What happened? There I was, loving the shit out of All Star Western’s first issue and along comes Issue Two, not exactly ruining my starry eyed attraction but certainly dampening it. The appeal of the series’ debut for me was that it took the basic outline of Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell’s From Hell and added Jonah Hex and Gotham City to the mix as well as some sharp wit and gallows humor. Only a single issue later, Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray have seemingly abandoned that template altogether in favor of a storyline that may as well have come from a Bat book, with an old timey setting and sepia tones being the only differentiator.
Starting right where issue one left off, as Jonah Hex and Doctor Arkham prepare for an attack by a deranged criminal cult, the problems become unmissable once DC’s infamous Crime Bible becomes a major part of the plot. Apparently it wasn’t enough to have Gotham’s elite 1% running a clandestine organization together, Illuminati-style, they also had to be tied to the Crime Bible as well, which Doc Arkham is able to detail the origins of thanks to a conveniently placed book featuring “a study of criminal psychology by Hugo Munsterberg, a German psychologist…”
That segues directly into the larger problem of this issue, which is the hilariously explanatory dialogue. Doc Arkham can be given some lenience since his dialogue in issue one was occasionally heavy on the lecturing, a logical angle given his personality and profession, but even Jonah Hex falls prey to this dialogue tactic, making awkward mini-speeches about classism that could have come straight from any number of 1% memes. Speaking of that 1%, the “Lords of Crime” get the worst of the dialogue this issue, sounding like vaudeville caricatures rather than real characters. My secret favorite moment of the issue is this panel, where the usually excellent Moritat has war hero Mr. Hammersmith pose as though he’s getting ready to fight Dudley Doright, with some campy dialogue from Palmiotti and Gray finishing the effect:
Not that it’s all clunky slogans and thin characterization this issue, though. Moritat provides some marvelous fight sequences, particularly with Jonah Hex taking on the Crime Bible henchmen singlehandedly and the issue’s ending has a nicely tense brawl that even features some daredevil moments by none other than Doc Arkham. It’s too early to count the series out completely, but it would be to the book’s benefit if the more generic “hero versus stereotypical gang of villains” angle was minimized in favor of the far more unique and interesting unlikely duo story that made up the bulk of issue one. There’s also the little problem of the story being truncated in order to fit in a pretty bland back-up story featuring El Diablo, a character I’ve never encountered before who comes across as the hybrid of Etrigan the Demon and Zorro that exactly no one asked for. We’ve got plenty of generic action hero stories already guys, let’s just get back to breaking new ground.
When he’s not writing about the cape and spandex set, Nick Hanover is a book, film and music critic for Spectrum Culture and a staff writer for No Tofu Magazine. He also translates for “Partytime” Lukash’s Panel Panopticon.