Comic books: 'All-Star Western Volume 1' a rootin'-tootin' roundup

  • Article by: ANDREW A. SMITH SCRIPPS HOWARD NEWS SERVICE
  • Updated: January 31, 2013 - 2:42 PM

“All-Star Western” stars Jonah Hex.

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Tired of superheroes? There’s plenty of good stuff out there without capes.

One of the best is DC’s “All-Star Western,” a book featuring the ongoing adventures of bounty hunter Jonah Hex, with backups starring other DC western characters. The first collection, “All-Star Western Volume 1: Guns and Gotham” ($16.99), is out, and I’d recommend it to just about anyone.

Despite what you might have seen in the movies, Jonah Hex doesn’t have any supernatural powers — which is one reason he’s such a fascinating character. Just using his wits and six-guns, Jonah is more than a match for anything the Wild West throws at him.

That’s why he’s so challenged in this collection, which puts him in 1880s Gotham City. Jonah comes to town — a stand-in for 1880s New York City — for his own reasons, but is soon hired to find a vicious serial killer preying on prostitutes, Jack the Ripper-style. Jonah soon finds that the overpopulated, crime-ridden, polyglot East is far more dangerous than anything he found out on the Plains.

Now some may be experiencing the reaction I had when I first heard about this story line: “Oh, no! Does everything in DC Comics have to tie in with Batman somehow?” But don’t worry, as nothing Batty happens in this story. Gotham City is just a great setting —no, a great character — in this grim tale of vile people. It forces Jonah to step out of his comfort zone, which just raises his performance to the next level.

The story is by Hex veterans Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti, who are responsible for Hex becoming an A-list character, so you’re in good hands. Artist Moritat, who goes by the one name, captures the America of yore superbly with pen-and-ink and some washes. I have to give credit to colorist Gabriel Bautista, as well — he favors a natural sepia palette and transforms some panels into virtual paintings.

Two backups are included, both written by Gray and Palmiotti. The inimitable artist Jordi Bernet delivers a luscious El Diablo story, while Phil Winslade renders a new character, the Barbary Ghost. The former is a paralyzed man who is possessed by a vengeful spirit to battle evil, while the latter is a female Chinese immigrant who uses various tricks to convince the underworld of 1870s San Francisco that she is supernatural.

Both are pretty good, and I won’t mind seeing more adventures of either (or, really, anything drawn by Bernet). But the true star of “All-Star Western” is Jonah Hex, and “Guns and Gotham” surely delivers.

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