By: Justin Gray & Jimmy Palmiotti (writers), Moritat (artist), Gabriel Bautista (colorist), Jordi Bernet (feature artist), Rob Schwager (feature colorist)

The Story: As long as there are donuts at the end of it, sign me up for the Religion of Crime!

The Review: At first, it wasn’t clear why of all the new 52, this one had the rare price point of $3.99 while even the most popular titles clocked in one dollar lower.  But now it’s clear that even in this latest era of DC comics, the co-feature has its place—which is fine, so long as their stories feel self-contained and substantial on their own merits, rather than novel pieces of filler material.

Unfortunately, the latter is exactly what “El Diablo” winds up being, with the titular character a mix between Hangman (of Archie Comics fame, star of a short-lived DC series) and your typical wandering vigilante who happens upon a frontier town in its hour of need.  A cowboys and zombies mash-up was only a matter of time, and here it comes off just as ludicrously as you can hope for: “Once the dead have been called, only a demon can kill the cursed.”

Not surprisingly, the co-feature, with forgettable art from Bernet, appears thin and uninspired compared to its bigger counterpart in this issue.  Given your druthers, you’d probably forego the distraction of El Diablo for more of Jonah Hex and Dr. Arkham’s mystery in early industrial Gotham.  This is especially the case when considering the interesting new developments in the story that don’t quite get to play out as far as you’d like.

Gray-Palmiotti do a good job linking up all of Gotham’s major historical threads together by introducing the Religion of Crime and its Bible into the investigation.  Speaking as someone who apparently never read the original work where these concepts came from, I appreciated the brief explanation Arkham gives us early on: “…a dark faith…of crime based on the story of Cain and Abel…”  It’s nice to actually have some substance put to the names.

Admittedly, there’s some cheese on the fringes of the idea of people devoted to crime for crime’s sake, but seeing the R of C here, it comes off more as an excuse for the (exclusively) male devotees to exert their power.  These men are tops in their respective fields, but respect makes a poor substitute for the sheer thrill of having control.  Why else do they go through such trouble to court Chief Cromwell’s support, only to delightedly punish him when he refuses?

Mostly, though, the issue has Hex partaking in his favorite hobby: shooting up wannabe criminals before they can even draw.  For all his many flaws, Hex is nothing if not competent; when a whole onslaught of gunners in hoods (very KKKish) surrounds the grounds of Arkham’s estate, the scarred cowboy takes them all on, with the good doctor himself just trying to keep from underfoot.  The antihero is alive and well: “He was already dead.  He just didn’t realize it.”

Moritat has many times proven his ability to design complicated, “artsy” page layouts, with all number of motifs woven in.  Here, he shows more of a conventional storytelling style, including wide, unadorned splashes (check Hex walking over a pile of bloodied, flaming bodies, Arkham whimpering, “God in heaven…”) and big, tight close-ups.  Kudos also to Bautista, whose evening sunset provides a perfect, complementary crimson background to the bloodbath.

Conclusion: The issue would have gotten a higher grade had it not been packaged with the almost pointless “El Diablo” feature, which should never have been attached to this title.

Grade: C+

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – Inscribed on Cromwell’s chest is “Oberint dum metuant,” which translated from Latin means, “Let them hate, so long as they fear.”  Food for thought indeed.

– “Move yer ass or they’ll have it fer dinner!”  Probably the best line in the entire “El Diablo” feature.  Very evocative of all kinds of imagery.