Today, Taylor and Patrick are discussing All Star Western 16, originally released January 30th, 2013.
Taylor: There is a certain beauty to be had in simplicity. In a culture that tends to think more is better, simplicity has become something of a rarity that is all too infrequently encountered in our everyday life. However, even though American culture tends to favor the louder and busier aesthetic, there are signs that the simple and austere are gaining favor. Japanese aesthetics, known for their Spartan feel, and Scandinavian aesthetics alike are ever gaining popularity in America. The signs of this change in the wind are more pervasive than we might at first believe. Nearly every person who has a single ounce of nerd running in their veins is familiar with the minimalist renderings of famous movie posters. Further, and on an even broader scale, the design of most Apple products is nothing short of a minimalistic and simple genius. But what about comic books, are they too moving toward a simpler feel? Do they believe that sometimes less truly is more? If All Star Western 16 is any indication, then the comic book world truly has embraced this motif. But that then raises the question, when put into practice is simplicity a good thing for comic books?
Having had his leg broken by Mr. Hyde, Jonah Hex is bound to a wheel chair, unable to leave the watchful eye of his nurse, Constance. Typical of Jonah, he is busy drinking himself into oblivion to pass the time while holed up in Arkham’s mansion, waiting to heal. Adding to his misery is the disruptive presence of Arkham’s elderly mother, who — because of dementia — insists that Jonah is Arkham and occasionally Mr. Rochester from Jane Eyre. Then Mr. Hyde shows up looking for Arkham only to find Jonah. Vowing to finish the job he started in the previous issue, Hyde begins to tussle with Jonah with the intention of killing our dilapidated hero. Luckily, Constance is on hand and throws Jonah his gun who then promptly shoots Hyde. This has the benefit of transforming the monster back into Dr. Jekyll who Constance, through her skill, saves from death. Jonah throws the remaining bits of the Jekyll Juice, along with the Dark Crystal, into Gotham Bay, never to be seen again (or is it?).
This issue overall was pleasing in many ways, but probably most for the simplicity that was on display in its pages. Here at Retcon Punch, we’ve been effluent in our praise of Moritat’s art for this title and this issue gives us no reason to damn up that praise now. The deceptively simple art on display in this issue is some of the best that this writer has seen in his short career reading and writing about comics. Simply put, the art is beautiful and forlorn, which for some reason seems strangely fitting for this title. Generally when we picture Gotham, the image of a broken city polluted by crime and corruption is what first comes to mind. But as portrayed in this issue, Gotham was once a beautiful city and perhaps what we are seeing in All Star Western is the beginning of its fall from grace. Maybe this impending doom is what lends this issue such stark beauty.
However, we can’t forget to give some credit to the creative narrative team of Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray for the work they put in for issue 16. Confining Jonah to a wheel chair is an interesting and brave move by this team and it sets the tone for an issue that is largely forlorn and a bit spooky. Despite all of his obvious flaws, Jonah is a character who is brimming with life. His carousing and adventuring are such integral parts of his character that it becomes kind of difficult to picture just who Jonah is without these attributes. What we see when these are stripped away is a man who seems sad and isolated from humanity, traits that are best summed up by Constance when she asks of Hex “What kind of man has a lucky tomahawk?” This leaves us questioning just what kind of person Jonah is and what exactly his inner life must be like. It turns out that when we confront Jonah as a real human being, and not as the caricature he is most of the time, we see he is still that sad, lonely kid who was abandoned over and over again throughout his life. The sparseness of Jonah’s inner life is reflected well throughout this issue and having him isolated to a wheelchair and cut off from his normal pursuits brings home the point that perhaps for all his talk, Jonah isn’t as happy-go-lucky as we would presume. In short, he is a perfect citizen for Gotham City.
