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All-Star Western #8 – Review

I’m not a huge fan of westerns.  I think it’s because most of the famous westerns came out in the 1970s and I can’t stand movie conventions from that era.  I’ve tried watching the Clint Eastwood movies and I just get too bored.  On the other hand, I am a history geek and that’s a big reason why I am really enjoying American Vampire (I’m not much of a horror fan and couldn’t care less about vampires).  The best thing about the fact that Scott Snyder is using vampires is that you get to travel through time with the same characters and see how they react to the world changing around them.  So I’m not opposed to the idea of a western-themed comic, I’m just not automatically gung-ho for it.  However, there has been a trend in recent years of more “realistic” westerns that acknowledge aspects of American history like, for example, the chinese workforce - see Shanghai Noon or Red Dead Redemption.  And that’s the part that calls to me as a history geek.

I decided to pick this issue up because next month it’s going to participate in the Night of Owls crossover and a lot of #8s had setups at the end of the issues even if they weren’t directly promoted as being preludes to the event.  I was pleasantly surprised to see that I really like the art style of this issue.  It is not at all what I expected from a western book.  Some panels even have a Warner Bros animated look to them.  Speaking of which, all I know about Jonah Hex is from a couple episodes of Batman: The Animated Series and, I think, an episode of Justice League.  He was also featured in the Western issue of Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne.  

Jonah Hex, Amadeus Arkham, and two 19th century super heroes are in New Orleans as this issue opens up.  It was a pleasant surprise to see that Arkham is a character in this book given his family’s role in building the eponymous Asylum in Gotham.  It was interesting to find out that Hex is a former confederate soldier.  That was never elaborated on in the previous works I’d read and I thought it made for an interesting character to root for.  Not only did he fight for the “wrong” side during the war, but it’s also insinuated that he’s extremely racist.  Of course, “everyone” was racist back then, but it definitely makes for a bit of values dissonance.  After all, part of the reason there aren’t any mainstream comic books that focus on villains is that it feels weird to root for someone doing reprehensible things to win.  

Hex also makes an interesting contrast to Batman.  In this issue, Jonah and company are trying to infiltrate a criminal organization.  As is cliche for these infiltration situations, they ask Jonah Hex to blow up a boat to prove he’s not a spy.  With the usual righteous hero, like Batman, part of the story’s tension comes from the fact that he hero needs to pretend he’s actually going to go through with it and convince the enemies that he means it.  Hex, on the other hand, has no qualms with blowing up this boat in order to further his goal of infiltrating the organization.  Just that fact on its own makes me pretty interested in Hex as a character.  

Jumping into issue #8 I’m not sure if this is the structure of the book, overall, but this book also has the trope of the upper class person teaming up with the lower class lawman and all the trouble that causes.  Arkham starts off this issue getting high in an opium den and proceeds to cause all manner of problems because of that.  From the way Hex speaks about him, this seems to be a common occurrence.  Given his character, I wonder if Jonah eventually leaves him behind to go solo.

There’s also a backup story that tells the origins of one of the super heroes.  Overall it was well told.

Unlike Red Hood and the Outlaws, this issue doesn’t explicitly tie in with Night of the Owls.  In fact, the only way I can meaningfully see it tying in with Night of the Owls is that the group they’re trying to infiltrate will end up being part of the Court.  Of course, Hex is in New Orleans right now so unless the Owls are all over the US or later moved to Gotham, it seems like it may be a bit of a stretch.  However, I’m not too bothered because I had fun with this issue.  In fact, I’m currently debating whether to add it to my pull list or just collect the trades.  Either way, while this isn’t the perfect issue for jumping on to the book, it’s not a bad one either.


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