Today, Patrick and Taylor are discussing All-Star Western 18, originally released March 27th, 2013.
Patrick: You could make the argument that All-Star Western is anti-intellectual. All of the more affluent and educated residents of 1890s Gotham City are ineffectual or massively corrupt. The possible sole exception to this rule is Amadeus Arkham, but he is routinely upstaged by his savage brute of a partner. Even when you think “oh, now it’s time for Arkham to use science or some detective work,” it’s Hex’ anecdotal crime solvery that saves the day. And if we apply a little bit of outside information, we know that Arkham will eventually turn his focus back to his true passion — the real focus of his lifetime of study — and found a hospital for the criminally insane. Arkham Asylum is a failure, a permanent stain on his family name. This is the turn of the century we’re talking about here, so why is every progressive thinker made out to be evil, a dandy, or both?
When last we saw Jonah Hex and Amadeus Arkham, they were behind the walls of the quarantine zone in Gotham City, searching for the kidnapped Catherine Wayne. Oh and in addition to being sick, the people on this side of the wall are kinda zombie-y. That’s right where we pick back up with them – running and gunning away from a zombie mob. Thanks to Hex’ uncanny instincts, they find an underground bunker beneath a saloon, and take refuge with a surly dwarf and a grieving mother. There’s a sentence that warrants an image of explanation.
Together, this quartet tracks Catherine Wayne to Vandal Savage. Savage boasts a little bit about the fighting skills he honed over his centuries-long life before Hex just blasts him with a shot gun. (Side bar: that sort of thing is always satisfying, isn’t it? Whether its Trinity saying “dodge this” before shooting an agent in the head at point blank range, or Indiana Jones shooting the scimitar guy or Mal kicking that dude through the engine – there’s something we love about heroes taking the surprisingly easy, and surprisingly violent, way out.) In the fall-out of this rescue operation, two things happen: 1) Vandal Savage is buried, but not dead and 2) Hex leaves Gotham to return to the West, comically throwing Arkham off the train when he tries to tag along.
In the back-up, Terrance Thirteen is tapped to investigate a seemingly supernatural murder. Dr. Thirteen know better right from the get-go, and through some logical deductions and basic forensics, he tracks the (totally human) killer and brings him to justice. Later, Amadedus Arkham visits him in his home and Terry regales his guest with his tales of modern detective work. When Arkham leaves, Terry goes back to work developing fingerprint identification technology when he’s interrupted by Adam One, who is there to recruit him for the StormWatch.
I don’t normally roll the recap right into the back-up, but there’s an interesting comparison to be made between Dr. Amadeus Arkham and Dr. Terrance Thirteen. It’s tempting to write-off Arkham’s complete lack of agency as a result of his extremely bookish nature, especially when Hex’ run ‘n gun approach is always more effective. This issue even shows that Hex’ knowledge is more useful than Arkham’s – they find that bunker under the Winchester because Hex knows it will be there. Hex even comes off as more compassionate than his counterpart – evidenced pretty clearly by his accidental relationship with Old Lady Arkham. Then here comes the extremely well educated Dr. Terrance Thirteen – this guy is smart, and believes in science even as the society around him remains shackled to spirituality. As a stark point of comparison, Thirteen works alone and gets results.
What I love about the Dr. Thirteen story is how boring it is. The doc, when recounting his investigation to Arkhams, says:
“My examination was brief. The evidence presented itself in a most tedious manner beginning with an obvious symbol of Christianity burned into the grass. No beast made those tracks. The killer was a man. More specifically a farmer. A pig farmer. Eager to put an end to this murderous charade and return to Gotham City, I set out alone.”
This is routine shit for Terrance Thirteen, I guess that’s why he’s being recruited for StormWatch and Arkham can’t even hang on to his own gunslinger.
Hey, what do we make of that? We’ve seen these characters split up before, that was actually part of a psych-out. Hex is headed out west, which is arguably where All-Star Western “should” set its stories. But there are a couple of other things that have become part of this series’ DNA. Both “country mouse in the city” and “odd couple” are as much of this series’ identity as “wild west.” Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray have been writing Jonah for years, so I assume that’s the thread we will follow going forward. Taylor, how’s that make you feel? Arkham could use a redemption story, something to prove his value before he goes insane himself. Also, how do you feel about the 19th Century StormWatch? It’s an organization that is slowly being revealed to be integral to the history (and present, and probably future) of the New 52 universe, and I can’t really decide whether that “Important” designation makes it more or less attractive. Taylor, what do you think?
Taylor: Patrick, the scene you mentioned where Arkham is sent flying from the train by Hex surprised me a little bit to be honest. I was expecting Jonah to pull his gun on the good doctor but then retract in an act that would signify his acceptance of Arkham as his sidekick. I guess I’m just used to that sort of evolution happening to a character in a comic. But you bring up a good point, Patrick. Arkham is, for the most part, of little use to Jonah, so why would he want him to come along with him? My guess is that Jonah will come to recognize the value of Arkham once he no longer has him to work with, but it will take some creative muster from Palmiotti and Gray to pull that off and make it feel natural. In the meantime it will be interesting to see what the writers of ASW do with the tone now that the banter between Jonah and Arkham won’t be able available to them in the immediate future. This title has always depended on a fun-action tone the likes of which we have seen in Firefly and the Marvel Avenger movies. This tone is created in large part by the relationship that exists between Hex and Arkham and with that gone I don’t know what tone we will see next.
I suppose that Arkham could in theory be replaced by Terrence Thirteen since in many ways they fill the same roll in this comic. But it’s hard to say exactly how he’ll respond to Hex’s unique personality. Thirteen seems like a man of business and I’m not sure he’ll be willing to put up with Jonah for all that long. Arkham, on the other hand, seems to actually enjoy hanging out with Jonah. While he’s always claimed he follows Jonah around because he makes an interesting case study, it’s clear that Arkham enjoys Jonah as a person, as is evidenced by his attempt to follow him out West. I think Jonah would be wise to acknowledge this since he clearly wants to be accepted by someone, so why not Arkham? Dr. Thirteen on the other hand is a Steampunk BAMF who is probably more interested in the job than in making friends. That being said I’m intrigued by his character and while I hope he doesn’t replace Arkham, I want to know more about him. I mean, how could you not? Just look at those chops!
That being said, I’m on board with the whole idea of the StormWatch. I’m generally not a fan of super-teams since in many ways they are boring. The idea of a super-team is neat in theory but when put into practice it just doesn’t retain the value and urgency of the titles that it pulls its heroes from. My reasoning for this can best be summed up with a comparison to the NBA All-Star Game. While it’s fun to see all of your favorite players on the same, insanely talented team, the game itself is almost meaningless. The game is basically a glorified exhibition game that is full of cheap thrills but as to who wins and who loses I couldn’t care less. The same can be said for superhero teams. They are stacked with talent and your favorite characters, but they weren’t made to be together. Further, the evil they are battling is usually inflated with badness to raise the stakes in an attempt to create urgency. I just don’t buy it.
But these teams can work, even for haters like myself. I love Justice League Dark and I think the main reason for that almost all of the main characters were built for that comic. Additionally, JLD has it’s own unique narrative and world that is enthralling, expansive, and inclusive. I think StormWatch has the capability to build a world and characters in a similar fashion to JLD which is why I’m excited for it. I think they could even have a pretty good arch-nemesis as well.
What this means for the New 52 in a broader sense, I can’t say. I’m a fan of steampunk lunacy so I’m happy to see the rest of the world Jonah and company inhabit being fleshed out in detail. However, I don’t know how I would feel about a StormWatch comic set in the modern day. For that, all we can do is wait.
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?