Also, this issue contained the final installment of the supplementary title Tomahawk. Like virtually every other issue of this title, this episode finds Tomahawk killing a bunch of Englishman and Americans, the whole time swearing to avenge the deaths of his wife and child. Overall, this title lacked any definite voice and failed to engender any sort of empathy for its titular character in the least. While these backups don’t have a lot of space to tell their stories it is possible for them to tell a thrilling adventure while also making the reader actually care about its characters. As was seen in the Beowulf arc that was included with the excellent Sword of Sorcery series, it’s possible to create an engaging world and story in a short amount of time. For whatever reason that never quite came together in Tomahawk, and while the premise is interesting, that’s about all it really has going for it.
Patrick, how did this issue of ASW strike you? Did you find the sudden departure of Mr. Hyde a little sudden, or do you think we haven’t seen the last of him? Is Jonah going to learn from his time in the wheelchair? Also, is Arkham’s mom going to play a bigger role in this series later on?
Patrick: Oh man: Arkham’s mother. His mother’s madness obviously drives Amadeus’ preoccupation with mental health — even with science in general. Her condition is so much a part of who Arkham is, and the standard Arkham-narrative dictates that a similar madness will befall him. So it’s weird how well Hex gets along with her. And it’s not some weird bullshit, like he understands her or anything like that. He just doesn’t seem to mind the madness the way most people do. I kinda get the sense that Jonah Hex simply has a hard time dealing with all people, so Old Lady Arkham represents no unique social challenge for him. In fact, she’s basically the only person in his life not asking him to do anything, and not threatening his life. She might insist that he’s someone he’s not, but for a man with such a fractured self-image, maybe that’s not such a bad deal.
Hot damn, this issues is ripe with interesting character moments for Hex. Sometimes I forget that Palmiotti and Gray have been writing this guy forever. Whatever else dips in this series, Jonah Hex remarkably remains a constant. So I was shocked to see Hex point a gun at his own head.
Interestingly, he hasn’t put the gun powder in the pistol yet. He’s just taking it for a spin. It’s a grim little foray into attempted suicide, and I don’t necessarily believe that he’d ever go through with it — the man is just too much of a survivor. But this obviously represents such a dark moment for him: he stares down the gun with his bad eye before pressing the muzzle up to the scarred side of his face. And hey — what do you know! Theme of duality in the human spirit are EXACTLY what we need to really land the Dr. Jekyll / Mr. Hyde story.
Taylor did a pretty good job of capturing everything else I enjoyed about the main story here, but I just wanted to add how nice it is to read a comic book that is so scaled back in the scope of its action. Everything takes place on the Arkham grounds (or in the house), so the drama has to play out between the characters themselves. And there are only four — all with clear roles to play. It’s stunning in its simplicity, and an oddly beautiful little story.
Oh and I don’t care about Tomahawk. Just don’t care about it. I can’t tell if I’m turned off to it because it seems exploitative or if the characters are just poorly developed. More than any other character introduced in the back-ups of All-Star Western, Tomahawk‘s cast seems to scream out “OMG these are historical figures that really suffered and were really marginalized and really died.”
Hey, but speaking of characters introduced in the back-ups, how about this page:
We’re about to see some 1890s Stormwatch team birthed into existence featuring characters we’ve met on our travels. It’s time to play everyone’s favorite game: Name that 1890s Universe Character! Yay! The Scientist is clearly Dr. Terrance Thirteen. That’s an easy one. I think The Lawman might be Nighthawk — but that begs the question: where’s Cinnamon? Also, I’m afraid that’s where I have to stop playing our game: I went back through old issues looking for an Englishman and this Century Baby, but couldn’t really find anyone to fit those descriptions. I’m absolutely fascinated by the world this single comic series has managed to create, simultaneously connected to and divorced from the rest of the DC Universe. This “Stormwatch” will be another loose connection to the modern day, but I expect it to retain Palmiotti and Gray’s particular aesthetic. I assume we’ll be seeing them in the back-ups moving forward, but I could also be mistaken: maybe they’ll appear in the main story?
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?