By: Jimmy Palmiotti & Justin Gray (writers), Moritat (artist), Gabriel Bautista (colorist)
The Story: Sounds like y’all have need of a pop-eyed cowboy ‘round these here parts.
The Review: DC has devoted itself to many genres in its publishing history, even those that have fallen out of favor in modern times, like the western. Give credit where it’s due, because only DC continued supporting Jonah Hex, far from a paragon of popularity, through seventy ongoing issues, keeping its place on the stands between Iron Man and Justice League, and developing a respectable following, such that he even got a movie out of it.
Then, too, you have to give credit to Palmiotti and Gray, whose rollicking, anything-goes style of storytelling has produced a stunning variety of strong work. That style will serve them well as they take the character which made them famous and mash him into the world of Gilded Age Gotham. Hex always carried a reputation for being Batman of the frontier, and now he can play up that image in Batman’s home turf, long before the Dark Knight himself has been conceived.
Hex obviously feels out of place amidst this urban setting, and just because he’s a cowboy surrounded by Gothic architecture. Or because he sticks to a distinctly Confederate wardrobe in a very Yankee-ish city. You have to remember, in the sparsely settled territories, Hex was pretty much the only law of the land, which he could exercise freely. Gotham already has a law enforcement system in place, and it doesn’t take kindly to those who step on its toes.
You’ll find it hard to tell if the moon-faced police chief, Cromwell, has a bone to pick with everyone simply because he’s a fastidiously insecure fat man, or because the seeds of Gotham’s infamous corruption have already been sown in him. Cromwell obviously cares more about his department’s public image than doing everything necessary to find a serial murderer, and his willingness to fall back on cover-ups is a bad sign of things to come.
But since the murderer in question seems mainly interested in targeting your common whores, maybe Cromwell has little motivation to discover who’s behind it all. Serial killers with a fetish for prostitutes are nothing new, not even ones who leave foreboding, bloody messages on the walls behind them, and not even ones who perpetrate their sordid acts during the Industrial Revolution. I’m just saying, if you want a villain with a groundbreaking M.O., he’s not here.
What sets this murder mystery apart are the two men on the killer’s trail, Hex and the good doctor Arkham, not exactly your daddy’s Holmes and Watson. The quick-drawing, tough-talking bounty hunter paired off with the cerebral, sensitive psychologist doesn’t exactly produce a team-up for the ages, but they do make entertaining contrasts. Even though Arkham’s diary feels overwritten at times, his analysis of Hex’s many psychoses are still pretty entertaining.
Moritat offers superb detail with his delicate, sketchy lines—just look at how much intricacy he uses to craft each of the dozens of faces in the background settings, whether it’s a skunky bar hall or elegant ballroom. His layouts and paneling don’t have the same level of creativity as they did on The Spirit, but he definitely proves himself as one of the most skilled and purest artistic storytellers on the DC roster. Bautista goes for a pale, almost monochrome spectrum of neutral colors, but it does give the issue an aged look very much in keeping with its period, and it makes any other color stand out all the more.
Conclusion: If you’re going to mash pulp and western together, this is the way to do it. Right now, you get mostly Hex being Hex, which is always fun, but later issues have to prove Gotham needs his presence, or this series will be little more than an interesting novelty.
– Minhquan Nguyen
Some Musings: – Love the appearance of several members of Gotham’s “first families,” from Batman: Gates of Gotham. It’s these little things that make a shared universe so delightful.
– Also live how out-of-control the fight at the bar hall quickly gets. As soon as Hex throws a punch, you immediately have a guy with a broken beer bottle and another lifting up a chair. Why a Chinese guy gets involved, I have no idea.