Easily the fringiest of the fringe Bat-titles is All-Star Western, starring odd couple Jonah Hex and Amadeus Arkham. Although it takes place during the 1800’s, I take the time to review the graphic novels of this series because it’s set primarily in Gotham City and often times adds new information regarding the history of Gotham and the ancestry of many of our favorite characters. Volume 1 was a pretty enjoyable read and a nice break from the average bat-book. It might not have had the traditional Western feel but I liked the fish-out-of-water aspect of seeing Jonah Hex in an urban environment. At the end of that Volume 1, Jonah and Amadeus left for New Orleans to track down a member of the Court of Owls. So not only did volume 2 promise more insight into what was happening in the Bat-titles, but it could take us away from Gotham for some time and return Hex to the untamed country for even more wild west adventure. Did it deliver?
The War of the Owls collects issue #7-12 along with the backup stories that those comics included when they were originally published. The amazing thing about volume 2 of All-Star Western for me is that it was able to disappoint me on 2 fronts and yet when I finished it I still felt entertained and willing to recommend it to others. That just goes to show you how great of a job that Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti did writing these characters. I like Jonah Hex, I like Amadeus Arkham, and I really loved that they brought Tallulah Black into the series. These three characters have a great dynamic that leads to a lot of laughs and some really fun action scenes. The members of the Crime Bible all made for really colorful villains and the cameos by Nighthawk and Cinnamon were really well done as well. In fact, the back-up story detailing their origins was one of the highlights of the entire graphic novel.
What disappointed me, however, is that the previous volume built more and more toward the capture of Thurston Moody who had fled to New Orleans. The book ended on a cliffhanger. For months now I’ve been waiting for volume 2 to arrive so I can see our heroes bring this villain down once and for all and bring closure to what began when Hex first set foot in Gotham City. What I got was extraordinarily anti-climactic. The hunt for Thurston Moody takes a back seat. Way back. And instead The War of Lords and Owls gave the reader a team-up with Nighthawk and Cinnamon to stop a band of anarchists called The August 7 and another story about Hex teaming up with Tallulah Black to battle the Crime Bible. Thurston Moody is given maybe 7 or 8 pages of attention and he only utters 24 words. As for the other element of the book that disappointed me, that would be The Court of Owls. After seeing them so prominently featured on the book’s cover and given top billing in the title of this volume, I expected quite a bit more. They are featured perhaps a 5 or so pages more than Moody and the attention is instead placed on the Crime Bible. It feels like false advertising to cash in on the Batman cross-over craze when really the stories we do get are good enough that such a gimmick wasn’t necessary. By so heavily implying that the Owls are what the reader will get, the reader will of course have expectations that need to be fulfilled. I expected to see the Owls as a major threat or to at least learn more about the group’s history. Heck, even the series Talon (which I highly recommend) has failed to give satisfying answers as to how the Court got its start or what their motivation really is other than the fact that they are evil and want more control over things. What do they want to do with Gotham once they “take it”?
That all said, the two stories we do get regarding the August 7 and Crime Bible are very entertaining and move at a much faster pace than what we saw in Volume 1. Watching Hex fight his way through opponents in a battle arena is terrific fun, as is the team-up with Nighthawk and Cinnamon. Even better than that is the confrontation with the Crime Bible, which featured many wonderful nods to the Wayne family and future Batman stories. Amadeus supplies the necessary comedic relief, but it’s really Tallulah who steals the show in the latter half of the book. Her chemistry with Hex really kicked my enjoyment of the book up to another level and made me want to seek out Pre-New 52 graphic novels featuring the character. I definitely want to see more of her and Hex outside of Gotham, but I don’t see that happening in this series anytime soon. Hex doesn’t have much reason to be in Gotham anymore and while I enjoyed the novelty of him being in such a vastly different setting at first I wish that the trip to New Orleans had taken longer. The trip to Louisiana was totally skipped over as was the return journey and it’s these voyages that usually make for some of the best Western tales. Just look at Lonesome Dove! There’s so much that can happen when traveling great distances like that in a genre like this and I think it was a missed opportunity to not show Hex and Amadeus on a road trip. It could’ve been Lonesome Dove meets Planes, Trains, and Automobiles! And then when they got to New Orleans, the story could’ve stayed focused on the Moody plot while occasionally veering off into the fun August 7 side quest and it would’ve been a phenomenal Western adventure. Instead, it felt like the writers got bored with the Moody plotline and decided to do something else entirely.
The artwork by Moritat is also much sketchier this time around and this will surely divide people. On one hand it gives the book a gritty style all its own and Moritat is able to render an environment with loads of details so the world the characters inhabit comes to life. On the other hand, these details are not cleaned up enough for many to fully appreciate these little details because they so easily get muddled together. The effort is there, but the time to realize the images in all their glory likely wasn’t. Also, most of the female characters look almost identical except for their hairstyle and that was a rather noticeable problem. Overall though, I like the look of this book and applaud Moritat’s attention to the clothing and architecture of the age the story is set. I also like the color choices that are made on the book, which also add to the series’ unique look. Readers who want sharper, more vibrant imagery, however, should enjoy the backup stories which were illustrated by a variety of different artists, inkers, and colorists and they also offer tales that show more of the old west.
In addition to the three back-up stories starring Nighthawk & Cinnamon, Bat Lash, and Dr. Terrence Thirteen that many will view as bonus material, the book also includes 6 pages of character sketches by Moritat. These early designs include the original ideas he had for Cinnamon, the Court of Owls, Tallulah, and more. It’s not quite as rich as the bonus material from volume 1, but it’s still quite good and a great way to show naysayers just how much work Moritat puts into these pages. The reason volume 1’s bonus material feels so much better is because it was page upon page of Moritat figuring out the clothing and weaponry of the late 1800’s and now he seems to have that all figured out so all we see are a character designs.
Value: Sale Price
It’s an enjoyable read, but not good enough that I would give full price at $16.99. I don’t think that the re-read value is all that high and it’s definitely not as memorable as Volume 1, even if it reads at a faster pace and Tallulah is a nice addition to the cast. There isn’t that much weight at all to the events that unfold, unlike what we saw in the previous installment. Look for it to go on sale at Amazon or your local comic shop. Amazon recently listed it for $12.51 and I’d say that that’s an alright deal for six comics that would’ve cost you $4 bucks a piece had you picked them up month-to-month.
Tallulah is a welcome addition to the cast, but I the story itself is far less memorable than volume 1. Those looking for more on the history of the Court of Owls will be disappointed to find The Crime Bible taking center stage and for the most part our characters are running out of reasons to stay in Gotham. Someone is always running up to Hex with an important case to solve right when he’s saddling up to leave and it’s getting tiresome. This book starts out quite fun with Amadeus and Hex traveling west to Louisiana, but the journey was short lived and we were back in Gotham in no-time. Luckily, Tallulah joined the team when we we returned to the east coast and that made for some funny and action packed moments. I think it’s a fun book, but there was a lot less on the line this go-round. I said it last time and I’ll say it again, I would like to see Hex get out of Gotham more often or permanently so All-Star Western can actually go west.