritat’s gorgeous-as-ever art, this may be one of the best issues of the series. Consider my interest in this title renewed.
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 Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?